Tag Archives: New Testament

Learning from the New Testament couple Priscilla & Aquilla

Growing up in the Methodist Church in Montgomery City, my world was expanded by the people with whom our family worshiped.  I would like to introduce you to Burt and Beth.  My mental picture of them is watching Burt open the car door outside the church, reach in for Beth as she stood up.  He then walked her into church with his hand cupped around her elbow.

[Insert slide of Burt and Beth.]

            Beth had polio as a young woman in the 1950s.  She was left with a limp, but she always stood up straight as an arrow with the brightest eyes penetrating you with her smile.  He was a dairy farmer, so his mornings began very early, even before church on Sundays, but he never missed church and he was always there beside Beth.  

            This strong couple demonstrated love of God, love of family, and love of neighbors throughout their life of personal challenges.  They were among my personal role models much like Pricilla and Aquilla were role models in the churches Paul established during his missionary trips around the Mediterranean Sea.

            I am Susan Smith, the associate pastor of the Warrensburg First United Methodist Church, and I invite you to make sure you have a Bible, a pen or pencil and paper handy so you can follow along with the scriptures, make notes or even jot down a reminder to share questions or stories of your own later on as a comment or post to our Facebook page.  Please join me in prayer.

            Dear Lord,

                 As we take this moment to pause and clear our minds,

                 We ask that you open our hearts and minds 

                 To the lessons we learn from your servants Priscilla and Aquilla.

                 May we, too, grow in our faith and our love for each other

     So our lives reflect your love for one another.  –Amen

            Then Paul arrives in their community.  

A group of people on a bed

Description automatically generated            Let’s meet Pricilla and Aquilla by stepping back into those first years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Life was so very different without all the technology we now have.  The business of living was labor intensive, and the needs of the community were met by skilled craftsmen.  Aquilla was trained as a tentmaker, and where he lived along the Mediterranean Sea, he filled a demand as people needed his skill to make and to repair the sails for the boats or the tents for their homes.  Priscilla joined him working as a tentmaker, too.

[Insert slide of the three working on tents]

The couple were faithful Jews, and they listened to Paul.  They heard the good news.  Soon they were devoted new Christians.  They quickly developed a special bond with Paul because he too was a trained tent maker, which we learn in Acts 18:1-3: [Insert slide of verses.]

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.

            Even as a missionary, Paul would work in the community in which he was preaching.  The three of them became co-workers with Paul even living with them while in Corinth.  Can you imagine how close they became working, living and worshiping together?

A picture containing text, map

Description automatically generated            The book of Acts, written by Luke, shares the story of Paul meeting Priscilla and Aquilla on his second missionary journey.  

[Insert slide of Paul’s second journey.]

During Paul’s year and a half in Corinth, the Jewish people became upset over his teachings causing problems in the temple, so much so that the Jewish leaders took the issue to the Roman proconsul Gallio.  Gallio dismissed it saying it was an internal problem.  The turmoil becomes unsafe, so Paul decides to leave for Ephesus–Priscilla and Aquilla go with him.

            Consider this.  You are well-established in a community where there is plenty of work providing a good income.  Why would you suddenly decide to get up and leave it?  Priscilla and Aquilla were called to continue in ministry with Paul and they had protected him in the midst of the Jewish riots.  He no longer taught in the synagogue but began a house church next door to Priscilla and Aquilla.

A sculpture of a person

Description automatically generated            When Paul decided to leave Corinth, the couple decided to follow Paul to Ephesus.  What a decision to make!   But Priscilla and Aquilla, partners in life, did just that.  This decision exemplifies the qualities of the couple not only as disciples, but as a Christian couple who follow God’s call to serve.

[Insert slide of the busts.]

            Following Paul reminds me of today’s missionaries.  As I shared about Beth and Burt, we also had members of our community that went to India to serve as missionaries.  Even though I am struggling to remember their names, I remember wondering how in the world could they get up and leave for India.  Their boys were basically my age, they were residents in my hometown, and they were fellow church members.  But they, like Priscilla and Aquilla, left to serve God in ministry.

            And then there is Priscilla herself, one of the strong women listed in the New Testament as disciples of Christ.  The references to her always place her first and always with Aquilla.  Based on how she is always listed first, scholars believed she was from a higher social status than Aquilla which was out of the ordinary for ancient times; and another difference for the couple was that they had no children.  Priscilla does not follow the stereotypical roles for ancient women.  Yet Priscilla worked and worshipped alongside her husband as an equal, not in a subservient role.  She became a leading teacher in Christianity, a strong woman serving as a disciple.  Priscilla broke the stereotypes of her culture.

            Finally, consider Priscilla and Aquilla as teachers.  Reading in Romans 12:6-8: [Insert slide of verses.] 

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

we know that Paul must have identified the skills that these two had, and especially Priscilla as indicated by the placement of her name in relation to Aquilla’s.  When the couple followed Paul to Ephesus, they resumed their trade as tentmakers and as faithful disciples.  Their home became a church meeting place.  They were leaders in the faith community, and there they met Apollos.

            Apollos was a gifted speaker and was spreading the news that he learned from John the Baptist’s preaching and prophesying, but he did not know of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Therefore Apolloa, while developing a following, did not know the fulfillment of John’s prophecy.  

            Luke shares the story of Apollos’ ministry and how it developed through the mentoring of Priscilla and Aquilla in Acts 18:24-26: [Insert slide of verses.]

24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.

            Priscilla and Aquilla were able to take Apollos and teach him the about Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.  Their gifts transformed one man’s ministry and the growth of the church continued as is recorded in Acts 18:28: [Insert slide with verse.]

28 for he [Apollos] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

            Priscilla and Aquilla are a team.  They demonstrate to us today that faith can bind us together enriching our lives, especially our daily lives working together.  Luke refers to strong women in his gospel and in Acts, emphasizing their strength for leadership in ministry.  The fact that this married couple are referenced repeatedly in Paul’s letters indicates the level of his friendship with them and that the different churches also recognized their leadership.

            Priscilla defied the stereotypical role of women in the ancient culture, but her strength and her spiritual gifts placed her in a leadership role within the early church.  Today’s culture may have lifted the social barriers for women leaders in faith, but Priscilla’s story is one for us to preserve and model.

            Consider the image I have of Beth and Burt growing up.  I can add others to the list of strong women of faith in my life; and when I do, I realize their spouses were important to their leadership, too.  I can add my own mom and dad to models of spiritually-focused leaders.  I can stop and look around me today, too, and know that here in Warrensburg I have been blessed with other models of faith:  Mary Belle and Paul, June and Tom, Ruth and Harold, Nan and Bill are just a few to mention.

            And what about today’s generations?  They are present, too.  Look around and spot the faith leaders you know.  I recognize several:  Beth and Bryan, Kim and Dan, Krystle and Brain are just three faith-filled couples.  The church continues thanks to the leaders of our church.  The couples gain strength together and we see the future of God in their lives.

Amanda, Kaylie, Neal, and Alyssa            In closing, today, I would like to share one more story of a strong couple leading in discipleship.  Just like I watched Beth and Burt growing up managing to put aside the trials of a pandemic, I am watching a new generation.  My cousin Neal married a young woman who also is a teacher.  They are living in quarantine just like the rest of us, but they have a vulnerable daughter who was born with Downs Syndrome just a few years ago.  Meet Amanda, Kaylee, Neal and Alyssa.  [Insert picture of family.]  

            Despite the challenges that all of us face in our lifetime, without faith we falter.  With faith, we strengthen.  Amanda has grown in faith and uses the platform of Facebook to chronicle the life of her daughter and her big sister growing in faith.  She testifies how God supports her and the family through all the medical and educational challenges they face.  She is Priscilla.  Neal is Aquilla.  

            Are you living your life in a manner that shares the good news?  Are you modeling your faith life and your daily life after Priscilla and Aquila?  Are others watching you and seeing that God has been with you, is with you, and will always be with you?

A close up of a sign

Description automatically generated            Just remember–you are strong.  During this pandemic, we live with uncertainty, but we turn to those strong teachers in our lives to discover our own strength.  My cousin sent a message through Facebook that I want to share with you: [Insert sidewalk chalk screen.]  Her daughter Alyssa is the artist: “God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”

Let us close in prayer:

Dear Lord, 

Thank you for all the strong women

     you have shared with us through scripture

     and throughout our lives.  

Thank you for all the disciples,

     both men and women,

     who worked to teach us about Jesus.

Thank you for all the Priscilla and Aquilla couples

      you have placed in our lives

     so we may know you personally.  –Amen

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A few personal notes in lieu of holiday-focused rhetoric

Plowing on through the year-long Bible study, I am now into Deuteronomy and Acts.  I am struggling with remaining open-minded enough not to get bogged down by the minutia of the Old Testament laws.

But I also admit that I am doing everything I can not to frame the current national status within the context of the Old Testament laws.  I do not understand why we have to make our lives so complicated by complex legislation.

You see, the New Testament law of loving one another supersedes everything else.  As I read through the detailed explanations of the Old Testament Law, I see how even that one commandment encompasses all the initial ten commandments. 

Therefore, I again implore all to use the Golden Rule as a litmus test for all decisions.  Does the decision show love for one another?  Is the decision something I want applied to myself?  Can I apply this decision in my own life that I chose to love one another?

As I listen to the nightly news, I have a tendency to analyze what is going on along the rubric of the Golden Rule.  How could the event or the person been different if the individuals involved really did use the Golden Rule.

I even find myself reviewing the personalities and wondering if they have stopped to consider whether or not they reflect the Golden Rule.

Needless to say that this is an over-simplification of any event I am sure, but if only we could live the Golden Rule as the one and only law that needed to be applied.

And this over-simplification probably will make many snicker, especially when our country is celebrating its independence. But, I fear that our founding fathers would not be impressed by the way our democracy is NOT using the Golden Rule.

Therefore, I invite all to join in prayer for the country, the leaders, and the people. . . 

Dear all-knowing, all-powerful Lord, our God,

Forgive us for our narrow-minded thinking.

Open our minds that we honestly see and hear

     what we say and do to one another.

Guide us to rethink our decisions and actions

     using the Golden Rule as our guideline.

Move us to action to love one another in any way 

     that we can, whenever we can, at all the times

     we can so your love reaches all.  –Amen

[P.S.  The holiday week has been gilled with grandkids, anniversary, and holiday—not to mention excessive rain.  Next week will be busy, too, as I step away for a few days.  I will see you after then.]

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Let’s talk about one vs ten; Life is easier with just one.

Sunday’s sermon was about sin.  I know, that seems almost blasé doesn’t it.  But let me be honest, sin makes me uncomfortable.

Now, I probably need to explain that statement. Sin in my mind is something one consciously does that is against one of the Ten Com- mandments.  And I have long struggled with the philosophy that one can sin unconsciously and/or that one is born with sin.

Therefore, when Scott Griffith, associate pastor at Sedalia, Missouri’s First United Methodist Church, admitted that he was gong to be talking about sin, I put up my guard.  But I listened.

And I was impressed.  Sin should not be a topic that causes my guard to go up or to squirm in my seat.  Sin, especially as a licensed pastor, should be something I can openly discuss.  So I listened.

Sin does not have to be a topic that immediately sets off a minister into a hellfire and damnation style of sermon, and Griffith certainly did not do that.  Instead, he calmly handled it and reintroduced the Ten Commandments via the Emoji characters that now dominate social media and our smartphones.

I quickly shot to the internet and found his graphic and copied it for future reference.  Why?  Think about how our society has become so focused on visual images.  The emojis have personified emotions in such an open forum that they are immediately understood and even in a non-specific language manner.

I suggest spending a few minutes reviewing the simplified version of the commandment and then study the emoji that is associated/assigned to that commandment.  They communicate the effect of the sin so effectively: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwje7OOwr4LjAhVKDq0KHWYGBF0QMwhTKAAwAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pinterest.com%2Fpin%2F70016969189628034%2F&psig=AOvVaw2nL2na3i5GQuMwTMe737LC&ust=1561474350157640&ictx=3&uact=3

Certainly I could now go into a long essay reflecting upon each one, but I want to shift to how much simpler life is when one has to only follow onecommandment rather than ten.

When Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question as to which commandment was the greatest, he replied:

 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

–Matthew 22:36-38, NLT

In other scriptures, Jesus repeats the commandment in a range of simplified versions.  Look at this list found with a search on BibleGateway.com:

John 13:34

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must loveone another.

John 13:35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Romans 12:10

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 13:8

[Love Fulfills the Law ] Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

2 Corinthians 13:11

[Final Greetings ] Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace

Galatians 5:13

[Life by the Spirit ] You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Ephesians 4:2

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

1 Thessalonians 4:9

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

2 Thessalonians 1:3

[Thanksgiving and Prayer ] We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.

Hebrews 10:24

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,

1 Peter 1:22

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1 Peter 3:8

[Suffering for Doing Good ] Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

1 Peter 5:14

Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

1 John 3:11

[More on Love and Hatred ] For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.1 John 3:23

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

1 John 4:7

[God’s Love and Ours ] Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:11

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4:12

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

2 John 1:5

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.

So I ask you:  Wouldn’t you rather prefer living life simply following only one commandment rather than ten?

And If I could identify an appropriate Emoji for the one commandment, it would simply have to be . . . 

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving Father,

You loved us so much that you sent your son

To teach us how to live with one another in love.

Forgive us for all the times that emotions flare up

Causing us to risk breaking the one commandment:

     Love one another.

May we fill our love for one another

into our hearts and minds so no sin creeps in.

And with our lives devoted to loving others

Let us share our love for you 

In as many ways as we can.

With the love and grace from you Our Heavenly Father,

     through our belief in your son Jesus Christ

          and the power of your Holy Spirit within us,

grant us peace and joy

that comes from loving one another.  –Amen!

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In life’s journey, death is only one of unlimited destinations

Here it is June, typically associated with summer vacations, weddings and Father’s Day. Death is usually not a theme for the month.

Yet death forced itself into my world twice during the week.  The first death was completely an accident.  The second death was inevitable.

Sometimes one must simply stop and address an issue that all too often is avoided.  Death is simply part of life.  Everyone of us will die.  It is unavoidable.

The reading I have done these past few months includes death as one of the themes, but still one must process how death fits into one’s perspective about life.  

The reading has forced me to review my personal outlook about death and I want everybody to know it is nothing of which to be afraid—from my perspective.

My understanding of death has not come from a near-death experience, nor has it come from academic research.  My understanding developed from my family’s upbringing, my Christian upbringing.

Possibly growing up on a farm has helped me to grasp the reality of birth, life and death.  I witnessed the life cycle of animals and plants, through the eyes of my parents.  Life is a cycle; and when one cycle finishes, another begins.

I had my share of pets and all too often one would disappear.  Maybe the most heart wrenching was the loss of our female collie.  Dad received a complaint that she was teaching her pups to kill piglets.  Out of respect, Dad took Lassie down to another location and shot her.  I was devastated and years later I learned he was too.  That was my first sense of absolute loss due to death and I was about 10 years old.

But, we had the puppies.  Buffy was mine.  He continued to be my life companion through those tough years of middle school and high school.  He followed me all over the farm; he sat with me when I went out on the front porch and cried.  And I went to college.

Life is a journey.  We begin in the arms of our parents—if we are gifted with loving parents who care and nurture us, and we learn resiliency.  We stumble and fall, we get back up and continue onward.  

The journey is never easy, but with each destination that we reach, we grow.  We discover joy, anger, passion, frustration, and any number of highs and lows. 

My perception of the permanence of death became just part of the life journey.  The experience with death as a child did not permanently damage my own life journey, I just continued.

Being raised in a Christian home did provide one element of teaching that may be missing in many homes: resurrection—being raised from the dead.

Never did I ever question that upon death, there was nothing more.  Death was only a destination along life’s journey.  The mystery of life after death, though, cannot be communicated in any definitive manner to eliminate the unknown, the mystery.  

Along our life journey, we must do all that we can to understand the cause and effect of our life experiences.  We must come to grips with our personal responsibility for each action whether good or bad.  We must evaluate those actions against the Golden Rule:  Does our action reflect that we honestly love one another as we want to be loved?

Fortunately, I did not have to grapple with that question very often as my parents and my church family did all that they could to make sure that I lived the Golden Rule until it became an automatic, internalized lifestyle.

And death was always part of the journey . . . 

One of my elementary teachers died during the school year.

My friend was accidentally killed when a train struck her car just six months after our high school graduation.

My grandmother died during my junior college year.

Yet my journey continued, and still continues. Death is woven in and out of the years, and I still do not know the answer to the mystery.  Instead, I have faith.

My readings support my awe over the mystery. The Old Testament is filled with death, yet not until the New Testament do we witness death as a destination, not an ending to life.

This week we follow our culture’s traditions that surround death.  We experience the tragic loss of family, friend, neighbor.  We recognize that our emotions are for our loss, not for the one who has reached that destination in their journey.

The scriptures, the books, the conversations, and the experiences I have delved have led me to anticipate the glory of this destination as I found reading Revelations 21:

The New Jerusalem

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

10 So he took me in the Spirit[b] to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. 12 The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. And the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. 13 There were three gates on each side—east, north, south, and west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16 When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles.[c] 17 Then he measured the walls and found them to be 216 feet thick[d] (according to the human standard used by the angel).

18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass. 19 The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones:[e] the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. 27 Nothing evil[f] will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

[Accessed on June 11, 2019 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+21&version=NLT.]

Life is a journey, we have heard that analogy in so many different contexts; but this week I am convinced that the journey is far from over when death takes us from this earthly life and opens the door on life everlasting.

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Old Testament books, I & II Kings: Easier reading but why read it?

Midway through the second book of Kings, I am finding that I can understand the reading without being totally dependent on study notes.  I really was unprepared for the ease of reading these two books after struggling with so much of the ancient literature.

Still, I maintained my discipline by reading the Wesley Study Bible’s notes.  And then I began wondering why was it necessary to consider these two books for permanent inclusion in the Bible.

You might wonder why question such a decision, but just in case you are not familiar with the books of Kings, I will provide a bit of a spoiler.  These two books are written as a historical narrative (a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end in chronological order).

The narrative style makes the reading more familiar for me, at least.  I can understand going from point A to point B and on to point C.  It makes sense.

But one of the challenges continues to be the lineage.  For one thing, not being schooled in Hebrew or the ancient languages, I struggle with the spelling of the names.  The list of fathers, sons and a few wives (notice no daughters) visually seem so similar—maybe one letter difference such as Amaziah and Ahaziah.  

Now add to the lineage, there is the geography of the narrative.  The ancient Middle Eastern setting is not a strength for me; in fact it is challenging even knowing the 21stcentury geography.

Remember that the chosen 12 tribes have split into two ‘countries’:  Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom.  Mix in the lineage of the various names and trying to remember whether that family was from Judah or whether it was from Israel further complicates the comprehension of the narrative—which, as you may remember I stated, is easier reading.

The narrative itself tells of all the acts that these leaders did, not only to their own people; but to those that they battled and conquered.  The list of killings is extensive, but add to the basic killing some of the violent and horrible behaviors used by the kings and their protégés and one might think the ink used to write the narrative is actually the blood of victims.

Woven into the battle-filled narrative are the evil behaviors that separated the faithful tribes from God.  There is trickery.  There is worshiping foreign gods.  There is “doing what is evil in the eyes of God.”  And that brings me back:  Why is this narrative part of the Bible?

Maybe one reason is the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The prophets’ stories are woven into the narrative of the leaders (and notice the similar spelling) and are stark contrast of those who remained faithful to those who ‘did evil in the eyes of God’.  

As a brief refresher, and to simplify what I have been reading, here is how Elijah is identified on Britannica.com:

Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible. The story of his prophetic career in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah is told in 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2 in the Bible. Elijah claimed that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing monotheismto the people with possibly unprecedented emphasis. He is commemorated by Christians on July 20 and is recognized as a prophet by Islam.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Needless to say the entry on the website Britannica.com is somewhat simplified, but it helps explain the importance of including him in the narrative of Kings.  

Prior to Elijah’s death, Elisha enters into the narrative.  He was a student of Elijah and in the end became his successor.  To summarize his role in the narrative, it is helpful to turn to Britannica.com again:

Elisha, also spelled Elisaios, or Eliseus, in the Old TestamentIsraelite prophet, the pupil of Elijah, and also his successor (c. 851 BC). He instigated and directed Jehu’s revolt against the house of Omri, which was marked by a bloodbath at Jezreel in which King Ahab of Israel and his family were slaughtered.

The popular traditions about Elisha (2 Kings 2–13) sketch a charismatic, quasi-ecstatic figure, very similar to Elijah. Like his mentor, Elisha was a passionate exponent of the ancient religious and cultural traditions of Israel, which both felt to be threatened by the ruling dynasty of Omri, which was in alliance with Phoenicia. (King Ahab’s wife, the Tyrian princess Jezebel, was then trying to introduce the worship of Baal into Israel.) As a prophet, Elisha was a political activist and revolutionary. He led a “holy war” that extinguished the house of Omri in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (2 Kings 9–10).

Though Elisha recruited Jehu to revolt against and succeed Ahab, it was Elijah who was instructed to anoint Jehu as Israel’s king (1 Kings 19:16). This is characteristic of the relationship between the two prophets; in popular estimation Elisha always remains partly in the shadow of his master. The story of the beginning of his apprenticeship (1 Kings 19:19–21) and the account in which he becomes Elijah’s heir and successor (2 Kings 2:8–18) both feature the prophetic “mantle.” In the first, Elijah casts it upon his pupil; in the second, Elisha picks it up. The mantle, cultic garment of the prophet, carries connotations of power and authority.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Why am I including all the background on the two prophets when I first stated that it was much easier reading the narrative of the books of Kings?  Return to the second part of the title/headline:  WHY?

As a 21stcentury Christian who has both the Old Testament and the New Testament to read, the narrative of the kings does not line up well with our understanding of the law as taught by Jesus Christ.  The violence, the evil, and the bloodshed in the narrative seem counter-productive in understanding God’s law since the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the story of the prophets that is woven into the kings’ narrative is needed to grasp the significance of God’s effort to maintain the relationship with the twelve tribes of Moses. As the narrative creates the timeline, the lineage, and even the geography of the tribes history, magnifies a few important points:

  • God maintains his promise to David despite the generations separating the kings/ people from David;
  • God’s time certainly does not match our time; He is eternally patient;
  • God sends messengers into our lives, but we have to be alert to them or even to the possibility that prophets and/or angels are trying to be heard yet today;
  • God is with us even at our worse; it is up to us to become aware of this and ask forgiveness—even if it means more than once.

Finally, buried in the Wesley Study Bible (p. 469) is a quote from John Wesley’s own notes on Kings:

Wesley argues that such divine actions should be understood in terms of divine mercy rather than in terms of the failure of divine justice (Notes,13:23). 

That statement caused me to stop and ponder again how easy it is to think that when bad things happen, it is God’s judgment for something we did wrong.  As I visit with others who struggle to understand their own relationship with God, I discover that if life has not been easy or there is tremendous illness and/or pain with which they must deal, there is a real fear that these maladies are due to God’s divine judgment.  This then leads them to fear they have not been good enough to join God and Jesus in eternal life.

Wesley’s note places an entirely different light, so to speak, upon the reason why we read the narrative in Kings. We need to realize that the generation after generation that God waited for the faithful to return to him is a picture of God’s divine mercy, not divine judgment.

Now I can answer the question:  “Why do we read the narratives of Kings?”  

We read the narrative because we learn what divine mercy is.  We read the narrative because humanity has done wrong over and over and over again yet God continues to wait for us to return to him.  God is patient.  God is willing to forgive us when we learn that he waits for us.  

Bad things do happen to good people.  Life is full of reasons why, but God does not send bad things while he waits on us.  He patiently waits for us to accept his love, his grace.  He is divinely merciful.  All we have to do is accept his presence and his love.  He is waiting.

Please join me in a prayer:

Dear merciful God,

Time and time again we behave poorly.

We ignore all the lessons shared in the Bible.

We chose to act in ways that do not follow

     the greatest commandment ever taught:

     “Love one another.”

Forgive us of our doubt, disbelief, or denial.

Forgive us for hurting others,

     physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Forgive us for our own self-judgment

     separating us from your love.

May we find peace knowing your divine mercy.

May we shine in the light of knowing your love.

May we offer grace to one another so they too

     experience the joy of faithfulness.

In the name of you, our Father, 

     In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,

          And through the Holy Spirit, God within us,

Amen.

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Done: The Chronicles of Narnia Now struggling with sadness Yet coupled with optimism

Time and again I am frustrated with how to manage all the thoughts that get tangled up in my brain after I finish reading a book, but that tangle is multiplied by seven after finishing the series, The Chronicles of Narnia,by C. S. Lewis.  I am left with sadness of the end, yet that is coupled with the optimism.

At the same time, basically, I have finished reading the Old Testament book of Numbersand the New Testament book of Revelations.  Maybe that has multiplied the tangled mess in my head.

I know I have said it before, but reading fantasy literature is difficult for me with all the invented names the authors introduce.  My dyslexic brain is so wired to read language that fits into my paradigm of spelling and meanings, that stepping into the fantasy world of unknowns slows down my reading and therefore complicates my ability to stay connected to the storyline.

Now add to the storyline of the seven chronicles the Biblical timelines of the Old Testament, the New Testament and then the future as outlined in Revelations and this brain is almost fried, if I may use a vernacular.

BUT.  And I do mean all caps BUT, the reading continues to fuel my understanding of God. I am more and more convinced of the reality that where I live here in the Midwest of the United States, a North American country of the globe we label Earth is just one tiny speck in a universe that God has established.

AND, yes an all caps AND, the speck in the universe that I am is as exciting and delightful as any speck might be anywhere in the vast unknowns—as long as we are part of God’s loving world filled with Grace, Love, Mercy, and more Love.

In one respect, I am thankful that I read the chronicles in the way the stories were packaged rather than in the order they were actually written.  I like order. And even though the chronicles always remind readers that today’s earthly definition of time and Narnia’s concept of time do not match, keeping the sequence of the stories in order helped my dyslexic-and probably obsessive-compulsive tendencies-aided in my comprehension.

That is a lengthy introduction to the tangled thoughts that are bouncing around in my head, but I beg your patience as I begin trying to sort out some of my thoughts.

1.  The Chronicles of Narniais much more than juvenile literature.  The truth that Lewis presents how to treat others just as they want to be treated—whether human or animal—is critical and I am thankful that it is the underlying theme for each of the adventures.

Loving one another as one wants to be loved is absolutely critical.  That rule of life has, is and always must be the measure of all actions whether in personal relationships, in community neighborhoods, in business decisions, in national and international decisions, even in decisions on how we treat the other living beings co-existing with us.

If every decision was made based on that principle, how could decisions have negative affects?

2.  The Chronicles of Narniaalso illustrates the basic sins of humanity that return over and over in literature and in our daily life, especially greed and power.  Lewis’ characters clearly identify the negative effects of the sinful behaviors in vivid descriptions of the characters’ features and faces, not to mention their actions.

The images literally caused me to shiver as the story took a turn for evil and challenged the forces of good.  I get the same reaction when the news shares some terrible event or even quote something or someone who is operating from the premise of greed or power over the well-being of others.

Reading the Old Testament book of Numberswas challenging because I could not comprehend the need for the itemized explanations repeated over and over for how to make sacrifices, nor for the different degrees of sacrifices or offerings for this or that purpose. Confusing.  Unnecessary.  Unmanageable. Of course, those descriptors come from the 21stcentury after God sent Jesus as the final blood sacrifice.

Which again brings up the discussion of timelines. As I read through the New Testament book of Revelationsalong side ofNumbersandThe Chronicles of Narnia, I had to face the fact that we continually need to be taught how to keep our life focused on God and the true commandments that Jesus taught during his ministry:

                  Love God.

                  Love one another.

As much reading as I am doing these months, I can turn almost any literature into a theological discussion on how to live the Christian lifestyle and how that combats all the evil in our lives.  I also can see though the various written words how essential it is to live in our current timeframe by those very commandments so that we are able to transition into any other realm at any time. 

When I read the final chapter of Lewis’s The Last BattleI wanted to scream, “NO!”  Over and over I wanted the story to continue and for the Eustace and Jill to return to their lives in England without any loss of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the evil ape Smith was just misleading all the creatures of Narnia.  

I wanted to scream, “NO!” that the donkey Puzzle was clever and the ape was dangerous trying to manipulate Puzzle.

I wanted to scream, “NO!” to Tirian as he drew his sword trying to fight against the impossible number of Calormenes.

But the lesson would have been lost if Lewis’s story had not continued to the surprising conclusion as each one of the Narnian squad entered the Stable door.

Then as the last chapters began to conclude the chronicles, the glory of Aslan pushes the reader forward, into a realm of new possibilities.

And, my personal readings once again intertwine. Remember, my personal reading has been included Revelations, which is filled with the wonderment of the New Jerusalem in vivid descriptions.

Why, I ask, did I find myself binge reading The Chronicles of Narniaalong side the year-long Bible readings?  As I said, now that I finished the chronicles, I am experiencing a sense of sadness, but it is coupled with optimism.

My brain is afire with thoughts, but then the final pages of The Last Battleand the chapters of Revelationsseem to be racing together to tell me one of the most wonderful truths that I have yet to experience:  Life with Jesus as my savior leads to life eternal in a world so unbelievably beautiful that there is nothing to fear.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving, gracious, merciful Father

As the words of your servants

Unveil the mysteries of our earthly lives,

May we shed all the fears

that clutter our lives

Muddling the beauty of life around us.

Lead us through the Holy Spirit

Who teaches us through the words

Of Holy Scripture written so long ago, 

but also of gifted writers since those days.

Open our hearts and our minds

So that we may take the words

And open our hands to serve you

In any way that we can 

So others may learn the promises

Of The Word shared by Jesus.  –Amen

Just a P.S. Words are powerful and I continue to read even when the ideas, the genres, and the timelines cause my brain to go into overload.  How often I find myself needing to step away and let my thoughts just float around before they fly out the fingers on the keys.  May God’s words enlighten me through the Holy Spirit so that my words are God’s tools.

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Sorting out Numbers: So many rules to know!

Continuing with the year-long reading plan, I have been reading the Old Testament book of Numbers.  Actually, I am reading the study notes first because the text of Numbers is frustrating to me.  I just do not get all the rules and regulations that the Lord placed on the Israelites.

Well, I said it and the walls have not fallen down around me and no lightening struck me or even near me—except the lightening that filled the sky these past couple of weeks with storm after storm after storm. I suppose it is safe to say that I am not enjoying the text of Numbers.

I wonder how the Israelites ever felt that they were living the faithful life with all the rules that Moses and Aaron shared with them.  I cannot imagine remembering each detail and maintain my daily life with all the different offerings, rituals and rules that was required

Here were the twelve tribes still wandering around the wilderness, living in tent cities with all the supplies needed for daily life along with all the livestock and all that were part of their livelihood, too.  And then Moses and Aaron kept bringing them more rules.

No wonder that the people became cantankerous. Today’s world is so far removed from the nomadic lifestyle that it is difficult if not impossible to relate to the demands upon the tribes.  Yet, I want to find a sense of connectedness to this book.

During my college years, I was living in transition. I began in the dorm, along with many others who were strangers to me (and in the 1970s we did not have coed dorms so there were only females in my dorm).  I lived in a strange land.  I had new responsibilities to care for myself.  I had to walk to strange new places, and I had to learn new rules and new boundaries.

Certainly the transition was far different that the Israelites exodus from Egypt, but I was leaving the safe haven of my home to begin a new life that would lead me to an entirely new setting for my life.

As a farmer’s daughter, I had learned the rules that my parents established for our family.  We attended church faithfully, we went to school doing the best we could, and we did the chores that taught us responsibilities as well as how to manage our future lives away from our childhood world.  I knew what was expected; I knew what I had to do; I knew what I wanted to do, too.  I left for college equipped for the unknown I was stepping into.

Maybe I should understand what Numbers is telling me. Maybe I should know the fears of the people.  Maybe I should know that trusting God made life in the wilderness less fearful.  

Certainly the book makes my life seem so much simpler and safer than those ancient days of traveling through the wilderness.  But the mental fear of those years in college might be similar to the fears of the Israelites.  

One had to trust the lifestyle in which they lived, especially in community with each other and with all those people on the move.  In my own life, whenever I moved from one location to the next, I needed basic rules or guidelines in order to step into a new community.  I learned that it takes a year just to know the basic culture of the community.

During the ancient exile narrative, the rules and the regulations made the journey doable.  With Moses and Aaron sharing the words of the Lord, the people struggled but continued onward to the Promised Land.

The doubts and the fears had to be addressed and often lead to dissension and tension—even rebellion.  The results were not good, but those who faithfully listened to Moses and Aaron continued making the journey.

Our lives, today, must also follow God’s law. We are just blessed to have the New Testament to simplify the complex lifestyle of the nomadic culture the earliest Israelites experienced.  

Christians today must follow God’s commandment, too, but we know that Jesus provided us just two commandments:  Love God.  Love one another.  

Reading all the chapters in Numbers wears me out. There are so many specific directions on how to live, where to set up camp, what to sacrifice, when to sacrifice, what is an appropriate offering, and the list continues.

My transitions in life are much more manageable and far less fearful because I know that God provided us the instructions for a simple life that can fit into any culture, any location, any setting whether at home, at work, or on even on vacation.

I am free from making sacrifices because Jesus was the final sacrifice.  I am free to love God and to love one another without any restrictions.  I can confidently know that God is with me and life is good when I accept Jesus’ sacrifice for me and agree to do all that I can for anybody that I can in any way that I can.  That is love.

I continue to work through the reading plan, and I will finish Numbers.  I know that there is so much more to learn; and while reading the New Testament book of Revelations, I see a world so beautiful that I have no fear of the final life transition that is ahead.

Join me in prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for your patience with me,

Waiting for me to understand the Word.

Thank you for the lessons shared

      from the Old Testament,

So we can appreciate the efforts of your faithful.

Thank you for the words of the New Testament

     That have proven to make life love-filled.

May we understand the old, old stories;

May we demonstrate the new commandments;

And may we share with others the value

     of loving one another as you love us.  –Amen.

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