Tag Archives: Reading scripture

Praying the psalms III: . . . no such thing as a coincidence

Mom said, “There is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.”

Sadly today, I do not remember the exact circumstance when my mom told me this, but these words have echoed in my mind time and time again. These words have guided me in times that others would just toss off as a coincidence.

Just to make sure we are all on the same page (pardon the cliché), look at the definition of coincidence:

From Dictionary.com:  a striking occurrence of two or more events at 

one time apparently by mere chance

From Merriam-Wesbster.com:

the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection

From Google search engine:

the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection

From urbandictionary.com

1.  Noteworthy event of having the exact change during small cash transactions.

2.  A compartmentalized serendipity formed by an underlying synchronicity

3.  Something that arises from two or more original ideas being related

I apologize.  I am fascinated by the variety of options available when googling a term or topic on line.  The Urban Dictionary, of course, popped up something surprising in the first definition, but the other two add different perceptions to the word coincidencethat may flavor this particular essay.

Here is what happened this week that has lead to this consideration of Godincidenceversus coincidence.  On the way to have my husband’s MRI after a serious dump truck accident, I grabbed a book to read:  Debbie Macomber’s If Not for You.

I first read one of Macomber’s books a few weeks ago and enjoyed it.  I knew she was known for knitting and writing, what I thought were romance novels, but then I discovered this year that she is a contributor for Guidepostswhich is my nightly quick devotional I have used for years.

I decided to give her a read and see if it offered me light, enjoyable, recreational reading.  Soon I was binge reading the book.  I could not stop reading it and I felt refreshed when it was finished.

Therefore, sitting and waiting, I opened up the second book.  In no time, I was hooked.  But more than that, I was hearing Mom’s words in my head—there is no such thing as a coincidence, it is a Godincidence.

Reading the prologue, something I learned while attending the Course of Study, I discovered that the book’s premise or setting begins almost immediately with a terrible accident.

Interesting.  Here I was sitting and waiting for a diagnostic procedure due to an accident. Even more so, the accident was eerily similar—except the one we were dealing with was a truck not a car accident.

So I read on.  Almost immediately I was binge reading again, and then I hit Chapter 6.  While the main female character is in the hospital, she asks the male character to pick up her Bible and read her something from Psalms.

To make the story shorter, he had no idea even where Psalms was in the Bible, but she directed him with the age old directions, “Open the book to the middle and you should be in Psalms.”  (p. 63)

And so begins Sam’s introduction to the Bible.  He lands on Psalms 5 which I am inserting from BibleGateway.com from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message:

Psalm 5: A David psalm

1-3 Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
my groans and cries?
    King-God, I need your help.
Every morning
    you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning
    I lay out the pieces of my life
    on your altar
    and watch for fire to descend.

4-6 You don’t socialize with Wicked,
    or invite Evil over as your houseguest.
Hot-Air-Boaster collapses in front of you;
    you shake your head over Mischief-Maker.
God destroys Lie-Speaker;
    Blood-Thirsty and Truth-Bender disgust you.

7-8 And here I am, your invited guest—
    it’s incredible!
I enter your house; here I am,
    prostrate in your inner sanctum,
Waiting for directions
    to get me safely through enemy lines.

9-10 Every word they speak is a land mine;
    their lungs breathe out poison gas.
Their throats are gaping graves,
    their tongues slick as mudslides.
Pile on the guilt, God!
    Let their so-called wisdom wreck them.
Kick them out! They’ve had their chance.

11-12 But you’ll welcome us with open arms
    when we run for cover to you.
Let the party last all night!
    Stand guard over our celebration.
You are famous, God, for welcoming God-seekers,
    for decking us out in delight.

                                                      —The Message

Beth, the main character, finds relief from her pain and falls asleep. Meanwhile, Sam starts exploring the Bible. 

Godincidence 1:  Psalm 5 had a descriptor which seemed to connect that particular psalm to the situation at hand:  Give heed to my words, O Lord, Consider my groaning.  Remember, she was in extreme pain.

How many times do we face a life challenge and have no idea where to turn? We may seek professional help as an accident forces us to do with the injuries that occur.  We may be struggling with a crisis at work and we look for specialists to help fix it.

Life is like that.  One challenge after another.  For those with a strong faith system, the tendency is to shrug our shoulders, attack the problem, and push through it.  We sometimes forget to include God through prayer.

“Praying the psalms” is again a technique that is often overlooked. Even Macomber included “praying the psalms” in her story and introduced Sam to the Bible while healing Beth lying in pain.

Godincidence 2:  Here my husband’s own confronted me groaning resulting from the accident and the book I picked spoke to me.  Was this not a message that I should be praying the psalms, too?

Life is filled with godincidencesand we often overlook them.  Is this not the Holy Spirit speaking to us?  

Please join in praying Psalm 5 with me (these are the NLT version of the first and last stanza)O Lord, hear me as I pray;
    pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
    for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.

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Confessing–already: Only 10 days into the year & struggling

Hanging a new calendar and getting everything in order is like a breath of fresh air.  Last year’s stuff is gone and so much to anticipate with a new year.  

Notice I did not start with resolutions and that is quite purposeful.  I do not like making resolutions because my experience has demonstrated to me that they do not work—or at least I cannot makethem work.

Life inevitably gets in the way of maintaining one’s discipline or schedule or willpower to master a new year’s resolution.  As the year begins, there is no way to predict how the year will proceed so that translates into failed resolutions.

Therefore, I confess.  I did not make a new year’s resolution.  And I do not regret that decision because just 10 days into 2019, any resolve I may have had seems to be suspended.

I admit, I do want to accomplish something that I have not honestly ever done—read all of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament.

This is my second confession:  I have never sat down and read the Bible from Genesis through Revelations.  Shocking, isn’t it?

Here I am a cradle Methodist, a lifelong Christian, and even a graduate of the Course of Study in the United Methodist Church, and I have never started with Genesis 1:1 and read straight through the entire Bible.

No excuses.  I just have never had the discipline or the drive to proceed through the Bible in that manner.  I have read it in all different ways:  New Testament, the Four Gospels, the Psalms, Genesis, the Torah, the minor prophets, the Letters of Paul, Revelations, and even through the lectionary (all three years at least two times).  Not just once, but repeatedly at all different times in my life.

Another confession:  I have a terrible memory.  All my life I have failed at memorization—at least beyond short term. This has been a lifelong challenge from grade school throughout my post-graduate work, even.

Therefore, I hesitate to admit that I am going to do my best to follow a reading plan that takes me through the Old Testament coupled with New Testament readings during the calendar year.

This is not a resolution.  This is a decision that I feel God expects from each of us who profess to be Christians.  

The plan began on January 1.  I did not begin trying to read until January 3 so that already put me behind.

This means one more confession:  I could just quit, but I decided I have to try a little longer.  One week is really not that bad, so I have continued.

As of today, I am only two days behind.  It is a struggle, but I want to do this.

All the years I have taught high schoolers about how to learn and how to study and how to set goals, I included many of the principles of Franklin Covey.  

One of the guidelines included in that successful program is that one should tell others one’s goals.  If others know your goals, then they can encourage you to reach those goals.  For me, that means they should also not interrupt my study time in order to accomplish this goal.

As you can tell, I am sharing these thoughts as part of sharing my journey through the Bible.  Maybe including some of the thoughts via the blog, readers can provide additional insight and depth into the reading.  

Therefore, here are a few notes from the readings I have completed these past 10 days:

Genesis 1-19(so far)

These chapters include not only the story of creation, but also of recreation following the story of Noah and the Great Flood.  Familiar narrative, but there are still some surprises for me:

  • As terrible as Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, God still invited Cain to “do well” so that he might be accepted; that he “must master it [sin]”.
  • Using the Wesley Study Bible, I found this note: “See how early the gospel [referencing Jesus Christ’s ministry, death & resurrection]  was preached, and the benefit of it here offered even to one of ‘the chief of sinners’.”
  • Geneaology is frequently found in the Bible, and in Genesis 5:24, the lineage reaches Enoch and in this verse it is stated that Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him.  The Wesley Study Bible states the phrase “. . . then he was no more. . .” indicates that even though death is inevitable it is not the last word or all.
  • The Great Flood is a story of recreation.
  • Noah was righteous so God worked through him to preserve his creation.
  • Genesis 7:13-16 has interesting phrase describing loading the ark:  “. . . and the Lord shut him in.”  Not exactly sure why I find this so interesting, but worthy of making note of it.
  • The lengthy genealogical lists are difficult to read, but they serve to push through the timeline efficiently.  When studying folklore, I was reminded that oral tradition strongly emphasizes reciting the linage accurately and repeatedly, too. The lineage of Noah carries us to Abram/Abraham.
  • A few months ago I read a novel based on the Biblical figure Sarah.  As I continued reading Genesis 12, I found myself mingling the details of the historical novel with the Biblical story.  The story defies our scientific understanding of age and reproduction, but the message is complete faith in God.
  • The story of Abraham & Sarah is no different than stories of committed Christians who remain faithful first to God, then to each other.  Life is not going to always be easy, but listen for God’s direction and remain faithful to him.  I have witnessed couples like this throughout my life.  Maintain one’s faith in God, and then all the details of earthly living are manageable.
  • The Biblical narrative of Lot is brief in comparison, but in that novel I read it was developed with fictitious details that added interesting twists; but In Genesis 19, the story of Lot again emphasizes the necessity of listening to God and to rely on him.  Lot escaped, but his wife looks back at Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26).

The Old Testament readings are coupled with New Testament Readings.  So far the readings are all from Romans.  At first I thought that was a peculiar decision, but in the reading it becomes clear why.

  • Romans 2:  key point is that we are not to judge; only God does the judging.
  • Real circumcision is not a physical action it is a matter of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29)
  • Rom 3:22-24:  “. . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are no justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . “
  • Rom. 3:28:  Paul says, “For we hold that a person is justified by faithapart from works prescribed by the law [the Law of Moses from the Old Testament].”
  • Yet Paul goes on to say in v. 31 that we are not to overthrow the law [whether speaking about the Law of Moses or civil law], uphold it.
  • Rom. 4 was a bit confusing for me as it goes back to the discussion of circumcision and reconnects to the covenant of the Lord with Abraham that established the practice of circumcision.
  • Rom. 5 is subtitled “Results of Justification”and really focuses on a John Wesley principle. 
  • Rom. 5:1—“. . . we are justified by faith. . .”
  • Rom. 5:3—“suffering produces endurance”
  • Rom. 5:4—“endurance produces character and character produces hope”
  • Rom. 5:5—“and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
  • Rom. 5:18-21—[paraphrased] “. . . just as [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all, so [Jesus Christ’s] act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all . . . where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  • Rom. 6:12—“Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. . .”  
  • Rom. 6:14—“For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law [the Law of Moses] but under grace
  • Rom. 6:20-23—“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.  The end is eternal life.  Or the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  –For me, this is a WOW! Statement.

As I continue to read through the year’s plan, I am struggling to comprehend some of the pieces.  I am using the Wesley Study Bible this time (NRSV translation) and that helps.  Therefore, I will step away for now as I continue to work on my readings.  If you want to join me, here are the readings I have done followed by the ones for the next week:

Read to date:  Genesis 1-19 and Romans 1-7

To read from now through next week:

  • Jan. 8      Gen. 20-22 & Rom. 8:1-12
  • Jan. 9      Gen. 23-24 & Rom. 8:22-39
  • Jan. 10   Gen. 25-26 & Rom. 9:1-15
  • Jan. 11   Gen. 27-28 & Rom. 9:16-33
  • Jan. 12   Gen. 29-30 & Rom. 10
  • Jan. 13   Gen. 31-32 & Rom. 11:1-18
  • Jan. 14   Gen. 33-35 & Rom. 11:19-36
  • Jan. 15   Gen. 36-38 & Rom. 12
  • Jan. 16   Gen. 39-40 & Rom. 13

Dear Lord,

May we hear you through the words of scripture.  –Amen.

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The Message in the Trees Series: 1. The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)
  2. The Cross: A man-made tree (February 4, 2018)
  3. The Tree of Life: Eternal Life (February 11, 2018)

 

Let’s begin with a foundational statement:

The Bible is literature. God has gifted all with unique talents; and the Holy Spirit is God’s presence alive within human beings. In no way does this message challenge anybody’s belief in the holiness or sanctity of the Bible. The faithful have preserved The Word in these books, broken down into Old Testament and New Testament. The Bible is the foundation for all faithful followers of God, regardless of the denomination, the translation or published language. The Bible is literature, it is a historical record, it is a textbook, it is a hymnal and it is God speaking to each individual who decides to pick it up and read The Word.

This is the image of the stained glass window now installed at the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS.

 

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)

 

Today’s reflection spins off from the artistic expression of The Word presented in stained glass. Leawood, Kansas’s Church of the Resurrection commissioned the window for its latest worship center and includes three different tree images: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, The Cross, and The Tree of Life. Today, we review the message behind the Bible’s story of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

 

Scripture: Genesis 2:9-17, NLT

     The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

     10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

     15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

Scripture: Proverbs 1:7, NLT

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.

 

Scripture: Psalm 111:9-10, NLT

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

Looking at the stained glass image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil does not match my personal image created in reading the creation story in Genesis. In the window, the tree has yellow leaves and dots of red, supposedly representing the fruit. The yellow leaves troubled me, but in the Church of Resurrection’s explanation, the yellowing leaves indicate the withering or dying of the tree.

The verses from Genesis 2 introduce the image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

The Tree of Knowledge establishes a basic life rule for us, but understanding the significance of the tree is difficult. The rule simply is follow God’s law, avoid evil’s temptation and he will take care of us. The problem is that such a simple rule becomes complicated when evil forces battle for control in our life. Good versus evil takes a disciplined lifestyle that begins with The Word.

Reading the Bible is essential to hear God speaking to you personally. God speaks to each one of us in his own way and in his own time. What we hear depends on the filters of our own lives. These filters include our upbringing, our nationality, our experiences, and even the people who interact with us. Reading the Bible is a discipline necessary to manage the ever-changing face of evil and to hear God’s timeless wisdom even today.

For instance, the artist’s representation of a wilting, dying Tree of Knowledge (TREE OF KNOWLEDGE) does not match my image, which is of an apple tree like that of my childhood orchard or those in the commercial orchards along Hwy 24 in Lafayette County, MO. The childhood story of Eve eating the apple from the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE created the visual image of a healthy, vibrant, fruit-filled apple tree.

What happened after Eve ate that first apple/fruit was the story of Adam caving in to temptation as he bites into the fruit, too. The symbolic meaning of this bite teaches us that giving in to evil’s temptation is destructive. Nothing written in the scripture states that this human decision destroyed the tree itself, but as an adult I can see the artist’s interpretation of how giving into evil temptation destroys.

Today’s world now includes the visual language of emojis. Today, we use emojis to openly express our feelings. Therefore, I wanted to introduce the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE to the kids through the happy face and the sad face emojis—just the two emojis, not the myriad of emotion images available through our social media. Why? The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE is defined as simply the knowledge of good and evil—the happy face and the sad face.

How simple life can be if it can be boiled down to just a simple decision of whether something is good or evil. There would be no grey zone of emotions, of right or wrong, of good or evil. Unfortunately our world is far more complex, and as we look at the full color version of our stained glass windows here and in the COR’s window, we know life cannot be just good or evil.

The Word begins with the story of the Garden of Eden where Eve picks the fruit and convinces Adam to take a bite. The result symbolically unleashed the forces of good versus evil in all human lives. The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the window towers over the images of the Old Testament stories so familiar to readers. These stores serve as lessons about all the different ways humans must battle the forces of evil. (And even the images in the window are only a few of the Old Testament stories.)

Reading the Bible is a critical element in being a faithful Christian.

In the words of Proverbs 1:7:

 

 Fear (and remember this means ‘respect or revere’ by 21st century understanding) of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

 

We are reminded how important it is to read The Word so we develop wisdom and discipline. The stories develop our skill to determine good and evil. We will make mistakes; but God is forgiving, and each story we read shows us how God forgives over and over. We have the ability to make our own decisions; but if we live randomly, putting our personal selves in the center, we fail:

  • We fail to keep God at the center of our lives.
  • We fail to love one another, as we want to be loved.
  • We fail to choose good over evil.

The Bible is our “how to” manual for life. It guides us in how to take care of our world, our families, our communities, and yes, ourselves. But we must be disciplined in reading The Word.

As we step away from the heightened awareness of Christ’s birth, the excitement of Christmas diminishes as we face the reality of daily life—the bills, the broken water pipes, the extreme cold, the work world, the loneliness, and the uncertainties swirling around us: we need God. It is so easy to lose our self-discipline.

The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil is the opening message of the Bible. It is the first story humans need to know and to understand in order to be equipped with the skill to journey through life. Evil lurks around us all the time. Evil begins when the eyes open. There is the temptation to ignore everything and stay in bed because it makes us feel safe–warm and cozy.

But evil lurks even in the safest places in our lives. We need God all the time to guide us in good versus evil. Learning good and evil begins with one’s first breath; therefore, parents need the knowledge of good and evil to provide the best environment possible for their children. Sadly, even then evil lurks around our homes as we all too often learn from the news.

The Word must be part of our lives so we can develop the knowledge of good and evil and be able to defend ourselves from evil. The symbolic representation of the dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE reminds us that without The Word we, too, can wither and die. Our responsibility to God is to read and to teach The Word. The Bible is our tool. The stories create the inner knowledge of good and evil. The stories equip us with the knowledge necessary to defend us from evil in virtually every setting imaginable, in every relationship we develop, and in every transaction we make.

The Psalms are examples of hymns written to help the faithful maintain their worship discipline. In Psalm 111, The Word looks ahead and tells us that God, even when we make the mistake and get tangled up with evil, forgives us as long as we continue to ‘fear’ or as we would now say, respect or revere The Word:

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

As Christians, we accept God’s role in our lives, but we also accept the responsibility to share the story with others. True, that begins in our own families as we teach our children the knowledge of good and evil, but it also continues in our lives’ journeys. We are to teach in our churches, in our communities, in our work places, in our recreation, and in our choices as citizens—not only as national citizens, but as global citizens.

Knowing how to identify evil is so very important, but it must be taught by our words and our actions so evil can be rebuked, confined, and hopefully ended. Our work is never done, and we are reminded that by the visual image of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the stained glass window. We are reminded that in the books of the Bible. We are reminded that when we are in Christian fellowship with each other.

Today, we can see the damage that evil causes in the image of the withering, dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of the stained glass window. We can see the emoji-dressed tree our kids have created. We can read the story of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE from the Bible, and we can hear the story told over and over in so many different ways. But do you understand the importance of the story? Do you accept the responsibility to continue telling the story? Do you need to re-read and study the stories of The Word to reinforce how you live a good versus evil life in God’s world?

Each week, join your church family to do just that. Keep the mental picture of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE present in your mind. Talk about it with others. Evaluate your decisions whether good or evil. Read The Word and find God talking to you. Your life will be a window to others so that they may see God in their own lives, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Protect us in our daily lives from the evil

that swirls around us.

Teach us through your words and works

to understand how good wins over evil.

Thank you for sharing The Word through gifts

you granted faithful artists and writers.

Thank you for giving us the ability

to understand The Word in all forms.

Guide us to use the gifts you gave us

to share The Word in our own ways.

May we be the model of disciplined, faithful Christians

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