Tag Archives: Bible study

Have you ever been so afraid to read a book that you fail to?

Ok, I admit that is what happened to me in relation to an entire genre—fantasy.  And I had my reasons to avoid them.

Primarily I am dyslexic and reading books with created language does not work well for me.  First, I have to decode the language and then I have to create a new vocabulary just to read the books.  

Then there is the problem that develops with long-term memory.  Created language has to be relearned several times before it is committed to long-term memory and can be efficiently recalled so as not to love the comprehension necessary to keep the story fluid for the reader.

These logistical issues have caused me to put down books repeatedly.  Over the course of my life, I have avoided some of the most acclaimed books and I have wondered what I may have been missing.


Oddly enough, the determination to read the Bible in one year has triggered a nagging question:  Why does everybody rage about C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia?  

I had little knowledge about the series and only knew that C. S. Lewis wrote them and that he was a widely read theologian. I felt guilty that I had not read it and so I have decided to tackle the chronicles.

As of this writing, I have completed the first two books in the singular volume of the seven books in the series.  I was surprised that the first one was not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobebecause that is the one I remember first learning about.

So as I sat down with the book and looked at the copyright, I discovered the secret in the copyright years:

1950—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

1951—Prince Caspian

1952—The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

1953—The Silver Chair

1954—The Horse and His Boy

1955—The Magician’s Nephew

1965—The Last Battle

Granted, this did surprise me as the first one I read was The Magician’s Nephew, because it is the first in the one volume collection I am using.  Yet, I can understand why it was first at this point and I dare not reveal the secret.

That means the second one I just finished is the first one Lewis wrote, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And I am fascinated with the autobiographical note that is included stating the Lewis wrote this as a child’s fairy tale for his own granddaughter Lucy.

But to return to the premise of my own fear of reading this series:  The language is not as created as I had thought it would be but I do know it helps to understand the time context and the language in which it was written. The English language is not American, it is British and that could trip up the reader who is unfamiliar or unprepared to know some of the colloquial references.

Secondly, it is important to remember that it was written at the close of World War II.  For the British, the proximity and the reality of that tremendous war played a role in the culture which even explained how the children are relocated out of London to a country estate.

These factors can make a difference for me in even picking up a book as I prefer reading American historical novels.  The setting and the language are comfortable and do not take additional work for my comprehension.  And I like to read, so that comfort makes reading more efficient as I do not have to learn something unfamiliar to pick up the nuances of the literature.

And I am wandering around in this conversation because there is so much to explain as I dive into this reading challenge.  I think there is one more huge piece to add to this background of my reading:  my personal familiarity and study of the Bible.

After completing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I am in total awe of the theological base of the story.  I simply cannot imagine how Lewis could so inventively develop the story of Narnia to explain or to demonstrate the immensity of the Gospel story.

Admittedly when I become engrossed in a book I become captured and struggle to put the book down.  My initial decision to read the chronicles was coupled with a desire to have a very special reading companion in the process—my own granddaughter. 

As I read, every once in a few chapters, I text her a comment or share a piece of information with her.  She reacts, even though usually in one word replies.  I cannot be sure of her own reading and/or progress in the book, but there is something unique in having the ability to share in the process with someone who is hovering in that tween state of mind.

Let me explain some of my own emotional reactions. When Edmund first connected to the Witch, I could hardly stand it.  I wanted to yank him out of the castle and make him quit eating the Turkish Delight. Why in the world could he not see the deception!

I had to text my reading partner that I did not like Edmund.  At the same time I explained the literary term foreshadowing.  Her reaction, “Cool.”  Needless to say, I do not know any more than that concerning her comprehension or anything, but it is enough to keep me going.

Then yesterday hit.  I kept reading and when I finished chapter 14, I hurt.  In fact I had to tell her that, and no reaction. But then I know that I hurt because I knew the full connection to the Bible.

Chapter 14 ends with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

How could I explain that to her without crossing the line of trust that I am suppose to allow her to discover whether or not she wants to know about faith? 

How could I add how knowing the Bible I know that the rest of the story has so much more and that there really is hope?

So, I kept reading.  Somehow I knew that I needed to add something into my text messages so she had hope, too.

I finished the second book later in the day, and I know the beauty of the story as it continues.  Therefore, when I finished it, I had another text for her: 

“By the way, I cold not quit reading.  The end of the books is so exciting.  Let me know what you think once in a while.”

No response yet, but she is not suppose to have her phone on during the school day.  We will see, but until then I continue in my own challenge to read the chronicles and continue my Bible study.

I know one thing more, now I want to read Lewis’ theological books, too.  There is so much more to learn through my own independent study and so much I want to share with others.  

Conversation always helps when reading, and I always look for others who have read the same material so I can add more depth to my own understanding.  

Thank goodness the Holy Spirit does provide me assistance as I read and study the ancient words of the faithful.

And thank goodness I have overcome my fear of reading not only the full Bible using a new approach, but to reading Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.  I am sure that as all good books do, I will want to read even more.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for wordsmiths

who have taken your story

and created new ways of sharing.

May my own words reflect

the truth of the scriptures

and the story of Jesus Christ

who died for our sins

and taught us how to love one another.

Guide us during these days of Lent

to continue reflecting on our own lives

and seeking to be closer to You

through what we learn of Jesus Christ

by the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Just one word makes all the difference

Continuing on my year-long Bible study, I find that my thoughts are so full of ideas that it is difficult to isolate a clear statement. Today, it took me all week to locate what I had read and find a way to state what I learned. I pray that it makes a difference for you, too.

How often does one’s Bible reading reveal the phrase “fear the Lord” or “fear God”?  I always struggle with the word choice of ‘fear.’  

During my reading, I may have unlocked the mystery of the word ‘fear.’  I may no longer fear understanding why that is used over and over in human’s relationship with God.

What I uncovered during my study time came in the study notes in the Wesley Study Bible(p. 762) connected to Proverbs 1:

“In Proverbs 1:7 (and in 2:5; 9:10; 15:33; 31:30), the fear of the Lord refers to moral obedience, the acknowledgment that everything worth knowing and all moral guidance comes from God.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament the fear of the Lord refers to the trembling of the human being in the presence of the divine (Isaiah 6) and the covenant loyalty the nation needs to show the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:20).  Theologically, each of these three biblical postures before God—the obedience of Proverbs, the awe of Isaiah, and the loyalty of Deuteronomy—is a response to God’s prior, gracious activity. . . . “

The term fear in today’s culture typically does not conjure up those images:  obedience, awe and loyalty.  Instead, fear has extremely negative connotations.  Therefore, as I read through the study notes and found this paragraph, I had to stop and reread the earlier note:

“We today do not like the concept of “the fear of the Lord,” assuming it means a fear of imminent punishment.  But, though there are several meanings ascribed to the term in the Old Testament, none of them refers to fear of imminent divine punishment.”

Wow!  For years I have struggled to fully comprehend why the Bible uses “fear of God” if God is love.  My tendency is to read scripture replacing the word ‘fear’ with the word ‘respect’ and move on.

The explanation in the Wesley Study Biblethat I have inserted makes more sense to me than any other word or analysis I have found. 

By looking up the word ‘fear’ in the Oxford Dictionary On-line [accessed on April 5, 2019 at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fear] , I can see why the meaning of fear has evolved into the negative connotations that cause me problems:

As a noun:  An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.

As a verb:  Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful.

No where in these definitions is any reference to ‘awe,’ ‘obedience,’ or ‘loyalty’.  Even when I checked the origin of the word, I could not find a connection to these Biblical definitions of ‘fear’:

Old English fǣr ‘calamity, danger’, fǣran ‘frighten’, also ‘revere’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gevaar and German Gefahr ‘danger’.

Granted the word ‘revere’ shows up, but that does not lessen the negative connotations of the words ‘calamity,’ ‘danger,’ and ‘frighten.’

Thank goodness the study notes has introduced this new viewpoint of the word ‘fear.’  I can read the Biblical use of ‘fear’ differently now.  I can stop feeling guilty because I do not ‘fear the Lord.’  I now can see that fear is awe, obedience, and loyaltyto the Lord.

Please  join me in prayer:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the wisdom of Biblical scholars

who can translate your words in ways

to clarify ancient literature for me today.

Thank you for the sense of awe, 

the desire to be obedient, and

the sense of loyalty my faith provides.

Thank you for your unending presence

through the power of the Holy Spirit,

so I may continue to grow in faith.  –Amen.


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I heard the peepers! Hope soars as spring eases in.

The truest harbinger of spring has to be the sweet, sweet sounds of peepers in the evening.  Last night as I took the dogs out, I heard them.  True it was faint, but that sound is undeniable.

Then this morning, just before dawn, I stepped outside and again I heard that glorious sound—peepers.  This has to be real.  Spring must be coming soon.  

I realize the sound is so faint, but the peepers’ home is a marshy area about a half-mile from our yard, over the ridge and around the lake.  During the day nature’s spring symphony is hard to hear, but in the evening and the dawn, life is not yet loud.

Is that not like hearing the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  Life is noisy here in our world.  We have the alarm clocks, the TVs, the machines to get us to and fro, the machines producing the goods we sell, the voices of the sales people that hound us around the stores, the life sounds of parents, kids, and even the retirees, can become so loud that we hear nothing else.

Granted this is not a new topic.  The issue of the noise in our life seems to be a popular topic in the self-help literature.  Discussions about stress also reference this life noise.  We allow the noise to step between one and another in conversation and even in relationships.  We need silence.  

Maybe I am writing this for myself.  I keep noise on in the background throughout the waking day.  I should make silence a priority, but I don’t.  The noise is worse in the winter because I cannot step outside into the natural world and listen to nature.  

Hence my excitement hearing the peepers.  I know that soon I can step outside and listen to the symphony of nature rather than the noise from the TV or machines. I will be able to step away from the winter capsule filled with noise.

Last week I referenced Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms, and in the chapter “Solitude” one is reminded how needing silence is part of practicing ‘solitude:’

Barton opens the chapter with a quote from Parker Palmer’s  A Hidden Wholeness:

“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy.  Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush.  If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.  But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance.”

Simply reading that quote triggered the desire for solitude.  I recognize that need for the silence of nature.  Notice that I do not mention quiet, I mean the silence of nature and all its natural sounds.  

Solitude from human-made sounds does not allow my soul to open up.  Even though I sit in the house with no other human, I tend to turn on background noise in the form of the TV.  I even turn the sound down just to a low sound that I really cannot make out the conversation.

Going on through the chapter I began to realize how come, even with my noise background, how I wanted solitude from other people and other noise.  And I thought I was an extrovert and who is fueled by contact with others.  Lately I am wondering if I really am an introvert and need aloneness to recharge.  If that is the case, it is directly opposite of how I have lived my life.

Barton develops her argument for solitude so well that I began wondering how I could find solitude in my world.  And then I heard the peepers!

Solitude may mean removing ones self from noise and allowing one to decompress.  And I am just now, after 7-8 months, realizing how many layers I must peel away in order to be decompressed enough to let God go to work through me.

Barton says, “One of the fundamental purposes of solitude is to give us a concrete way of entering into such stillness, so that God can come in and do what only God can do.” (p.41)

I am learning that working as I believe God asks me to work cannot be done while I am living in so much noise—noise that has developed from the years of working in education and then the pulpit, too.  

My noise is locked into my brain and I need it to be peeled away so God has a straight path back into my consciousness. I need to decompress.

As I have invested in a thorough study of the year-long Bible reading, I am hearing words I never have heard before.  I am realizing that I am ‘listening’ differently and that is due to the layers of noise slowly being peeled off.

My solitude practice is not complete, but I am making strides.  The long, harsh winter is making it difficult for me to step out into the silence of  nature and silence the noise of daily living.

Barton provides a ‘practice’ section in her chapters, and the one for silence provides these guidelines:

  • Choose a comfortable, safe place to be open and available to God,
  • Settle into a comfortable position, sit quietly, breath deep, become aware of God’s presence, and your desire to be present with God;
  • As you sit quietly, begin to notice what is true about you without rushing to make something happen;
  • Sit with what comes into your awareness, becoming aware of God’s presence with you; and
  • Regularly practice this way of entering solitude until it becomes routine.  (p.43-44)

Granted this is only a summary of the practice, but I can see how this could help me to decompress.  I can also see how it will allow me to hear God’s directions for me.

Barton shares how even Jesus needed solitude and tried to make sure that the apostles also learned this practice.  We all need to find a way to step into solitude in order to stay in a close, personal relationship with God.

I am not there yet, but with the work I am doing with the Bible reading and the guidance from various recommended authors like Barton, I am peeling away the clutter in my brain.  I am getting closer to the practice of solitude (esp. with spring being announced by the peepers).

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Father, 

You are The Word.

You are found in scriptures.

You are talking to me, and I do not hear.

Lead me out of the noise.

Lead me to solitude.

Lead me to hear you speak.

Thank you for words of friends.

Thank you for the words of scripture.

Thank you for the words of leaders.

May I find the solitude to hear You

By the power of the Holy Spirit.  –Amen.

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Brrrrr, it’s cold out there. Better stay in and read.

During the past week, the sun has remained hidden. We had a huge snowfall Friday through Saturday, well even into Sunday.  Add to that the low temperatures hovering around 32 for a week, and my brain seems frozen.

For a long time, I have known that when winter moves in and the sun disappears, I can easily fall into a mental slump, and I have to admit I am there right now.  

And I have worked not to be stuck inside:  I shoveled snow.  I took the dogs out with me while I shoveled.  In fact, I realized they needed a path to walk around the yard—so I shoveled.

Now here is the thing:  that physical work keeps my body moving, but the brain is still struggling.  Last week I explained that I dove in to a year-long Bible reading plan.  And I can now say I am caught up and on schedule.

As of today, I have read through 42 chapters of Genesis and 14 chapters of Romans.  It is a discipline, and for these dreary winter days, I find myself escaping from the foggy days when I pick up my pencil, open the journal, and tackle the reading.

I can understand why John Wesley insisted that Christians read the scripture.  There is so much to understand, and having read as much as I previously have, reading it in a disciplined approach is still challenging.

My notes really are not a journal, more they are Cliff-note style.  In case that is not familiar to you, Cliff notes are a staple for college students, even high school students, who are reading literature and want a summary or additional notes to supplement the reading.

In a way, I find myself modeling the style of notes John Wesley wrote and are often referenced in the Wesley Study Bible I am using.  Maybe I write down too much, but when I write something down I have better memory of what I have read—something I learned about myself in my first college experience.

Reading like this lets me read it somewhat like a book, first.  If I don’t get something, I re-read it.  If something strikes me as unusual or significant, I write it down along with the summary of what I read.

I am not a fast reader, but I discover that reading three to four chapters in the Bible and making the study notes/journal entries takes me about an hour.  I was afraid it would take much longer, so the reading works into my day rather smoothly.

Since last Thursday, I have continued working through the genealogical narrative of the Old Testament faithful.  I have read about Abraham and Sarah.  I have tried to understand the traditions and the drive that lead Sarah to have Abraham have her handmaiden Hagar so he would have an heir. Therefore Ishmael was a born.

And then there is the surprising change of heart when Sarah does indeed become pregnant with Isaac.  She drives away Hagar and Ishmael.  She wanted to make sure her son was the heir of Abraham.

The narrative continues and so do the strange customs of marriage and birth that complicate my understanding of the Old Testament.  How in the world could a father offer his own son as a blood sacrifice?  But his faith and his ability to hear the Lord talk to him, ends with Isaac safe and suddenly there is a substitute ram for the sacrifice.

These books include so many stories.  So many examples of how God talks to the people. Over and over, faithful followers manage some terrible life experiences because they maintain a close relationship with God.

What am I learning?  Remain faithful.  And that means spending time knowing the examples of these ancestors and how their faith was rewarded.  The stories teach us the expectations God has for us to live in community with one another.

In fact, this particular reading plan couples a New Testament reading with the Old Testament reading.  I was puzzled, as I began, why Genesis would be paired with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The reading plan does not provide any specifics other than the list of daily readings.

And then you read the New Testament reading and you discover the connection.  Paul tells the Romans how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of the secular world.  Now that is a real life manual we need yet today—2,000 years after Paul wrote the letter.

We need to hear Paul’s advice right now! There is so much information and images that flies at us through the internet, the television, the print media, not to mention all the casual conversations that go on all around us.

The fourteen chapters of Romans contain practical and sensible advice.  I probably should be outlining each one separately, but what speaks to me may be the most important lesson for this reading, and then turn around and read it again in a few days, weeks, months or years and something else seems more important.

For instance, today in Romans 14, the subtitle was “Do Not Judge Another.”  How easy it is to judge someone.  Maybe the judgment comes along political poles, or maybe by the first appearance of a way someone dresses, or maybe it is an action that goes against our personal standards.  

In reading Romans 14, I found myself focusing on verse 9:  “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”  

Then I read on, and came to versus 13-14:  “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

Maybe I am not being concrete in what I am sharing or maybe it is not as coherent as an essay should be.  For those possibilities, I apologize.  I need sunshine to clear the fog in my brain a bit more.

But, if by sharing some of these thoughts I can trigger someone into reading scripture, then thank goodness.  If someone reads scripture and discovers God talking to them, they will discover the joy of living within God’s family.

Dear Heavenly Father,

May these words lead others to discover the grace that you provide. May your words help others to manage life challenges today just as the faithful in ancient times managed.  Thank you for those before me who heard your call to write, to preserve, to translate, to publish all these words of the Old Testament and the New Testament so we can hear you talk to us today. –Amen

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Susandoodles in print

Good morning, All!  As you can see by the title of this blog, I have found a way to continue ministry in a different format.  I may be out of the pulpit now, but I have some who have no way to be in church.  Therefore, I have been trying to find a way to continue reaching out to them–and they are not on line.  I suddenly realized this morning that I could develop a newsletter format to mail to those who are not on line.  Therefore, I am creating it while adding to my blog.  The change will need refinement, I am sure, but here is the first attempt:

“Recharging,” a friend said

Last week I wrote a blog that stated that in this period of rest I was sensing confusion.  My friend replied to the blog said maybe I should consider this is a time for ‘recharging.’

 

As the week continued on filled with so much to do, I realized rest continues to be evasive.  The fact is that I have always lived with a goal in mind and a process to follow to reach that goal.

 

Therefore, I have thought a great deal about the term recharging and have decided that is the best definition for my current status.  I am recharging.

 

Refueling tends to mean that one has completely run out of fuel, and I just did not feel that was the situation.  I also know that rest was needed because I was locked into a mindset that kept me in a work mode rather than do something for fun (partly because it seems wasteful and selfish).

 

Recharging indicates that the fuel still keeps you running, but it is getting low.  Maybe I was getting low enough that the dash light had come on and those around me noticed it before I did.

 

Therefore, I am going to consider myself ‘recharging’ rather than on a prescribed rest or having to be refueled.  Thank you to my friend for the suggestion, but also thank you to the DS and other friends and family members who noticed that the warning light had lit up and insisted that I needed to recharge.

 

Today, I have suddenly seen a little picture into how I can continue to share thoughts with others who do not have internet access—a written form of Susandoodles.  This will give me an opportunity to stay connected, but also to share faith journeys in different ways.  I pray that this reaches you and it lifts you up.

 

Ephesians prayer for our use

Sunday, another sermon in Rev. Jim Downing’s Masterpieceseries on Ephesians, introduced the prayer that Paul shared for spiritual growth.

 

I find listening to a sermon on a scripture that I have also used creates an eerie feeling—partly that I may have gotten something wrong, but also a sense of relief that those verses speak to others, too.

 

Using Ephesians 3:14-21, Rev. Downing provided a version with blanks in it. When I saw the small handout, I wondered why the blanks.  The instructions at the bottom said, “Consider filling in the blank with the name of a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, neighbor or person from the community, or even a person with whom you have trouble. Pray sincerely for God to do these things in and for their lives.  You can also pray this prayer for yourself.”

 

Here is the prayer:

Lord, I pray that out of Your glorious riches __________ may be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in __________’s inner being, so that Christ may dwell in __________’s heart through faith.  And I pray that __________, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love that surpasses knowledge—that __________ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!  Amen.

 

My prayer is that this tool Rev. Downing provided brings the faithful closer to God, but also heal the wounds in relationships.

 

An extra note on this scripture/prayer

This summer, my daughter and I have joined in a Bible study entitled, #Fruited, which is written by Bonnie Kathryn Hunter and Bethany Fleming, two teachers (ironically one a kindergarten teacher and one a high school English teacher—which matches our teaching careers).

 

The concept is that when one is rooted in scripture, one is able to enjoy the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) in all life situations.

 

The experience of working through the study (we are in the last week) has been such a new experience for the two of us, but it keeps intersecting with real life and our philosophy in teaching in surprising ways.

 

The study also keeps running into other scriptures, and one is the Paul’s letter prayer Rev. Downing used and I have used in the past:  three different presentations on the same verse within the last year.

 

As I continue recharging and listening for God’s next call in my own life, the scriptures are the high octane fuel of our lives.  I hope that as I continue to find ways of sharing my faith, my Susandoodles blog or this Susandoodles in print can help others in their faith journey.  May God’s blessings be with you.

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Rule No. 3: Stay in love with God.

given on Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rule No. 3:  Stay in love with God.

based on Rueben P. Job’s Three Simple Rules:  A Wesleyan Way of Living

 

What is the first thought that runs through your mind when you hear the rooster’s crow?  Is it that it can’t be time to get up!  Or maybe you think something is wrong, the rooster’s crow could be a warning.  Does it ever cross your mind that the rooster’s crow is asking a question for God?  God asks, “Do you love me?”

Oddly, that question is the one test that God asks of us over and over.  We just do not hear it.  “Do you love me?”  Not only once does he ask it, but he asks it over and over and over.  Peter heard it three times.  Peter could answer it with words, but actions do not always match our words.

While reading these three simple rules, the order of them seemed backward.  Shouldn’t the last, the third rule, be the first:  Stay in love with God.  In fact, I think it seems more logical to completely reverse the three rules:  1. Stay in love with God.  2. Do good.  3. Do no harm.

This third rule even lead me to ask our district superintendent about its wording and inclusion in the three rules.  The answer was the typical Jesus-style answer:  How else do we hear God?  How do we do the other two rules?

To stay in love with God seems so simple, but by now I know that simple wording certainly does not mean simple practices.  Bishop Job even begins the explanation with the word “ordinance.”  With a background exposure to a military academy, the word ordinance triggers images of weapons.  Ordinance certainly was not a word I expected in a theological discussion.  But, the Bishop begins rule number three with that word:

Ordinance is a strange word to our ears.  But to John Wesley, it was a word that described the practices that kept the relationship between God and humans vital, alive, and growing.  (p.53)

Another words, there must be ‘weapons’ to use for keeping us following God.  The Bishop continues to clarify that:

. . . He names public worship of God, the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, Bible study, and fasting as essential to a faithful life.  . . . these practices can become a life-giving source of strength and guidance for us.  . . . these disciplines [are] central to any life in faithfulness to God in Christ.  (ibid)

Let’s go back to the rooster’s crow.  Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.  Peter refused to believe it.  Yet sitting with the crowd outside the palace, three times he was asked if he knew Jesus.  Three times he answered no.  Imagine what he felt when the rooster crowed!  He knew he had denied Jesus three times right there that night. (John 18:25-27)

Rule no. 3:  Stay in love with God.  Peter loved God, yet even he denied knowing Jesus.  If Peter can slip and deny Jesus at that very critical point in the story, why shouldn’t we be concerned with our ability to stay in love with God?

Maybe we are doing no harm and we are doing good, are we still in love with God?  How can we be sure that we stay in love with God?  Even after all these years as Christian, why should we be concerned about staying in love with God?

Maybe we are doing just fine, but we also know that the world around us continues to change and usually we are not too happy about it.  We complain, but we do not seem to have a solution.  We are comfortable in our daily routines and our typical weekly schedule.  Is not that enough to show that we are still in love with God?  The question possibly could be worded a bit differently, too:  Are my personal practices enough to maintain my love for God in the 21st century culture?

Here is Bishop Job’s checklist, which comes straight from John Wesley:

  • public worship of God,
  • the Lord’s Supper,
  • private and family prayer,
  • searching the Scriptures, Bible study,
  • and fasting.

Stop and review those practices—or ordinances—to keep us in a solid relationship with God.  Are we able to affirm that we are participating in those six practices?  Maybe we practice part of them, maybe three or four; but are our practices strong enough to convince God and others we are still in love with God.

The third rule needs to be the first as it leads to the other two rules as automatic results from this third rule.  Bishop Job provides the reasoning:

[1]  It is in these practices that we learn to hear and respond to God’s direction.

[2]  It is in these practices that we learn to trust God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

 [3]  It is in these practices that we learn of God’s love for us.

 [4]  It is where our love for God is nurtured and sustained.  (p.55)

The argument that rule no. 3 should be rule no. 1 is becoming more solid—at least in my mind.  If maintaining these practices keep us in a strong relationship with God, following his direction to do no harm and to do good will follow.

These ‘ordinances’ are not new.   These practices or methods or disciplines are designed to keep us in love with God, but they also result in doing no harm and in doing good even in the 21st century.  Jesus and his Apostles were using these practices.  Wesley used them.  And today we use them.  The methods to stay in love with God have not changed.  The cultures around us continue to change, but maintaining these practices is essential.

Granted the cultural changes lead us to modify or to adapt the practices in many cases, but the practices do arm us against the onslaught of a 21st century culture that seems to turn fire at us every moment of our earthly lives—even in those quiet sleeping moments at night.

The very constitutional amendments designed to preserve our religious freedoms here in the United States are challenged and adapted to social standards that are no longer the primary Christian ones that established the Constitution.   Yet there can be no excuse for not maintaining the practices of our faith.  For example, one individual tested prayer in our schools.  The Supreme Court ruled that we may not force someone to pray out loud at schools or other public functions.  But no one can legislate our silent prayers whether in school, in our homes, or on our jobs.

  • We continue to meet weekly for public worship.
  • We have no excuse to avoid reading the Bible in search of answers or simply for continual study.
  • We include communion in our worship.
  • We can choose to fast in a manner that works for us, too.

The truth is that we honestly need to review our practices.  Are we using these practices, often referred to as Wesley’s Works of Piety?  Again, Bishop Job points out that rule no. 3 leads to Wesley’s Works of Mercy that covers rules no. 1 & 2.

Holy living will not be discovered, achieved, continued, and sustained without staying in love with God.  And while staying in love with God involves, prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s Supper [ i.e. works of piety], it also involves feeding the lambs, tending the sheep, and providing for the needs of others . . . [those] are the signs of love that we exchange with God.  And they are signs of the love that the world can understand.

Sadly, we live in a world that challenges us to maintain our works of piety.  Bishop Job quotes the theologian Henri J. M. Nouwen, “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”      With that statement, when we fail to maintain our Christian principles or to follow our practices, we have to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?”

And like Peter, when the rooster began crowing on that fateful morning, we have to turn to God and ask for forgiveness.  Remember, God forgives us “70 times 7” or forever.  Peter denied his love of God, and there are times we do, too.  We may not use words, but we use actions.  Fortunately, as Bishop Job adds,

“The failures of the past are to be forgotten and the new possibilities are to be embraced. . . . Each of us has our own litany of failures to recite, but the good news is that we can start again.  . . . [our answer to ‘Do you love me?’ is] When we respond in the affirmative, the response from God is always the same, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” (p.59-60)

The three simple rules are all wrapped up in on:  “Stay in love with God.”  By following the disciplines laid out by Wesley as the works of piety–prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s supper—then we answer with the works of mercy—actions that heal the pain, injustice, and inequality of our world.  We do no harm and we do good as means or ways to stay in love with God.  To end, Bishop Job writes:

“It’s a way of living that can guard your life from doing evil and enable you to do good.  A way of living that provides a way to stay in love with God in this world and the next.  A way of living that promises a way to claim and enjoy your full inheritance as children of God. (p.61-62)

I believe that staying in love with God leads to the quality of life that I dream of living.  The end result, too, is continued life even after death.  Peter heard that rooster crow, but even after denying his relationship with Jesus, he was forgiven and continued to spread the Word.  God loves us, we love him.  Let us share the news, too, so others may know that love and the world can be transformed.

And to close, using the words of Bishop Job, let us pray:

Dear God,

Teach us today

to do no harm,

to do good,

and assist us

so that we may

stay in a loving relationship

with you and our neighbor.

Help us today

to be an answer

to another’s prayer

so that we may be one

of your signs

of hope

in the world you love.  –Amen

 

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