For a week, I have thought about how to look at 2021. One challenge that showed up in my inbox was to identify one word for the new year.
Immediately one popped up: Resilience. Why? Think about the history of our country. How many times has a challenge presented itself and the very principles that established this country sustained it for over 200 years.
Think about the history of Christianity, even it began with the resilience of the Jewish faithful who endured challenge after challenge without all the technology and global interaction or support available today.
One word to guide my thinking in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of governmental change, in the midst of economic challenges, not to mention just the issue of the life challenges of growing older or recovering from a medical challenge or even loneliness we endure with the pandemic.
Resilience is essential for all of us. Interestingly this is a trait, quality, life skill that is ignored in our educational system. We need to teach resilience to our students, to the future generations.
There typically is not a set curriculum for teaching resilience, but it can be developed. In literature, selections can be read and discussed using the word resilience as a connecting theme.
In all classes, resilience can be taught in how to manage difficult lessons, disappoint grades, life challenges like absences due to illness or to circumstances beyond the student’s control. Each failure becomes an opportunity to develop resilience whether in a classroom, in a personal relationship, in a family, in a neighborhood, in a community, or even in a country.
Personally, my belief in Jesus Christ and participating in a Christian community provides me the strength and even the skills needed to be resilient. I just pray that my children and their families have come to know resilience in their lives, too, as they have witnessed in mine and their extended families.
We may be looking at 2021 through cracked lenses right now, but with resilience we will take the world as we see it and do whatever we can to make it better.
Isn’t that what Jesus would do?
Isn’t that what our founding fathers would do?
Isn’t that what the Greatest Generation would do?
We have an opportunity to take something that has challenged our very inner beings, our sense of safety, our sense of identity, and make a difference.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, called his faithful to love one another by doing all we can do for all we can whenever we can for as long as we can. This is how we become resilient as individuals, as a faith community, as global citizens.
Waking up this morning, I feel Christmas sneaking in on me. There are clouds and the possibility to see snowflakes in the air, and it is cold–24 degrees. And yet, I am in quarantine.
Christmas has been central to my life forever. Growing up on the farm, Christmas was a time we developed all those traditions that seem to make a Norman Rockwell painting–cutting the Christmas tree out in the woods, snow falling, popcorn snacks, Christmas baking. You get the picture.
But then 2020, a year that we all suspected would be filled with clarity and hope simply based on that nice, round number and the metaphoric connection to clear vision, hit us hard.
News reports of a highly contagious virus started creeping into our psyche, and in March a shut down. We did not understand the full ramifications of a nation-wide shutdown but what was a nation to do. Shut down.
Then slowly, life adapted. Fear subsided a bit, but caution was maintained. In my world, masks stay in the car, in my purse or pocket, and they go on when I get out of the car. Even at the office, the mask went on when someone walked into our bubble or we had a conversation–still 6 feet apart, too.
Months slid past, then we got bit by the bug. COVID hit us both and in very different ways. My husband coughed and coughed and coughed until he thought he had broken ribs. He was totally wiped out.
Then just a few days later, I started questioning how I felt. I thought it was mild sinus problem and started the sinus meds with Mucinex. A conversation with the county health nurse pushed me to test–positive, too.
So we found ourselves in an honest, full-fledged quarantine. Smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest seasons in my life–Advent. For a pastor this just seemed surreal. How was I going to contribute to the season’s worship?
Well, I can now tell you that there are ways to make things work and work well. True I have given up the in-person element, but the months of preparation made it possible to still provide an element of input–Zoom, videotaping at home, and emailing. I can work at home.
Still, quarantine has dramatically changed our lives in so many ways. Working is one thing but stop and consider all the other affects that COVID-19 has created in our world.
Health: I seriously doubt that our news channels have ever spent so much airtime explaining how to be healthy, the specifics of the coronavirus, how it spreads, how the medical field is managing, and how to know when you are sick and when to get tested. I have to admit I would never have thought the symptoms I was experiencing were anything to be concerned about except I had been informed. Thank you to the information flood.
Work Force: Our economy is challenged. We had been living in a society that could ignore the lowest economic strata convincing our middle class and affluent selves that we are privileged to live in our nation free from extreme poverty–and then the pandemic. Our work force has been depleted. Families are in crisis with job losses, income loss, and so many more problems.
Our culture is being redefined. I have witnessed one young family become one victims and then watch the church family rally around them. As I sit here with the news on, I am watching a country learn how critical it is to provide food for the masses. City after city is being featured for their food drives and it is shocking to see the massive lines of cars.
2020 is going to redefine the work force culture and I pray that the CEO’s and boards understand that our world can collapse if they do not value the employees as the most important component of their industries.
Medical Services: Because we are a democracy and capitalism is the base of our culture, we have a medical industry that has focused on profit not on service. Then the pandemic shifted the focus to the frontline workers. For the first time in my life, I see our country value the nurses, the doctors, the EMTs, even the nurses’ aids who clean the patients, the technicians, the custodial staff and so many, many employees essential to the wellbeing of our family and friends.
Hopefully this will force our culture to redefine their values. Our medical industry needs to be identified as a necessity and be aligned to the utilities that are necessary for a society to function. The profit margin needs to be monitored and the medical workers should be valued as highly as they are now on throughout history.
Education: Teachers are frontline workers, too. Our country guarantees a free education to all who live within our boundaries. Why have we failed to acknowledge the critical role of our teachers? Why are our teachers one of the lowest paid professionals? Why do we put educational requirements on our teachers but do not support that financially?
When the pandemic shut down our world, the teachers had to keep teaching. But the teaching shifted to an entirely different platform for which the majority of teachers were never trained. We forced in-person teaching to turn on a dime (pardon the cliché) to teach virtually. And some of the teachers did not even have the actual technology they needed to teach from a remote setting.
I could rant and rave about this issue even more because I know education personally having spent 35+ years in education, but I know each family knows what happened in education with the pandemic. I know that the kiddos are suffering. I know that the level of education with which we think or even expect our students to graduate has been severely damaged and will not be able to rebound even within a couple of years.
We have failed our students because we failed to teach them to learn, to take safe risks, and now to be resilient.
We must teach our kids how to learn so when forced to step away from the classroom they can learn independently. Teachers have long been forced to teach to tests and state standards; saddly we have forgotten the components on which we must build.
Maybe the pandemic will serve as a magnifying glass for our culture.
Maybe we can stop and reassess the values that we have said we support, but failed.
Maybe we can begin 2021 with a new mindset and go back to what our American values were just 244 years ago, when our founding fathers declared their independence and wrote a constitution that continues to be the backbone of our nation.
Therefore, to conclude, I am in quarantine with a mild case of COVID-19. I do not feel guilty because I followed the recommendations. I do not feel alienated because I tested positive. But I do feel a responsibility to do all that I can for all I can in any way I can as we move into 2021. I am Methodist after all, and John Wesley led his world to be healthy, to serve and to be the hands of feet of God. It is one of our American values.
Our pastor’s Lenten series is titled “Confronting Evil” and each week he covers a specific topic. First was bitterness, then betrayal, and third cynicism.
As we experience the flood of information and the dramatic changes that the coronavirus has created, I am realizing how those individual topics can be translated into this very experience.
Though I have not experienced the virus yet, nor know anyone personally who has, I have to admit that I could understand that this virus is a 21st century evil–or at least can spiral us into a mindset that stirs up the very characteristics we might identify as un-Christian responses.
This week the series subtitle is “Putting Satan behind You.” We cannot put the temptations or the emotions behind us in dealing with evil, we must address it. We live in community, not isolation, therefore we confront a wide range of evils.
Using the Wesley Study Bible, I often read the sidebars. Today as I read about Jesus confronting Satan during his 40 days in the wilderness, I noticed that one of Wesley’s core terms is ‘temptation’:
“. . . Wesley knew that temptation more often comes to us in subtle ways. Our bodies are frail and subject to pain, which inevitably brings temptation. The human environment in which we dwell is also a wellspring of temptation, and our character is constantly being formed and reformed by the influences, both moral and immoral, around us. Sadly, believers who fall
short of perfect love are also a source of temptation, for they are still in the grip of inward sin. Their pride, jealousy, and other “unholy tempers” can provoke the same tempers in others. . . “(p. 1166)
As I read through this explanation, I realized that right now, today, in the midst of the global battle against a virus, we confront evil in how we manage even this event.
As we confront the virus, be alert to the emotions that we must manage: bitterness, betrayal, and cynicism. We are humans who must rely on God even in the midst of a pandemic.
I close with verse 10 from Matthew 4:1-11 reading:
“Away with you Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
And serve only him.’”
Even Jesus had to confront evil, but he lead by example and we should follow his model. Let’s face the reality of a pandemic, but rely on God. Serve one another in love in all the ways that you can following all the medical advice that you can.
After more than a year out of the pulpit, I returned this week to fill in for our senior pastor. So as the new year starts, I start a new phase, too. I pray this message helps you. Thank you for reading.
Remember playing hide & seek? The rules are simple: one closes their eyes and counts while the others run to find hiding places. Then when the count is finished, the counter must go off and find the hidden ones.
Now my buddy Possum has a little twist to the game. When we brought him home, he loved to be chased. He would look at me, then take off running and I was supposed to run after him. He ‘hides’ under the bed, but his tale always sticks out so it is easy to ‘find’ him.
The game continues when I tag him, and he takes off running again. My job is to chase. And to add to the picture, he likes to run with a toy or a plastic bottle. If I throw it, he takes off, grabs it and heads right back under the bed where I ‘find’ him.
Fortunately, Havanese puppies love to run and play in short spurts. After about three or four times down the hall and up and down the stairs, he suddenly just stops. Game over.
Here is my question: Is our spiritual journey like a hide and seek game with God?
Let us begin with prayer:
Open our hearts, Lord, so that we see you in our faith journey and help others find you in their lives, too. –Amen.ˆ
We all have a story about our life journeys, and mine landed me in Warrensburg when the Johnson County school districts inaugurated an alternative education program. This professional move dropped me into a new community where the one thing I knew would be familiar was the Methodist church. I joined choir, something I had long missed. I started attending Sunday school and gradually moved into teaching the MeMarCo class.
The professional move did not begin my spiritual journey, but this church nurtured me and has been instrumental in God finding me. You see, I had been playing hide and seek with God’s calling and it ended here when I was asked one simple questions: “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”
Throughout my Methodist life, I have known many ministers, but I had never sat down and shared my story; but something sent me to sit down in this church’s office to share my story. That conversation led to one simple question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?” I was startled and realized I had only one answer, “No one had ever asked me.”
Each one of us has a story filled with people, circumstances, challenges and successes, but how many of us still are in a game of hide and seek with God. My story is probably very similar to yours, and I have been blessed that I was raised in a faith-based family. Still, I know that for years, I played hide and seek with God.
After completing the discernment process, my spiritual journey became more formalized attending the Course of Study. And what I had suspected about spirituality developed into a clearer picture, especially in understanding John Wesley’s means of grace.
Our spiritual journey begins with our birth; and for those raised in a Christian family we have the advantage of knowing that God loves us from the very beginning. We are born with the Holy Spirit drawing us to God; this is Wesley’s prevenient grace.
As we grow up, our spiritual journey begins. For myself, I was nurtured by my family and I am thankful for the teaching because it helped me learn how God loves us and forgives us when we make mistakes. For Wesley, the ability to understand that our sins are forgiven is the means of grace called justification.
Our spiritual journey develops through the four levels of grace. For those raised in a Christian environment, the transition from one phase to the next is logical, but for others God uses his disciples (which can be us) or experiences to reach out to them. Yet we do learn that God is beside us through all the earthly challenges that confront us. We learn that even when we make a mistake, God is there waiting for us to ask for his forgiveness and return to a faithful relationship with him.
Still, life keeps racing forward and we have a tendency to return to that game of hide and seek with God. We may walk through the practices of being faithful, but we may not consciously seek him. Learning to ‘hear’ God speaking to us is often difficult.
Despite how different our spiritual journeys began–whether born into it, married into it, or forced into it by life experiences bringing–we find God and discover he is speaking to us.
When we reach the third level of Wesley’s means of grace, we hear God more clearly. Sanctification is the point in our spiritual journey that we know God personally and have a love for him that translates into love, unconditional love, for one another, our neighbors. We reach a new level of spirituality that sends us seeking God rather than hiding from him.
When I was asked that one question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”, I had to stop and examine my own spiritual journey. Hear Paul speaking to the Corinthians in his second letter:
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. –2 Corinthians 13:5-8 (NRSV)
I challenge you to examine yourself. Are you still playing hide and seek, or are you in the process of growing in love with God and one another? The spiritual journey never stops; there is no retirement or aging out along one’s spiritual journey. We must continue to grow in faith moving toward the final level of grace: perfection. Wesley defines perfection as “growing in love for God and our neighbors, and he believed that the kingdom of Heaven could be reached even before death.
Our earthly journey can challenge us in so many ways that our spiritual journey gets sidetracked or overpowered. At those times, we need a support system or spiritual practices to weather the storms along the journey. A Christ-like life takes discipline.
God challenges us to use our gifts to serve one another in love, unconditional love:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. –1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NRSV)
God gives us these gifts so that we can serve as his hands and feet. It takes all of us using these gifts to help each other along the spiritual journey support ing one another through relationships, experiences, and learning. We help discipline each other.
Through my spiritual journey, I can list the people who have guided me in developing my faith. I can also list experiences that filled my developing years: the 3rd-grade gift of a mustard seed necklace, a summer youth minister, the United Methodist Women sending me to their mission school, and even being assigned to the religion page in journalism school. The landmarks in my spiritual journey just kept popping up and I did not ‘see’ them. I kept playing hide and seek with God.
Consider the Magi, the wise men of the East. They saw a star and it called them to follow it to find the baby Jesus in a manger. They were not Israelites. Yet they saw the star and decided to go and see what it was calling them to learn. They were ‘seeking’ God, no longer ‘hiding’ from his call. They listened; and they followed what God told them, leaving and not returning to Herod with their new knowledge.
Preparing to lead Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign, I came to that one chapter, the one I call the Wesley chapter (I believe it was chapter 33.). There was the quote from John Wesley:
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
The words stopped me cold. I was a cradle Methodist and I was so surprised that Warren was using it because he was a Baptist minister! I was preparing to lead the church’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign, and there I sat on the front porch in awe of what God was telling me.
I knew the scriptures, I attended church regularly, I felt like I was doing what I was called to do—teach alternative education. I was doing all the good that I could—or least I thought I was. And then came that question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”
Each one of us has a spiritual journey. We live our lives growing up in families who do or do not attend church. We go to work at jobs that may or may not be fulfilling. We go in and out of relationships with family and friends that can be hurtful or enriching. We can get in our cars and drive from one destination to another without incident or we become entangled in an accident.
Our lives are journeys, but how we live them makes such a difference in the quality of that journey. When I finally had to stop and review the journey that I was living, I had to realize that I had been playing hide and seek with God. He had been calling and I had not heard him.
Today we are closing out the Christmas holiday season with Epiphany tomorrow, January 6. Our journey continues much like the Magi. They chose to return to their homes knowing they had met the Messiah. They listened to God’s direction, not to Herod’s.
As we continue our own journeys, we must make sure that we no longer play hide and seek with God. We need to turn around and realize God sees us and is asking us to follow him. I challenge each of you to seek God rather than hide from him. Examine your practices to see what needs improving in order to move from one type of grace to the next.
Today, make the decision to improve your spiritual journey. Decide what you can do so your spiritual journey moves you on to perfection? Are you able to use your gifts to help others along their spiritual journey as part of sanctification? Or do you want to improve your own understanding of God’s grace through study and Christian conversation?
As Paul told the Philippians, in chapter 4 verse 13:
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (NRSV)
Do not be afraid because God will make sure you can do all that you can for all you can in any way you can. God has loved you, loves you, and always will love you. It is your turn to seek him.
First, let me restate that I am a Christian and that my denomination of choice is United Methodist.
Also, let me include the framework of my personal study—a year-long Bible study that pairs an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading.
For my study, I am using the Wesley Study Bible (WSB) which is a ‘new revised standard version,’ that is considered the basis for Methodists even though I often read other translations like the New Living Translation, The Message,and the New International Version.
Why is this important? Because I want to share a quote from the WSB notes that has stuck in my brain for a couple of weeks:
As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change. The weeping of the elders carries a moving double significance. Their disappointment with the new construction is at once a sad refusal to welcome the future and an important challenge to a new generation that they have much to achieve to rival the community’s former glory. Only the elders carry with them the historical memory of the community. They are the only ones who can raise this criticism. The combination of joy and sorrow reflects the multifaceted nature of the community, old and young, Jews of Babylonian and Persian origins, along with those from Jerusalem; lay and clergy, along with their differing hopes, fears, and expectations. Out of this group characterized by difference more than similarity, once again, God will fashion a faithful people. As Wesley notes, “The mixture of sorrow and joy here, is a representation of this world. In heaven all are singing and none sighing; in hell all are wailing, and none rejoicing; but here on earth we can scarce discern the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping, let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (p.573)
The context for this study note is Ezra 3, especially verses 12 and 13:
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many should aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish
the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. (NRSV)
Reading Old Testament scriptures can be confusing as they are not necessarily written in a chronological order and the texts are written by different authors. Therefore, reading the text takes discernment, especially prayerful discernment.
The context of the book of Ezra is summarized in the introductory notes of WSB helps:
Written sometime in the early period of Greek occupation of Israel’s land (after 332BCE), [the books of Ezra and Nehemiah] tell an idealized story of a reconstituted but small Jerusalem community threatened with obliteration by imperial rule, interethnic strife, and the abusive excesses of an elite class. (p. 569)
Therefore, the scripture is talking about the rebuilding of Jerusalem as the religious center of the faithful Israelites.
John Wesley believed that they study of scripture needed to be done with attention to four elements or, as we might refer, filters:
the scripture itself,
the tradition of Christianity,
reason (or logical reasoning), and
Using these four filters is considered Wesley’s quadrilateral.
For some, this structure for Bible study may seem weighty, or maybe even unnecessary; but for myself, I think it is important because it helps me understand how the scriptures can speak to me in the 21st century just as it did in the ancient centuries. The themes are timeless.
(I understand that is a great deal of background information about studying scripture, and how I personally study. If I did not do that, then how would anybody understand the significance of the study note I shared in the opening?)
Today, as churches have to reshape themselves; it is difficult to manage the old with the new. It is difficult for people to let go of what “has always been” in order to embrace the possibilities of “what can be.”
As I read Ezra, I understood how the elders of the faith community were thinking, yet the challenges of ancient society caused things to change. Being allowed back into Jerusalem to rebuild the temple was critical to the elders, yet the circumstances could not possibly be the same as it was when it was first erected.
The very same circumstances exist today. In each faith community, the shifts in one’s culture, the wear and tear on a building, the elders versus the younger generations force the church to evolve.
As I read through the study note included in the opening, I was reminded how difficult it is to take a long-standing faith community symbolized by its very structure in the heart of a community, must change.
Read again the first lines of the note:
As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change.
No process of rebuilding is easy. The elders will weep. The youth will cry for change. But, in God’s world, the constancy of grace and love should bring the generations together. It will not be easy, but God’s timeline only sees one goal—to love one another as one wants to be loved.
The faith communities today are struggling, but the more I study scripture, the more truth of God’s world becomes evident. We are gifted with the opportunity to live in this world, and to do all that we can to experience earthly life to its fullest.
Today’s faith communities are struggling, and the goal is to find ways to carry God’s grace and love forward to others. The culture changes, it merges with different cultures, technology creates new ways to communicate.
Change is a constant, but God’s grace and love do not change. We are taxed to do all that we can in any way that we can to share God’s love with one another; and that means love one another in any way we can. The faith communities must then accept change within its own parameters in order to grow God’s kingdom any way that we can.
What we must remember is that this earthly life we live is just a human experience and the promise of life eternal guides us in living Christ-like lives now. Hence the emphasis I added to the study note via underlining:
. . . let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Life is what we make it during our earthly journey, but it is just a hint of the glory that awaits us. Please join in me in prayer:
Dear Lord, our God,
As we continue our earthly journey, growing in faith,
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:
Midway through the second book of Kings, I am finding that I can understand the reading without being totally dependent on study notes. I really was unprepared for the ease of reading these two books after struggling with so much of the ancient literature.
Still, I maintained my discipline by reading the Wesley Study Bible’s notes. And then I began wondering why was it necessary to consider these two books for permanent inclusion in the Bible.
You might wonder why question such a decision, but just in case you are not familiar with the books of Kings, I will provide a bit of a spoiler. These two books are written as a historical narrative (a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end in chronological order).
The narrative style makes the reading more familiar for me, at least. I can understand going from point A to point B and on to point C. It makes sense.
But one of the challenges continues to be the lineage. For one thing, not being schooled in Hebrew or the ancient languages, I struggle with the spelling of the names. The list of fathers, sons and a few wives (notice no daughters) visually seem so similar—maybe one letter difference such as Amaziah and Ahaziah.
Now add to the lineage, there is the geography of the narrative. The ancient Middle Eastern setting is not a strength for me; in fact it is challenging even knowing the 21stcentury geography.
Remember that the chosen 12 tribes have split into two ‘countries’: Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom. Mix in the lineage of the various names and trying to remember whether that family was from Judah or whether it was from Israel further complicates the comprehension of the narrative—which, as you may remember I stated, is easier reading.
The narrative itself tells of all the acts that these leaders did, not only to their own people; but to those that they battled and conquered. The list of killings is extensive, but add to the basic killing some of the violent and horrible behaviors used by the kings and their protégés and one might think the ink used to write the narrative is actually the blood of victims.
Woven into the battle-filled narrative are the evil behaviors that separated the faithful tribes from God. There is trickery. There is worshiping foreign gods. There is “doing what is evil in the eyes of God.” And that brings me back: Why is this narrative part of the Bible?
Maybe one reason is the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The prophets’ stories are woven into the narrative of the leaders (and notice the similar spelling) and are stark contrast of those who remained faithful to those who ‘did evil in the eyes of God’.
As a brief refresher, and to simplify what I have been reading, here is how Elijah is identified on Britannica.com:
Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible. The story of his prophetic career in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah is told in 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2 in the Bible. Elijah claimed that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing monotheismto the people with possibly unprecedented emphasis. He is commemorated by Christians on July 20 and is recognized as a prophet by Islam. [accessed on May 27, 2019]
Needless to say the entry on the website Britannica.com is somewhat simplified, but it helps explain the importance of including him in the narrative of Kings.
Prior to Elijah’s death, Elisha enters into the narrative. He was a student of Elijah and in the end became his successor. To summarize his role in the narrative, it is helpful to turn to Britannica.com again:
Elisha, also spelled Elisaios, orEliseus, in the Old Testament, Israelite prophet, the pupil of Elijah, and also his successor (c.851 BC). He instigated and directed Jehu’s revolt against the house of Omri, which was marked by a bloodbath at Jezreel in which King Ahab of Israel and his family were slaughtered.
The popular traditions about Elisha (2 Kings 2–13) sketch a charismatic, quasi-ecstatic figure, very similar to Elijah. Like his mentor, Elisha was a passionate exponent of the ancient religious and cultural traditions of Israel, which both felt to be threatened by the ruling dynasty of Omri, which was in alliance with Phoenicia. (King Ahab’s wife, the Tyrian princess Jezebel, was then trying to introduce the worship of Baal into Israel.) As a prophet, Elisha was a political activist and revolutionary. He led a “holy war” that extinguished the house of Omri in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (2 Kings 9–10).
Though Elisha recruited Jehu to revolt against and succeed Ahab, it was Elijah who was instructed to anoint Jehu as Israel’s king (1 Kings 19:16). This is characteristic of the relationship between the two prophets; in popular estimation Elisha always remains partly in the shadow of his master. The story of the beginning of his apprenticeship (1 Kings 19:19–21) and the account in which he becomes Elijah’s heir and successor (2 Kings 2:8–18) both feature the prophetic “mantle.” In the first, Elijah casts it upon his pupil; in the second, Elisha picks it up. The mantle, cultic garment of the prophet, carries connotations of power and authority. [accessed on May 27, 2019]
Why am I including all the background on the two prophets when I first stated that it was much easier reading the narrative of the books of Kings? Return to the second part of the title/headline: WHY?
As a 21stcentury Christian who has both the Old Testament and the New Testament to read, the narrative of the kings does not line up well with our understanding of the law as taught by Jesus Christ. The violence, the evil, and the bloodshed in the narrative seem counter-productive in understanding God’s law since the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I believe that the story of the prophets that is woven into the kings’ narrative is needed to grasp the significance of God’s effort to maintain the relationship with the twelve tribes of Moses. As the narrative creates the timeline, the lineage, and even the geography of the tribes history, magnifies a few important points:
God maintains his promise to David despite the generations separating the kings/ people from David;
God’s time certainly does not match our time; He is eternally patient;
God sends messengers into our lives, but we have to be alert to them or even to the possibility that prophets and/or angels are trying to be heard yet today;
God is with us even at our worse; it is up to us to become aware of this and ask forgiveness—even if it means more than once.
Finally, buried in the Wesley Study Bible (p. 469) is a quote from John Wesley’s own notes on Kings:
Wesley argues that such divine actions should be understood in terms of divine mercy rather than in terms of the failure of divine justice (Notes,13:23).
That statement caused me to stop and ponder again how easy it is to think that when bad things happen, it is God’s judgment for something we did wrong. As I visit with others who struggle to understand their own relationship with God, I discover that if life has not been easy or there is tremendous illness and/or pain with which they must deal, there is a real fear that these maladies are due to God’s divine judgment. This then leads them to fear they have not been good enough to join God and Jesus in eternal life.
Wesley’s note places an entirely different light, so to speak, upon the reason why we read the narrative in Kings. We need to realize that the generation after generation that God waited for the faithful to return to him is a picture of God’s divine mercy, not divine judgment.
Now I can answer the question: “Why do we read the narratives of Kings?”
We read the narrative because we learn what divine mercy is. We read the narrative because humanity has done wrong over and over and over again yet God continues to wait for us to return to him. God is patient. God is willing to forgive us when we learn that he waits for us.
Bad things do happen to good people. Life is full of reasons why, but God does not send bad things while he waits on us. He patiently waits for us to accept his love, his grace. He is divinely merciful. All we have to do is accept his presence and his love. He is waiting.
My journey through the year-long Bible study continues and when I add that to daily life and any other reading I do whether continuing The Chronicles of Narnia,or whether it is the Brian Zahand’s book Beauty Will Save the World, or even a scan of the local newspaper, the internet or even broadcast programs, my brain is becoming so filled with ideas, thoughts, questions that I can hardly organize them into any coherent form.
Thus, I stepped away for a few days and visited a friend, checked in with my brother and sister-in-law, and did a little rug hooking. Therefore, I have the laundry going—it is Monday, you know—and have cleaned up the emails, searched for some information I wanted to locate on line, and cleaned the bathroom. Mondays are like this for me now.
Which brings me back to the title of the blog. Here it is Monday and I have so much in my brain that this may just be a set of unrelated blurbs in order to clear out my jumbled brain and hopefully be able to move forward in a more cohesive manner.
The reading plan finished the book of Ecclesiastes last week and there is one theme that just strikes me as key to a quality life: our life is a gift from God and we need to enjoy it. Even if that means being thankful for the jobs we do because that job, too, is a gift from God.
How often do we forget that the experience we have in this earthly life is a gift from God? What we do with our lives is our decision, and often it seems life is out of our control. Still, we must look for, or should I say acknowledge, the joy in this life.
Granted the weather here in the United States seems to defy our personal experiences over the past several decades, and we are tired of the storms that just cycle through from one side of the country to the next. Yet, the experiences of the meteorological highs and lows provide unique backgrounds for our days, weeks, months, and/or years. So I discover joy even in the patterns of weather.
I have read Revelations before; it is not new material. Yet, reading this mysterious book within the structured reading plan is creating new understanding, new values, and even new surprises.
Maybe using the Wesley Study Biblecontributes to some of the new understanding of Revelations, and that is good. I am now wondering why the book of prophecy frightens readers or why some individuals and/or denominations chose to read it literally.
Another possibility is that while reading The Chronicles of Narnia, I am finding references to elements of Revelationsthat connect these two writings, too. The descriptions of the characters and the events, too, reflect pieces of this book—and others in the Bible, also. (I hesitate to include any specifics for fear of spoiling someone’s first read of the chronicles.)
3. Cautions for reading alone
I am a certified teacher, I have completed the United Methodist course of study for being a certified licensed local pastor and I have a journalism degree. Reading and studying on my own is not uncomfortable, but I miss the conversation with others as I have had in various coursework.
I find myself wanting to discuss the readings in order to assure myself—and those with whom I share my conclusions—that my thinking is sound. Whenever I have an opportunity to share with others, I find validation; but what if I do misread and misinform?
Therefore, a caution: Whenever reading scripture, make sure you have references and/or study notes to guide in your understanding. I have researched how to understand ancient literature. I have googled various characters, locations and cultural issues to find answers to questions that pop up in my reading.
John Wesley demanded that his followers be included in bands or classes to hold each other accountable. They read scripture together, worshiped, and prayed as a group. The method prevented misunderstandings and overly literal reading of materials written hundreds, even thousands of years before one’s time.
Because I was not at home, I did not have the weekly worship service that I am accustomed with attending. Instead, I did everything I could do to listen in to the live broadcast of the service as I began the drive across the state.
Sadly, I could not get the broadcast to work either through the church’s own app nor through my Facebook connection. My worship had to take a different format.
Therefore, I drove across the state with the accompaniment of the Christian music broadcast for stations across the state. The upbeat praise music is filled with messages of hope and joy, and I felt renewal. Add to the music, I got to experience the beauty of spring.
You see, I took Hwy 94 along the Missouri River. The woods were filled with white dogwoods and redbuds contrasted against the new green foliage of all the native trees.
I stopped at Portland to check on the river. I noticed how high the water was, how the flooding water has eaten away at the bank, and how the water was rushing around an island near the other side of the river (and I never noticed this island before as I have stopped here many times).
The worship was not formal, but the worship of music and nature filled my heart. And I was reminded of the message in Ecclesiasts again:
“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God.” –Ecclesiastes. 2:24-16 (NRSV)
And a few chapters later, this theme is repeated:
“Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long approved what you do. . . . Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. . .” –Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (NRSV)
Please join me in prayer:
Dear loving Father,
Thank you for the joy of living this earthly life.
Thank you for creating a world filled with beauty.
Before anyone clicks off and does not listen to my reasoning, let me say that this is strictly my opinion after years and years living through all the hype that comes with Valentines Day—from teen years, through college years, through dating, marriage and parenting, as a teacher, as a wife, as a mother, and as a parent and now as a grandparent.
Valentines Day is a commercial creation but it has so colored our world with the demand that everybody has someone to which they are romantically connected and should honor with some tangible manner that one lovesanother.
In a way, Valentines Day has diminished the all-powerful concept of love that God has deemed we should demonstrate to one another. Love is a lifestyle for me. Love is a driving force for my day. Love is living.
Years ago I adopted a mantra for myself: Love God. Love life. Love one another. Love is the fuel that gives me energy, moves me into action, filters the world that I observe day in and day out whether in person or through the various screens that brings the world into my frame of knowledge.
God loves us. We are to serve as his arms and feet here in this earthly world in which we live. God shows love to all that lives and breathes in this world. Therefore, we are to do all that we can to share that love in any way that we can whenever we can with all we can in all the places we can—yes, John Wesley’s mantra, I know.
Each time I sit down to compose another blog entry, I do it because I love God, I love life, and I love others. This is unconditional love. I may not love the actions or the situations or the manner something is handled, but I love the people, the living beings, the earth and all it houses for us—mountains, rivers, plains, deserts; weather of all kinds; flowers and trees, birds, animals and so much more.
Valentines Day says, “I love you.” But all too often Valentines Day narrows the focus of love into one small definition—romantic love for one other person.
Therefore, Valentines Day makes me cringe.
This morning I am home bound thanks to the nutsy weather (yes I do love the weather even when it can be scary); so I watched my Sunday morning worship service on line. Thank you to Rev. Jim Downing, Sedalia’s First UMC, for his Valentines sentiment to me—and all the others who were able to hear his message today (it can be heard on line at http://firstsayyes.com/worshipand search for today’s sermon, February 10, 2019).
God’s love is the ultimate Valentines Day sentiment, but Downing artfully spelled it out through his explanation of the expansive term of love through C.S. Lewis’s four types of love (which can be further explored at http://www.cslewis.com/tag/the-four-loves/) and then took it even further by reviewing and even demonstrating Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages(located at https://www.5lovelanguages.com).
For those who reading a printed version here is a very brief summary of these two views of love:
C.S. Lewis’s four types of love:
Gary Chapmanthen develops the five languages of love to help us understand how we perceive love from someone or how we demonstrate love to others:
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
Downing also returned to one of the most recognizable scriptures concerning love. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he provided a definition of love (I Corinthians 13:4-8, CEB):
4Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails.
The full chapter I Corinthians 13 is often referred to as “The Love Chapter” and often used in weddings, but looking at these four verses through the filter of Lewis’s four loves and Chapman’s five languages of love, the full extent of love is much more than the simple expression of saying “I love you” on a Valentines card.
After listening to Downing’s sermon and reviewing the types of love and the languages of love, I can better articulate why Valentines Day makes me cringe.
God asks us to love one another and the fact that for one day a year we are socially pushed to demonstrate that love through some tangible manner just makes me cringe. We should not be limited to how we share love as Chapman reminds us; nor should we be led to think that only gifts are the way to demonstrate love.
And another point that causes me to cringe: love is not just romantic. Love is so complex that it colors every relationship that we experience—even relationships that are in passing, that are work-centered, that are random, that are outwardly established by forces that we have no control over.
God has established only one commandment that he personally demonstrated through the life and ministry of his only son Jesus Christ. That commandment is a Valentines to all humanity: Love one another as you want to be loved.
I cannot express a better sentiment to the world in which I live. I love you! I love you as a friend, as a mother, as a spouse, as a grandmother, as a teacher, as a pastor, as a human, as a pet owner, as a bird feeder, as a gardener, as a neighbor, as a fellow Christian, or as any other identifying label that I can fill.
I love God. I love life. I love one another to the very best of my ability. I want to share whatever I can with anyone else that I can so they can experience the joy of living in this glorious world with all its crazy weather, all its various climates, with all the nations.
Maybe I cringe at the cultural hype of Valentines Day, but I hope that through this you know that I love you—each and every one of you. I hope that you know I want to do all that I can in all kinds of ways to make sure you know that you are loved.
Thank you for being part of my world and for letting me love you. I pray you know love.
Please join in the prayer:
Dear loving God,
Thank you for loving each and every one of us.
Thank you for all the emissaries through which you send messages of love each and every day.
Guide us in finding ways to love one another each and every day including Valentines Day.
Guide us in accepting sentiments of love from you:
–like the crystal world of ice shining in the
–like the sounds of the birds as they gather the
sunflower seeds put out on top of the ice;
–like the warmth of a puppy placing a chin
on a knee in complete trust;
–like the taste of a warm cookie cooked with love.
Open our hearts as we walk through these crazy, earthly-bound days so we experience your love.
Open our minds to all the ways we can say love to one another.
Open our doors so we can welcome love in to stay.
May we share your love by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is You within us, when we accept your love, sent us in the form of your son Jesus Christ. –Amen
During the past week, the sun has remained hidden. We had a huge snowfall Friday through Saturday, well even into Sunday. Add to that the low temperatures hovering around 32 for a week, and my brain seems frozen.
For a long time, I have known that when winter moves in and the sun disappears, I can easily fall into a mental slump, and I have to admit I am there right now.
And I have worked not to be stuck inside: I shoveled snow. I took the dogs out with me while I shoveled. In fact, I realized they needed a path to walk around the yard—so I shoveled.
Now here is the thing: that physical work keeps my body moving, but the brain is still struggling. Last week I explained that I dove in to a year-long Bible reading plan. And I can now say I am caught up and on schedule.
As of today, I have read through 42 chapters of Genesis and 14 chapters of Romans. It is a discipline, and for these dreary winter days, I find myself escaping from the foggy days when I pick up my pencil, open the journal, and tackle the reading.
I can understand why John Wesley insisted that Christians read the scripture. There is so much to understand, and having read as much as I previously have, reading it in a disciplined approach is still challenging.
My notes really are not a journal, more they are Cliff-note style. In case that is not familiar to you, Cliff notes are a staple for college students, even high school students, who are reading literature and want a summary or additional notes to supplement the reading.
In a way, I find myself modeling the style of notes John Wesley wrote and are often referenced in the Wesley Study Bible I am using. Maybe I write down too much, but when I write something down I have better memory of what I have read—something I learned about myself in my first college experience.
Reading like this lets me read it somewhat like a book, first. If I don’t get something, I re-read it. If something strikes me as unusual or significant, I write it down along with the summary of what I read.
I am not a fast reader, but I discover that reading three to four chapters in the Bible and making the study notes/journal entries takes me about an hour. I was afraid it would take much longer, so the reading works into my day rather smoothly.
Since last Thursday, I have continued working through the genealogical narrative of the Old Testament faithful. I have read about Abraham and Sarah. I have tried to understand the traditions and the drive that lead Sarah to have Abraham have her handmaiden Hagar so he would have an heir. Therefore Ishmael was a born.
And then there is the surprising change of heart when Sarah does indeed become pregnant with Isaac. She drives away Hagar and Ishmael. She wanted to make sure her son was the heir of Abraham.
The narrative continues and so do the strange customs of marriage and birth that complicate my understanding of the Old Testament. How in the world could a father offer his own son as a blood sacrifice? But his faith and his ability to hear the Lord talk to him, ends with Isaac safe and suddenly there is a substitute ram for the sacrifice.
These books include so many stories. So many examples of how God talks to the people. Over and over, faithful followers manage some terrible life experiences because they maintain a close relationship with God.
What am I learning? Remain faithful. And that means spending time knowing the examples of these ancestors and how their faith was rewarded. The stories teach us the expectations God has for us to live in community with one another.
In fact, this particular reading plan couples a New Testament reading with the Old Testament reading. I was puzzled, as I began, why Genesis would be paired with Paul’s letter to the Romans.
The reading plan does not provide any specifics other than the list of daily readings.
And then you read the New Testament reading and you discover the connection. Paul tells the Romans how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of the secular world. Now that is a real life manual we need yet today—2,000 years after Paul wrote the letter.
We need to hear Paul’s advice right now! There is so much information and images that flies at us through the internet, the television, the print media, not to mention all the casual conversations that go on all around us.
The fourteen chapters of Romans contain practical and sensible advice. I probably should be outlining each one separately, but what speaks to me may be the most important lesson for this reading, and then turn around and read it again in a few days, weeks, months or years and something else seems more important.
For instance, today in Romans 14, the subtitle was “Do Not Judge Another.” How easy it is to judge someone. Maybe the judgment comes along political poles, or maybe by the first appearance of a way someone dresses, or maybe it is an action that goes against our personal standards.
In reading Romans 14, I found myself focusing on verse 9: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”
Then I read on, and came to versus 13-14: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”
Maybe I am not being concrete in what I am sharing or maybe it is not as coherent as an essay should be. For those possibilities, I apologize. I need sunshine to clear the fog in my brain a bit more.
But, if by sharing some of these thoughts I can trigger someone into reading scripture, then thank goodness. If someone reads scripture and discovers God talking to them, they will discover the joy of living within God’s family.
Dear Heavenly Father,
May these words lead others to discover the grace that you provide. May your words help others to manage life challenges today just as the faithful in ancient times managed. Thank you for those before me who heard your call to write, to preserve, to translate, to publish all these words of the Old Testament and the New Testament so we can hear you talk to us today. –Amen