Praying the psalms III: . . . no such thing as a coincidence

Mom said, “There is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.”

Sadly today, I do not remember the exact circumstance when my mom told me this, but these words have echoed in my mind time and time again. These words have guided me in times that others would just toss off as a coincidence.

Just to make sure we are all on the same page (pardon the cliché), look at the definition of coincidence:

From Dictionary.com:  a striking occurrence of two or more events at 

one time apparently by mere chance

From Merriam-Wesbster.com:

the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection

From Google search engine:

the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection

From urbandictionary.com

1.  Noteworthy event of having the exact change during small cash transactions.

2.  A compartmentalized serendipity formed by an underlying synchronicity

3.  Something that arises from two or more original ideas being related

I apologize.  I am fascinated by the variety of options available when googling a term or topic on line.  The Urban Dictionary, of course, popped up something surprising in the first definition, but the other two add different perceptions to the word coincidencethat may flavor this particular essay.

Here is what happened this week that has lead to this consideration of Godincidenceversus coincidence.  On the way to have my husband’s MRI after a serious dump truck accident, I grabbed a book to read:  Debbie Macomber’s If Not for You.

I first read one of Macomber’s books a few weeks ago and enjoyed it.  I knew she was known for knitting and writing, what I thought were romance novels, but then I discovered this year that she is a contributor for Guidepostswhich is my nightly quick devotional I have used for years.

I decided to give her a read and see if it offered me light, enjoyable, recreational reading.  Soon I was binge reading the book.  I could not stop reading it and I felt refreshed when it was finished.

Therefore, sitting and waiting, I opened up the second book.  In no time, I was hooked.  But more than that, I was hearing Mom’s words in my head—there is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.

Reading the prologue, something I learned while attending the Course of Study, I discovered that the book’s premise or setting begins almost immediately with a terrible accident.

Interesting.  Here I was sitting and waiting for a diagnostic procedure due to an accident. Even more so, the accident was eerily similar—except the one we were dealing with was a truck not a car accident.

So I read on.  Almost immediately I was binge reading again, and then I hit Chapter 6.  While the main female character is in the hospital, she asks the male character to pick up her Bible and read her something from Psalms.

To make the story shorter, he had no idea even where Psalms was in the Bible, but she directed him with the age old directions, “Open the book to the middle and you should be in Psalms.”  (p. 63)

And so begins Sam’s introduction to the Bible.  He lands on Psalms 5 which I am inserting from BibleGateway.com from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message:

Psalm 5: A David psalm

1-3 Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
my groans and cries?
    King-God, I need your help.
Every morning
    you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning
    I lay out the pieces of my life
    on your altar
    and watch for fire to descend.

4-6 You don’t socialize with Wicked,
    or invite Evil over as your houseguest.
Hot-Air-Boaster collapses in front of you;
    you shake your head over Mischief-Maker.
God destroys Lie-Speaker;
    Blood-Thirsty and Truth-Bender disgust you.

7-8 And here I am, your invited guest—
    it’s incredible!
I enter your house; here I am,
    prostrate in your inner sanctum,
Waiting for directions
    to get me safely through enemy lines.

9-10 Every word they speak is a land mine;
    their lungs breathe out poison gas.
Their throats are gaping graves,
    their tongues slick as mudslides.
Pile on the guilt, God!
    Let their so-called wisdom wreck them.
Kick them out! They’ve had their chance.

11-12 But you’ll welcome us with open arms
    when we run for cover to you.
Let the party last all night!
    Stand guard over our celebration.
You are famous, God, for welcoming God-seekers,
    for decking us out in delight.

                                                      —The Message

Beth, the main character, finds relief from her pain and falls asleep. Meanwhile, Sam starts exploring the Bible. 

Godincidence 1:  Psalm 5 had a descriptor which seemed to connect that particular psalm to the situation at hand:  Give heed to my words, O Lord, Consider my groaning.  Remember, she was in extreme pain.

How many times do we face a life challenge and have no idea where to turn? We may seek professional help as an accident forces us to do with the injuries that occur.  We may be struggling with a crisis at work and we look for specialists to help fix it.

Life is like that.  One challenge after another.  For those with a strong faith system, the tendency is to shrug our shoulders, attack the problem, and push through it.  We sometimes forget to include God through prayer.

“Praying the psalms” is again a technique that is often overlooked. Even Macomber included “praying the psalms” in her story and introduced Sam to the Bible while healing Beth lying in pain.

Godincidence 2:  Here my husband’s own confronted me groaning resulting from the accident and the book I picked spoke to me.  Was this not a message that I should be praying the psalms, too?

Life is filled with godincidencesand we often overlook them.  Is this not the Holy Spirit speaking to us?  

Please join in praying Psalm 5 with me (these are the NLT version of the first and last stanza)O Lord, hear me as I pray;
    pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
    for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.

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Praying the psalms II: Looking at Ps 51 through 2019 eyes

Personal note: Some weeks are crazier than others as we all know. Today’s post is a short thought with scripture passages added in. I trust that you understand how the ideas are wrapped in scripture.

Last week I shared about the phrase, “Praying the psalms.”  Thinking about how to take ancient literature into a 21stcentury has kept me focused on this phrase.  

Today, reading Psalms 51, I also had to read the story of David and Bathsheba again because a study note mentioned that this particular psalm is the result of the story in 2 Samuel 12.  

The story is when King David saw Bathsheba and desired her so much that he arranged for the death of her husband so he could take her as a wife.  In order for you to know the story, I am inserting 2 Samuel 12 here:

Nathan Rebukes David

12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives,the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a] the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth[b] on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”

19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows?The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; 25 and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.[c]

26 Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel.27 Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, “I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. 28 Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it. Otherwise I will take the city, and it will be named after me.”

29 So David mustered the entire army and went to Rabbah, and attacked and captured it.30 David took the crown from their king’s[d] head, and it was placed on his own head. It weighed a talent[e] of gold, and it was set with precious stones. David took a great quantity of plunder from the city 31 and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brickmaking.[f] David did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then he and his entire army returned to Jerusalem.  [NIV]

I realize that is quite a bit of reading, but when reading Psalm 51, there is a reference to Nathan’s prophecy.  Here is Ps.51:

Psalm 51[a]

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.  [NIV]

The context of the two scriptures are connected and that reminds us that the psalms were written over a period of times and are not aligned chronologically.  The key is the themes and the purposes of the psalms. There really is a psalm for many of the issues that all of humanity deals with at some time or another. 

Praying the psalms can be done over and over.  Locating a particular psalm that fits one’s immediate need is possible, but today, I want to share how to modify a psalm to fit the need.

After I completed my reading and study of Ps. 51, I realized there were certain verses or couplets that made a stand-alone prayer for me to use at various times, not necessarily for the theme King David wrote this one.

Consider these verses as a prayer and join me in closing with them today (using the NLT):

Have mercy on me, O God,

          According to your steadfast love.  [v.1]

     Create in me a clean heart, O God,

          And put a new and right spirit within me.       [v.10]

     Restore to me the joy of your salvation 

         And sustain in me a willing spirit.  [v.12]

     The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken          spirit;

          A broken and contrite love, O God, 

         you will not despise. [v.17] Amen.

P.S.  Read on into 2 Samuel 13 and discover how King David suffered, grieved, repented and then continued forward remaining faithful to God who did forgive him of his sins.  We all need to remember that when we repent, God hears.

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“Praying the Psalms”: Heard about the phrase. Read, studied the psalms. Finally I understand why.

Over the past decade, I have heard the phrase “praying the psalms, but it never seemed like something I needed to understand. Then I began the year of rest and renewal.  

The first thing I did was start reading—not church related prep material, but fun reading.  Oddly enough I picked up the novel series of the Yada Yada Prayer Group, written by Neta Jackson.  The characters in this series were encouraged to ‘pray the psalms.’  

And I began to sort out the significance of that phrase:  pray the psalms.  

The problem I have long had is how to make psalms fit into today’s culture.  How does the language work?  How does the ancient problems fit or match today’s?  How can the language be used when language changes?

Then I began the year-long Bible study and moved into the psalms this month and I started to understand why the phrase continues to surface as a method of prayer for God’s faithful today as much as in ancient times.

Maybe one of the key tools I have that helped open up my understanding of how to pray the psalms is theWesley Study Bible.  I have a wide range of Bibles and several with study notes, but the subtitles and descriptors that are provided for the psalms, clearly states the purpose of each one.  

Why in the world did I never understand the topic of the various psalms or even the structure of the entire book itself?

I guess that is not really an issue at this point.  The issue is that I have finally unlocked the psalms as prayers that are as appropriate today as they were in ancient times or any time:  past, present and future.

For example, the first section of psalms are considered Book 1 of the Psalter and include Psalms 1-41.  As one begins the study of these psalms, there are clear subtitles for almost each one:

  • Psalm 3:  Trust in God under Adversity
  • Psalm 4:  Confident Plea for Deliverance from Enemies
  • Psalm 6: Prayer for Recovery from Grave Illness
  • Psalm 12:  Plea for Help in Evil Times
  • Psalm 22:  Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility

These are simply the ones I have already studied within the first book.  There are four other books:  Psalms 42-72, Psalms 73-89, Psalms 90-106, and Psalms 107-150.  Looking ahead at how the Wesley Study Bible prints these, one can tell that the subtitles continue to identify the purpose of each psalm.

Praying the psalms may not be a habit that faithful Christians are using, but at times finding words to put one’s thoughts into a logical prayer leaves us in a mental block.  By stopping and scanning through the psalms in a Bible that can guide the reader, such as the Wesley Study Bible,removes that block.

Finding the right source is so important for anybody wanting to understand scripture, but to ‘pray the psalms’ a version that provides subtitles or study notes to guide the reader to find a psalm that matches his/her own need at the time.

While considering how to discuss the idea of ‘praying the psalms,’ I googled the phrase.  What I was unprepared for the number of hits that came up:  about 11,800,000 results!  

And then I began scrolling.  The websites on the first page provided a range of blogs and theologies, but I opened up The Upper Roombecause it was familiar to my Methodist background.

Check out the site: https://www.upperroom.org/resources/praying-the-psalms

Again, identifying the purpose of the psalm can guide one in how to pray the psalms.  On the Upper Room site, there is an explanation of the concept, then a list of topics aligned to an appropriate psalm is included.  And this is just one of the first website I opened.

A caution needs to be added at this point. When doing a web search, make sure to identify the source of the site.  Make sure to understand the theology or the philosophy from which the author speaks/writes.  Some of those 11 million plus websites may not be solid in theology or may be using an entirely different definition of psalm which would be anti-Christian, anti-faithful.

Because the ancient cultures did not have the law or the hymns in print and readily available, the teaching of scripture was done through singing as it was easier to memorize.  The practice has not been maintained, so praying the psalms is not part of our educational process in most cases.  We do not know the psalms—at least not 150 of them.

Therefore, as one begins reading the psalms and re-reading them, the words become familiar and when needed might surface into conscious thought –if we allow ourselves to pray the psalms.

When stress settles in and the mind freezes up, turning to the familiar psalms can unlock the communication channel to God. Certainly he knows what our issues are, but as we seek to work through the stress, turning to the ancient words used throughout the millenniums can reconnect us with God.

And, maybe it is not stress that we need to pray about; maybe we find joy or success or health and we lift our words of praise to God for those experiences, too.  The psalms are not singularly for stressful circumstances; they are for the celebrations, too.  

God is a moment-by-moment presence in our lives and we live in prayer when we remain faithful.  We remain faithful by praying or communicating with God at all times. 

Praying the psalms is a method of communicating with God; and if one has read them repeatedly, the words are familiar.  The words will surface in our minds when we face stress.  Those are the times God is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit.

Please join in prayer:

Using the words from Psalms 34:11-14 (NRSV)

Lord we pray. . . 

Come, O children, listen to me;

     I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Which of you desires life,

     and covets many days to enjoy good?

Keep your tongue from evil,

     and your lips from speaking deceit.

Depart from evil, and do good;

     seek peace, and pursue it.  –Amen.

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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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Just what is kingdom of heaven; How does one explain it?

For some reason this question just keeps circling through my head:  How does one explain the kingdom of heaven? Of course to answer, one has to define that term, also referred to as the kingdom of God.

A simple starting point needed to be found, so I turned to my Life Application Study Bible.  The kingdom of heavenis not defined per se, only kingdom:  rule or realm; dominion of a king.

I admit that was not a very satisfying result. I wanted more information and that pushed me to another resource, HarperCollins’ Bible Dictionary.  No simple answer here, but I did find some clues.

  • In the Old Testament, the kingdom of heavenkingdom of heavenkingdom of heavenwas considered to be a political kingdom.  Ancient rulers were identified as a king who dominated a specific geographical area.  The kingdom of heavenwas only a vague concept.
  • In the New Testament (NT), the first book of the gospel is Matthew and he refers to the kingdom of Godnot kingdom of heaven.  Apparently Matthew, whose audience were the Israelites/Jews, wanted to make it clear that God was the king.  The other three gospels and other NT books use the term kingdom of heaven.  According to the dictionary, the definition and/or references throughout the NT, some references tend to imply that the kingdom of heavenis an earthly realm (geographical area); yet in other references, the kingdom is a celestial location—a place outside of the earthly world we humanly know.

Finally, another statement details the understanding of the concept more definitively and I had footnoted it previously as a “post-modern view”:

“. . . new era of peace and blessing for all creation:  humans and other animate beings will enjoy life together without hurting or destroying one another in that transformed world sometimes known as ‘the peaceable kingdom’.” [p. 568]

Admittedly all these formal definitions or descriptors is not helping put together a better understanding of what the kingdom of heavenmeans in today’s common language.

Therefore, let me present my own perception:

The kingdom of heaven opens up to each one who accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, the son of God and son of Man, who came to teach how to live the Christian lifestyle following just two rules:

            (1) Love God.

            (2) Love one another. 

Living in the kingdom of heaven is living out those two rules day in and day out regardless of the physical location in which one lives—while our bodies are alive on the earth and after our bodies die our spirit continues living with God in a mysterious existence upon which we can only speculate.

Following those two simple rules transforms our mental state regardless of the environmental circumstances of our lives. Making the disciplined decision to join in the Christian lifestyle removes all the angst of factors that we really cannot control.

Think about how differently one can even perceive the weather events that affect our daily lives.  We make decisions about where we live, but we cannot make a difference on the weather that effects our address.  We live in four seasons, we know that we will have rain, snow, wind, drought, cold and hot conditions.  We know that at times there will be major weather events such as tornadoes, hail storms, or floods.  

We cannot change the weather, we can only change our mental management of the weather.  I know that the weather is outside of my control, but that does not mean I ignore it.  Rather I embrace it.

I am a weather nerd, so to speak.  I love a good summer thunderstorm, even though I do not like the mud that it creates.  I get excited when the alerts go off that we are under a tornado watch. And who does not love a snowstorm as it comes in and blankets our world.  

Yes, I know there can be very negative results from major storms, but by letting go and letting God be in charge means I am free to experience the positive and disregard the negatives—even if I am doing the snow shoveling.

For me, the kingdom of heavenis a marvelous mental state that comes with believing and living my faith in God.  I can see the world so differently when I use the lens of Jesus Christ.  I can see the values even in the negatives. I can live in the kingdom now while looking forward to the kingdom yet to come when I leave this earthly life.

My disappointment is that so many I know have not come to a conscious awareness of the kingdom of heavenas a real concept that is attainable right now, right here.  

When I stop and evaluate the individuals I have known within my own lifetime, I can see how living in the kingdom of heavenis real.  I can see it in their eyes, their smiles, their actions, and their love. 

Despite all the trials and tribulations that they experience, there is an internal joy and enthusiasm for life that transcends the negatives.  

These are the very ones who do not ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

These are the ones who accept their own limitations and flaws and do all that they can to live differently within the context of Christ-like living. 

These are the very Christians that I want to surround myself with as I look for any way that I can to do all that I can for anyone I can.  

Yes, I want to live like John Wesley wants us to live.  I want to live in the kingdom of heavennow and on into infinity!  I love God. I love life.  I love one another.  Amen.

Please join me in a prayer:

Dear loving, infinite God,

What a thrill it is to discover your kingdom.

What joy fills our hearts to live knowing

     your unending love.

What relief we experience knowing the freedom

     our faith provides. 

And, Lord, we know we are likely

     to make mistakes along our journey;

But we know you are with us

     patiently waiting for us to call.

For those times we slip, thank you for forgiving us

     and keeping the door always open.

Guide us to share the wonderment of life with you.

Guide us to demonstrate the joy in living with you.

Guide us to invite others to life in your kingdom.

Thank you for all that your creation provides.

Thank you for all that you teach us

     through your son Jesus Christ.

Thank you for sending us the Holy Spirit

     so we can know your presence within us.

Amen.

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