Tag Archives: Bible

The Family of Adam & Eve Today

Sermon given for the 1st Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018. The Lenten sermons will be focusing on various families in the Old Testament. 

Opening scripture (in the New Living Translation):

Genesis 3:2-24, 4:1-2,8-10

     20 Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live. 21 And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

     22 Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” 23 So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24 After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

     4:1Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.

. . .One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

     Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

     10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

. . . 25 Adam had sexual relations with his wife again, and she gave birth to another son. She named him Seth for she said, “God has granted me another son in place of Abel, whom Cain killed.” 26 When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. At that time people first began to worship the Lord by name.

 

 

Reflection: The Family of Adam & Eve Today

 

In college, I learned an e. e. cummings’ poem by memory:

 

Fleas

Adam

Had ‘em.

 

Ok, I know, not a tough poem to commit to memory, but the thing is those four words have left an impression that has stayed with me to this day. The meaning of this poem is in the symbolic meaning of each word.

 

Fleas—one of the most basic irritations in our world

Adam—one name that represents all humanity, not one individual

Had ‘em—every body has the same basic irritations, now as well                                   as in the past as well as in the future.

 

The truth is that ever since time began humans–regardless of gender, nationality, age or any other qualifier–humans have problems. There is absolutely no doubt that everybody is going to have trouble at one time or another.

Just like a poem by a contemporary poet, the Bible is filled with stories, poems, prayers, hymns, lectures, or narratives providing readers guidance since it was first published. The Bible we read today was the result of over 400 years debate [Chronology accessed on February 16, 2018 at http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-43/how-we-got-our-bible-christian-history-timeline.html%5D:

  1. 1400–400 B.C.Books of the Hebrew Old Testament written
  2. 250–200 B.C.The Septuagint, a popular Greek translation of the Old Testament, produced

A.D. 45–85? Books of the Greek New Testament written

90 and 118 Councils of Jamnia give final affirmation to the Old Testament canon (39 books)

140-150 Marcion’s heretical “New Testament” incites orthodox Christians to establish a NT canon

303-306 Diocletian’s persecution includes confiscating and destroying New Testament Scriptures

  1. 305-310Lucian of Antioch’s Greek New Testament text; becomes a foundation for later Bibles

367 Athanasius’s Festal Letter lists complete New Testament canon (27 books) for the first time

397 Council of Carthage establishes orthodox New Testament canon (27 books)

  1. 400Jerome translates the Bible into Latin; this “Vulgate” becomes standard of medieval church

 

Obviously the process of translating and annotating the Bible has continued since the 5th century, but the chronology reminds us that the stories of the Bible began as oral tradition even before it was put into a written or published format.

Reading the Bible’s story provides us in the 21st century the guidance it takes to live a faithful life centered around the triune God. The Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window features a wide range of stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament around the images of the three trees. During the weeks of Lent, the stories of the Biblical Old Testament families are going to be considered. We are going to look at the life lessons that we can learn from even in this century, regardless of where the story is identified along humanity’s timeline.

Today, Adam and Eve are listed as the first family in the Bible. Their story begins in the Garden of Eden, but ends with the same challenges any family today may confront. After being cast out of the garden, they are forced to make a living for themselves and their children. They are just like us, even if the story begins in the Garden of Eden.

We all know the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but let’s concentrate on what happened next. The story in Genesis 4 tells us that they had two boys, Cain and Abel. The cultural expectations or traditions identified the roles society assigns to these two men, but the gift of free choice God provided humans creates the potential for making the wrong choices.

One thing leads to another, and Cain kills his own brother Abel. The family is sent into crisis. We know that conflicts between siblings often lead to a family imploding, and Adam’s and Eve’s story is no different than families today.

The news is filled with stories of families in crisis, and even this week as we hear the stories out of Florida, we know the harsh reality of families in crisis. Adam and Eve had to have questioned what they did or did not do that led to one son killing another son. They had to confront the pain of loss in two ways—death of a son and the exile of another.

What happened to Adam and Eve? For many, the story ended with Cain killing Abel. But the story continued. Looking deeper into Genesis, readers learn that Adam and Eve had a third son Seth—along with other sons and daughters.

Life continued for the father and mother just like life continues for all living parents after a tragedy. Nothing in the Biblical record says that they gave up; instead, it tells us that they continued living and the family grew.

Why, then does the story only include the name of Seth and then simply says that there were other sons and daughters?   Reading through study notes and Harper Collin’s Bible Dictionary, an answer developed: the names of children are identified when they contribute to their faithfulness to God.

Another words, the Bible identifies who should be models of faithful behaviors as well as those who are not faithful. All the other sons and daughters may be important family members, but they are not in the direct lineage of how the faithful continued the story forward to the birth of Jesus Christ.

That lineage connects the family stories that we will consider during Lent as we lead up to the story of Jesus during Holy Week. The story of Adam and Eve is the beginning and connects to Jesus as outlined in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Remember that Paul was well-educated in the Jewish history and religion. He qualified the relationship in Romans 5:

Closing scripture (NLT)

Romans 5

     12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

     18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

     20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

The most familiar story of Adam and Eve is filled with challenges that included murder within the family. Yet, God’s story continues as the family grew and a third son remains faithful. The next family story is that of Noah. He is a descendent from Seth, the faithful son of Adam and Eve.

Today, we must read the stories of the Old Testament families in order to find the lessons for our own lives today. We know the heartbreak of sons and daughters who are not faithful to God. We know the pain of loss in so many forms. These are the fleas of human life and the Bible tells us that even Adam and Eve had fleas. Our decisions as faithful followers depend on reading the stories and learning how to make the decisions, continuing to love one another as we want to be loved.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and patient Father,

As we enter into Lent,

We wonder what there is to learn.

We hear the stories

from the ancient scriptures

seeking new insight.

 

Adam and Eve shared

The same challenges

We do yet today.

They made mistakes,

They struggled with family,

And still they lived knowing you.

You never left them

Just as you never leave us.

 

This week, let us reflect

How even when we err

Or others in our family err,

You continue to offer forgiveness.

 

Forgive us, Lord,

For our doubts and mistakes.

Strengthen us to continue living,

Doing all the good we can

Not only in our personal family

But in our community

So that others may know

Your unending grace and love. –Amen

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Icy morning thoughts on the Tree of Life

IMG_2086Since we had to cancel church due to the thin, but dangerous ice coating, I am thinking about my message concerning the Tree of Life.  The more I read and study scripture, the more I realize the significance of the symbolism.

Today, we are confined due to the ice, but that does not confine our hearts and minds.  The Tree of Life symbolizes two concepts:  The Church that continues to carry Jesus’ teachings on through time and eternal life.

The Church is not the denomination, The Church is the work of the faithful who see all the ways to love one another.  We were watching the news and caught an add from Massachuettes Mutual Insurance.  The entire ad clearly documented all the good that is done all around this country when one loves one another.  It was so impressive.

Sadly, the message had to be funded by a corporation, but the message is worth every penny spent in making and airing it.  Thank you to Mass Mutual for doing so.  We need a reminder of all the good that does exist in our world.

In the stained glass window now installed at Leawood, KS’s Church of the Resurrection, the Tree of Life is surrounded by all the saints that continued carrying Jesus’ message of loving one another throughout history.  The Church is alive and it is something that we are quick to forget or to overlook.

The Tree of Life also has a second symbolic message–eternal life.  This is a sticky subject for many, but as I step outside into the natural world of the ice covered yard, the birds singing, the sun trying to peak out, and the breeze (even when it is only 16 degrees), I am renewed with the knowledge that even in the depth of winter, new life does exist.

Eternal life is no mystery for me.  Eternal life is a life cycle.  There is birth, earthly existence, death and then eternity.  I cannot look up to the night sky and see all the possibility of life beyond my human understanding.  I cannot accept that when this human form dies, the spirit dies.  I believe.

The Tree of Life stands firm in my life.  I look at the Celtic images and see the unending knot woven into their designs and I feel a sense of peace.  I study the Celtic Tree of Life and understand how complex and promising the life cycle that it represents.  And I thank God for getting to live this life and for the promise that remains.

Lent begins this week and I find it difficult to see these next few weeks filled with depressive thoughts and sorrow.  I anticipate the renewal of life as winter ends and spring begins.  Still, I suppose, we all need time to reevaluate our lives and consciously reflect on how we have lived and how we can improve.  Therefore, I will work to prepare sermons based the Old Testament families who struggled to remain faithful and whose life experiences provide us today with lessons on remaining faithful to God and following Jesus’ teaching to love one another.

Winter has its grip on us today with the coating of ice, but the mind never has to be frozen.  Use today to add to your own understanding of God’s messages.  Look closely at the Tree of Life in all its visual representations shared on the web, and find hope.

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Just what do I do?

sermon given on Sunday, October 15, 2017–continuing with the letters of Paul and asking the question:  What does Paul’s letter tell today’s church?

Opening scripture: I Thessalonians 4:1, 11-12, NLT

. . . we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. . . . 11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

 

Opening reflection: Just what do I do?

Only two more letters that Paul wrote to the early churches remain to review. The overarching question these past several weeks has been what message is in the letter for today’s church right here in our own community.

Each letter has followed a basic outline as any business letter we might write even today. There really is not a marked difference: the salutation, a brief familiar introduction, and then the business of the message—the reason Paul writes the letter. Once he is done with the business portion, he wraps up the letter with personal messages and reminders, even suggesting what he plans to do next.

By the time we read the two letters to the Thessalonian church, we know what to expect. But the first letter could be written to any individual in the church with whom Paul was concerned had strayed from the basic teaching. The instructions are very specific.

These opening verses seem very personal, especially if you include the reminder about sexual morality that is covered in the verses 2-10. As Paul greets his reader, so we greet each other with these opening verses. Do what Jesus taught you and you will be respected and not depend on others.

 

Sermon’s scripture connection: I Thessalonians 5:6-22, NLT

     So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk.But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

     For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

     12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. 13 Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.

     14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

     15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

     16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

     19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

Reflection continues: Do all you can to live like Jesus.

            All my life I have had books around me. Of course growing up before all the multimedia tools existed helped, and I learned early that if I had a book report to make I did not have to do chores until I finished it. Reading was fun and lead me to dream a great deal.

Remember those early book series, The Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames the Nurse, and my brother’s choice The Hardy Boys. We also had National Geographic, Look, Life, Farm Journal, Successful Farming, the Mexico Ledger and the Montgomery Standard. We had reading materials available in all kinds of forms. Reading let us go beyond the 160 acres of the farm or the boundaries of the Bellflower Elementary School and later Montgomery County R-II.

Reading Paul’s letters is somewhat like reading self-help books. The author identifies a problem, and then outlines the advice one should follow to rectify the problem. And yes, I have read my share of self-help books on a range of topics for a variety of reasons: co-dependency, dieting, teaching, organizing, time management, goal setting, and the list continues including assigned readings for pastors.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a self-help manual. It is not overly wordy and not filled with a great deal of examples. This letter is to the point, and reading it one might wonder just what in the world the people really were doing. Hopefully the tabloids were not spreading the news and he was listening carefully to the church’s leaders.

By the time one reads through the introduction, Paul’s message becomes clear. Just what does one do to live as a Christian while they wait for Jesus to return? Even though Paul reminds them of the one commandment: love one another; he does acknowledge that they are following that rule. Yet the church apparently is struggling to know just how long the wait for Jesus’ return is.

Like reading self-help books, the final goal of such reading is not just one event or one moment in time, the advice is for a lifetime change regardless of where one is, how old one is, or whether there is a finite date attached to the timeline. Paul explains that there is no way for anybody to know when Jesus will return but we must do what Jesus taught us to do all the time.

Certainly today, over 2,000 years later than Paul’s ministry, we know that our perception of when Christ will return is impossible to define. We cannot continue to focus on the exact time Jesus is expected to return; rather we are to focus on doing all that we can do to live Christ-like lives.

Paul knew this and in the effort to help the Thessalonians live confidently and expectantly for Christ’s return whenever it might be, he lists the specific behaviors that each Christian should exhibit in verses 5:6-22. If these were listed in a self-help book today, they would be summarized in bullet format or might read like a table of contents for a more in-depth book (located on the bulletin’s cover and extemporaneously discuss each listing):

  • Stay alert and be clearheaded (don’t get drunk).
  • Encourage and build each other up.
  • Honor leaders giving spiritual guidance.
  • Show spiritual leaders respect and wholehearted love.
  • Live peacefully with each other
  • Warn those who are lazy.
  • Encourage the timid.
  • Take tender care of the weak.
  • Be patient with everyone.
  • Do not pay back evil with evil.
  • Try to do good to each other and to all people.
  • Always be joyful
  • Never stop praying.
  • Be thankful in all circumstances.
  • Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.
  • Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything said.
  • Hold on to what is good.
  • Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

These behaviors are so clearly stated the Thessalonians did not have to question what Paul expected of them. The return date of Jesus Christ was not important, but living Christ-like was. By following these guidelines, the Christians are always ready for Christ’s return whether it is in broad daylight or in the middle of the night, whether this week or next week, or maybe in a year or two.

            Just what do we do? Simply do all that we can to live Christ-like lives. We live like Christ individually and as a church. We read the self-help books Paul wrote to the earliest churches; we continue to read all the Bible’s books seeking for the wisdom of living as God asks us to live loving one another.

Waiting is tough, especially if the deadline is not evident and is completely unclear after two millenniums. We must live simply and lovingly doing all that we can to share God’s infinite love with all of creation. We must keep doing whatever we can to teach others about God’s grace and love. We must worship God together thanking him for his love, his grace, and the promise of salvation.

Just what do we do? We simply do what we can, all the time we can, so we can be filled with the joy of living never worrying about when Christ will return. And, as Paul said in his opening: (1:12) Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. (4:17). . . we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up. . . Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18So encourage each other. . .

Closing prayer:

Dear gracious, loving and patient Father,

 

When we ask just what we are to do,

You tell us through the words of scripture.

Today Paul’s words share your message

That is timeless, encouraging and practical.

 

May we turn to each other to strengthen

our skills to live as Christ lived.

May we join together to do good

And defend ourselves from evil.

 

Guide us and arm us with the Holy Spirit

So we may share the joy of living like Christ

Doing all we can to encourage others

And practice what Paul teaches in his letters.

 

May the drunken become clearheaded,

May the homeless be housed,

May the hungry be fed, and

May the weak be strong.

 

Through the words of the Scripture

And by the power of the Holy Spirit

Let us serve one another in love

Doing all that we can so we may meet Jesus. –Amen.

 

Reflection’s conclusion: And The Church must follow the advice, too.

I encourage each one of you to read the Bible as your own self-help book. Paul is guiding us as individuals, but he is also guiding us as The Church. The advice is not always pleasant and may cause us to wince as we honestly evaluate what we do against what Paul tells us to do.

Attending the New Wineskins conference provided me an opportunity to hear what today’s innovative spiritual leaders are doing. When John Wesley redefined The Church into what we know as Methodism, the change was tough to accept for many. Yet, Wesley’s theology and his methods continue to follow Paul’s advice.

We must do what God asks us to do, both individually and as one of his church’s congregations. Somehow we have to find the courage to live Christ-like lives right here, right now, in any way we can or we have to find a new way.

Closing scripture: I Thessalonians 5:23-24, 28, NLT

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. . . . 28 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

 

 

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Prayer-filled Lent Reflection #5: Praying for family & self

given on Sunday, March 22, 2015

 

For five weeks, the goal was to consider praying for specific themes, and to encourage a conscious effort to pray regularly creating a 24/7 awareness of our relationship with God and the world around us. We see the physical needs of preserving the world, the relationships that are part of our daily life, and the wide range of issues that complicate our lives. Unfortunately, the weeks have challenged my resolve to develop a prayer-filled Lent.

What happened? Life did. And because life does hand us so many unknowns interrupting even the best plans, the need for prayer is even more critical. Today, prayer is one of the very best defenses in managing life’s ups and downs. Prayer keeps us God-centered; prayer keeps us active as Christians.

What happens when prayer seems to fail you? What can you do to revive your prayer life? Check out a proven resource: always first is the Bible; locate a devotional or prayer book; or turn to the web. The web may seem surprising, I know, but the Upper Room, the devotional magazine, has long guided readers in prayer and now even it is available on the web.

Since this Lent has challenged my own resolve to maintain a prayer-filled, reflective attitude, I followed these three suggestions. I continued reading the lectionary, following up on the study notes and seeking more scriptures via the concordance. Prayer is actively reading God’s word.

The second suggestion to locate a prayer book took me to my Book of Worship and to the 365 Days Prayer Book I use each evening. The Book of Worship helped manage the sermon last week since life threw a couple of roadblocks up. I trusted what our denomination has created to carry me through the funeral and the time crunch of Course of Study. This week Spring Break lulled me into a mental state of leisure, so to manage, I went to the web and found the Upper Room prayer resources.

The focus this week is praying for family and self. Prayers for those closest to us may seem the easiest, but not necessarily. As parents, prayers for our children may be natural, but as children grow up and become more independent, prayer may seem futile, ineffective, and untimely.

As children, prayer is learned. First, prayer may be lived out as children discover God’s glory and grace first hand. As children begin experiencing life, parents are the first teachers in their faith journey. Blessings at the dinner table demonstrate prayer as thanksgiving. Saying a bedtime prayer often asks God for protection. Slowly, children develop the prayer life that they will use as parents, too.

For adult children, prayers for family span the generations. Not only do they ask God for guidance in their own lives, they ask for protection of their children, and they also ask for the health and well being of their parents. The sandwich generation prayers are far more complicated when there is request for personal guidance in the care of three generations, for the health of all three generations, for the mental well being, for the independence, and for a wide range of specific needs of three generations.

At times, prayers become like a canned responses or maybe even dropped from conscious thought. That is when using a devotional publication or website comes in handy. The Upper Room does offer a daily devotion (in written format as well as on the web). Not only can the devotion guide you in your prayer life, the web site offers additional insight into prayer. In fact, I found that there is a ‘Spiritual Types Test.’ The questions are surprisingly simple, but when completed a composite is presented for you in the flash of hitting return.

The four types the Upper Room identifies are the mystic, the sage, the lover, and the prophet. The reasoning is that there are different styles or focuses for individuals to use in their prayer life. The Upper Room’s spiritual type test guides the individual in understanding how they feel most effective in prayer as well as in their Christian journey. Of course, reading through all the various types, one discovers that it is also possible to conscientiously develop one’s prayers to more specific needs using the different types.

In one of the articles, the verse James 5:16 is referenced as one of the key verses about prayer:

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

 

Dr. Candace Lewis writes in one of the website’s articles, “Powerful and Effective Prayers,”

When listening to friends share their work, health, financial, relational and spiritual challenges; I hear the need for powerful and effective prayers.  . . . Maintaining a right relationship with God and others enables us to pray powerful and effective prayers. The verse states we should “confess our faults one to another and pray one with another that we might be healed”.  . . . God’s grace enables us to pray powerful and effective prayers for the needs of self, others and the world around us.

 

That last line confirms the importance of prayer and that even when we feel we are without words, God still hears our silence and is always available once the words begin tumbling forth again.

When we feel overwhelmed by family or even with our own issues, the resources are available. We, though, must remember that we have God present at all times. Prayer allows us to have that ongoing talk with him, even when we feel alone and unable to use words.

One of my favorite modes of prayer is the breath prayer. Even though I do not always know what to say or how to say anything, I can use a breath prayer. The concept is that it is such a short phrase that you have practiced so frequently that it just surfaces at all the times you need to call on God.

The prayers of supplication are those we use when we are praying for others. The prayer chain is an example of that. We ask God to care for someone who needs help. In a sense it is like placing a magnifying glass on a specific need from as many sources as possible. Over the past several years, the prayer chain in this church has been an invaluable resource not just for the members but also for those in the community who value the prayer chain enough to ask to use it, too.

Still the means of prayer are as numerous as the people who pray. Unfortunately, as we develop our prayers and the methods we use, remember that the prayer is not about what we want, but what God knows to be best. Our prayers need to take self out and put God in.

Our human, selfish side wants prayer to be answered in the way we want it answered. We want someone healed and/or back to the perfect state of being that we want. Sometimes that condition is no longer attainable due to physical damage or age-worn. The prayer needs to focus on what God wants and for us to accept God’s decision.

Sometimes our prayers fail because the person for whom we pray may not receptive to the prayers nor to God. That does not mean stop praying, it means the prayer may be to allow God into that life. Once God is part of one’s life, the prayers may be transformative.

Prayers for our family and even for ourselves are automatic in many cases. We see the issues in the lives of those immediately around us and it is easy to ask God for answers. We witness poor decisions, we watch health decline, we see hurt, and we feel helpless. These are the very reasons we should rely on prayer. Yet the toughest part of prayer is allowing God to take over and accepting his sense of timing not ours.

Make the prayers you offer a conscious act of piety. Use the sources available to you from the Bible, to devotionals, and even to web resources. Apply various tips for prayer that can enrich the practice of talking with God. The list of tips vary, but some of the most common ones are:

  • Plan a time and place to pray
  • Keep a prayer journal listing the concerns and reviewing them
  • Pray specifically—use names; use issues (One source adds “God knows the needs. He wants us to acknowledge that we are concerned about those individual requests, too.”)
  • Use a prayer guide which is a short list of reminders such as salvation, protection, leadership, ministry, opportunity, etc.
  • Find a prayer partner because “. . . Jesus admonishes the disciples . . . that there is more power in going to God as a group rather than only as individuals.”

[“10 Prayer Tips: How to Talk to God” accessed at www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com]

 

Finally, in your prayers, ask God for the strength to turn it over to him and to let him work in his own way and in his own time. Prayers that seem unanswered due to our human demand to see an answer in our time frame, not God’s time frame. The hardest part of prayer is turning it over to God. Certainly we can repeat the prayers, but we must let go. Faith means knowing God hears and will answer.

Closing prayer

(Praise)      Awesome God,

Your love shines as the sun springs above the horizon.

Your grace peeks above the brown earth as the crocus bloom.

Your words echo like the peepers sing along the waters’ edge.

(Apology)  Forgive us for groaning and complaining through short days.

Forgive our selfishness wanting more than we need.

Forgive us for our poor patterns of Christian living.

(Thanks)    Thank you for patience in waiting for our complete trust.

Thank you for tolerance of our selfish demands.

Thank you for unending forgiveness as we make mistakes.

(Help)        Help us to put your teachings into practice.

Help us to use prayer to stay in constant connection.

Help us to rely on you for answers to prayer

in your time, not ours;

as you decide, not as we demand. –Amen

 

 

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1. Laying the foundation: Scripture, The Word

Building Our Christian Foundation: a sermon series on the basics of Christianity

  1. Laying the foundation: Scripture, The Word  given on Sunday, January 11, 2015

 

Over Christmas or on birthdays, I expect many discovered Legos or Mega blocks wrapped in the pretty packages. Or maybe it is a set of Lincoln Logs that trigger the imagination of building log cabins, houses, and forts. Kids love to create all kinds of structures with these blocks; and whenever kids begin playing with the pieces, the imaginations take off.

Just ask them to tell you what they are building. The stories show just what is going on in their minds while they pick the pieces up, lock them together and buildings, towns, or even cars, trucks or airplanes appear. Telling the story of what is being built can be as entertaining as simply watching the structures grow, shift, fall and rebuild.

Building Christian faith is very similar. The very foundation of our faith begins with the stories of the Bible. The characters and their stories are the very bricks and mortar that build that foundation of our faith.

The stories can be as entertaining as any high drama found on the television or in the movies. As we listen to the stories, we begin wondering how we would act if we were in those situations. Of course the settings can be very different than what we are experiencing now; but as in all literature, the stories are timeless because the message is the foundation, not the setting.

The verse from I Peter appeared on the opening screen when I clicked on Biblegateway.com, which is my primary source for scripture searches. I did not plan on using it, but I was on the search for today’s scripture and this was Saturday’s verse (January 10, 2015):

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT

 

Those words confirmed the very thought I was gelling into today’s message. The scripture is the direct link to God.

Scripture is the foundation for all Christians as they begin building their faith. Each book is included after very thorough review by theologians and educators. Some might wonder why the Old Testament is included since the New Testament is the story of Christ, but the foundation begins developing with those first words of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

Before everything, God existed. Life is filled with mysteries, and it is easy to get trapped into the arguments concerning whether or not God is real. There is no evidence that science can provide to prove or to disprove that God is real and proof is simply not necessary. The scripture tells us that the “Spirit of God” was the creator, existing before everything.

Being Christian begins with the story shared in the Bible. The United Methodist Church has defined the Bible as “sacred text” and googling what Methodists believe, the website about.com makes this simple statement: “The Bible is considered inerrant and inspired in its original manuscripts, and it contains everything one needs for salvation.”

The Bible and all the stories provide the foundation of Christianity. As John Wesley continued his ministry, he also identified the value of the Bible as the very foundation of Christian faith. He included in his works of piety the study of Scripture. The same about.com website listed among the descriptors of Methodist doctrine this statement: “Close adherence to the teachings of Scripture is essential to the faith because Scripture is the Word of God.”

The opening words of John also makes the definitive statement:

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

 

Scripture tells the story, it provides the lessons, and it speaks to us whenever we read and study it. The church began with the first Apostles that Jesus called to ministry, and the stories from the New Testament share how God wants us to live using the New Law rather than the Old Law found in the Old Testament.

Learning how to live a Christian lifestyle is not easy, but through the words of the Bible, we can. Wesley read and studied the Scripture daily and expected his followers to do so even holding them accountable during class meetings (now referred to as small groups). The essentials of the Methodist beliefs were stated in the website article in very clear words:

  1. Shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs,
  2. Perform kind acts as much as possible, and
  3. Abide by the edicts of God the Almighty Father.

 

The scripture provides all the examples, the methods, and the authority needed for us to live by these three simple rules. The hard part is practicing it enough to get it right but most importantly that it becomes habit.

Practice, practice, and practice some more. Laying a foundation takes careful planning, using the best products, and making adjustments as needed in order to erect a building that can withstand all the storms that nature can slam into the outer walls. Creating a Christian foundation for our own lives takes the same care. If we do make the foundation strong, it will last throughout the generations yet to come.

Practice building your foundation. Share the secrets with your family and friends. Shun evil that surrounds you. Practice random and planned acts of kindness. And keep adding to your foundation by reading the scripture. The stronger your foundation, the more you can tell the story to others—whether in modeling the story, telling it in your own words, creating a piece of art, or even singing a song. God’s message is as strong as your Christian foundation.

Closing prayer

Dear God, the Word,

Speak to us through the scriptures,

Through the work of others,

Through the visual arts,

Through the melodies of music,

And through the models of faith.

We all want to build strong foundations

Of Christian faith.

Guide us to plan ways

To build our own foundations.

Keep us focused on the process

Of reading and studying scripture.

Then let us share the story

In all the ways that we can

So others may discover the Word

And how it creates a strong foundation

On which to build one’s life

And to bring others to know you, too.

Amen.

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How dusty is your Bible?

I have not preached for two weeks prior to August 4.  Therefore, this is the first sermon to post in almost three weeks.  I gave this one on Sunday, August 4.

            The preacher was Rev. Longstreth, a rather legalistic style preacher.  He was known as Rev. Longstreth and no one considered calling him Pastor or using his first name.  His presence just seemed to hinge on his proper title.

The sermon was about—well, I am unsure as it was in the 60’s—but it did have one question that I cannot forget:  How often do you use your Bible?  At least it was something like that, but remembering that part of the sermon is not the story.  The story centers on my brother.

My guess is that he was about six years old, and I think Mom was sitting with us, which was unusual as she and Dad typically sang in the choir.  Gary and I sat on the right side of the sanctuary about four rows back, directly in front of the pulpit.

When Rev. Longstreth asked that question, Gary raised his hand and piped up.  He said Mom only picks it up when it she dusts it.  He even explained where it was sitting—on a shelf in the dining room closet.  If my memory is correct, Mom quickly reached over and put her white-gloved hand over his mouth!

As a kid, we were taught that the Bible was holy.  We were not to sit anything on top of it.  We were to be extremely careful when holding it, and we certainly were not to write in it.  The Bible was often a coffee table book that had to be dusted, especially when living on a gravel road.  It was sacred.

Maybe my memory of the incident is not 100% accurate, but I assure you that my brother did speak out in answer to the preacher’s question about using the Bible regularly.  I also know Mom was horrified, but I knew there was that one Bible that never left the shelf.

If I asked the same question today, what would your answer be?

How dusty is your Bible?

Or maybe the question is, when was the last time you sat down with your Bible to read it?  To study it?  To share it?

All too often the days get busy and we struggle to get even the basic chores done.  Sometimes we add in appointments, special projects, yard work, or even volunteer work at/for the church.  Suddenly we are exhausted, ready to call it a day, and sit down for a little TV.  The Bible remains closed and sitting on the shelf.

John Wesley considered reading and studying the Bible as one of the acts of piety.  He proposed specific guidelines for reading and studying the scripture.

But Wesley was not the first one to encourage Christians to read the Bible.  In fact, the first New Testament reference to scriptures is found in Matthew 4 according to the Life Application Study Bible concordance.  Jesus is in the desert for 40 days and he answers the Devil’s dares with quotes from Hebrew Scripture:

  • Challenged to change rocks into bread, Jesus answered:  “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
  • When the Devil tells him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, he answered:  “Again it is written.  ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
  • Even the Devil’s third test is answered with the same words:  “Again it is written. ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
  • A final test from the Devil challenging Jesus to worship him was answered:  “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

And Jesus, himself, was not the first to refer to Holy Scriptures.  From the beginning, God is The Word as we learn in the gospel John.  The earliest Israelites knew God spoke through The Word.  The earliest scriptures were recorded in Aramaic and Hebrew, the native language of the ancient tribes.  As Peter began his work after the crucifixion of Christ, he wrote in Greek.  The Word has been a critical element in the spiritual formation of all believers.

So how dusty is your Bible?  Have you incorporated reading the Bible as part of your spiritual discipline?  Have you found a translation of the Bible that speaks to you?  How do you read the Bible?

Wesley had six recommendations for reading the scripture:

  1. Set a little time aside each morning and evening to read the scripture.
  2. Read some from the Old Testament and some from the New Testament during your study time—not just one or the other.
  3. Read to learn the will of God and reflect on how you can make it happen.
  4. Pay attention to the fundamental doctrines:  Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness.
  5. Use prayer before, during, and after reading scripture.
  6. While reading, pause, reflect, and praise when you see the connection between scripture, self, and paradise.

 

These six recommendations are challenging to us in the 21st century.  We have lives that race ahead of us to a point we experience a sense of hopelessness.  How do we manage the time to open our Bibles?  How do we know we are reading it accurately and the message we perceive is what God wants us to hear?

Reading the Bible is a discipline and it takes a commitment to follow it.  As Christians we are responsible for knowing the Bible.  We are responsible for listening to God sharing his wisdom through scripture.  Comprehending the Bible has not been easy and has met quite a battery of tests and arguments.  The Catholic Church continues to use a translation referred to as the Vulgate.

The Vulgate was translated from Latin, not the primary sources written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  With all the scholarly work done through the millenniums (thousands) of years, the Vulgate does not match other translations.

During the last few weeks, my COS study group attended a Catholic mass.  The scriptures were directly from the Common Lectionary and seemed familiar until two shared a reading based on Mary’s and Martha’s story.  It did not match the story I knew.

I was shocked and discussed it with the others once we got into the car.  They explained the difference is due to the Vulgate translation from Latin rather than the primary Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages.  Protestant churches use translations from the primary sources, not just Latin.

Back to today’s question, though:  How dusty is your Bible?  Are you reading it at least once daily, whether through a daily devotional or a reading plan?  Have you found a translation that is easy for you to read and speaks to you?  Have you used study notes or interpretative materials?  Have you turned to the internet for additional help? Have you read it alone or with others?

Mom did not just dust the Bible; she read it.  Now maybe she did not read it every day, but the Bible she typically used was well worn.  It had been given to her when she was a child.  During the months of her cancer treatment, you could often find her with a Bible close at hand.

My dad’s cousin came over one day and gave her a new Bible—the Life Application Study Bible.  There was/is a note on the inside of the Bible from Merle about how valuable she found this particular version.  Mom began using it.  Fighting cancer, she turned to the Bible for answers.

After she died, I went through the Bible.  I knew she wrote in it, but I found underlined passages, notes in the margin, and bookmarks here and there.  I learned how the Bible talked to her.  I also know that with that Bible she continues to share with others, too.  The Bible was for her, but now it is for others.

I ended up buying my own copy, so I could keep her notes separate from mine.  In fact I have many versions of the Bible in order to learn more, to hear from God in different ways.  In Acts, Luke reminds us to read, to study, and to live by the word.  Sometimes it is difficult, but the effort is rewarded eternally.

Closing Prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for your Words.

Guide us in the reading and the understanding

of the stories, the poems, the prayers, and the advice.

Help us to hear your answers to our questions.

Help us to learn how to handle life’s challenges.

Help us use the principles written in the scriptures.

Guide us in disciplining our lives

so we spend time with the Word.

Help us to read privately.

Help us with corporate study.

Help us find a covenant/small group to talk about your words.

Thank you for all the scholars

who work to share the wisdom in our languages.

Thank you for family and friends

who read, study, and discuss the scriptures.

Thank you for the Holy Spirit that dwells with us

so we may hear you speak to us.

–To the glory of God, amen.

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A is for Apocrypha; P is for Psalms

given on Sunday, April 7, 2013

Every once and a while an idea just starts bubbling up in the brain, and no matter what you do, you cannot get rid of it.  Several weeks ago, even before Lent, I started wondering about the apocrypha.  Never had it been included either in Bible studies or in Sunday school classes, or even mentioned in sermons.

Yet, somehow I wanted to know what was locked away in this series of Biblical books.   Maybe the term Biblical does not apply because the books certainly are not included in our common versions of the Bible.  Still I could not shake the questions and the ideas that seemed to be flooding my brain.

Even though Lent demanded attention and then Easter called for more traditional readings and sermons, I could only subdue the raging in my head until time had come to consider post-Easter sermons.  That is when the phrase exploded—A is for Apocrypha!  Post-Easter means April and the A’s had come together—A is for Apocrypha.

To begin, the apocrypha is published in between the old and the new testaments and usually only in Catholic Bibles.  Why?  Turns out that the dates the various books are written are between 400 BC and Christ’s birth.  Apparently the gap really does not exist because various religious manuscripts surfaced during that time and were commonly accepted by the Jewish leaders.

Today we opened our service with Psalm 150; a glorious hymn of praise that we frequently include when the tone of our worship is full of energy and excitement.  The tone reverberates the loud music that is listed within the lines.  As April begins and we finally see the promise of spring, the promise of God’s gift of eternal life, Psalm 150 lifts us up from the worst of winter and makes us want to jump for joy.  A is for April, but P is for Psalms of Praise!

As Christians we recognize that Psalm 150 closes the book in the Old Testament.  Studies of Psalms explains the breakdown of the book into various themes and are arranged in an order that journeys the reader through the emotional ups and downs typically associated with David’s life.  Some are written by David, some are not.  But buried in the apocrypha is Psalm 151.  Why?

The Bible is a foundation for our faith.  We read it for guidance, for understanding, for God because he can speak through the words to guide us in our daily lives.  The Old Testament is what the Jewish people read.  The New Testament is added so the story of Christ completes or bridges our earthly life to eternal life.

Psalm 151 is different from those in the Old Testament.  It is autobiographical, written by King David, explaining God’s choice of him over his brothers.  Look back at those verses 1-4:

I was the smallest of my brothers,
the youngest of my father’s sons.
He made me shepherd of his flock,
ruler over their young.

My hands made a flute,
my fingers a lyre.
Let me give glory to the Lord,
I thought to myself.

The mountains
cannot witness to God;
the hills cannot proclaim him.
But the trees have cherished
my words,
the flocks my deeds.

Who can proclaim,
who can announce,
who can declare the Lord’s deeds?
God has seen everything;
God has heard everything;
God has listened.  —the CEB

The first verses of the psalm show who David is—a shepherd, a musician, an average guy who seemingly does not have the same qualities of his brothers.  Yet it is David that God chooses rather than any one of his brothers who most would identify as leaders of a nation.

Some translations of Psalm 151 consider the four verses the complete psalm.  But the scroll on which this psalm was found included the other two verses:

God sent his prophet to anoint me;
Samuel to make me great.
My brothers went out to meet him,
handsome in form and appearance:

Their stature tall,
their hair beautiful,
but the Lord God
did not choose them.

Instead, he sent and took me
from following the flock.
God anointed me with holy oil;
God made me leader for his people,
ruler over the children
of his covenant.  —the CEB

These three verses refer back to the story of David and Goliath.  They are written as autobiographical—in first person—so it does not follow the typical pattern of the 150 psalms already included.  In fact, one reference explains that the scroll on which the psalm is written was ripped.  There has been no way to assure scholars that verse 7 completed the psalm or whether there were more that have been lost.

Is there a message in Psalm 151?  Certainly.  God chooses those to serve.  David may not have felt he was worthy to be called in comparison to his own brothers, but he answered the call.  And in the verses 5 and 6, he explains that by referring back to his battle with Goliath.  He was the smallest, most unlikely of his family to become the leader that he did.  God called him, God anointed him, and God made him leader of the Israelites.

Are we hearing God’s call?  Maybe we do, but we do not believe in ourselves enough to answer.  All too often we ignore God’s calling.  All too often we talk ourselves out of acknowledging God’s call to us personally.  God knows the gifts he provides us, God goes with us wherever we go, and God gives us the strength to handle the whatever we must as long as we believe.

April is renewal.  Easter was the beginning of a new chapter in Christianity.  And just like A is for Apocrypha and P is for Psalms, there is more for us in April:

R is for Reading scriptures;

I is for Inspiration from the scriptures; and

L is for Listening to the Word of God.

The Old Testament spoke to the ancient tribes of Israel; the New Testament speaks to Christians since the beginning of the Church.  What lies in the Apocrypha is a mystery to the Protestants, but has been speaking to the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox faithful.  Therefore, A is for APRIL, a time of renewal, of exploration, and of listening to the stories of the Apocrypha, too.

Dear Eternal Father, Author of Our Lives,.

Open our minds to the stories in the scriptures.

Open our hearts to the messages Your Words share.

Keep us curious as we seek understanding.

Keep us faithful to Your commandments.

Use us to reach out to others in need of Your grace.

Use us to demonstrate Your love to one and another.

As the scriptures tell us the story,

Let us tell the story, too, so others may be transformed.  –Amen

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