Tag Archives: prayer

Path to Spiritual Health

Nothing can be more exciting than jumping in the car and taking off for a trip.  Even planning for the trip can be exciting as you map out where you want to go.  Maybe you have a bucket list destination or maybe it is time to visit family or maybe you just want to follow the wandering roads that crisscross the country.  

A wooden table

Description automatically generatedGrowing up on the farm, road trips were far and few between.  I remember four, to be honest:  two to Minnesota, one to Colorado, and one to Albuquerque by way of Colorado.  And making those trips meant following a map.  I am not sure when I became fascinated with maps but check out the map pockets in our vehicles or this map basket and you will see I still depend on them. 

Now we have the maps on our phones and even built into the dash of our cars, but I want a paper map to hold in my hands.  I need to see the big picture.  I want to see the point on the map to which we are heading, and I want to see all the ways to get there.  The map puts me into an interactive relationship with the final destination. 

Our faith journey needs to be mapped out, too.  We need the Bible, we need advice, we need worship, and we need prayer to stay in close relationship with God.  Please join me in a prayer:

Open our minds, Lord, so we may learn to walk in relationship with you by walking with one another.  –Amen

Everybody has lots of advice when they discover you are planning a trip:  Go see this.  Make sure you do that.  Don’t forget to eat at that restaurant.  Take this road for spectacular views.  The advice is abundant and difficult to ignore.  The same thing happens along our spiritual journey.

Spiritual journeys are not always well planned; sometimes they seem to just happen.  Life comes at us and we just go with the flow.  Such unplanned journeys do not always go smoothly and may end up in disasters; spiritual journeys that follow a road map to God’s kingdom equip us with the skills to manage the wrong turns and roadblocks. 

The first map for our spiritual journey was provided by word of mouth and is available to us through scripture, our Bibles.  Today we can find those same words in a wide range of formats.  We can even download an app on our phone, or we can click on a website on our laptops.  The words are easy to find, but sadly, we do not even think about reading them.

Why is it so hard for us to acknowledge that we need to read scripture?  Just like our own children, we can be told over and over what to do or how to do something, but we ignore the advice our parents gave us and just drive on.  Jesus read scripture.  He knew it so well that when his family left Jerusalem after Jerusalem after Passover, he remained at the temple talking to the other learned scholars:

45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

As much as I like using road maps when we are on a journey, I admit that reading scripture was not always a daily practice for me.  Stepping into the pulpit came with the unwritten expectation that I knew the scripture.  I knew it casually, not formally; therefore, as I began preparing sermons or taking the courses, I began reading more formally.

When my spiritual journey took another turn and was advised to take a year off to rest, I suddenly found myself at a loss.  I had no structure during those first few months and I felt lost.  I still followed my daily devotional practice, but the practice of reading lectionary and studying the scripture to prepare for Sunday service was gone.  I was missing something and just could not find the direction I needed.

Then as the year closed, I heard God’s nudge.  I do not have a formal bucket list, but I always wanted to read the Bible cover to cover in one year.  I almost felt a sense of guilt that I had never done that even though I had read the lectionary for several years.  (The lectionary is designed to read through the Bible every three years.) Starting with Genesis and reading straight through Revelations was not a route I had taken.  But during the transition from 2018 to 2019, I was presented with the possibility.

A picture containing text, table

Description automatically generatedI picked up the one-page list of readings designed to read the entire Bible in one year. I looked it over and was surprised to find that it paired an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading.  I needed that map in order to check off one goal from my bucket list.

Reading scripture is a practice that is like following a road map. There are so many options today to make reading scripture easy to add into one’s daily schedule.  There are devotionals like Upper Room, Guideposts, or The Daily Word which include scripture references to read.  One can even subscribe to a devotional that is delivered to your email’s inbox daily.  

Of course, you can turn to your favorite translation of the Bible itself and simply pick it up and read a few verses or a few chapters.  I used to randomly open the Bible and just read a bit–a practice sometimes called Bible Roulette.  No real plan, just something said to pick it up and read (another God nudge). 

A close up of a book shelf filled with books

Description automatically generatedNow I have quite a selection of Bibles that I turn to for deeper insight. They include study Bibles, different translations, and one is even a chronological Bible.  The Bible is our road map for living faithful lives.  We must include them along the path to spiritual health.

No trip planning is complete without consulting others (i.e. small groups).  Even if you decide to make a trip completely on your own, it is wise to ask others for suggestions.  Where did they go?  What roads did they take?  Which stops should be included?  Do you know good places to stay and to eat?  

If the journey includes others, you talk among yourselves to lay out a plan.  Your itinerary includes choices for all those going along.  Decisions are made that involve give and take, compromise, putting others’ wishes ahead of your own.  The journey is mapped out carefully to meet the wishes of all involved often providing unexpected experiences and memories.

The spiritual journey is no different.  We do not travel the path alone, we travel together.  Jesus selected twelve disciples to join him along his journey.  Certainly, he was there to teach them, but he laid out the path for their spiritual health and that model continues to serve us today.  We do not take our journey alone, and when we come to a roadblock or hit a chughole, we need others.

For some, the family is the small group that supports each other along the spiritual journey–going to church together, saying grace at meals, and joining in mission together.  For some, the small group may be neighbors who watch after each other–greeting each other over the fence, walking their dogs together, or picking up the mail when needed.   For some, working partners become a small group that help each other through challenges–they gather in the workers’ lounge, go to lunch together, and sometimes include each other’s family in special events.

Yet, in today’s society, these traditional groups are ever shifting.  Families do not necessarily live in close proximity or attend the same church.  Neighbors often do not know each other’s names especially in mobile communities like ours near a military base as well as a university.  Today, thriving churches serve as the hub for small groups who meet together and grow in spiritual health. 

Being in a small group of fellow believers is a practice that leads to 20/20 spiritual health.  Jesus modeled the importance of being in relationship with other believers.  It is where we learn.  It is where we are held accountable for our decisions.  It is where we find support for the wrong turns, the potholes, and the roadblocks in our lives.  The small group is where we grow and enrich our spiritual health.

The path to spiritual health takes us to the church.  We read scripture, we join in small groups, and we meet one another at worship each Sunday.  Think a bit about Jesus’ ministry.  The Jewish faithful were expected to participate in Sabbath practices each week.  The rules were clearly laid out–and followed.  The spiritual journey was defined, and all were kept to that path.  To not follow the law lead to negative consequences, even banning from the community.  

Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do:  Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day.  –Exodus 35:1-4 (NRSV)

Jesus changed the rules.  Love one another.  Pure and simple, even when judging one another use love as the filter which leads to forgiveness.  Jesus’ message spread through the region by word of mouth.  Those that heard, joined the crowds sitting and listening to his sermons.  They were in worship with one another.  The path to spiritual health was paved by the message of loving one another.

Joining with one another in worship strengthens us for the week in a world filled with challenges.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment, we find his answer in Matthew 22:37-38: 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NRSV)

Worship is the practice of publicly loving God.  Certainly, it is easy to stay home when the weather is bad, or we feel exhausted from a stressful work week, or family decides to visit, or . . . the list of excuses multiplies.  Maintaining our spiritual health needs to include attending worship.

Worship is where we join together in fellowship.  We sing, we pray, and we learn–it is a rest stop each week along our journey.  No one requires us to attend; no one is going to punish us for not being in church on Sunday morning.  But God knows whether we are there or not.  No journey can be enjoyed if we fail to take care of our health–spiritual and physical.

Attending worship each week is a practice that assures us that our spiritual health is strong enough for the journey we are on.  Preparing for a journey, one checks the fluids, the tire pressure, and other details before loading the car and climbing in.  Attending worship is that same type of preparation for our spiritual journey.

Today, you are here worshipping God and preparing for the week’s journey ahead.  The path to spiritual health takes effort on our part, but the work we do provides us the successful journey to reach God’s kingdom.  

One more essential in the path to spiritual health is prayer.  Prayer is our personal conversation with God.  As we get into our vehicles and begin our journeys, a simple thought prayer may be “God, protect us and guide us.”  God is with us always and he hears our words whether uttered aloud or simply formed in our minds.

The thoughts we form while reading scripture is a conversation or prayer with God.  The discussions we have in our small groups are heard, too.  The table graces we speak, the bedtime prayers we say our children, the final thoughts that we share as we fall to sleep, the words of joy as we watch a morning sunrise or an evening sunset. 

Prayer is the glue that pulls all our pieces together into a relationship with God.  We find ourselves struggling through a day and we call out to God for help.  Our bodies ache and are racked by fever, and we plead with God for healing.   Good news such as the birth of a child or grandchild arrives, and we thank God for the gift of life.  We hear the songs of the spring robins and thrill with God’s gift of the new season.

The path to spiritual health is not always easy, but if we discipline ourselves to follow the maps God has given us, the journey is amazing.  We must read scripture, we must be in relationship with one another, we must join together in worship, and we must pray.

Without these, the path to spiritual health becomes unclear.  We falter and take wrong turns.  Thankfully, God remains steadfast even handing us the very tool to use when lost, The Lord’s Prayer.  As we close our morning together, let us join in the timeless words Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

     hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done

      on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

     as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, 

     but deliver us from evil.

     for thine is the kingdom, the power,  

   and the glory forever.        –Amen

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‘Doodling along’ much like literary stream of conscience

I like color and design.  I am not particularly good at it, but I like it.  There is something pleasing about seeing a design come together and then adding in the color.

Growing up, I used to draw these random patterns and then color them. And for some reason I really liked colored pencils rather than crayons or markers.  (Of course markers came later in life.)

Oddly, now I find doodling with words as you may have guessed with the blog’s title of ‘Susandoodles.’  Using words can sometimes be challenging as the idea just escapes capture.  One can sit down with a pencil and doodle until something develops, but words do not always do that.

Maybe that is one of the reasons I used stream of conscience writing exercises in my classroom.  I would have students just start writing whatever came into their mind and I would time them.  They earned points based on how many words or lines they could fill in the time allowed.

So today, I am word doodling.  My last two weeks have been overflowing with new ideas, continued Bible study, presentations and training.  

I have covered Song of Solomon, finished the gospel of John, and now starting I and II Samuel and Ephesians.  

And I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Sue Nilson Kibby on her specialty, breakthrough prayer.  Inspiring.

The truth is that I feel like I am filled to the brim and overflowing with ideas about how God is alive in our lives each and every day, every hour, every moment.  We literally doodle our thoughts into a prayer life with God and we may not even consciously realize how close he is.

The one hiccup in my conscious awareness of God’s presence in my life is hearing God speaking to me.

Really the hiccup is that I get so busy with my earthly life that I do not allow quiet time to listen to God.  Why can’t I accept what I hear as God really talking to me?

I suspect the problem is trusting what I hear.  Even though prayer can become a 24-hour, 7-days a week process, we forget that God is listening at all times.  He knows our thoughts.

Does that mean that when we have bad thoughts, mean thoughts, or angry thoughts that those are prayers that God hears, too?  Hmmm.  

And that is what happens when my word doodling or stream of conscious style of writing takes me to a conundrum.  Prayer is conversing with God.  And I must now take all that I read, study and learn; and work consciously to develop my prayer life to be more effective.

See, word doodling/stream of consciousness sometimes is necessary to sort out what all is flooding the brain.  The next few weeks I have much to do.  We are beginning a new small group ministry, First Conversations, at church, I have my personal Bible study to complete, and more.

Prayer is essential, and I invite you to join me as I journey through the various readings and conversations as I work to improve my own prayer practices.

Please join me in prayer:

Lord, guide me with my words.

Lord, may my words be your words.

Lord, let others hear you through the words I doodle.

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Praying the Psalms V: Pleas and Praise apply today

Life just keeps us hopping, doesn’t it?  Even though we can establish a daily routine and settle into a comfortable pace, surprises develop.

Certainly the wreck, now over four weeks ago, was a surprise and life suddenly forced a change to daily routines.  But, the days keep moving forward and new routines are established.

In the midst of all the doctor’s visits, nature handed a little more excitement.  We had a major windstorm in our community that caused major tree damage. Our own huge silver maple last some branches, but no significant damage.

Just as the cleanup continues around town, another surprise storm blew through yesterday, too. Fortunately the damage was minimal compared to a week ago.  Still, all these storms do create a sense of unrest in our lives.

How does this fit in with “praying the psalms”?

I trust that I am not stretching an idea too much, but I really am discovering just how much the ancient psalms still fit into our 21stcentury lives.

Regardless of the calendar year, life happens.  As I studied literature during my college years, I had one idea drilled into me: great literature is timeless.  

The Bible is literature and it is timeless.

I know that some may be offended or take issue that I boil down the holy words, the holy scripture, the sacred writings into one term, literature, but . . . the words still make sense today, in our global, 21stcentury, technology filled, science-explained world.

So I return to the psalms. There are 150 psalms and we all know there are more than 150 days in our lives, so reading through them does take time. 

But by reading them and studying them in context, by the audience, and through the additional filter of continuing history, the pleas and the praise sung by these words continue to meet the needs of all humans today.

Sitting and reviewing my notes, I can find so many excerpts from the psalms that I have read these past few weeks (and still have almost 50 to go) that make so much sense for my daily prayers.  I find it difficult to open the Bible and determine which fits today.  

Today, though, the morning is fresh, the rainclouds are gone, the coolness of an early fall, and the sounds of kids waiting for the school bus grace my senses.  Today, no pleas just praise.  

Psalms 100has long been a familiar litany for me, and today I abbreviate it:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

     Worship the Lord with gladness;

     come into his presence with singing.  . . .

For the Lord is good;

     His steadfast love endures forever,

     and his faithfulness to all generations.  –Amen.

May these words lift your hearts and bring you joy.  And in the words of Psalm 121, a benediction is found at its conclusion:

The Lord will keep

     your going out and your coming in

     from this time on and forevermore.

Thank you for all the prayers and the support you provide my husband and myself, but also for all the others for whom you pray.

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Activate prayer any time, any place, anyway you can

Last week, I was fortunate enough (maybe I should say, blessed) to attend a Ruby Payne conference, attend a Passion City Church worship service, and bond with two passionate Christians seeking to learn more about how to make pathways out of poverty—more specifically how our churches can make pathways out of poverty.

 

Certainly that is a great deal to list in the first paragraph of a blog, but I needed to jump in and get started (that helps me when I have departed from a routine).  Please allow me to continue.

 

The Missouri UMC Conference established an initiative for the 2019 year: to increase the church-school partnerships from 10 to 40% in an effort to create “pathways out of poverty.”  This is a lofty goal, indeed; and an educational task force is operating to assist this effort.

 

At least that is the structure that is currently established.

 

Three of us attended the Ruby Payne conference, Addressing the Challenges of Poverty,in Atlanta on September 23-25.  The focus was on how to work with the multiple agencies that provide resources for those in poverty, aka the under-resourced.

 

About 20 years ago, I attended a Ruby Payne conference that introduced me to her framework of poverty.  That experience taught me so much about the hidden rules that exist not only for the socio-economic poverty class, but also for the middle class and the wealthy.

 

The knowledge base made me much more accepting of others who were in different life circumstances than my own.  In fact, I had to reassess my own background and figure out my own hidden rules.

I firmly believe that it made a tremendous difference in my teaching and continues into my ministry.  I have not one doubt that this information is a key to the conference’s initiative, too.

 

But, I am wondering way too far from my blog’s opening title.

 

Our small team was asked to use prayer as we stepped into the conference: Prayer for guidance.  Prayer for understanding.  Prayer for the conference.  Prayer for the churches.  Prayer for the people in our communities.

 

Growing up, prayer meant a formal set of words offered at specific times with specific purposes.  Prayer had a visual appearance of head down and hands folded.  I was a kid, learning.

 

Prayer was given at each meal in our household and even today, I yearn to hear my dad’s words.  I cannot remember them all and my family has tried to rebuild it, but we can’t.

 

Prayer was used in church and we all had to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. The minister, aka pastor or preacher typically offered prayer.  Sometimes lay people prayed, but I never really felt like prayer was used all the time, any time, or anywhere.

 

Then, I grew up.  I begin realizing prayer was a tool, a connection with God.  I participated in a small study group about prayer.  I began hearing about prayer differently.  And even through the discernment process and the training to become a licensed local pastor, I continued to learn about prayer.

 

And I used prayer—officially.

 

And I used prayer—personally.

 

Then this summer I read the book, Talking with God by Adam Weber, and I became comfortable with prayer in an even deeper manner.

 

Prayer is a tool but it is even more.  Prayer is a conversation with God, one that never has to cease, that can change on a whim, that can be tears or laughter.  Prayer is essential in our Christian lives.

 

Prayer is any time.

 

Prayer is any place.

 

Prayer is anything.

 

Throughout the days of travel, conversation, presentations, meals, walking, and more, prayer is all that you do when living as Christians.

 

The Missouri Conference has a dream, and that dream can involve every individual through prayer.

 

The work that Ruby Payne has done is prayer in action as the educators, the agencies, the legislators, and the interested citizens work to address the difficulties in life that come through the barriers created by the hidden rules of socio-economic classes.

 

There is no reason to believe that any church denomination has an answer to the problem, but there is a reason for each Christian—regardless of denomination—to join in prayer that we can do all that we an for all those we can in any way we can wherever we can and whenever we can (yes, John Wesley said it and we should continue to say and do as the same).

 

Prayer is the first and most essential task we all can participate in doing. We can pray regardless of age, gender, or race.  We can pray alone or we can pray in groups.

 

Yes, I did mention attending a worship service while in Atlanta.  I was not familiar with Grace City Church, but when I started learning about it I wanted to go.

 

What an experience!  The church was an old Home Depot store transformed into a worship space.  No stained glass windows.  No pews, just padded chairs.  No alter.  No typical appearance associated with the traditional church in which I grew up or am accustomed attending.

 

But there was Jesus!  There were people—everywhere.  There was music.  There was a sermon.  There was an offering.  There was PRAYER!

 

And I know that God was pleased.

 

I walked away from that setting and discovered that I had witnessed just a miniscule picture of what true Christianity can be.  The congregation was not what I have witnessed before.

 

The people were all one:  No race mattered.  No age mattered.  No gender mattered.  No social class mattered.

 

Only one thing mattered:  God’s unconditional love.  Prayer was alive and witnessed.

 

Dear Loving Father,

 

I am with you always, and I pray always.

Use me in ways I may not understand

So that I can share your kingdom with others.

 

I pray when I struggle, and I know you listen.

May my unconditional love of others

Provide a prayer for them in their struggles, too.

 

I pray in order to hear you, and yet I am unsure.

Let me continue to pray and to do all that I can

In any way, for all, in any way, at any time I can.

 

Thank you, too, Father, for all those who join

In prayer to do the same wherever they are

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Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Or so I thought.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Lord, God,

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

 

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Prayer for our students

I cannot imagine leaving the latest school shooting out of Sunday’s service.  We may live have a nation away from Florida, but our schools are being shaken repeatedly by shootings.  The country needs to pray for healing and for answers about how to stop the violence.

When the UM News department posted the comments from Florida’s Bishop Carter, I could not ignore it and felt that it provides us the tool we need.  Please read and join in prayer:

The statement issued by Florida Area Resident Bishop Ken Carter, who is also the incoming president of the Council of Bishops, reads as follows:
On this Ash Wednesday, our services announced the biblical imperative to “repent and believe the gospel.”  In light of today’s shootings, we repent from our participation in a culture of death, we acknowledge the harm we do to others, and we claim the power of the cross that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation.  We also grieve with the communities of Parkland and Coral Springs, Florida, in the deaths of seventeen persons and the wounding of many others on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A number of surrounding United Methodist Churches have students at this school, and our connection will support their healing ministry in the days ahead.

 

Using these words, let us pray together:

 

Dear God,

We accept the role of being your servants,

But sometimes we cannot be all that we want to be.

We hear the news and cry out for answers,

And we forget to turn it over to you.

We feel anger boil up within us and we scream,

As we try to renew our faith during Lent.

Let us begin with Bishop Carter’s words:

“In light of this week’s shootings, we repent

from our participation in a culture of death,

we acknowledge the harm we do to others,

and we claim the power of the cross

that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation.

We also grieve with the communities

of Parkland and Coral Springs, Florida,

in the deaths of seventeen persons

and the wounding of many others. . .”

Guide us in our prayer life

To share our pain and to hear your words.

Guide us in our scripture reading

To find wisdom and encouragement.

Guide us in our fellowship

To love one another,

To make disciples of others,

And To transform this hurting world

So all my know grace and love

Now and forever through your son, Jesus Christ.–Amen

 

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Oops! Did you misunderstand my letter

This is the sermon and related scripture that I gave on Sunday, October 22, 2017.  The format is a bit different so I hope you can follow it easily.  This also concludes the series of Paul’s letters and the message that still applies to today’s churches.  Thank you all for reading along.  I appreciate your interest and hope these words speak to you.

Reflection: Oops!

How many times do you say something to someone and then discover that maybe they did not really hear what you were saying? All too often, correct?

Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians because that is what he thinks may have happened when the church received his first letter. He was afraid that they were not understanding what he said about Jesus’ second coming.

Imagine Paul’s sense of urgency when he learned that members of that Thessalonian church were not following the list of do’s and don’ts that his first letter listed because they only heard that Jesus was returning soon.

Consider the scriptures of this second letter as though you were misunderstanding Paul’s first letter:

 

Opening scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 11-12, NLT

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Reflection continues: But just in case . . .

Communication always has the potential to be heard through a wide range of filters. What one says may not be heard the same way as the speaker intends. How come? There are many reasons the message can become twisted.

For instance, the forecast for the weekend might be partly sunny and that would be fine for an outdoor event. But maybe the partly sunny also means partly cloudy and those clouds might be filled with rain. If you are planning on a day outside, you might hear that forecast as ruining the weekend’s plans while someone who may not need to be outside would hear that same forecast and it would not be an issue.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians tried to address the issue of Jesus Christ’s second coming, but some did not hear Paul’s emphasis on the do’s and don’ts that one should live in order to be prepared at any time for Jesus’ return. What some heard was only that he was going to return at any time. Nothing else mattered to them except that he was coming.

Now Paul hurriedly sent the second letter because he did not want the Thessalonian Christians to continue being idle. Those who thought all they had to do was sit and wait were not living their faith as testimony to Jesus’ teachings.

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4, NLT

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.

 

Reflection: . . . you misunderstood my first letter, let me restate . . .

Addressing any misunderstanding is awkward. If one is the message sender/speaker, the words chosen make sense to that person and even if written out and re-read, there is a potential for misunderstanding. The misunderstanding can develop from a range of possibilities.

For instance, maybe there is a translation issue. Paul new more than one language, but who knows the native language the different members of the Thessalonian church making it necessary to translate the letter. Another possibility is that as the listener hears that first letter, the selective hearing only catches Paul’s statement that Jesus will be coming soon.

The same thing happens in communication efforts today. We may hear a news story through a personal filter that is different than the main purpose of reporting that story. Or maybe we have a prejudiced feeling toward one of the people (or party) that is central to the news report. That filter may “color” how you understand the story.

Reading on into the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians needs to be read with care, too. Reading this portion of the chapter might cause us to do the same thing that the early audience did concerning the second coming.

Hear Paul’s words with open minds, and try listening carefully through the filter of the earliest church and be alert to possible filters of today such as being an American:

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12, NLT

     Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? And you know what is holding him back, for he [Jesus] can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.

     This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. 10 He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. 11 So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. 12 Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.

 

Reflection: Let me restate what I mean.

Paul’s primary message is just as critical today as it was when he wrote that first letter to the Thessalonians which had to be why he felt so much urgency to write a second letter. This places today’s reader in a position to read it carefully—listen to it carefully.

Only one thing matters at all: live each day in the same way that Jesus lived his. Love one another. Read scripture. Worship. And live each day to the fullest: don’t be idle or lazy; work hard. In fact, Paul stated what he recommended very straight forward:

we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us . . . [2 Thessalonians 3:6]

Paul did not want any misunderstanding. He wanted these believers who were new to their faith to fully understand that waiting for Jesus’ return did not mean to quit living.

As Christians still waiting for Jesus to return, we must follow the same advice that Paul gave the Thessalonians in both of his letters. God’s timeline does not match our human timeline; so, while we wait, we live. We live a Christ-like life doing all we can for one another in love. We live a Christ-like life studying scripture and worshiping. And, as Paul tells all the churches in his letters, we pray.

 

Closing scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, NLT

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.

 

Closing prayer:

Dear Patient Father,

May we honestly hear Paul’s ancient words

            as words of advice for us yet today.

Help us to listen carefully without filters

            so we may learn to live Christ-like lives.

Guide those who share the scriptures’ message

            so your words are not misunderstood.

Show us how you want us to share the news

            of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection

            and how our faith leads to salvation.

With these words, and the words of Paul,

            may we hear the promise of eternal life. –Amen.

 

 

 

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