Tag Archives: Christian lifestyle

Confessing–already: Only 10 days into the year & struggling

Hanging a new calendar and getting everything in order is like a breath of fresh air.  Last year’s stuff is gone and so much to anticipate with a new year.  

Notice I did not start with resolutions and that is quite purposeful.  I do not like making resolutions because my experience has demonstrated to me that they do not work—or at least I cannot makethem work.

Life inevitably gets in the way of maintaining one’s discipline or schedule or willpower to master a new year’s resolution.  As the year begins, there is no way to predict how the year will proceed so that translates into failed resolutions.

Therefore, I confess.  I did not make a new year’s resolution.  And I do not regret that decision because just 10 days into 2019, any resolve I may have had seems to be suspended.

I admit, I do want to accomplish something that I have not honestly ever done—read all of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament.

This is my second confession:  I have never sat down and read the Bible from Genesis through Revelations.  Shocking, isn’t it?

Here I am a cradle Methodist, a lifelong Christian, and even a graduate of the Course of Study in the United Methodist Church, and I have never started with Genesis 1:1 and read straight through the entire Bible.

No excuses.  I just have never had the discipline or the drive to proceed through the Bible in that manner.  I have read it in all different ways:  New Testament, the Four Gospels, the Psalms, Genesis, the Torah, the minor prophets, the Letters of Paul, Revelations, and even through the lectionary (all three years at least two times).  Not just once, but repeatedly at all different times in my life.

Another confession:  I have a terrible memory.  All my life I have failed at memorization—at least beyond short term. This has been a lifelong challenge from grade school throughout my post-graduate work, even.

Therefore, I hesitate to admit that I am going to do my best to follow a reading plan that takes me through the Old Testament coupled with New Testament readings during the calendar year.

This is not a resolution.  This is a decision that I feel God expects from each of us who profess to be Christians.  

The plan began on January 1.  I did not begin trying to read until January 3 so that already put me behind.

This means one more confession:  I could just quit, but I decided I have to try a little longer.  One week is really not that bad, so I have continued.

As of today, I am only two days behind.  It is a struggle, but I want to do this.

All the years I have taught high schoolers about how to learn and how to study and how to set goals, I included many of the principles of Franklin Covey.  

One of the guidelines included in that successful program is that one should tell others one’s goals.  If others know your goals, then they can encourage you to reach those goals.  For me, that means they should also not interrupt my study time in order to accomplish this goal.

As you can tell, I am sharing these thoughts as part of sharing my journey through the Bible.  Maybe including some of the thoughts via the blog, readers can provide additional insight and depth into the reading.  

Therefore, here are a few notes from the readings I have completed these past 10 days:

Genesis 1-19(so far)

These chapters include not only the story of creation, but also of recreation following the story of Noah and the Great Flood.  Familiar narrative, but there are still some surprises for me:

  • As terrible as Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, God still invited Cain to “do well” so that he might be accepted; that he “must master it [sin]”.
  • Using the Wesley Study Bible, I found this note: “See how early the gospel [referencing Jesus Christ’s ministry, death & resurrection]  was preached, and the benefit of it here offered even to one of ‘the chief of sinners’.”
  • Geneaology is frequently found in the Bible, and in Genesis 5:24, the lineage reaches Enoch and in this verse it is stated that Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him.  The Wesley Study Bible states the phrase “. . . then he was no more. . .” indicates that even though death is inevitable it is not the last word or all.
  • The Great Flood is a story of recreation.
  • Noah was righteous so God worked through him to preserve his creation.
  • Genesis 7:13-16 has interesting phrase describing loading the ark:  “. . . and the Lord shut him in.”  Not exactly sure why I find this so interesting, but worthy of making note of it.
  • The lengthy genealogical lists are difficult to read, but they serve to push through the timeline efficiently.  When studying folklore, I was reminded that oral tradition strongly emphasizes reciting the linage accurately and repeatedly, too. The lineage of Noah carries us to Abram/Abraham.
  • A few months ago I read a novel based on the Biblical figure Sarah.  As I continued reading Genesis 12, I found myself mingling the details of the historical novel with the Biblical story.  The story defies our scientific understanding of age and reproduction, but the message is complete faith in God.
  • The story of Abraham & Sarah is no different than stories of committed Christians who remain faithful first to God, then to each other.  Life is not going to always be easy, but listen for God’s direction and remain faithful to him.  I have witnessed couples like this throughout my life.  Maintain one’s faith in God, and then all the details of earthly living are manageable.
  • The Biblical narrative of Lot is brief in comparison, but in that novel I read it was developed with fictitious details that added interesting twists; but In Genesis 19, the story of Lot again emphasizes the necessity of listening to God and to rely on him.  Lot escaped, but his wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26).

The Old Testament readings are coupled with New Testament Readings.  So far the readings are all from Romans.  At first I thought that was a peculiar decision, but in the reading it becomes clear why.

  • Romans 2:  key point is that we are not to judge; only God does the judging.
  • Real circumcision is not a physical action it is a matter of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29)
  • Rom 3:22-24:  “. . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are no justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . “
  • Rom. 3:28:  Paul says, “For we hold that a person is justified by faithapart from works prescribed by the law [the Law of Moses from the Old Testament].”
  • Yet Paul goes on to say in v. 31 that we are not to overthrow the law [whether speaking about the Law of Moses or civil law], uphold it.
  • Rom. 4 was a bit confusing for me as it goes back to the discussion of circumcision and reconnects to the covenant of the Lord with Abraham that established the practice of circumcision.
  • Rom. 5 is subtitled “Results of Justification”and really focuses on a John Wesley principle. 
  • Rom. 5:1—“. . . we are justified by faith. . .”
  • Rom. 5:3—“suffering produces endurance”
  • Rom. 5:4—“endurance produces character and character produces hope”
  • Rom. 5:5—“and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
  • Rom. 5:18-21—[paraphrased] “. . . just as [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all, so [Jesus Christ’s] act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all . . . where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  • Rom. 6:12—“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. . .”  
  • Rom. 6:14—“For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law [the Law of Moses] but under grace
  • Rom. 6:20-23—“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.  The end is eternal life.  Or the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  –For me, this is a WOW! Statement.

As I continue to read through the year’s plan, I am struggling to comprehend some of the pieces.  I am using the Wesley Study Bible this time (NRSV translation) and that helps.  Therefore, I will step away for now as I continue to work on my readings.  If you want to join me, here are the readings I have done followed by the ones for the next week:

Read to date:  Genesis 1-19 and Romans 1-7

To read from now through next week:

  • Jan. 8      Gen. 20-22 & Rom. 8:1-12
  • Jan. 9      Gen. 23-24 & Rom. 8:22-39
  • Jan. 10   Gen. 25-26 & Rom. 9:1-15
  • Jan. 11   Gen. 27-28 & Rom. 9:16-33
  • Jan. 12   Gen. 29-30 & Rom. 10
  • Jan. 13   Gen. 31-32 & Rom. 11:1-18
  • Jan. 14   Gen. 33-35 & Rom. 11:19-36
  • Jan. 15   Gen. 36-38 & Rom. 12
  • Jan. 16   Gen. 39-40 & Rom. 13

Dear Lord,

May we hear you through the words of scripture.  –Amen.

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Advent concludes. Christmas is over, too. One thing remains: LOVE

Hard to believe that the week is slipping away and I failed to continue reflecting on Advent.  The season swamped me and the hope, joy and peace of Advent almost got lost in the last minute push.

But, I cannot tell you how excited I am to share that the final message of Advent isLOVE

Consider this: Week 1—hope.

                         Week 2—joy.

                         Week 3—peace.

Those who walk through Advent season and acknowledge how the weeks guide us in a review of one’s belief, there is only one word that can add all these themes into one more–love.

Returning to the Oxford On-line Dictionary, the definitions of love, as a noun, helps us to understand the immensity of this final week’s theme:

1.  An intense feeling of deep affection.

2.  A great interest and pleasure in something.

3.  A person or thing that one loves.

But it is the definition of loveas a verb that pulls all of Advent and Christmas together:

1.  Feel deep affection . . . for

Once one experiences the three concepts introduced through Advent—hope, joy and peace—the need to act develops.  There is energy that comes when there is hope, joy and peace that begs to be used and when loveis a verb, that energy becomes the force that gives the noun love.

The theme of love is repeated in so often in Advent studies and other devotions putting a new twist on it can be difficult, but as we have done the past weeks of Advent, review the origin of the word:

Old English lufu, of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit lubhyati ‘desires’, Latin libet ‘it is pleasing’, libido ‘desire’, also by leave and lief.

Interesting that all three different origins still contribute to the understanding of the fourth week’s theme of love. The verb love takes the noun and moves it into action.

Traditionally Christmas becomes a time when love is visible through the practice of giving gifts to family and friends.  The action symbolizes the relationship that has developed between two individuals.  The relationship has so many different faces:

  • Spouse to spouse
  • Parent to child
  • Child to parent
  • Friend to friend
  • Work peer to work peer
  • Cousin to cousin
  • Grandparent to grandchild
  • Brother to Sister/Brother
  • Sister to Sister/Brother

And the list continues to grow. 

Gift giving is a tangible way society has identified to express the intangible noun definition of love.  No, the giving is not necessary, but it is a tangible way to say to someone how they fit into you life, how loved you are.

But gift giving is an event, the lovethat fills our hearts moves into action in so many ways.  As an operating system, love fuels our lives to do for others, to give to others in all types of ways.  

The verse so often referenced is I Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  (NLT)

Even though this familiar reading is so often used in reference to weddings, think about how broad its scope really is if loveis translated into an action towards anybody.  No one would have an enemy.  No one would judge another person.  No one would . . . I am sure you can fill in the blank.

This leads us right up to the end of another calendar year and the beginning of a new year.  There is hope.  There is joy. There is peace.  And now there is love for one another.

During the coming year(s), move that hope, joy and peace into the energy to love others.  Love them just as you want to be loved.  

There is no better gift than to give love to others freely, with no strings attached.  Christmas as a traditional celebration is a spot on the calendars of our lives that remind us how to loveby giving.  But giving love is a verb that does not have a box around it with gift wrap and ribbons.  Love, the verb, is a lifestyle of loving others regardless of any distinctive, identifiable quality.  Loveis living life each and every day doing all that you can for all you can in any way you can at any times you can.  Love, the verb, is a lifestyle that exudes hope, joy and peace.

Text Box: May 2019 be fueled
by love
filling your life
with hope, joy and peace

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Loving God 

     the father, the son and the Holy Ghost,

Thank you for the greatest gift of love 

     you have given to each and every one.

You knew that we did not understand

     how to love one another

     so you joined us in the form of Jesus

     to teach us how to love.

The prophets tried to prepare us over and over

     keeping hope alive in the darkest of times.

The shepherds shared the news the joyously heard

      from the angels right out in the open fields.

The wise men came and saw, too, giving gifts

      leaving in peace not wanting to sound alarms.

Guide us to know that love is all that is needed

      To live in this world, 

      To experience peace,

      To be filled with joy,

      To fuel us with hope

      So we, too, may love one another as you love us.

In the name of you the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Common Lectionary Readings:

4thSunday of Advent:        Micah 5:2-5a

                                                      Luke 1:47-55

                                                      Hebrews 10:5-10

                                                      Luke 1:30-45

Christmas Eve:                      Isaiah 9:2-7

                                                      Psalm 96

                                                      Titus 2:11-14

                                                      Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Day                       Isaiah 52:7-10

                                                      Psalm 98

                                                      Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)

                                                      John 1:1-14

December 30                          I Samuel 2:19-20, 26

                                                      Psalm 148

                                                      Colossians 3:12-17

                                                      Luke 2:41-52

December 31                          Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

                                                      Psalm 8

                                                      Revelation 21:1-6a

                                                      Matthew 25:31-46

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What can Advent teach us? Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.


Sunday began the second week of advent and all the traditional trappings are present for the season.  Christmas carols fill the air, decorations are full of red and green, glitter, lights, and so much more.  No one can escape the trappings of the season.

Yet, in all the hubbub of the holiday season, the purpose of the season becomes buried.  That triggered a question:  What can Advent teach us?  

Four weeks on the Christian calendar are to prepare one for the birth of Jesus Christ—as known as the Messiah, the Savior, Emmanuel, Son of God. The story is old and has been told and retold for over 2,000 years—according to our calendar.

So, what can Advent 2018 teach us?

I have thought about that this week and realized that maybe, just maybe we work so hard to celebrate Christmas, we ignore the significance of the four weeks before Christmas Day.  

This pushed me to think about the typical labels used within The Church for each of the weeks:  hope, peace, joy, and love.  One theme for each week, and last week I talked a little about hope; therefore, this week—if I follow expectations—I should talk about peace.

But, maybe I need to review this and think about the whole four weeks a little broader.  Why hope, peace, joy and love?  What makes these four abstract nouns so essential to the entire story?  What do these four themes teach us?

Looking at the common lectionary, the themes are woven through readings from the Old and New Testament.  Remember that reading the Bible is reading literature that deals with all the reality of human existence—the strengths and the weaknesses, birth and death, health and illness.  

So what can Advent 2018 teach us?

The answer lies in the big picture—Christ in the center of our lives makes life manageable.  Even more: 

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NLT):  

This scripture has carried me through many rough days.  As I look at the lectionary readings, I am reminded how the scriptures simply repeat themes.

Last week I referenced “hope” as the theme, but I am seeing how hope is a foundational piece to Christian faith.  Of course hope would be the first theme of Advent because without hope one becomes distraught, disillusioned, lost.

Without hope, one becomes frozen into a life pattern that is without purpose or focus. If life is identified as a color, life without hope is grey.  And as tradition has it, that is not an Advent color.  (I know, silver and white are popular right now, but dull grey just does not light up one’s eyes for decorations in my opinion.)

So what can Advent 2018 teach us?  

Hope becomes a driving force in our lives.  We need hope to keep us living life to its fullest.  Living with hope places us in the position to do or act. We are turned loose to live.  

Now think about peace.  Some churches celebrate peace as the theme for the second week of Advent, but again it takes understanding what peace really is. 

Consider the definition, according to the Oxford On-line dictionary:

PEACE (mass noun)

1. Freedom from disturbance; tranquility.

     1.1 Mental or emotional calm.

2  A state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.

     2.1in singular A treaty agreeing peace between

           warring states.

     2.2 The state of being free from civil disorder.

     2.3 The state of being free from dissension.

With such emphasis on global news in our current culture, an outside observer might think the second definition is the most common use of the word; but Advent focuses on the first definition as a foundation for Christian living.

Consider this:  with hopewe are living with the expectations that trusting God will give us the strength to manage all the highs and lows our lives encounter.  Having that trust is the level of hope that leads us to peace.

Peacein the Christian context is not a political arrangement; it is tranquility—personal tranquility.  The lectionary’s gospel reading for this week is about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus:

     Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’”

–Luke 3:4-6 referencing Isaiah 40:3-5

The verses do not speak specifically to peace,but reading the Life Application Study Bible’s study notes adds a new perspective:

To “prepare the way” means clearing aside the baggage of the past and the doubts of the present in order to let the King come into your life.  He’ll take it from there.  

Consider the tranquility that one will experience if Advent truly “prepares the way” for a life that centers on God, the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  That tranquility is in deed PEACE.  

And yes, the color blue is tranquil, it is the clear blue skies of all four seasons.  It is the blue of the Eastern Bluebird another symbol of happiness.  

What does Advent teach us?  

  • Advent teaches us the very foundation of a faith-filled life with God.  
  • Advent teaches us hope.
  • Advent teaches us peace.

Christians take four weeks to “prepare the way” for the celebration of God’s arrival as the baby Jesus Christ.  One learns hope and one finds peace as Advent continues.

Dear Giving God,

We turn to scripture to read the story once again.

We practice all the traditions of Advent

     hoping to experience Christ with us.

We mark off the weeks of Advent 

      learning a new peace because you are with us.

We anticipate learning even more 

     from the ancient words shared in scripture

     and from those who teach us understanding.

Through the week we thank you

      for being present with us

     as we anticipate the joy of Christmas.  –Amen

Common Lectionary readings for week of Dec. 9, 2018

  • Malachi 3:1-4
  • Luke 1:68-79

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Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

Last week a sudden realization walked through my brain:  summer break was over.  Now for many that might really seem like an epiphany, but for me it answered the state of mind I found myself dwelling.

 

Having lived all my life on an academic calendar until I retired from teaching in 2015, my psyche functioned along the year beginning in August, ending in May, and then taking a three-month break.

 

The last three years of serving as a licensed local pastor on a part time basis should have erased that internal time clock, but last week I realized it had not.

 

Stepping out of the pulpit as of July 1, I was mentally thinking I would take the break to refresh myself and return to work.  But, that is not what my internal time clock understood.

 

Last week it occurred to me that my ‘summer break’ was over.  Three months have passed and my year is not resuming as my brain thinks it should.

 

This realization has caused me to stop and reflect on why I feel so scattered, so unorganized, so lost—so to speak.

 

I need to listen more carefully for God to speak to me.

 

Listening for God is not easy.  Our humanness wants to be in control, and all that is going on around us easily distracts us. It interferes.

 

This pushed me to consider all the different factors that seem to deafen my hearing and I propose that this is a common trait that is interfering with our ability to fulfill God’s greatest commandment as Jesus answered the Pharisees:

 

35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Consider the setting in which the Pharisees were talking with Jesus.  They were the powerful and the ones who thought they knew everything. They were feeling threatened by this newcomer, so by trying to find a flaw in his teachings that would discredit him, they themselves were no longer listening to God.

 

We do the very same thing. We live being in charge of our world. We live without thinking about the Golden Rule.  We live without spending time studying the Bible.  We let . . .

 

There is the problem. We let the world around us step in between God and us.  How in the world can we possibly hear God to speak to us personally when we listen to so many other influences?

 

Just like my personal calendar has long operated on an academic calendar and taking a break from teaching for three-months, I had taken the last three months and refreshed.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Last week I realized that my need to refresh really is defined as a need to listen to God.

 

Listening for/to God is not something that can be done in a pre-packaged time frame, neither is it a singular event.  Listening for God is part of the Christian lifestyle.  My time to refresh must become a time to realign with the practices that refresh my Christian lifestyle and encourages me to listen for God’s direction in my life.

 

John Wesley has a method for improving one’s piety or living as a Christian who is listening for God to direct one’s life.  The United Methodist Church’s website provides a list of Wesley’s works of piety:

 

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

[Accessed on October 10 2018 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

 

I must confess that I know these Wesley’s works of piety, but I do not always center my life on them. I do fair, but I must do better. We must all do better.

 

With no need to prepare a sermon each week, reading scripture is easy to put aside—especially on a daily basis.  My personal discipline needs improving.

 

Admittedly I do read, and since July 1, I have already completed thirteen books—eleven novels and two church-related.  The choices have been fun, and they do lead me into reflecting on how God can be found even in our literature choices.

 

Participating in a small group who reads the Common Lectionary is part of my weekly routine, too. But, I keep thinking of how I could study even more with other small groups.

 

I do try to live healthy especially in terms of food choices and exercise, but I can do better with this too.

Probably the most difficult part of Wesley’s works of piety is fasting.  I am not good with this practice.

 

I have long struggled with dieting and finally realized that fasting can be done differently for instance, eliminating a specific food or an activity for a set time.

 

Time to rethink fasting as a way to step away from the thingsthat interfere with my focus on living as God asks me to live.  I need to think about this, so I can use more time to listen to God.

 

Prayer is certainly one area that I continue to improve.  I have studied prayer.  I have come to realize that prayers fill my thoughts when no one is talking to me. Prayer is thinking aloud with God as the listener.  Now I need to listen for him.

 

Maybe you, too, need to improve your prayers.  I offer this one that may be helpful, tool:

 

Lord, God,

The world around me is so loud that I cannot hear you speaking to me. Guide me in making better choices so that I can silence all the interference that separates me from you. Thank you for the encouragement of others who knew I needed time to refresh; but as the months slide by, help me to hear your next call.  May what I do reflect the work you ask of me now and on into the months and years ahead. –Amen

 

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Perseid Meteor Shower, Satellites and God

This morning, and it is only 5:30 yet, I am outside on the deck watching the sky—well sort of.  Actually it began at 2:30 am when I had to accompany Possum, my dog, outside.

I knew that Perseid’s Meteor Shower was in its best viewing, but our schedule means early bedtime.  We just cannot stay up to watch.  But in that early run outside, which is usually about 2-3 minutes, I saw the meteor, then the second one.

That woke me up, so in we came, turn off the lights, and out to the deck I came with a blanket.  Within another 15 minutes, two more meteors making four in 45 minutes.

Watching the skies after the sun goes down is one of my favorite experiences.  There is so much to see, to hear, and to think about at those times.

Our viewing time seems to get shorter and shorter, but we watch.  We count the planes that we spot and guess from where they might be coming and going.

We study the stars for movement spotting the satellites that keep circling our earth. Some seem to move so slowly while others zip past us.  Some have a strong light that remains strong as it passes over while others seem to brighten or dim as they move across the sky.

And always we hope, watch, seek to see meteors—falling stars.  So seldom do we get to see the meteors, so when we do it is a thrill.  If one of us sees it and the other doesn’t, there is a bit of jealousy and the competitive nature seems to stir up as we wait and wait to see another.

I do not understand how anybody can deny the existence of God when sitting outside in the dark watching the sky.  That sky is heavenly.  God must exist.

The enormity of the world in which we live is so evident when sitting in the dark. My existence is such a tiny speck in the universe that is even vaster than our solar system.  God’s kingdom must extend beyond my human world.

Here I sit, on the deck with the night giving way to the morning.  I have a computer on my lap, a hot drink to my side, the birds waking up, a car pulling out of its drive, and the TV quietly telling the world the latest news.  And I know God is real.

How petty it is of any one of us humans to think we can exist independent of any other human.  To think that we can isolate ourselves from the universe in any fashion is absurd.

God’s world is so much more than this planet on which we live.

God’s world reaches far beyond even our solar system.  Just watch the night skies and consider the possibilities.

All the laws humanity has created can neatly be addressed by the one commandment: Love one another as you want to be loved.

Reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the instructions for living are so straightforward.  If you cannot live by loving one another, Paul’s instructions are much more direct:

 

Ephesians 4:25-32

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[d] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[e] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

As I sit and gaze up at the night sky, life becomes so simple.  No one can disrupt my universe at that moment.  Even when the dogs erupt in barking at the slightest noise or unexpected movement, no one can disrupt the sense of peace I experience at those moments.

I challenge anybody to sit out at night and look up to the skies.  Just the peace that can fill the soul at that moment is a moment to praise God for the life we have.

In those moments when I spot the plane or the satellite, I am in awe of the gifts God has given us to use.  The brain is such a complex design and God sat it in motion some how.

We may not completely understand how God exists or how to fully use the complex design of  our brains, but we just must not misuse it.

We must learn to use it to continue expanding the universe, true; but we must also learn to use it to preserve the universe, too.

Paul’s message to the Ephesians emphasizes, too, how we must use God’s gift of life to love one another.  He created us in a manner that we are gifted with a brain and the skills to use it. We just have to accept the responsibility to use it as stewards of this world, as neighbors to one another, and as peacemakers loving one another as we want to be loved.

Doing so, we discover the gifts God has for us whether it be the nighttime fireworks of the Persoid meteor shower, the sparkling stars of universes beyond our own, or even the manmade glories as seen in the tiny lights of planes and satellites constantly traveling around God’s world in which we live.

The morning sun is creeping up behind me.  I no longer see the nighttime stars.  The little hummingbird is chirping at me, and my day begins.

The marvels of this world all find their beginning in the The Word.  God is a presence in my life that feeds me as well as others who believe.  God loves each one of us so much that he was willing to do all he could to assure us that we do live in the Garden of Eden.

When we struggled to remain faithful, he never gave up.  When we kept messing things up, he made the decision to walk with us in the human form of Jesus.

And when Jesus had shown us how to live loving one another, and taught those around him, God took him home.  God had faith in those Jesus taught, and yet there were those who did not accept those teachings.

Even when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified, God resurrected him.  God demonstrated how to love one another even when others do not.  Yet, God wanted to equip those who believe.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he taught one more lesson.  He explained that those who believed will always have God with them in the form of the Holy Spirit.

As this morning’s sunshine awakens the world around me, I know God’s presence. I believe in the Holy Spirit who keeps me connected to God and to all who believe.  I believe in the Holy Spirit as God’s presence that guides me in living a life loving one another.  I believe that the Holy Spirit fuels the way in which the gifts God gave us make and shape the glories of this universe so we may witness the light whether in the Perseid meteor shower or as seen in the manmade satellites.

God is good.  God is life. God is always present in our lives whether in the middle of the night or in the noon time sunshine of day.

 

A morning prayer:

Dear Loving Father of the Universe and beyond,

Thank you for the light show during the middle of the night.

Thank you for the quiet sounds of owls, bugs, and breezes against the wind chimes.

Thank you for the surprises of foxes prowling the yard, the rabbits eating the backyard clover, of the neighborhood cats climbing over the fence, and the music of the birds.

Thank you for the multitude of gifts you grant to each of us so we may expand our life experiences in so many different ways.

Thank you for the relationships that flourish due to loving one another.

Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ so we could learn how to live side by side peacefully, lovingly.

Guide us in our decisions to preserve this world.

Guide us in the decisions we make in our daily lives.

Guide us in serving as your emissaries of love.

Guide us to find the best ways to tackle the challenges of those who fail to follow your teachings.

May we do all we can in our homes, our communities, and our countries to share you unconditional love.

May we all discover the glory of your kingdom now and do all we can to share it with others.

May we be the light in the darkest of nights so others may find your grace.  In the name of you the Father, your son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Perseid Meteor Shower: 

[Accessed on August 13, 2018 at https://www.space.com/32868-perseid-meteor-shower-guide.html]

 

Earth will pass through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle from July 17 to Aug. 24, with the shower’s peak — when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area — occurring on Aug. 12. That means you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time near that peak, but you can still catch some action from the famed meteor shower before or after that point.

You can see the Perseid meteor shower best in the Northern Hemisphere and down to the mid-southern latitudes, and all you need to catch the show is darkness, somewhere comfortable to sit and a bit of patience.

Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth; its nucleus is about 16 miles (26 kilometers) wide. It last passed nearby Earth during its orbit around the sun in 1992, and the next time will be in 2126. But it won’t be forgotten in the meantime, because Earth passes through the dust and debris it leaves behind every year, creating the annual Perseid meteor shower.

When you sit back to watch a meteor shower, you’re actually seeing the pieces of comet debris heat up as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a bright burst of light, streaking a vivid path across the sky as they travel at 37 miles (59 km) per second. When they’re in space, the pieces of debris are called “meteoroids,” but when they reach Earth’s atmosphere, they’re designated as “meteors.” If a piece makes it all the way down to Earth without burning up, it graduates to “meteorite.” Most of the meteors in the Perseids are much too small for that; they’re about the size of a grain of sand.

 

Just a note:

I missed sharing last week, and that is one of the truths I am finding during this time of recharging:  I do not have a formal schedule.  I have always functioned around a structured week.

Learning to establish a structure apart from a traditional job is a new learning experience for me.  I am setting goals and need to develop a “work schedule” in order to achieve those goals, but the summer schedule seems more erratic than I expected.

I follow another blogger who I admire.  She writes every day—or at least almost every day.  She includes pictures and other links with such ease.  Hopefully I will develop a more fluid approach during the next few months as I work to reach new personal and professional goals.

Thank you for reading and sharing your input, too.

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How does our church interpret Christianity?

Sermon given on Sunday, November 12, 2017:  We lost one of our members at the age of 97 this week, and while preparing for the funeral, I could not get rid of the lessons that she taught our community.  Please understand that the audience knew Ms. Bonnie very well, but any reader may insert those people in your own lives who you know are true Christian models.

 

Spending the week reminiscing about Ms. Bonnie lead me to thinking about her model of Christianity, and that lead me to thinking about how our congregation models or interprets Christianity. Using the term ‘interpret’ may not seem appropriate, but our lives reflect what we believe. Our actions are stronger than our words.

All week long, Ms. Bonnie’s life has been reviewed by most all of us in the church and the community. The fact that she had not lived among us for the past few years did not matter. Ms. Bonnie is entwined with those who make up the Chilhowee community.

The adjectives/descriptions shared about Ms. Bonnie included words that create pictures in our minds of this incredible woman: pioneer spirit, servant, worker, gardener, country, leader, teacher, mother, grandmother, friend, neighbor, selfless, giving, and the list continues to grow. These words are filled with compliments and are worthy qualities for any of us to work towards.

For our congregation, we can add to the list of qualities that she was a 71-year member of our church family. She never missed church unless she was sick or away from home. She was a tireless worker for all the activities in the church, and the only time we witnessed her unhappy was when we tried to surprise her for her birthday—you don’t fool Ms. Bonnie!

Ms. Bonnie lived Christianity boldly, and we were fortunate to have witnessed her demonstration. What better time than today to reflect on how our church models or interprets Christianity too. What stories would others tell of our church? What adjectives, titles or descriptions would others use to tell about our church?

At first I thought maybe we could describe the church as a Mary-style or a Martha-style, but then that might not be too clear. The scripture tells us that Mary was an eager listener to Jesus and would put aside any traditional, female roles in order to sit at his feet and listen to his words. Her sister Martha was more traditional and was concerned with all the appropriate tasks involved in providing for a visitor’s needs whether it was food, rest, comfort, and maybe even overnight arrangements.

[Luke 10:38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” The NLT]

Defining our church as a ‘Mary’ or a ‘Martha’ really is not possible. We are a church and not a person. Therefore, I stopped and considered what other way could the church be identified, and I turned to John Wesley. He grouped certain behaviors into two categories: acts of mercy and acts of piety. I mulled over those two terms and considered whether that would be a reasonable way to evaluate the church.

First, does the church demonstrate acts of mercy. To answer that one has to know what acts of mercy are. The list that Wesley outlined includes:

  • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor [Accessed on November 10, 2017, at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

This list covers a great deal and has given United Methodist a reputation of being active for social justice.

            Ms. Bonnie certainly did demonstrate acts of mercy. How many in the community learned how to cook and to sew as she taught these skills through 4-H? How many families received the gifts of fresh food from her gardens? How many times did Ms. Bonnie step up to fix clothes or a meal or reach out to others in need?

            Does our church demonstrate grace to others through acts of mercy? Individually is not the question, but as a community do we seek justice, work to end oppression or discrimination, or address the needs of the poor?

            This is a tough question to answer. One way we can answer in the affirmative is that we have diligently paid the district and state apportionments. The United Methodist Church has a connectional approach to working with other congregations to affect change in a range of different areas. Paying the apportionments does demonstrate the church’s efforts to address the needs of others beyond our immediate community. Sadly, the financial health of our church may limit the extent of our connectional works of piety for the first time in the past decade or longer.

The second group of behaviors that Wesley identified was the acts of piety. These behaviors are more closely aligned to the ‘Mary’ style of Christian practices than the ‘Martha’ style. These behaviors are identified on the UMC’s website, too:

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study. [Ibid.]

            Again, Ms. Bonnie demonstrated an understanding of the individual practices of piety, but does the church do so. On the surface(pardon the cliché) , the answer is yes. The sacrament of communion is available on a regular basis, and baptism is offered upon request. But no one inside or outside the church’s congregation can judge whether the church as a group fully incorporate the acts of piety honestly. Only God, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit—the Triune God—can judge the integrity of the church’s acts of piety.

            The individual acts of piety include a personal list of practices that may be available through Sunday School and Ladies Aid, but is that adequate. Should the church provide more opportunities or assistance for the practices of these acts of piety? A ‘Mary’ style church would place the priority on these acts of piety, often referred to as discipleship when in district or conference meetings.

The church year is winding down, so considering how our church interprets Christianity is a timely task. Review what the mission is for the church and the goals for the upcoming year. Maybe we should ask ourselves “What would Ms. Bonnie do?” We can honor her by exemplifying the stewardship and the acts of mercy and piety she modeled.

[Titus 3:Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.

Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees[b] or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. 10 If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. 11 For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them. The NLT]

Closing prayer

Dear God, Father Almighty,

 

We mourn the loss of one of our family,

But let us remember her

By following the model of faith

She exhibited in all that she did.

 

Help us to demonstrate

The Christian qualities

That Paul listed in his letters

To the early churches and disciples.

 

Help us to follow Wesley’s practices

Both the acts of piety

and the acts of mercy

as we work together in your name.

 

May we recognize your presence

Through the power of the Holy Spirit

As we make decisions individually

And communally to love one another.

 

In your name, the Father, the Son,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Paul’s tools will work

Sermon given on Sunday, November 5, 2017.  After completing the letters of Paul to the early churches, this sermon focuses on the letters he wrote to the pastors he appointed to two of the churches, Timothy and Titus.  

For two months I have been totally consumed with the fallout from the chaos that followed our baptismal service. I have questioned my calling. I have tried to apologize. I have tried to sort out the details of what happened. And I have kept moving forward. All the time, I have not been able to shed the immense sorrow that I feel as a result of that day’s events.

I continued reading Paul’s letters to the early churches and asked what would the message be for our congregation. There is truth in each letter that applies as much to today’s church as it does to the earliest churches. Sadly, I do not think the lessons made an impact.

During these weeks, I have sought council. I have heard opinions. I have experienced shunning. And I have had to answer to the district superintendent. All the while, only one source continues providing Christ-like advice and that is the Bible. After exhausting all the various sources I could, I turned again to Paul. This time I found the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, two of the pastors he placed in churches.

Last week, I shared a brief scripture from Titus, so this week I decided to focus on reading the two letters to Timothy. I discovered that Titus was actually written between the two letters to Timothy and 2 Timothy was written by Paul while he was under arrest and trying to prepare for his final trial that in historical perspective turned out to end in his execution. Therefore, 2 Timothy was his last letter to the earliest Christians.

This week, searching for answers and direction, Paul’s advice to Timothy may provide needed guidance. Let’s begin with today’s opening verses (2 Timothy 2:10-14):

10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

These words written as Paul sat in a Roman prison alone, about AD 66 or 67, are words that pastors need to hear. These are words of encouragement, almost like a mantra to develop one’s self-confidence. But these words are for all faithful followers, not just pastors. As long as we remain faithful to God, he will continue to be with us.

The rumor mill that has churned out stories in our community have caused damage. Words have divided us in ways we may not even realize. But Paul wants us to remember to stay faithful. To remain loyal. To endure hardships. And in verse 14:

 

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

  • KJV: 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
  • NRSV: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God[a]that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
  • NIV: 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • MSG: 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
  • CEB: 14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them.

 

Today, these words must be the very basic principle that is the foundation of a healthy congregation. When one is hurt by the words that are being spoken, healing is difficult. But with God, anything is possible as long as all words spoken whether by myself, the pastor, or by any of us need to be Christ-like at all times.

This is a tremendous order that Paul has sent to Timothy, and it is a tremendous one for each of us. I do the best that I can, and I apologize for any words that may be hurtful. What I must do now is stay focused on the words Paul shares and all the words of the scripture. I must turn over my hurt feelings and my self-doubt in order to move forward and continue sharing the Good News.

Reading on through the second chapter of 2 Timothy, there is a metaphor that applies to us:

 

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

 

We must continue developing the tools that work for us each and every day whether a special day or an ordinary day. The tools will assure that we work as a team to carry out the various ministries of our church. The tools will demonstrate our skills to live our faith visibly in the community. The tools are defined and refined in the words of the scripture, from the first book of Genesis, through the last book of Revelations. Are we using the best materials to develop our tools, or are we failing to use the tools?

Last week while reviewing the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, the verse from Titus 2:12 was shared:

 

12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God . . .

 

Paul continues this instruction with the second letter to Timothy in 2:22:

 

22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

 

Sadly, I do not believe we have achieved this level of Christian fellowship. Our tools are not sharpened and honed to perfection as a congregation. Instead, there is a split that continues to divide and destroy the effectiveness of the sharing the Good News God has commissioned us to do.

Right now, today, we must consciously turn to Paul’s instruction and ask for God to forgive us and to ask each other for forgiveness, too. I know that the heart of this church is for the transformation of the community. The truth is that no transformation has any chance if the church itself is battling “foolish, ignorant arguments” as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:22: 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

Still, Paul does not give up on making his point. He continues stating:

 

24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

 

Paul’s letter was to the pastor Timothy. The words may serve to remind today’s pastors also, but the words are true for all Christians. The Wesley Study Bible’s notes for 2 Timothy 2:25-26 states:

“Gracious and theologically sound instruction results in salvation. Wesley persistently argued Paul’s point: Scripture rightly interpreted saves sinners from “the snare of the devil” (v. 26).”

 

Personally, I will do all that I can to provide “gracious and theologically sound instruction” through the reading and study of scripture. I expect each of you follow the same set of instructions that Paul gave Timothy to develop the tools that can assure you live the Christian lifestyle that the scripture defines for us.

I apologize for any of my words or actions that may have been misunderstood or hurtful, and I expect each of you to honestly evaluate your own use of words and actions. Together we can continue to serve God by living our faith out loud—boldly demonstrating the value of loving one another.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

[The prayer transitions the service to the sacrament of Communion.]

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