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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And death was always part of the journey . . . 

One of my elementary teachers died during the school year.

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

My grandmother died during my junior college year.

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

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

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

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

The New Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An open apology to kids about knowing God, faith

I apologize.  

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

I apologize.

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

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

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

I apologize.

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

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

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

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

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

I apologize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I apologize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I should have . . . and the list continues.

I apologize that I failed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear my prayer oh Lord, 

I am just a child of yours

     always learning of your vastness.

I am a child who has wasted time

     sharing what I value with my own.

I am a child who whines to you

     that my kids may not know you on their own.

Forgive me, Lord, 

     for my failures to teach my kids of You.

Forgive me, Lord,

     for wasting time in sharing faith out loud.

Forgive me, Lord, for whining

     rather than doing as much as I can.

Guide me to speak out loud 

     the truth of your love for us.

Guide me to live out loud

     my faith that so others may see.

Guide me to love my kids

     and all others as you commanded.

Thank you for the words of the faithful

     that share knowledge of faithful living.

Thank you for the open communication

     through our prayers.

Thank you for your guidance

     through the Holy Spirit within us.

May I be the parent unafraid 

     to love not only my kids but all your kids.

May all your children experience your great love

May they know the joy of loving you, 

         of loving life, and         

of loving one another.  –Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please join me in a prayer:

Dear merciful God,

Time and time again we behave poorly.

We ignore all the lessons shared in the Bible.

We chose to act in ways that do not follow

     the greatest commandment ever taught:

     “Love one another.”

Forgive us of our doubt, disbelief, or denial.

Forgive us for hurting others,

     physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Forgive us for our own self-judgment

     separating us from your love.

May we find peace knowing your divine mercy.

May we shine in the light of knowing your love.

May we offer grace to one another so they too

     experience the joy of faithfulness.

In the name of you, our Father, 

     In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,

          And through the Holy Spirit, God within us,

Amen.

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Prayerful thoughts on closing 2018-19 school year, summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Done: The Chronicles of Narnia Now struggling with sadness Yet coupled with optimism

Time and again I am frustrated with how to manage all the thoughts that get tangled up in my brain after I finish reading a book, but that tangle is multiplied by seven after finishing the series, The Chronicles of Narnia,by C. S. Lewis.  I am left with sadness of the end, yet that is coupled with the optimism.

At the same time, basically, I have finished reading the Old Testament book of Numbersand the New Testament book of Revelations.  Maybe that has multiplied the tangled mess in my head.

I know I have said it before, but reading fantasy literature is difficult for me with all the invented names the authors introduce.  My dyslexic brain is so wired to read language that fits into my paradigm of spelling and meanings, that stepping into the fantasy world of unknowns slows down my reading and therefore complicates my ability to stay connected to the storyline.

Now add to the storyline of the seven chronicles the Biblical timelines of the Old Testament, the New Testament and then the future as outlined in Revelations and this brain is almost fried, if I may use a vernacular.

BUT.  And I do mean all caps BUT, the reading continues to fuel my understanding of God. I am more and more convinced of the reality that where I live here in the Midwest of the United States, a North American country of the globe we label Earth is just one tiny speck in a universe that God has established.

AND, yes an all caps AND, the speck in the universe that I am is as exciting and delightful as any speck might be anywhere in the vast unknowns—as long as we are part of God’s loving world filled with Grace, Love, Mercy, and more Love.

In one respect, I am thankful that I read the chronicles in the way the stories were packaged rather than in the order they were actually written.  I like order. And even though the chronicles always remind readers that today’s earthly definition of time and Narnia’s concept of time do not match, keeping the sequence of the stories in order helped my dyslexic-and probably obsessive-compulsive tendencies-aided in my comprehension.

That is a lengthy introduction to the tangled thoughts that are bouncing around in my head, but I beg your patience as I begin trying to sort out some of my thoughts.

1.  The Chronicles of Narniais much more than juvenile literature.  The truth that Lewis presents how to treat others just as they want to be treated—whether human or animal—is critical and I am thankful that it is the underlying theme for each of the adventures.

Loving one another as one wants to be loved is absolutely critical.  That rule of life has, is and always must be the measure of all actions whether in personal relationships, in community neighborhoods, in business decisions, in national and international decisions, even in decisions on how we treat the other living beings co-existing with us.

If every decision was made based on that principle, how could decisions have negative affects?

2.  The Chronicles of Narniaalso illustrates the basic sins of humanity that return over and over in literature and in our daily life, especially greed and power.  Lewis’ characters clearly identify the negative effects of the sinful behaviors in vivid descriptions of the characters’ features and faces, not to mention their actions.

The images literally caused me to shiver as the story took a turn for evil and challenged the forces of good.  I get the same reaction when the news shares some terrible event or even quote something or someone who is operating from the premise of greed or power over the well-being of others.

Reading the Old Testament book of Numberswas challenging because I could not comprehend the need for the itemized explanations repeated over and over for how to make sacrifices, nor for the different degrees of sacrifices or offerings for this or that purpose. Confusing.  Unnecessary.  Unmanageable. Of course, those descriptors come from the 21stcentury after God sent Jesus as the final blood sacrifice.

Which again brings up the discussion of timelines. As I read through the New Testament book of Revelationsalong side ofNumbersandThe Chronicles of Narnia, I had to face the fact that we continually need to be taught how to keep our life focused on God and the true commandments that Jesus taught during his ministry:

                  Love God.

                  Love one another.

As much reading as I am doing these months, I can turn almost any literature into a theological discussion on how to live the Christian lifestyle and how that combats all the evil in our lives.  I also can see though the various written words how essential it is to live in our current timeframe by those very commandments so that we are able to transition into any other realm at any time. 

When I read the final chapter of Lewis’s The Last BattleI wanted to scream, “NO!”  Over and over I wanted the story to continue and for the Eustace and Jill to return to their lives in England without any loss of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the evil ape Smith was just misleading all the creatures of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the donkey Puzzle was clever and the ape was dangerous trying to manipulate Puzzle.

I wanted to scream, “NO!” to Tirian as he drew his sword trying to fight against the impossible number of Calormenes.

But the lesson would have been lost if Lewis’s story had not continued to the surprising conclusion as each one of the Narnian squad entered the Stable door.

Then as the last chapters began to conclude the chronicles, the glory of Aslan pushes the reader forward, into a realm of new possibilities.

And, my personal readings once again intertwine. Remember, my personal reading has been included Revelations, which is filled with the wonderment of the New Jerusalem in vivid descriptions.

Why, I ask, did I find myself binge reading The Chronicles of Narniaalong side the year-long Bible readings?  As I said, now that I finished the chronicles, I am experiencing a sense of sadness, but it is coupled with optimism.

My brain is afire with thoughts, but then the final pages of The Last Battleand the chapters of Revelationsseem to be racing together to tell me one of the most wonderful truths that I have yet to experience:  Life with Jesus as my savior leads to life eternal in a world so unbelievably beautiful that there is nothing to fear.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving, gracious, merciful Father

As the words of your servants

Unveil the mysteries of our earthly lives,

May we shed all the fears

that clutter our lives

Muddling the beauty of life around us.

Lead us through the Holy Spirit

Who teaches us through the words

Of Holy Scripture written so long ago, 

but also of gifted writers since those days.

Open our hearts and our minds

So that we may take the words

And open our hands to serve you

In any way that we can 

So others may learn the promises

Of The Word shared by Jesus.  –Amen

Just a P.S. Words are powerful and I continue to read even when the ideas, the genres, and the timelines cause my brain to go into overload.  How often I find myself needing to step away and let my thoughts just float around before they fly out the fingers on the keys.  May God’s words enlighten me through the Holy Spirit so that my words are God’s tools.

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Sorting out Numbers: So many rules to know!

Continuing with the year-long reading plan, I have been reading the Old Testament book of Numbers.  Actually, I am reading the study notes first because the text of Numbers is frustrating to me.  I just do not get all the rules and regulations that the Lord placed on the Israelites.

Well, I said it and the walls have not fallen down around me and no lightening struck me or even near me—except the lightening that filled the sky these past couple of weeks with storm after storm after storm. I suppose it is safe to say that I am not enjoying the text of Numbers.

I wonder how the Israelites ever felt that they were living the faithful life with all the rules that Moses and Aaron shared with them.  I cannot imagine remembering each detail and maintain my daily life with all the different offerings, rituals and rules that was required

Here were the twelve tribes still wandering around the wilderness, living in tent cities with all the supplies needed for daily life along with all the livestock and all that were part of their livelihood, too.  And then Moses and Aaron kept bringing them more rules.

No wonder that the people became cantankerous. Today’s world is so far removed from the nomadic lifestyle that it is difficult if not impossible to relate to the demands upon the tribes.  Yet, I want to find a sense of connectedness to this book.

During my college years, I was living in transition. I began in the dorm, along with many others who were strangers to me (and in the 1970s we did not have coed dorms so there were only females in my dorm).  I lived in a strange land.  I had new responsibilities to care for myself.  I had to walk to strange new places, and I had to learn new rules and new boundaries.

Certainly the transition was far different that the Israelites exodus from Egypt, but I was leaving the safe haven of my home to begin a new life that would lead me to an entirely new setting for my life.

As a farmer’s daughter, I had learned the rules that my parents established for our family.  We attended church faithfully, we went to school doing the best we could, and we did the chores that taught us responsibilities as well as how to manage our future lives away from our childhood world.  I knew what was expected; I knew what I had to do; I knew what I wanted to do, too.  I left for college equipped for the unknown I was stepping into.

Maybe I should understand what Numbers is telling me. Maybe I should know the fears of the people.  Maybe I should know that trusting God made life in the wilderness less fearful.  

Certainly the book makes my life seem so much simpler and safer than those ancient days of traveling through the wilderness.  But the mental fear of those years in college might be similar to the fears of the Israelites.  

One had to trust the lifestyle in which they lived, especially in community with each other and with all those people on the move.  In my own life, whenever I moved from one location to the next, I needed basic rules or guidelines in order to step into a new community.  I learned that it takes a year just to know the basic culture of the community.

During the ancient exile narrative, the rules and the regulations made the journey doable.  With Moses and Aaron sharing the words of the Lord, the people struggled but continued onward to the Promised Land.

The doubts and the fears had to be addressed and often lead to dissension and tension—even rebellion.  The results were not good, but those who faithfully listened to Moses and Aaron continued making the journey.

Our lives, today, must also follow God’s law. We are just blessed to have the New Testament to simplify the complex lifestyle of the nomadic culture the earliest Israelites experienced.  

Christians today must follow God’s commandment, too, but we know that Jesus provided us just two commandments:  Love God.  Love one another.  

Reading all the chapters in Numbers wears me out. There are so many specific directions on how to live, where to set up camp, what to sacrifice, when to sacrifice, what is an appropriate offering, and the list continues.

My transitions in life are much more manageable and far less fearful because I know that God provided us the instructions for a simple life that can fit into any culture, any location, any setting whether at home, at work, or on even on vacation.

I am free from making sacrifices because Jesus was the final sacrifice.  I am free to love God and to love one another without any restrictions.  I can confidently know that God is with me and life is good when I accept Jesus’ sacrifice for me and agree to do all that I can for anybody that I can in any way that I can.  That is love.

I continue to work through the reading plan, and I will finish Numbers.  I know that there is so much more to learn; and while reading the New Testament book of Revelations, I see a world so beautiful that I have no fear of the final life transition that is ahead.

Join me in prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for your patience with me,

Waiting for me to understand the Word.

Thank you for the lessons shared

      from the Old Testament,

So we can appreciate the efforts of your faithful.

Thank you for the words of the New Testament

     That have proven to make life love-filled.

May we understand the old, old stories;

May we demonstrate the new commandments;

And may we share with others the value

     of loving one another as you love us.  –Amen.

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