Tag Archives: Resolutions

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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Curling Up with The Good Book: Lessons from the Beatitudes

given on Sunday, January 8, 2017

Scripture base: Matthew 5:1-9 (NLT)

The Sermon on the Mount

5 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

 

Reflection:

 

January: New Year. Resolutions. Reorganizing. Cold. How in the world does a person move from one of the busiest times in the year to the deep winter ushered in afterwards?

This week we have hit that winter wall that turns us into recluses. Oh I know that we still have to get out and about when we need groceries or run to the Post Office or keep appointments, but when the temperatures plummet and the forecast starts including words like ICE, SNOW, WIND CHILL, and FRIGID, only the hardiest venture out.

As a winter recluse, the activity of choice might include curling up with a good book and a hot drink as the winter-clad world marches on by. What better book to chose than The Bible. The range of topics is so broad that it can cover one’s favorite type of reading. There is romance, war, history, poetry, irony, political controversy, self-help, and mystery. There is something for everybody’s personal interest.

Of course reading the Bible does take some effort on the reader’s part. The language can create problems, the setting may be difficult to understand, and even the physical product might be a challenge with the tiny print and thin pages. But curling up with The Good Book is an answer to the winter doldrums.

Since it is so early in January, why not consider reading for self-improvement. The Beatitudes located in Matthew 5 is the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount. The setting itself might help us escape the cold, snowy images that surround us.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the first images of Jesus as a dramatic figure walking around the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea fed by the Jordan River. The region was arid and mountainous—more like the coastal mountains located along the Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The region was a shipping and trading hub, so the towns along the Mediterranean Sea was filled with people of all cultures. Walking the streets one could hear different languages and see all types of diverse cultures. And in the rural area, the images shift to shepherds and the flocks of sheep, the grain fields being hand tilled and harvested.

And in the midst of daily life, Jesus emerges walking along the road with a group of followers. Even though Jesus seems to be focused on the twelve men, he cannot ignore the crowds that keep growing around him. The side of the mountain became a convenient amphitheater to stop and deliver the Good News.

Undoubtedly these cold winter days do not match the setting of Jesus delivering the messages, but the message is no different today than it was when it was first delivered. One of the advantages of reading The Bible today is that we can locate a translation that we enjoy reading and can understand on our own. So when curling up to read, make sure that the translation you read is one that fits you.

Reading a study Bible is helpful for me because it helps me to understand the setting, the audience, the author, and the language. The Life Application Bible adds in a wide range of aids to help understand the deeper meanings and the interrelationships with other passages in the Bible.

The Beatitudes seemed like a good place to begin this week. It was not part of the lectionary, which is a three-year sequence of readings that covers the entire Bible. Instead, I found myself thinking about how resolutions are made each January and it occurred to me that the Beatitudes themselves could be resolutions.

So, I curled up with my Bible and re-read them. Then I read the study notes. Then I read through them again. They sound good, almost like a poem when you hear them read aloud. But some of the words make them sound like riddles. Thank goodness the study notes were available.

Curling up with a Bible like the Life Application Study Bible, easily takes one away from the wintery view outside the window, but the reading opens up the mind. The Beatitudes were delivered to teach the new followers a lifestyle that was life changing just as much today as it was for the first listeners on the mountainside.

Today we need to read and to renew our determination to live the lifestyle outlined in the Beatitudes. The result brings peace to our own lives but can also radiate outward to others who acknowledge what a difference God makes in our lives and decide they, too, want to find the same peace in their lives.

Look back over these eight Beatitudes and consider the impact the lifestyle can make on your own life, but also on the others who come into contact with you. In each verse, there are words that refocus priorities:

  1. . . . realize their need for him:
  2. . . . who mourn . . . will be comforted
  3. . . . humble . . . inherit the whole earth
  4. . . . hunger and thirst for justice
  5. . . . merciful . . . shown mercy
  6. . . . pure hearts . . . see God
  7. . . . peace [workers] . . . will be children of God
  8. . . . doing right [earns] Kingdom of Heaven

[Refer to chart from Life Application Study Bible.]

Not once in these Beatitudes does Jesus mention money or stuff. It is a lifestyle of living for the good of others that receives the reward of eternal life.

The wonder of Christmas found in God’s promise to us is recorded in the words of the New Testament. God’s promise that accepting Jesus as our savior and living the lifestyle outlined in the Beatitudes results in a life filled with peace, joy, harmony and love. Even more importantly God’s promise is that he is with us now and forever.

Curling up with the Good Book may be ideal for this wintery season, but it is always a good activity to include in your daily life. Whether you read a small devotional like the Upper Room or Daily Word or Guideposts, or you simply pick up the Bible and open it randomly, the stories and the lessons inside those pages will make a difference in your life.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for keeping us warm these cold winter days,

Let us find extra warmth in the words of The Good Book.

Let it fuel our lives with purpose and encouragement.

Let examples of the ancient faithful followers

Teach us more about living life’s challenges.

Let Jesus’ words open our minds and hearts

About how to serve one another in love.

Let the letters of the apostles guide us

In living daily as members of God’s family

Blessing us in all that we do. –Amen

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Looking into the Mirror: Would God Hire You?

given on Sunday, January 3, 2015

An opening thought: Today is Epiphany Sunday and it is coupled with communion, as is our local tradition of serving communion on the first Sunday of the month. Epiphany is the final celebration of Christ’s birth while communion is the covenant reminder of Christ’s death: the beginning and the end: the alpha and the omega.

Looking in a mirror does not always reveal the most flattering image of one’s self. Yet using a mirror to inspect one’s appearance may be one of the most important steps before leaving the house. As the mirror image shares with you what it sees, do you approve?

At the local vo-tech school, a full-length mirror is posted just inside the entrance, near the office. Above it is the question: “Would you hire this person?“

Maybe Epiphany is the perfect time to look into a mirror and ask, “Would God hire you to be his messenger?” Epiphany marks the end of the holiday season and the beginning of a new calendar year. Conversations often are filled with a discussion on resolutions.

Resolutions are positive motivators for those who manage to make them and stick to them, but personally that is a struggle. Maybe I should make them, but then when I fail, the emotional fall out is disappointing even embarrassing.

Yet, the change from one calendar year to the next is an excellent time to look into a mirror and check one’s self. Are we satisfied that what we see is someone God would hire?

God, as the creator, designed a world that was to meet the needs of his children—as long as we followed his directions. Yet, we were also given free will and as time moved forward, the choices humans made began eroding the relationship between God and his children. God sent messages and time passed.

By the time God decided to send Jesus personally, he needed a team to carry out the work needing to be done. The surprise Mary and Joseph experienced when the angels visited them, probably left them feeling inadequate. But God saw more than they could see in a mirror.

God needed faithful, good people who could handle all the ridicule others would throw at them. He needed those who could handle unknown battles while Jesus grew up. God knew Mary and Joseph and he tasked them with raising the baby Jesus.

Accepting the roles of Jesus’s parents is what each parent yet today does, too.   If we look into the mirror, do we have the faith modeled by Mary and Joseph? Stepping into another year, evaluate your implementation of John Wesley’s acts of piety.   Could you list them as strengths on a resume or job application?

The Christmas story includes others who demonstrated extraordinary faith. God placed them in positions to tell others about Jesus’ birth. The shepherds followed the angels’ summons to see the baby Jesus with their own eyes.

Shepherds do not leave the pastures or meadows where the sheep are eating. The decision to leave the mountainside was out of the ordinary, but they took the risk. They were eyewitnesses of the most important event, and they carried the story to family and friends. Can you picture yourself risking your job to see a newborn who is not even in your family?

The Christmas story continues. Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem to register, and now the baby is born, visitors are coming in and so much is changing. Giving birth in ancient days included different practices, and quickly returning home was not an option.

Epiphany celebrates the visit of the three wise men. These men came “thousands of miles” to find the King. Today, would you be so confident in your research that you would travel hundreds even thousands of miles on foot or camel to prove a theory? The conviction to stand by your words is a desirable quality in workers, in spouses, in parents, as well as in friendships.

The skills God needed from the faithful carried the news of Jesus’ birth throughout the millenniums. As the wise men arrived, saw the new king, and shared gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the truth of the wise men’s theory is realized.

The epiphany or realization that this baby is indeed the Messiah begins a series of events that takes 30 years to unfold. Look in the mirror, has Christmas provided you an epiphany?   As you look into the new year, does the mirror show you what strengths you have to answer God’s call to you? What are the weaknesses that need improving in order to do God’s work?

The three wise men had studied the stars, probably read all the prophets, talked to other wise men, and finally made the decision to set out on a journey to find Baby Jesus. Imagine their epiphany when all the years and all the miles they invested in the search for the new king prove what they predicted.

The story of Jesus, the Messiah, began thanks to the skills and the faith of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. The story that is shared in the scripture continues to lead us to our own epiphany about the truth of Jesus Christ. As we look into the mirror, may we see what God sees in us—that we, too, have the skills and the drive to continue sharing the story of Jesus Christ.

The Christmas story is the beginning of the New Covenant. God looks for those who have the strength to serve, who have the skills needed, and the faith to trust that as long as we love one another as we want to be loved, we can do all that we can for all those we can in as many ways as we can.

And as Lent quickly races toward us, we look at the mirror to check that we are ready for God to use us. This Epiphany, look in the mirror and prepare to do commit to your covenant with God through the sacrament of communion.

As Matthew was telling the ancient Jewish people, the Old Covenant was replaced with a New Covenant. He shared the story of Jesus’ last Passover:

20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;[a] 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

The Wise Men visited a baby and knew that he was the King of the Jews. They did not return to King Herod, instead they returned to their own homes—thousands of miles away. For 30 years, the story did not continue as expected. Then for three short years, Jesus changed the world. But the story did not end.

Jesus set into place, the new law based on love. On that last night with the Apostles, Jesus shared the cup and the bread. He commissioned them to carry on the task of loving one another and spreading the good news. This Epiphany Sunday, look in the mirror. Would God hire you to carry on?

As you join in communion, consider the covenant we make with God to share the story. We do have the skills and the strength, each in our own way, to love one another as we want to be loved.   By doing that, we honor and love God above all else.

Closing prayer (UMH 255): The Epiphany Prayer

O God,

You made of one blood all nations,

and, by a star in the East,

revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel.

Enable us who know your presence with us

ao to proclaim his unsearchable riches

and that all may come to his lift

and bow before the brightness of his rising,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

now and for ever. Amen.

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