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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Praying the Psalms IV: Or at least I had hoped . . .

For two weeks I have failed to finish a blog posting and feel frustrated. Due to my husband’s truck wreck, I have found myself managing time differently.  And I have not been able to sit down in quiet and gather my thoughts.

Yet, I have worked hard to keep up with my daily Bible study and the psalms are still being read.  In fact today I read Psalms 111-113, and I find myself still thinking how these psalms fit into our lives yet today.

What I wanted to share these past two weeks is that the psalms speak to us even when we struggle over and over again.  Psalm 88 is a prime example of how we can talk to God when we feel at the very brink of sanity due to all the troubles we face:

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
    day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
    turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
    and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
    like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
    who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
    in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
    you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.[d]
You have taken from me my closest friends
    and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
    my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
    I spread out my hands to you.


10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
    Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
    your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?  
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
    or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
    and hide your face from me?

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
    I have borne your terrors and am in despair.


16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
    they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
    darkness is my closest friend. [NIV]

Read through this psalm and consider the times in your life when you were at a low spot—or a valley as in Psalm 23.  Look at verse 3.  How many times do we say that in our lives?  Yet, God never wears out on us.

I apologize for not writing the past two weeks.  I am managing the troubles in our household the best I can without losing focus.  I have not forgotten any of you and want you to know that I am keeping you in prayer. 

Please, too, keep my husband in prayer.  The healing process is lengthy for the type of injuries he incurred, but he survived the accident, which is a miracle.  In fact, whenever we have to review the accident with yet another specialist, they, too, are in awe that he survived as well as he has.  In these conversations, we are reminded that God rode right along with him during this accident and for that I read and pray the psalms of praise.

Please join me in a prayer taken from Psalms 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

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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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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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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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