Tag Archives: New Testament

At least the winter weather won’t interfere with a journey through ancient scriptures

I know, I just could not resist that we are still in the midst of one of the craziest winters here in the middle of the US: snow, ice, more snow, spring temperatures, fog, even freezing fog (I call frog), rain, snow, and more. 

During the past several years, we have had extraordinarily mild Midwest winters.  In fact the meteorologist this week said for three years the total snow accumulation of those years is now less than we have had in the past two months.

Still, these cold weeks has kept me to my itinerary of reading the Bible over the course of the year.  I have now completed Genesis, Romans, Isaiah, and Mark.  This week I added Exodus and tomorrow I Thessalonians.

Earlier I mentioned that it is interesting how the Old Testament and the New Testament books are being paired.  Genesis is the beginning of the Israelite story and Romans is the beginning of the Christian church.  I began to understand.

The second pairing has been Isaiah and the gospel of Mark.  In my understanding, Isaiah is the Israelite’s manual of prophecy, which tells of the coming Messiah, a savior of the faithful people.  Mark was written to the Jewish people as an argument that Jesus is that expected Messiah.

Now here is another issue.  This winter weather has prohibited me to join in a conversation with others.  The planned Bible study with others making this same journey had to be canceled due to the road conditions. (I suppose I am lucky that I can post my ideas as I read and others can react.)

I have to admit that reading Isaiah was challenging.  I am realizing that I need tour guides and find them in the pages of the study Bibles. 

For years I have used the Life Application Study Bible (NIV), but this time I am using the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). And I have even turned to the Archeological Study Bibleas I believe I mentioned previously.

Reading through Isaiah, though, is must more difficult for someone who has limited knowledge of ancient history.  The study notes are my tour guides!  

Not only am I learning the history of ancient people, I am learning more about John Wesley and how he read these same scriptures. I am ending up getting two journeys in one.

(For another side note:  I take notes.  Not just a few, I take lots of notes that include what I am learning, what I am thinking, and now what Wesley is thinking.  Sometimes I wonder what I am going to do with the volumes this is going to create.  Still, I have discovered I do go back once and a while to check on something that struck me as interesting, confusing or even profound.)

Reading scripture takes one back in time.  I am reminded how different life must have been in ancient times.  

For instance, this morning in the early chapters of Exodus, the plagues that God delivered upon Egypt are being listed. As often as I have heard about the plagues, I did not realize that there is a line in many referring to the Egyptian sorcerers or magicians.

According to the scriptures, found in Exodus 7-9, the plagues could be re-created through the arts of the sorcerers and magicians. But then, as the list of plagues continues, these arts fail.  The sorcerers and magicians begin to see the plagues of “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:16-19).   

Even though the Pharaoh continued to deny the power of God as demonstrated through Moses and his brother Aaron, his own sorcerers and magicians had to admit they could not duplicate the powers.

Reading the scriptures is not a leisurely trip, but one that challenges one.  I am so glad that I have the study notes to help, but it is also making me wonder what I might still be missing.

I have resources, but I am thinking about all the classes I took in literature.  The truth is that I never did have a course on reading ancient literature.  Now I am wishing I had more skill in ancient literature.

As I was growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on in our small elementary school.  I remember getting hooked on mythology and read everything I could about mythology.  

Admittedly, that was maybe 55 years ago, and my memory for details is not good.  And in all that reading, there was nothing about the Egyptian gods or even other ancient cultures—it was Greek and Latin mythology.

I need to hire tour guides that specialize in ancient literature.  The Archeological Study Bibleis a major help, but it does not fully develop my understanding of the symbolism that is buried in the ancient scripture.  

(I welcome any suggestions for websites or resources that I can locate to improve this journey.)

Needless to say it is too early for me to draw any conclusions about this journey at this point, but I know that I am finding surprises in the stories and I am seeing the timeless truths of humanity.  

What I do not understand is how we do not directly teach or share the literary themes of the Bible and parallel them to the literature of our own culture.  

Humanity has a tendency to repeat behaviors that complicate our lives.  The timeless themes of the scripture just reinforce the simplicity of Bible’s good news:  “God loves us so much that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him has eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Add to that the commandments that Jesus taught us in Matthew 22:  

36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[a] and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Life can be so much simpler if we could just accept the truths Jesus taught us with these two commandments.  I cannot stop but to frame so many horrors in our lives thought that one primary thought:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

Just think about some of the worst human experiences and test it against that parameter:  What if we loved each other like we want to be loved?

  • Would there be gun violence?
  • Would there be homophobic attitudes?
  • Would there have been one neighbor arguing with another over a fence?
  • Would there be a bully in school?
  • Would there be road rage?

The list goes on into infinity.  Why even looking back through ancient history, if the Israelites could have demonstrated that love for one another above all else, would there have been all the legendary battles, the vicious treatment of slaves or even slaves at all?

My journey through the ancient scriptures is not anywhere near over, and the wild winter weather is helping me stay on my itinerary for the journey.  The side trips through the study notes are adding new understanding to my experience.

And, as I resume my daily routines, the stories, and the lessons I discover are like snapshots that I look at over and over. I am finding surprises and I am finding truths that enrich my earthly journey.

Please join in my prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the scriptures

In which your faithful people

Mapped out the directions

For life eternal.

May the ancient words 

Reveal universal truths

So your love survives

Despite the detours people take.

May the stories of old

Guide today’s people

In ways to guide others

To love one another, too.

And as our journeys near completion

May the snapshots of our lives 

Serve as guides for future generations 

That they may know love always wins.

In the name of you the Father, the Son,

and the Holy Ghost, amen.

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“What goes around, comes around.” Believe it or not, I found the source: Isaiah 3:11

Isn’t it interesting how we tend to pick up a phrase and use it over and over.  Often the phrase is one we learn from our own family while we are growing up, and many times we have no clue where it originated.

The phrase, “what goes around, comes around,”is one such phrase.  I remember hearing it some growing up, but in the last several years, it has been used and heard repeatedly in my own home.

First, I admit that that phrase has personally helped manage frustrations when something does not seem fair or when something we hear upsets us and we feel the action is not ethical.  

During the past couple of years, we utter the phrase almost every night as we listen to the daily news.  Oh oh, there it is again—someone did something that is against our belief system—“what goes around comes around.”

Now remember, I was working on reading the Bible—Old and New Testament—following a daily plan.  This week finished up Genesis and Romans, and now the plan focuses on Isaiah and Mark.

The reading for January 22 was Isaiah 3 & 4, plus the final section of Mark 1.  Admittedly I was surprised to jump from Genesis to Isaiah, but I am getting used to just accepting the plan as published and see where it takes me.

And so yesterday I am reading Isaiah 3 when I stumbled into verse 11.  Immediately I thought so that is where the old saying comes from:  “what goes around comes around.”  I had to stop, reread it, check the Wesley Study Bible Notes (NRSV) and reread it again:

Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them.

Doesn’t that read like the phrase we use so often today?  Well, I decided I should check into this a little deeper so went on line and googled the origin of the phrase “what goes around, comes around”to see what is the phrase’s origin.

Checking a number of sites, I finally located one that seems to bring all of them together:  https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/415499/is-what-goes-around-comes-around-african-american  

One thing I learned is that most believe the quote first appeared in Paul Crump’s book, Burn Baby Burn, written in 1962 about a man on death row.

Yet another entry indicates what one reader remembers her mother, in 1950s, saying, “You get what you give.”

An interesting addition to the page on this quote comes from three different dictionary entries:

  • Merriam-Webster defines it as: “if someone treats other people badly he or she will eventually be treated badly by someone else” 
  • Dictionary.com confirms and adds the ominous foreboding, “Retribution follows wrongdoing; justice may take time, but it will prevail” and suggests the proverb dates from the 1970s. 
  • Oxford Dictionaries simply states, “The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.”

A final reference comes from the use of the phrase in the African-American culture.  This is the best summary of the comments from the website:  

Finally, Lewis King, Vernon Dixon & Wade Nobles, African Philosophy: Assumption & Paradigms for Research on Black Persons (1976) has this to say about the expression:

This point is well demonstrated by one of our more common proverbs. The Black child who is told that “what goes around comes around” may be receiving a specific admonition with regard to the consequences of his behavior, but he is simultaneously experiencing a reinforcement of the African world view, namely, that there are vital connections among events and experiences. Both the specific admonition and the general philosophical perspective are synthesized in the child’s developing conception of the world. …

It is no accident, then, that “what goes around comes around” is a common African-American proverb. As suggested above, the concept of continuity between events and experiences that is so fundamental to the African world view is clearly expressed here.

Certainly today’s language includes influences from all around the world and the discussion as to the origin of the phrase, “what goes around comes around”indicates an attitude that exists when something bad, wrong, unethical, illegal, etc. happens, somewhere along the line there will be an accounting for that behavior. 

I believe that the true origin of the phrase is in the book of Isaiah where the prophet is warning the people that they must remain faithful to God and to follow the Law of Moses.  Sadly, the prophecy did not cause the people to stop and correct their behaviors.  (God had to send Jesus, his son, to join us on earth so he could model how to live the commandment.)

Read Isaiah’s words and consider the meaning of our often-used phrase:


The look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom,
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the innocent how fortunate they are,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their labors.
11 Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are,
    for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
12 My people—children are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.

13 The Lord rises to argue his case;
    he stands to judge the peoples.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.

I ask, does that now sound just like what we are saying when we use that phrase, “what goes around comes around”?  What are we to do about it?

We know that we cannot judge, only God makes the final judgment; but we can remember that we are responsible for our actions and God tried and tried to get the message across that there is one simple law to follow:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

When I hear the saying now, “what goes around comes around,”I now will hear the words of Isaiah trying to warn the people that God will do whatever he can to teach us how to love one another.  I must remain faithful and not give in to what I know is against God’s commandment to love one another.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Patient Father of All,

Thank you for the words of warning,

for the work of your faithful,

and for opening my understanding 

so I can learn from scripture 

how to live in today’s world 

loving one another.  –Amen

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Brrrrr, it’s cold out there. Better stay in and read.

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

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The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sermon given on Sunday, January 14, 2018:  This sermon serves as an introduction to sermons based on the images included in the stained glass window.images

Special note: The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, has a stained glass window that captures God’s story and during a conference the images mesmerized me. The next few weeks, God’s story will be shared based on the artistic images of the window. Thank you to COR for investing in such an artistic interpretation so The Story can live in all who view it or who learn The Story shared by others.  See attached link.

 

Scripture connections:

Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

John 1:1-5, NLT

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

Revelation 1:7-8, NLT

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Reflection through art: The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sitting in our sanctuary in rural Missouri, we are wrapped by stained glass windows that share God’s story in brilliant images and vivid colors. The symbolism of the stained glass windows reflects the literature of the Bible; and we are privileged to be surrounded by these windows.

Stained glass windows have spoken to me since a child sitting in my hometown sanctuary where the windows allowed smoky light to filter in during the Sunday morning service as the sun rose behind them. The pew in which I sat each Sunday, I watched the window of Jesus holding the lost lamb. I suspect many recognize that story because they too have seen that picture either in their Bible or in a frame hanging on a wall or in a stained glass window like I did.

My awareness of God’s story and fascination for the stained glass windows probably led to the overwhelming sense of awe as I stepped into the newest sanctuary (hardly an accurate word for the enormous room or auditorium) at Leawood’s (Kansas) Church of the Resurrection. The window is huge and measures 35 feet by 92 feet. [The completed jigsaw puzzle is preserved and on display so others may inspect it as we work through the stories and the meaning of the work.]

Briefly, the window has three primary panels that merge together, bordering along a river path that wraps around the central panel. The first section reflects the Old Testament, the middle section is Christ’s story as found in the New Testament, and the final section is The Church after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The window is packed with images—some very familiar, some less so. But every element of the window carries God’s story forward. There is no time better than today to begin a journey through God’s story as shared in the window.

Let’s begin with Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

 

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

These words share the beginning of our understanding of Creation. The world God created is represented as coming out of the cosmos in the puzzle, a dark purple circle of heavenly-like bodies—an image I recognize from sitting out gazing at the night sky.

What better time than these first weeks after Christmas to review the opening of Genesis and consider the relationship of God to this world. How one perceives Creation, or explains how the world came to be, is not an issue for me. What matters is that there is an omniscient being I know as God, and no matter what, I am convinced that God’s story includes the stories of the Old Testament and led to the necessity of God joining us in the human form of Jesus Christ.

Reading the gospel of John, the Story is summarized in those first five verses:

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

 

The words we use each and every day are the very tools to carry God’s story forward. The Bible’s words record the relationship of humans to God, provides examples of life challenges and how faith in God makes the human experience bearable. The words shared through the Bible warn, teach, and love us.

John identifies God as The Word. From the cosmos, the Word became the world we know. The Word carries the story forward so all humanity can understand. The Word gives us the ability to tell the story in so many ways—from the visual images as we see in our own stained glass, in the art hanging on our walls, in the sounds of the music we hear, in the words of the literature we read, and in the words we share with one another.

John is one of four different views of Jesus’ story. The middle panel of the COR stained glass window takes The Word and records it visually for us. The Word shared in the gospels tell the stories of Jesus’ life, but maybe more importantly the words provide us the lessons for living in this world with others from around this world.

Interestingly, John’s gospel ends with these last two verses:

24 This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

25 Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

The reality of the Bible is that there is no way that The Word is complete. The Word continues as The Church fueled by the Holy Spirit and this is illustrated in the third phase of COR’s stained glass window.

The panel is filled with the images of disciples who have carried The Word forward around this globe in almost every different setting one might think up. As Jesus the man died on the cross, he commissioned his disciples to become The Church. He did not say build a structure to keep the faithful inside, he said to be The Church. The Word continues in the words, the actions, and the story of the disciples that continue following Jesus’ teachings.

The gospel John shares Jesus’ vision for The Church in the book of Revelation. Again the words confirm and continue the timeless story:

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

As we continue to review the story of God as shared in the words of our Bible and the stories of the people who illustrate living a life faithful to God and serving as The Church, we will see that the gift of Jesus Christ provides all the gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy and peace.

By following The Word, the Teacher and the Holy Spirit as all those before us and those reflected in the COR’s stained glass, we will met Jesus Christ personally. We will see that God is “the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end . . . the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for all your disciples

Who share the Word in the Bible,

In the visual arts of stained glass,

And in the auditory arts of music.

 

We ask for your presence in our lives

As we find you speaking to us

In so many different ways:

Through written words

Through visual arts

And through music.

 

Guide us, too, as we continue your work

Sharing The Word in new and surprising ways.

May we be the Church

Sharing the gifts of hope, love, joy and peace. –Amen

 

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Out with the Old. In with the New.

given on Sunday, November 15, 2015

Scripture: Hebrew 10:10-25 (NLT & MSG)

Reflection

Out with the old and in with the new. The phrase echoes in our minds as we clean out a drawer, sort through papers, or weed out the clothes in the closet. All the old, worn out items are purged. This process must be done sooner or later, and the process is slow and difficult because the old items often trigger very strong memories and emotional reactions. Out with the old takes time.

The Message translation of Hebrews 10 begins: “The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan.” Imagine how ancient Israelites heard the Disciples share the “new plan.”

The faith these earliest Christians knew was the Old Law, the Law of Moses that was thousands of years old. The Torah, now the first five books of the Old Testament, provided the Jewish people the very structure of daily life and the spiritual practices that created the very culture in which they lived.

Of course the earliest Christians were not all Jewish, still the new way suggested a new way of thinking. Even if the new plan was simpler, making a shift in ones engrained way of life is extremely difficult.

Think about cleaning out the catch-all drawer or the closet. How long has this item or that been sitting there? Is that item used even once in the last month? What about the last year? Out with the old and in with the new.

God cleaned out the old way with the birth, life and death of Jesus. The new way had to replace the extremely complex and rigid Law of Moses. Jesus was able to demonstrate the new way during his brief ministry in a compelling manner that drew crowds along the roads and outside the doors of new believers.

The message shared was one filled with hope.   Love God above all others; and love one another as you want to be loved. Simple, direct and manageable: the new way allows room for differences.

The new Christians carried the message beyond the villages and soon the New Law extended around the Mediterranean Sea. The new way was accepted by those who knew the Old Covenant and by the non-Jewish people—even the pagans heard the news. The new way changed lives, changed cultures, and changed history.

The world is rushing at us and we are all discovering that keeping up with the changes is difficult. The chant “out with the old and in with the new” becomes overwhelming and may seem too demanding of us personally.

When my grandmother died in 1995, she was just shy of her 97th birthday. Born in 1898, our conversation during the visitation and funeral was to consider what she witnessed during her lifetime:

  • electricity,
  • telephone communication,
  • World War I, WWII, Korea—where two of her sons served, Vietnam, and even Desert Storm
  • prohibition and even participated in active protests against drinking
  • the Great Depression,
  • the Dust Bowl,
  • the installation of president after president including death of FDR, JFK’s assassination, the resignation of Nixon, and
  • the Civil Rights movement.

She witnessed “out with the old and in with the new” in so many different contexts. Yet, these changes are minor compared to that God made from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

The old ways were cumbersome and difficult to follow. The faithful had thousands of years to hear God, to follow God, and to correct the behaviors, but they continued to fail. God saw the problem and created a new way sending the Messiah to share the good news: out with the Old Way and in with the New Way:

19-21 So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. (The Message)

The Old Covenant, the old way, had to change. God’s decision was to simplify the Jewish Law or Torah. The New Way transformed the lives of the ancient Jews but also our lives even today in the 21st century.

This morning, November 15, the world is reeling from another vicious attack in Paris, France. The ancient world’s old ways interrupted today’s world in the city traditionally known as the “City of Love.” How easy it would be to shout, “Love one another as you want to be loved.” The New Way takes work.

Nothing we do here in our community can cure the pain in France, but we can do our part in the worldly culture right here, right now. We must commit to the one mission God asks of us. We are to find the best way that we can to share the good news of Christ and make new Christians:

22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. (The Message)

Out with the old and in with the new ways of sharing the God’s good news. The task of cleaning out the old is not easy, nor will it be easy to find the best way to share the new, especially in the smaller congregations.

Yet with the confidence of those earliest disciples, we can bring in the new. In the Abingdon theological commentary for this week’s lectionary (Year B) and after the violence in Paris, the need for the Good News is essential:

“. . . [the last portion of Hebrews 10 is] the reminder that the need for endurance is still very present. . . . this side of September 11, 2001 and the financial crisis, people are full of fear—not of the living God, but rather for their future security. For others this is because, in the midst of a secular culture, they don’t really know what it means to trust in a living God who acts redemptively in our world. For still others it is because, even if Jesus still attracts, the church itself seems lifeless and irrelevant—not really the body of Christ for the sake of the world. . . . (p. 321).

If any one of us or any group, regardless of denomination, feels called to carry out a mission that can provide a means of grace for others, then the church’s responsibility is to “just say yes.” (Bishop Schnase’s latest book title is Just Say Yes borrowed from Sedalia’s First UMC pastor Jim Downing’s mission.)

Today’s culture is redefining church. The tools of communication have changed dramatically just like it did when my own grandmother’s world installed the first phone in their homes. Certainly it is difficult to learn or to feel comfortable with the new way, but the outcome will be immeasurable.

Ministries, too, have changed. The closest community is within a few miles radius of the church physically, but many churchgoers will drive as much as an hour to attend church that meets their spiritual and cultural mindset.

Many in the immediate community of a church are struggling with the basic needs in life so that takes a priority over church involvement. Does the church in that community work to meet those needs? Churches that focus on the ministry within the immediate community tend to grow.

Bishop Schnase has asked our churches to “just say yes” to the work God calls us individually or as a church to do. How do we do that? When a member develops a ministry idea, can put together a team to carry it out, and has the funds for the project—just say yes.

Churches of all sizes know that a new idea that is put off week after week, month after month dies before it can even get started. Just saying yes to someone’s project will keep God’s work going. Do you and thus the church say no to the new way or do you say yes?

Today’s churches must let go of the old ways in order to reach people in today’s culture. The new ways may feel uncomfortable, rather like a new pair of shoes; but once the shoe, oops, the new methods are broken in, the effectiveness of the church’s mission improves.

Just say yes to trying new ways. Saying yes does not guarantee that a new way will be successful, but if it is not tried, its purpose or its reach will never succeed. The church does have a financial responsibility, but growth comes only if certain risks are taken.

Any project or program suggested needs manpower and supplies. If our responsibility is to share the Good News and to bring others to know Christ, then we must say yes:

32-39 Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse—some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back. So don’t throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It’s still a sure thing! But you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion. (The Message; emphasis added)

These are the words of the earliest disciples. They said yes to the call to the New Way and we must, too. We must find ways to try and try again, knowing that some things may fail, but new ways will bring others to Christ.

Leading others to know Christ and to see their lives transformed by God’s grace is a worthy goal. The old ways churches have used may not work as well as new ways:

Part of the new way inaugurated by Christ is not only embracing a new way of living for oneself but also of living with others. Churches are called to move beyond individualistic piety to embrace communal practices of witness. . . . Today’s texts [referring to I Samuel 1:4-20 and 2:1-10] bear witness to God’s unexpected life-giving power. (p. 324)

Each of us must search our hearts to know what God asks us to do. If we cannot, then we must ask God how we can say yes so others may carry on the work of the church. Just saying yes also means not saying no to others’ ideas for ministry.

The message in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 confirms the necessity of just saying yes:

16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. [The Message; emphasis added]

Closing prayer

Dear patient and loving God,

Saying yes is difficult in a world full of uncertainties,

But we hear your commission to share the good news.

Open our hearts, minds and hands to minister to others.

Speak to us with new ideas, new methods, and new missions.

We can say yes to doing in the best way we can

So those who are weary from life’s demands may find hope.

Show us how to help others with new ways

Even if we feel old ways were better in our lives.

Let us be the vessel for sharing your love

In our own community and even the worldwide community.

May our efforts work on your behalf

So others may be filled with the Holy Spirit today and forever.

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, amen.

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1. Laying the foundation: Scripture, The Word

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The opening words of John also makes the definitive statement:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Closing prayer

Dear God, the Word,

Speak to us through the scriptures,

Through the work of others,

Through the visual arts,

Through the melodies of music,

And through the models of faith.

We all want to build strong foundations

Of Christian faith.

Guide us to plan ways

To build our own foundations.

Keep us focused on the process

Of reading and studying scripture.

Then let us share the story

In all the ways that we can

So others may discover the Word

And how it creates a strong foundation

On which to build one’s life

And to bring others to know you, too.

Amen.

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Help! I just fell off my horse. What do I do now?

given on Sunday, January 19, 2014

            Don’t ask how the title for today’s thoughts developed because I have no good answer.  All I know is I was thinking about sermons and suddenly the phrase just popped into my head—and I have not been able to shake it off.  Sometimes you just have to follow what God seems to drop into your head.

Last week, the thought I had was whether or not one could yell at God.  While working on that, this idea came through, too:  I just fell off my horse so what do I do now?

Most of us have had the experience of riding a horse or maybe a bicycle.  We know that if you fall off you must get up, brush yourself off, and get on again.  If you don’t, you may not ever get on and try riding again.

Believe it or not, I went searching for a connection to this brain flash.  I thought surely there must be a proverb that connected to the idea, but there is not one!

Step 2 was to figure out how this phrase relates to our Christian lives.  Is there something to which this old adage is connected?  Is this a metaphor for one of Jesus’ lessons for us?  I was reading my nightly devotional and the phrase interfered.  But I found myself connecting it to the concept of forgiveness.

God forgives us.  Jesus tells us that we are to forgive one another.  Now how does that fit with falling off a horse!  Then the connection became clear!

We all know that falling off your horse or bicycle is part of the learning process.  There is no other way to learn than to simply get on, put your feet in the stirrup—or on the pedals—and nudge forward.  On a horse, you use your knees to urge the horse to begin moving.  On the bicycle, you keep one foot on the ground and push off as you push down on the opposite pedal.

Balancing is also important.  In the saddle, you must keep your balance in relation to the horse’s leg movements.  The feet are in the stirrups; the knees tucked in against the horse, and you balance while the horse moves.  One of the most important tricks of staying on the horse is knowing how to use your legs as springs absorbing the unevenness of the gait or the ground.

Now bicycling is a bit different.  It seems like everything is moving in different directions once you pick up your foot off the ground.  The handle bars move, the feet are moving, the wheels are moving, and suddenly you are moving—hopefully forward, but all too often you fall to the ground.  That is when the parent is right there to catch you and to encourage you as you get up and back on the bike.

These experiences are just like living the Christian life.  If you fall off, you simply have to get up, brush off the dirt, and get on again.  God is always there and always loves us.  He does not leave us stranded.  Instead, he waits for us to realize we have fallen, and then he starts to help us.

As a parent, when our kids fall, we rush to their sides to help them get back up; but they continue to grow and we begin letting go so they can develop their own independence.  God is always beside us, but he also knows he cannot do everything for us.  He cannot physically pick us up, carry us and fix our problems for us; he has to let us do it ourselves.

Throughout the Old Testament, the stories tell of the mistakes the faithful made.  When one looks up the term ‘forgiveness’ in the index or in a concordance, the Old Testament references are outnumbered almost 2:1 by New Testament references.

One of the references is annotated with the phrase:  no sin too great for God to forgive.  That phrase is then connected to four passages, two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament:

  • 2 Chronicles 33:12-13–11 Therefore the Lord brought against them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him with fetters, and brought him to Babylon. 12 While he was in distress he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord indeed was God.  [NRSV]

 

  • Psalms 51:1-7–Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
    according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  [NRSV]

 

  • Acts 2:14–14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  [NRSV]

 

  • I John 2:2–and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  [NRSV]

These verses lead us to understand how much God loves us and that he gives us simple instructions on how to live a Christian life.  Yes, three verses make absolute sense, but that one from Acts is confusing.

Why is a verse on forgiveness referencing Peter?  The key is to look at how Luke explains Peter’s story.  The fuller text creates a more complete understanding.  Peter is addressing the Crowd who just witnessed the Pentecost, Acts 2:13-21:

13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,

before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Peter was speaking, and knowing that he had denied Christ three times during the trial, Peter had fallen off the horse, so to speak.  He was struggling to understand the full story, struggling with how to share the story, and simply did not know how to get back up from the entire series of events through the trial, the crucifixion, and then the resurrection.

Pentecost made God’s word real once again.  Peter, after receiving the Holy Spirit, found his ability to once again share the story with authority.  And the first thing he shared was a reference to the Old Testament prophet Joel.

“No sin too great for God to forgive” is shown through Peter’s own experience.  From denying he knew Christ, he was forgiven, baptized by the Holy Spirit, and continued to follow the commission to make disciples of Christ.

Christians need to remember that they are always learning how to be Christians.  We are humans and we fall off or out of God’s favor all too often.  But, when we realize our errors, we ask God for forgiveness and we get back up and continue to learn.

God does not care if we made a mistake, he only cares if we do not acknowledge that mistake, ask for forgiveness, and return to living by the one commandment to love one another as we would want others to love us.  We must get back up and get on the horse to become better and better.

Certainly no one wants to fall off, but society has a way of throwing off our balance and we fall.  We might run with the wrong crowd.  We might ignore someone who is hurting or share a rumor that turned out to be hurtful.  We might overspend and forget to tithe.  We might drink, eat, or talk too much; but we must do the right thing when we realize our mistake.

Get back up, shake off the dirt, and get back to God.  It really is not hard to step back into church after you have been absent.  It is important to get back to reading the Bible or go to Sunday school.  Why, you can even ask for something new, a new tool, to help you grow in your Christian life.

The K-Love radio station is trying a new approach.  They are asking people to take the 30-day challenge.  The station asks listeners to commit, call in and commit, to taking the 30-day challenge of listening to nothing but Christians music.  They believe it will make a life-change for the listeners.

Should we set a challenge?  What type of challenge would strengthen us in our Christian journey?  I suggest a challenge, try reading a daily devotion from now until Lent.  Maybe it is just a paragraph like the Daily Word, Guideposts, or the Upper Room.  Maybe it is a devotional that pops up in the inbox of your computer every day.

A challenge could be along any of the basic recommendations from John Wesley such as daily prayer, grace before each meal, sing a hymn or listen to Christians music, read the Bible, have a discussion with a friend or a spouse.  Whatever you choose, get up and get it going!

God does not care if you just fell off or if it has been a little while since you fell off.  All God cares is that you realize you fell, and that you want to get back up and learn more.  He forgives our mistakes and he will rejoice many times over if you pick yourself up and return, too.

Closing prayer:

            Dear Patient Father,

            I fear I made a mistake and fell off my Christian path.

            Help me to start all over with the skills you have taught me.

            Help me to make changes in my daily life that show I believe.

            Help me to show others that I can return to my faith

                        by listening and following your words.

            Keep me near to you and let me lean on you when I stumble,

                        and open my heart to others who may have fallen, too.

            Let me be a little like Peter knowing I am forgiven.

            Give me the words and the actions to share God’s love

                        with those who are so alone without a Christian family.

            Let my lessons be examples to others so they may know

                        how much You love them, too.            –Amen

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