Tag Archives: Old Testament

Yesterday was a true Monday; Certainly Job would understand

At times life seems to be floating along with little trouble and we get lulled into complacency.  We listen to the news and know that there are troubles swirling around us, but somehow they really do not affect our day-to-day routines.

And there are those times when we are hassled by a runny nose or lack of sleep.  Maybe we get a craving for our favorite comfort food but discover we do not have any in the cabinets.  These are irritations that come and go without making a permanent scar in our lives.

Yet Monday was a true Monday, filled with irritations, major worries of family and friends.  The chore list was long, and the wellbeing of very important people in my lives were teetering on the skills of medical professionals.  Why even our aged dog was fighting for pain management. 

Monday became a challenge for me.  I packed so much into it that I became exhausted and I was just on the peripheral of the real issues.  I began thinking about Job.

Job was overwhelmed with challenges and yet he did not lose or, maybe I should say, he did not let go of his faith in God.  I think my study of Job this past month probably helped me deal with all the hassles of my Monday.

I cannot imagine what it must have been to lose one’s children, all one’s wealth, and even one’s spouse.  Job lost everything that designated his status in his community.  Then on top of that, his own health deteriorated.

In Job’s ancient culture, the ramifications of all these attacks were deemed just that—attacks from God due to his lack of faith or his sins.  Even his closest friends could not see Job’s innocence.  The only mindset they had for that type of loss of family and wealth was it had to be God’s punishment.  Job had to have sinned.  There was simply no other reason for him to be destroyed like he was.

As I studied the book of Job from the 21stcentury viewpoint in which I live, I struggled to understand how the friends could turn on Job.  They knew him.  They were his best friends.  

My thought was that in today’s society, friends would not berate a friend like that.  And then I hesitated. 

Maybe friends today would question why someone was losing everything even when they were sure they knew that friend so well. Maybe friends today might think it was punishment, too.  Maybe they would argue with the friend that there had to be a reason for such difficulties.

Using the study notes of the Wesley Study Bible I found a deeper understanding that the context of the story does indeed make a difference in understanding ancient literature.  

The context:  In the ancient culture, when bad things happened to good people it was believed to be punishment.  The punishment could be for sins or for lack of faith.

Job’s friends had no other frame of reference and certainly were not privy to a global analysis of religions and other historical references as we have available today.  The friends were reacting to something that they were witnessing and could not fathom any other reason for such destruction.

Jump back to the 21stcentury.  In my own history I can now see how others can “pre-judge” the cause and effect of one’s negative experiences even though a friend is believed to be living a solid Christian life.  I have heard it asked before:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

My own mother was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and could not beat it.  Even her pastor wanted to know why God was allowing her to suffer with the cancer. Mom’s answer, “Why not me?”

Bad things happen.  Natural disasters, like this year’s Mid-western floods, hurricanes, cyclones, etc. happen.  Disease attacks.  Other’s mistakes—or sins—interfere with own lives.  

Bad things happen.

And that is why it is even more important to maintain one’s faith in God.  

God created this world and it really is a mystery as to how it all developed originally.  Even when science can explain so much of how things evolve, it does not answer—to my understanding—exactly how it all began.

I continue to believe in God as a creator, an omnipresence in my life.  

I continue to believe that he took on the human form as the man Jesus Christ in an effort to make us understand that there is such a simple way to live:  Love one another.

I continue to believe that the human form of Jesus Christ was indeed crucified on a cross by humans who did not understand, and that he arose from the dead to join God in some form of eternal life that continues to be a mystery to us in our human form.

Certainly bad things happen, but the promise of eternal life, to knowing what the mystery really is, to be in the presence of God and Jesus Christ and a host/cloud of witnesses gives me hope.  

With faith in God and knowing that he is with me in the form of the Holy Spirit, I believe that we can manage all that challenges us in this human life we experience.

Therefore, when a Monday hits and it seems so overwhelming I just want to hide, I remember Job and his determination to remain faithful. My Monday may have had its challenges, but they are nothing that I cannot handle because I know God is with me.

How I hope that my life, my faith, my example can provide testimony of living with God as my partner. 

My guiding scripture is Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through him [God] who strengthens me.

My personal mantra:  Love God.  Love life.  Love one another.

My breath prayer (please join me):  Dear God, May my words be your words.  –Amen

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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 Family of Jacob

Sermon given for the 4th Sunday of Lent–a mini-series.

Scripture connections: (using the New Living Translation)

Genesis 25:19-26

     This is the account of the family of Isaac, the son of Abraham. 20 When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and the sister of Laban the Aramean.

     21 Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. 22 But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

     23 And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

     24 And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins!25 The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau.[a] 26 Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob.[b] Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.

Genesis 28:10-17

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

Genesis 28:20-22

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

Genesis 32:24-29

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel,[a] because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

 

Reflection: The Family of Jacob

Working through the stories of the Old Testament Bible is showing some interesting life patterns. Obviously the stories of Adam’s and Noah’s family are related because they offer new beginnings—the first a creation story and the second a re-creation story.

Abraham’s story has an interesting comparison to Jacob’s story, too. Obviously, giving birth to sons was an ancient cultural expectation (and really some cultures today still have similar values). The first-born son carried on the family lineage. Therefore, if a woman was barren, the lineage was jeopardized.

Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren and so was Jacob’s wife Rachel. The pressure to have sons lead both wives to encourage their husbands to have a child through their hand-maiden, through a surrogate in today’s terms.

This similarity is interesting, but really is not a major focus of the lessons Jacob’s family can teach us today. The lesson Jacob’s family has for us is not wrapped up in the genealogical similarities and differences, but rather a lesson on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a common theme in all the stories of the Old Testament families. As humans, we make mistakes. As faithful followers of God, we must learn to accept our human mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

Jacob was a twin, but he was the second one born. His twin was Esau and, by the ancient culture’s standards, would take over as head of the family upon his father’s death. But, Esua focused on hunting and on immediate needs rather than using farsighted planning; so when he was hungry, Jacob easily traded his birthright with him for a hearty stew.

The family dynamics changed at that moment. God’s story does not follow the human culture; it follows human decisions.   Humans make mistakes, use poor judgment, manipulate situations, and cheat each other. Jacob was human and he made mistakes; so why is his story preserved?

A profile of Jacob includes this analysis:

  1. Strengths & accomplishments—father of the 12 tribes of Israel; 3rd in the Abrahamic line of God’s plan; determined & willing to work long and hard for what he wanted; and a good businessman.
  2. Weaknesses and mistakes—when faced with conflict relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help; and tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake.

This analysis compares to many humans, male and female. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. We all are susceptible to temptation; we all make the wrong decisions; yet we also are given certain gifts that we can choose to use or to ignore. Jacob used his gifts to get what he wanted.

Not only did he trick his own twin to get his birthright, but he also tricked Esua later to get his father’s final blessing.   Jacob’s role as the father of the 12 tribes of Israel was the result of trickery. How easy to miss the lesson of God’s forgiveness when the story appears to be based on human weakness.

God knows we are weak. He knows we are gong to make mistakes, but he also accepts us for our weaknesses. And amazingly, when we maintain a faithful life, we have the potential to take a negative and make it into a positive—with God’s help.

Jacob tricked Esua, and then his mother Rebecca urged him to go and stay with her brother Laban. The story is complicated as Rebecca wanted Jacob to marry one of her people; and even when he finds Rachel, his uncle continues the trickery and he ends up with Leah.

One trick seems to lead to another. Yet, one of Jacob’s strengths—hardworking—drives him to reach his ultimate goal of marrying Rachel as well as Leah. At the same time, Jacob was a successful businessman and became wealthy.

And beneath Jacob’s human story lies faithfulness in God woven into the story through Jacob’s dream:

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

 

The dream moved Jacob into action, building a memorial pillar where he had the dream and names it Bethel. And he made a vow:

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

 

The dream establishes the faithful relationship Jacob has with God. The complicated story of Jacob’s life as he goes on to his uncle’s land and earning his wives, Leah and Rachel, teaches that God is with us always.

Not one of you can look back at your lives and say it was simple because you believed in God. Each one of you can look at your life and recognize that you made mistakes, but God never left your side. Jacob was not a model of perfection, but God used his weaknesses and his strengths to carry the story forward.

The Story: God loves us. God forgives us.

Jacob’s story is complicated and begins with his birth in Genesis 25 and ends with his death in Genesis 49. The twists and turns in Jacob’s life are really no different than those you and I experience in our own lives.

When Jacob decided to seek out Esua and make amends, he was so worried that Esua would be angry that he sent gifts and even sent others before him with messages before he risked crossing into Esua’s land.

And that night, while alone, Jacob wrestled with God:

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

Jacob’s story shows us how God used him to continue developing the nation of faithful followers. The story is filled with human faults as human stories continue to be filled with faults. Yet, the Old Testament story continues through the Jacob’s lineage as we learn of his youngest son Joseph.

The families of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Jacob share common themes: God’s unconditional love, the value of faithfulness, and the forgiveness of sins. The stories are preserved by the generations so you can learn the truth of living a God-centered life. You may wrestle with God, but remaining faithful will maintain the relationship throughout eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father of all the generations,

You are with us always,

Waiting on us to accept your love.

You are with us when we do wrong,

Waiting for us to admit our mistakes.

You offer us forgiveness

When we turn back to you.

 

Thank you for the work of the faithful

Shared in the stories of your servants.

Thank you for sending us Jesus Christ

Who showed us how to live faithfully.

Thank you for speaking to us personally

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

May we be your disciples

Working to transform others

Through unconditional love, too. –Amen

 

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The Family of Noah

Sermon given for the 2nd Sunday of Lent; a mini-series on the Old Testament families.

Scripture connections (using the New Living Translation):

Genesis 5:32

After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6: 5-10

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord.

     This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. 10 Noah was the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6:14-22

     14 “Build a large boat[c] from cypress wood[d] and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. 15 Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.[e] 16 Leave an 18-inch opening[f] below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.

     17 “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 19 Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood. 20 Pairs of every kind of bird, and every kind of animal, and every kind of small animal that scurries along the ground, will come to you to be kept alive. 21 And be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.”

     22 So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

Genesis 10: 2 & 5, 6 & 20, 21 & 31-32

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth.[g] Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

Genesis 11:10 & 26

10 This is the account of Shem’s family. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

 

Reflection: And Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham & Japheth

Yes, we have certainly seen Mother Nature’s rain and ice this week, but I know it cannot compare to the flood that Noah and his family experienced. In fact, the closest experience I can personally remember is the flood of 1993. That was to be the 500-year flood, and since then there have been more floods and natural disasters that might tempt one to say God was trying to destroy the world again.

But then there is the rainbow that inevitably appears and we are reminded of God’s covenant with Noah. God promised never to completely destroy the world and all that lives.

Why, then do we still read Noah’s story and look for the lessons that apply to our 21st world? The Bible is our textbook, our inspiration to manage the world that swirls around us. The timeless lessons of Noah still apply to our lives today even with all the technological advances, the instant communication, and the global community.

First, consider the Bible’s description of the world through God’s eyes as described in Genesis 6:5-6:

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.

I can understand the heartache God experiences as he looks at how evil seems to overwhelm his creation because I see the evil that surrounds us each and every day. John Wesley explained:

“The stream of sin was full and strong, and constant; and God saw it.” What did God see? God saw that every imaginative and cognitive impulse of the human heart is persistently evil.” (200911-12)

Wesley’s explanation of the sin God saw in Noah’s time still describes the evil that continues to persist in our world today.

The ancient scripture is just as applicable today as it was then. Noah’s life example is a lesson for us today. We must not ignore it as we live our own lives. One of Wesley’s core terms as annotated in the Wesley Study Bible develops the affect of sin: “Sin distorts our whole being, our relationships with God and other people, our ideas of success, and even our relation to wealth.” (200911)

Noah, though, was an exception. He was an example of faithfulness to God. And in Genesis 6:8, this is recorded: But Noah found favor with the Lord.” Noah is the only model of faithfulness that caused God to save humanity . . .

“[Noah’s faithfulness became] . . . the relief for humanity. This description focuses on his moral innocence (“righteousness”), his acceptance before God (“blameless’), and the consistent intimacy of his relationship with God (“walked with God).” (200912)

Today this forces us to stop and reflect on our own relationship with God. Can we honestly say we live a life faithful to God? Or do we fail?

The Biblical story of Noah is a reminder of how God does know the honesty of our faithfulness. We are responsible to model our Christian beliefs in order to defend ourselves from evil as well as make a difference in the world when we demonstrate the unconditional love God has for us by loving one another unconditionally, too.

Fortunately, Noah’s story does not simply conclude with the waters of the flood receding. No. Noah’s story continues through his family. Sadly, Noah’s wife is not listed, but the three sons are: Japheth, Ham and Shem. The story continues as God assigns Noah the responsibility to save all the animals and to repopulate the earth.

Once the floodwaters receded, Noah continued to follow God’s instructions. Today, we continue to follow some of those changes:

  1. Humans began eating meat
  2. Humans were not to eat blood, only flesh drained of blood
  3. Noah began farming as he cultivated grapes for wine production (an entire sermon can be developed around what happened when Noah got drunk, but the key to Noah and his family is their faithfulness and how the world was repopulated as a result)

These are changes we might not consider particularly newsworthy, but these changes shifted human culture. The sons and their wives repopulated the world and that leads to so many discussions, but remember the stories in the Old Testament are carefully selected to maintain the history and the genealogical connection to Jesus Christ.

For this reason, the sons are named in scripture. The verses in Genesis 10 carefully list the sons and their descendants.   This record identifies the way the world was repopulated and even outlines their purpose, so to speak:

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth. Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

As noted in the Wesley Study Bible:

The names in the list are sometimes individuals, sometimes locations, and at other times people groups, illustrating the use of genealogies to create a kind of ethnic map of the world. (200916)

This understanding may help us understand why the Bible includes Noah’s story, but the lesson on faithfulness is no less important for us today. We must remain faithful to God and to live a life that demonstrates our understanding of God’s unconditional love. Are we living as an image—or reflection—of God?

The image of God is also a core term for Wesleyan theology:

As love is the very image of God for Wesley, love should be the sole principle of every feeling, thought, word, and deed: human character should reflect what God is—Love. (200914)

Today we must live our lives as the image of God, as LOVE. We are human and we will make mistakes. But we must do the very best that we can to live faithful lives as Noah did.

God promised Noah that he would never destroy all the earth again and set a rainbow as evidence of that promise. We may take confidence in that promise, but it does not mean we can ignore our responsibility to live a righteous, God-center, love-filled life.

Neither do we have to worry that we are called to repopulate the earth, Noah’s family did that. And through that lineage, we continue the story of the faithful. Noah was ten generations removed from Adam, and Noah’s son Shem is the direct connection to Abraham as identified in Genesis 11:

10 This is the account of Shem’s family [Shem was a multiple great grandfather of Terah]. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

The span between Noah and Abraham was also ten generations. (Family Tree of the Bible 2018)

Noah and his family show us that despite all the evil that exists around us, we can be and are to be faithful. We are to carry God’s love forward into the world. We are the hope God has for this world we have been given. Do not take that responsibility lightly. Love one another.

Closing prayer

Dear patient and loving Father,

We see the evil in this world, and cry out.

We see the pain caused by anger, and hurt, too.

Talk to us through the ancient words of scripture.

Show us the way through the example of Noah.

Grant us courage as we struggle each day

To remain faithful followers

Striving to love unconditionally. –Amen.

Works Cited

Family Tree of the Bible. February 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_tree_of_the_Bible.

The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009.

 

 

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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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