And I feel like celebrating. I admit there are some Advents that I have not felt like diving into the Christmas madness, but this year I am ready.
Why? Maybe it is the cold, but also maybe because I have invested the full year in that year-long Bible study and am so excited to be nearing its conclusion.
As Christians, and especially if we have been raised as a Christian since birth, Christmas has always been so important. Sadly, though, we can often fall into such a rut that it loses significance.
Maybe that is what happened. I also know that with kids it is part of the parenting role to be excited, but then the kids grow up and have their own kids. Christmas develops its own pattern and you must readjust yours to meet the season of your own life.
Whatever the case is, Advent has arrived, and I have decorated more than I have in years—probably thanks to my daughter’s push. And I still have more to do.
But why, again? As I have continued the study this year, I feel like I have been given new insights into the entire development of Christianity. It is a gift that will just keep on giving.
Therefore, as we begin the process of saying farewell to 2019, look forward to 2020. Consider adding a Bible/scripture reading plan into your life on a daily basis. It is the gift you give yourself.
Just in case you have none available to you, check a few different ones I found by googling “Bible reading plan 2020”:
One of my favorite websites is BibleGateway and they provide a variety, too, at this link:
I could go on, but this is a starting point for you to prepare for January 1, 2020. If you try to read the entire Bible in one year, be prepared to allow 45+ minutes a day. If you add in study notes, it can take more. I was on a year of rest so I had time to focus on the reading. At this point, I do not know what I will do for 2020, but I am beginning to ‘shop’ around.
Please join me in prayer:
We know you are The Word, but we so often fail to read your words. Thank you for speaking to me through scripture and for speaking to those who turn to your words. Speak to them, renew them, and guide them in loving one another. –Amen
No, this is no riddle I propose. Rather, it is a reality when studying literature; and for me, the literature I have been focusing on is Biblical as I continue the year-long Bible study.
I know I have shared before about my personal study, and it is not always easy. I just completed reading the two books of Samuel. To be honest, I should have read them after completing a course in ancient history that included the sociology and the geography of the Middle East. These books were not easy.
Add to the historical, geographical, and the social-political intricacies of these books, the filter of Christianity that has been my upbringing and continued adult life. The content seemed so distant, until I stopped and realized the above truth that I know is literature: Yesterday is today; old is new. This then translates as Today is yesterday; new is old.
While studying literature in college, the emphasis that any story, poem, essay that can withstand the test of time can be defined as classic literature. The themes, regardless of the style, the plot, the setting, and the characters (aka the elements of literature), are as time-appropriate today as they were when first written—and anywhere along the timeline of humanity.
Therefore, the books of Samuel, continue to be literature which teaches today’s generations the themes of how to live within our earthly, human context. The book is filled with human drama, political battles, jealousy, adultery, and more. These are the very same conflicts that exist in our world today.
So what does one learn? Over and over again, the lesson is to follow the Golden Rule: Love one another as you want to be loved. And love being an attitude between one and any other human (and dare I add, species).
But there is one other commandment that all need to remember. We are to love God. Not only that, we are to love God above all else.
Remaining in a long-term relationship with God is not easy, especially with all the temptations that humanity has created throughout history. And we all tend to be weak in the face of temptation or in the face of peril.
This week my thoughts have focused on the health needs of close friends. One had bypass surgery and the other has been in chemo treatment for a rare cancer. Recovery is not easy for either of them, and what can I do?
Pray. I can on holy conversation with God. The prayers are for them to have the strength and the resolve to do whatever they, their medical team and primary care providers can do to battle the health issues.
But maybe the most important prayers is that God uses these trials to reach into their own lives and let them experience his loving presence.
Over and over the Old Testament stories share that bad things happen to good people. We cannot explain this as humans, but there are the words in scripture that can advise us.
Today, the reading was Habakkuk, not a common book and one of prophecy. But today, I heard God’s message that helps me to manage the earthly experience.
In the first chapter, Habakkuk asks two questions:
–v. 3 “Why do you make me see wrong doing and look at trouble?”
–v. 13 “. . . why do you look on the treacherous and are silent when the wicked swallowed those more righteous than they?”
Habakkuk has four more sections:
“God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint”
“The Prophet’s Prayer”
“The Woes of the Wicked”
“Trust and Obey in the Midst of Trouble”.
It takes reading through them and the study notes to make God’s answer clearer:
Under “God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint” is verse 2:5: “Moreover, wealth is treacherous, the arrogant do not endure.”
Under the section” The Woes of the Wicked”, there are a series of ‘alas’ statements, but hear v. 20: But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” What a reminder to have no other god before him.
Then Habakkuk prays in v. 3:16:
“I hear, and I tremble within;
my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones,
and my steps tremble beneath me.”
Even the prophet speaks honestly to God. We can do the same. Go to God in prayer to defend yourself from despair.
Habakkuk ends with these words from v. 3:18-19:
“. . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exalt in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes me feel like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.”
In the introductory notes for Habakkuk, there is more clarification in understanding why bad things can and do happen. In referring to Habakkuk 2:4 “. . . the righteous live by their faith”. The notes continue, “The prophet’s vision emphasizes trust in God despite circumstances.”
John Wesley spoke to the same them in Sermon 119, as referenced in the introductory notes:
“. . . judgments concerning good and evil, not to visible and temporal things, but to things invisible and eternal. . . .hope [is] based not on visible circumstances but in God.”
These words from the Old Testament and the Wesley Study Bible are guiding me to fuller understanding and appreciation of how valuable my faith is in managing life in our earthly world. And with that, I pray:
I finished reading C. S. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity. Maybe that is why I am struggling with jumbled thoughts. I know it was a good thing to have read the book, but I am simply can’t seem to find the words to speak about it.
Of course, I am continuing to read the Bible through that year-long plan that incorporates an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading. And that plan has me reading Ezekiel and John, the gospel of John. And all adds up to jumbled thoughts.
Therefore, I am going to just share some of these thoughts in a “stream of consciousness” format. I know it is not the wisest way to communicate ideas, but today it makes sense to me.
Yesterday, I visited with a nurse at a long-term facility and was moved by her testimony. How easy was it for her to share her passion for Christ, and how it affected her daily life.
As she shared some of her evidence of God’s work in God’s time, I found myself lifted up. There are times I worry that I cannot be effective in the lives of those I love using prayer and modeling, but she shared her understanding:
“The Lord strips away everything from those who just cannot believe or live in a Christ-like manner in order for them to learn how to trust God.”
Wow! As much as I read, study and observe, I never considered that stripping away everything from someone may indeed by God’s way of getting their attention and then to build up the relationship with them, bringing them back to God.
I shared with her that I had read Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia. She had not, but she knew of a school that was established based on these books. Amazing. I have thought so much how using these books to teach young people about faith, and here I learned was a private school based on them.
C.S. Lewis has left us so many words to read and to dwell upon. The book Mere Christianityis a publication based on radio broadcasts during World War II in England. Consider the setting to which he refers to in the book: the proximity of battling Hitler, answering the call to serve in combat leading to a likelihood of death, and the threat, imminent threat, to one’s own home or property.
Lewis said he did not believe, but then came to believe. He speaks to others who do not believe in hopes of explaining some of the truths. He talks to those who see life in concrete terms, through scientific lenses, and the cold reality of war. And the result is a common sense argument for life with God/Christ at the center.
A few weeks ago, I shared that I feel I have failed to ‘teach’ my own children how to live a Christ-centered life in a direct, honest, and disciplined manner. I also have not done my best to testify about my faith to others that I meet along the way.
This week, I did share my testimony; but only because the listener shared hers.
This week, I continue to follow the discipline of study scripture.
This week, I week I pray that I am modeling the very commandment that guides my daily life in a way that speaks volumes:
Love one another as you want to be loved.
Or in a slightly different way, using Jesus’s words in the gospel of John:
Love one another as I have loved you.
Think about those two different ways of saying the same commandment. My jumbled thoughts are just the way our lives are. We live jumbled lives, but if we keep Christ at the center and remain faithful, we always seem to end up unjumbled.
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
Growing up I was in 4-H and UMYF. In both of these groups, we learned camp songs. Interestingly these songs were basically the same.
You may remember them:
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,
Tell Me Why
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
And I know there are so many more.
We sang these when we were in fellowship with others. They were feel good songs, and we sang them loudly. We did not care if we were in tune or not. We just joined together without any reserve.
The psalms I assigned for the past several days were ““Songs of Ascent”” and some of them were very short, only a few lines long. These songs were sung by the pilgrims, the faithful while they journeyed to the temple up Mount Zion.
The “Songs of Ascent” are Psalms 120-134. The songs are full of praise, and many share a sense of unity in the deliverance from enemies and hardships.
But as I read them I can certainly ‘hear’ the people joining in singing robustly as they make the trip together just like a group of youngster sitting around a campfire.
The two images of groups singing popular songs once again points out that the words in the Bible are just as timely today as they were in ancient times. We are no different. We need to join together in praise and worship. We need God in our lives just as much now as ever.
My argument, then, is to read the “Songs of Ascent” and consider how the same gongs apply to our lives today. For me, I found these psalms uplifting and all too often we forget that our prayers can be thankful and joyful. Prayers do not always have to be repentance and supplication.
As I look back over these psalms that I have just completed studying, I can identify some of the key verses that speak to me. Praying the psalms includes sharing these words:
Ps. 120: Deliver me, O Lord,
from lying lips,
from deceitful tongue. . . .
I am for peace;
but when I speak,
they are for war.
Ps. 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills—
From where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. . . .
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.
Ps.122: For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
Ps. 123: Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Ps. 130: But there is forgiveness with you,
So that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in his word I hope . . .
. . . hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
Ps. 131: . . . hope in the Lord . . .
Ps. 133: How very good and pleasant it is
When kindred live together in unity!
In closing the “Songs of Ascent” discussion, there are two thoughts. One is that Psalm 132 seems more prophetic as it includes the prophecy that God promised that a king or anointed one will lead the Jewish, i.e. faithful people. This is a prophecy of Jesus Christ. I find the words interesting in relation to the story we now know and is shared in the New Testament, but it does not read like the other “Songs of Ascent.”
To close the discussion there is one more thought. The excepts shared in this posting can be separate prayers, but they can also be inspirational statements. One final psalm is Psalm 134, and as short as it is, it can be used as a prayer of benediction. Please join me:
Ps. 134: Praise in the Night
Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
Who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
And bless the Lord.
May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
Bless you from Zion.
And as you move through the coming days, let your heart be filled with gladness and may the camp songs of your memory fill you with joy.
Mom said, “There is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.”
Sadly today, I do not remember the exact circumstance when my mom told me this, but these words have echoed in my mind time and time again. These words have guided me in times that others would just toss off as a coincidence.
Just to make sure we are all on the same page (pardon the cliché), look at the definition of coincidence:
From Dictionary.com: a striking occurrence of two or more events at
one time apparently by mere chance
the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
From Google search engine:
the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
1. Noteworthy event of having the exact change during small cash transactions.
I apologize. I am fascinated by the variety of options available when googling a term or topic on line. The Urban Dictionary, of course, popped up something surprising in the first definition, but the other two add different perceptions to the word coincidencethat may flavor this particular essay.
Here is what happened this week that has lead to this consideration of Godincidenceversus coincidence. On the way to have my husband’s MRI after a serious dump truck accident, I grabbed a book to read: Debbie Macomber’s If Not for You.
I first read one of Macomber’s books a few weeks ago and enjoyed it. I knew she was known for knitting and writing, what I thought were romance novels, but then I discovered this year that she is a contributor for Guidepostswhich is my nightly quick devotional I have used for years.
I decided to give her a read and see if it offered me light, enjoyable, recreational reading. Soon I was binge reading the book. I could not stop reading it and I felt refreshed when it was finished.
Therefore, sitting and waiting, I opened up the second book. In no time, I was hooked. But more than that, I was hearing Mom’s words in my head—there is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.
Reading the prologue, something I learned while attending the Course of Study, I discovered that the book’s premise or setting begins almost immediately with a terrible accident.
Interesting. Here I was sitting and waiting for a diagnostic procedure due to an accident. Even more so, the accident was eerily similar—except the one we were dealing with was a truck not a car accident.
So I read on. Almost immediately I was binge reading again, and then I hit Chapter 6. While the main female character is in the hospital, she asks the male character to pick up her Bible and read her something from Psalms.
To make the story shorter, he had no idea even where Psalms was in the Bible, but she directed him with the age old directions, “Open the book to the middle and you should be in Psalms.” (p. 63)
And so begins Sam’s introduction to the Bible. He lands on Psalms 5 which I am inserting from BibleGateway.com from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message:
Psalm 5: A David psalm
1-3 Listen, God! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? King-God, I need your help. Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.
4-6 You don’t socialize with Wicked, or invite Evil over as your houseguest. Hot-Air-Boaster collapses in front of you; you shake your head over Mischief-Maker. God destroys Lie-Speaker; Blood-Thirsty and Truth-Bender disgust you.
7-8 And here I am, your invited guest— it’s incredible! I enter your house; here I am, prostrate in your inner sanctum, Waiting for directions to get me safely through enemy lines.
9-10 Every word they speak is a land mine; their lungs breathe out poison gas. Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mudslides. Pile on the guilt, God! Let their so-called wisdom wreck them. Kick them out! They’ve had their chance.
11-12 But you’ll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to you. Let the party last all night! Stand guard over our celebration. You are famous, God, for welcoming God-seekers, for decking us out in delight.
Beth, the main character, finds relief from her pain and falls asleep. Meanwhile, Sam starts exploring the Bible.
Godincidence 1: Psalm 5 had a descriptor which seemed to connect that particular psalm to the situation at hand: Give heed to my words, O Lord, Consider my groaning. Remember, she was in extreme pain.
How many times do we face a life challenge and have no idea where to turn? We may seek professional help as an accident forces us to do with the injuries that occur. We may be struggling with a crisis at work and we look for specialists to help fix it.
Life is like that. One challenge after another. For those with a strong faith system, the tendency is to shrug our shoulders, attack the problem, and push through it. We sometimes forget to include God through prayer.
“Praying the psalms” is again a technique that is often overlooked. Even Macomber included “praying the psalms” in her story and introduced Sam to the Bible while healing Beth lying in pain.
Godincidence 2: Here my husband’s own confronted me groaning resulting from the accident and the book I picked spoke to me. Was this not a message that I should be praying the psalms, too?
Life is filled with godincidencesand we often overlook them. Is this not the Holy Spirit speaking to us?
Please join in praying Psalm 5 with me (these are the NLT version of the first and last stanza)1 O Lord, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. 2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you. 3 Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
One week off from writing, and I struggle to focus on what words I should share. Words are powerful tools and they can also be powerful weapons. I pray that my words are tools for positive change in one’s life, not a weapon or hurtful to those who read/hear them.
Not only am I working through a year-long Bible study, I am participating in a study by two women who have created Bible studies for educators. Having been a classroom teacher, I relate to their focus and their unique style.
The study is Just Jamesand I am still working on week three. Yesterday I was doing Day 3 and the lesson focused on James 2:1-7 and how well we treat one another. I marvel at the timeliness of the lesson in light of the recent political arena.
In this reading, the focus is on how well we treat each person regardless of who they are, how they present themselves, or how we judgethem. The words clearly tell us notto judge, yet what we do and we say often reflect a judgment, often unflattering.
And sometimes our words hurt others almost as much or more than our actions. Sadly the words do mirror our hearts and may not reflect our Christian values.
Before going any further, read through this scripture from James:
My dear brothers and sisters,[a]how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting[b]dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes.3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well,4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name[c]you bear? [NLT]
I find it interesting to check various translations, and the NLT, which I used, places this scripture under the heading: “A Warning against Prejudice”. This pushed me to check other translations and I found these headings:
NRSV: “Warning against Partiality”
CEB: “Don’t Show Favoritism”
NIV: “Favoritism Forbidden”
NKJV: “Beware of Personal Favoritism”
MSG: The Royal Rule of Love”
ESV: “The Sin of Partiality”
(used by the Just James study)
My concern over the words we currently hear in the news are so focused on negative images, that I also spent time researching a variety of words that are synonyms: bigotry, racism, favoritism, xenophobia, discrimination—and other synonyms listed on the lexico.com website.
These are words that are related and they are hurtful. The words fill our headlines and mirror our society’s heart. This is not the reflection I like seeing. And it places the value of James’s words into my consciousness: Words hurt. Words mirror hearts.
Over the past two decades, the concept of hospitalityin our churches has been a major emphasis, especially during Bishop Robert Schnase’s appointment to the Missouri UMC. Hospitality mirrors our hearts. To honestly be hospitable, I see the importance of keeping judgment in any form out of my personal lifestyle.
“Open hearts, open minds and open doors” is part of who I am, especially as a Methodist. I do notwant to be someone who ‘judges’ others entering the church’s door nor when I meet them one-on-one. I want to accept each person for whom they are, not who I think they should be.
Do not get me wrong; I am human. I do read people, so to say, and enjoy the activity of people watching wherever I am. But, I want to be open to them, to love them as God asks us to love them. I want to accept them as they are and do all that I can to show they are loved as one of God’s children.
I want my words to be a mirror of my Christian faith and I want them to mirror my love for them. I do not want my words to hurt others—and if I ever do I hope I can be honest enough to recognize the hurt and apologize.
Yet, in our 21stcentury culture this is becoming a challenge. We are constantly told to be alert to the strangers around us. Not to talk to strangers. Not to trust . . . well, you understand.
Our society is filled with such wickedness that we must be vigilant. We must be safe. We must teach our children how to be safe, too.
And then there is the political culture that permeates the news, too. How in the world can we maintain our Christian values when all the pressures in our society seem to weaken our resolve to love one another as we want to be loved.
Becoming political in a blog or a sermon is NOT wise. Yet as a Christian I am offended by the judgments being espoused by our society, especially by our elected officials. How does the very one Christian commandment that encompasses all other laws allow for any behaviors that are being exhibited by our own elected officials!
This morning I checked the KC Star Opinionsection and found this editorial cartoon and groaned once more.
What are we doing to ourselves!
Words hurt! Words mirror our hearts.
As a teacher, I worked hard to have students understand the values of the US Constitution. I walked the fine line of keeping church and state separate, but I also worked hard to show how our country’s values were designed to prevent favoritism, prejudice, partiality.
Today’s society is challenging the very values we as Christians have vowed to live and to teach.
Today’s society is challenging the very values the founders of our nation outlined.
I believe that my Christian values supersede all other legislation and I pray that I live them out loud. I pray that others agree and that together the value we place on each human being can heal the divides that continue to be perpetuated. We must eliminate words that hurt.