Tag Archives: Wesley Study Bible

Old Testament books, I & II Kings: Easier reading but why read it?

Midway through the second book of Kings, I am finding that I can understand the reading without being totally dependent on study notes.  I really was unprepared for the ease of reading these two books after struggling with so much of the ancient literature.

Still, I maintained my discipline by reading the Wesley Study Bible’s notes.  And then I began wondering why was it necessary to consider these two books for permanent inclusion in the Bible.

You might wonder why question such a decision, but just in case you are not familiar with the books of Kings, I will provide a bit of a spoiler.  These two books are written as a historical narrative (a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end in chronological order).

The narrative style makes the reading more familiar for me, at least.  I can understand going from point A to point B and on to point C.  It makes sense.

But one of the challenges continues to be the lineage.  For one thing, not being schooled in Hebrew or the ancient languages, I struggle with the spelling of the names.  The list of fathers, sons and a few wives (notice no daughters) visually seem so similar—maybe one letter difference such as Amaziah and Ahaziah.  

Now add to the lineage, there is the geography of the narrative.  The ancient Middle Eastern setting is not a strength for me; in fact it is challenging even knowing the 21stcentury geography.

Remember that the chosen 12 tribes have split into two ‘countries’:  Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom.  Mix in the lineage of the various names and trying to remember whether that family was from Judah or whether it was from Israel further complicates the comprehension of the narrative—which, as you may remember I stated, is easier reading.

The narrative itself tells of all the acts that these leaders did, not only to their own people; but to those that they battled and conquered.  The list of killings is extensive, but add to the basic killing some of the violent and horrible behaviors used by the kings and their protégés and one might think the ink used to write the narrative is actually the blood of victims.

Woven into the battle-filled narrative are the evil behaviors that separated the faithful tribes from God.  There is trickery.  There is worshiping foreign gods.  There is “doing what is evil in the eyes of God.”  And that brings me back:  Why is this narrative part of the Bible?

Maybe one reason is the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The prophets’ stories are woven into the narrative of the leaders (and notice the similar spelling) and are stark contrast of those who remained faithful to those who ‘did evil in the eyes of God’.  

As a brief refresher, and to simplify what I have been reading, here is how Elijah is identified on Britannica.com:

Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible. The story of his prophetic career in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah is told in 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2 in the Bible. Elijah claimed that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing monotheismto the people with possibly unprecedented emphasis. He is commemorated by Christians on July 20 and is recognized as a prophet by Islam.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Needless to say the entry on the website Britannica.com is somewhat simplified, but it helps explain the importance of including him in the narrative of Kings.  

Prior to Elijah’s death, Elisha enters into the narrative.  He was a student of Elijah and in the end became his successor.  To summarize his role in the narrative, it is helpful to turn to Britannica.com again:

Elisha, also spelled Elisaios, or Eliseus, in the Old TestamentIsraelite prophet, the pupil of Elijah, and also his successor (c. 851 BC). He instigated and directed Jehu’s revolt against the house of Omri, which was marked by a bloodbath at Jezreel in which King Ahab of Israel and his family were slaughtered.

The popular traditions about Elisha (2 Kings 2–13) sketch a charismatic, quasi-ecstatic figure, very similar to Elijah. Like his mentor, Elisha was a passionate exponent of the ancient religious and cultural traditions of Israel, which both felt to be threatened by the ruling dynasty of Omri, which was in alliance with Phoenicia. (King Ahab’s wife, the Tyrian princess Jezebel, was then trying to introduce the worship of Baal into Israel.) As a prophet, Elisha was a political activist and revolutionary. He led a “holy war” that extinguished the house of Omri in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (2 Kings 9–10).

Though Elisha recruited Jehu to revolt against and succeed Ahab, it was Elijah who was instructed to anoint Jehu as Israel’s king (1 Kings 19:16). This is characteristic of the relationship between the two prophets; in popular estimation Elisha always remains partly in the shadow of his master. The story of the beginning of his apprenticeship (1 Kings 19:19–21) and the account in which he becomes Elijah’s heir and successor (2 Kings 2:8–18) both feature the prophetic “mantle.” In the first, Elijah casts it upon his pupil; in the second, Elisha picks it up. The mantle, cultic garment of the prophet, carries connotations of power and authority.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Why am I including all the background on the two prophets when I first stated that it was much easier reading the narrative of the books of Kings?  Return to the second part of the title/headline:  WHY?

As a 21stcentury Christian who has both the Old Testament and the New Testament to read, the narrative of the kings does not line up well with our understanding of the law as taught by Jesus Christ.  The violence, the evil, and the bloodshed in the narrative seem counter-productive in understanding God’s law since the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the story of the prophets that is woven into the kings’ narrative is needed to grasp the significance of God’s effort to maintain the relationship with the twelve tribes of Moses. As the narrative creates the timeline, the lineage, and even the geography of the tribes history, magnifies a few important points:

  • God maintains his promise to David despite the generations separating the kings/ people from David;
  • God’s time certainly does not match our time; He is eternally patient;
  • God sends messengers into our lives, but we have to be alert to them or even to the possibility that prophets and/or angels are trying to be heard yet today;
  • God is with us even at our worse; it is up to us to become aware of this and ask forgiveness—even if it means more than once.

Finally, buried in the Wesley Study Bible (p. 469) is a quote from John Wesley’s own notes on Kings:

Wesley argues that such divine actions should be understood in terms of divine mercy rather than in terms of the failure of divine justice (Notes,13:23). 

That statement caused me to stop and ponder again how easy it is to think that when bad things happen, it is God’s judgment for something we did wrong.  As I visit with others who struggle to understand their own relationship with God, I discover that if life has not been easy or there is tremendous illness and/or pain with which they must deal, there is a real fear that these maladies are due to God’s divine judgment.  This then leads them to fear they have not been good enough to join God and Jesus in eternal life.

Wesley’s note places an entirely different light, so to speak, upon the reason why we read the narrative in Kings. We need to realize that the generation after generation that God waited for the faithful to return to him is a picture of God’s divine mercy, not divine judgment.

Now I can answer the question:  “Why do we read the narratives of Kings?”  

We read the narrative because we learn what divine mercy is.  We read the narrative because humanity has done wrong over and over and over again yet God continues to wait for us to return to him.  God is patient.  God is willing to forgive us when we learn that he waits for us.  

Bad things do happen to good people.  Life is full of reasons why, but God does not send bad things while he waits on us.  He patiently waits for us to accept his love, his grace.  He is divinely merciful.  All we have to do is accept his presence and his love.  He is waiting.

Please join me in a prayer:

Dear merciful God,

Time and time again we behave poorly.

We ignore all the lessons shared in the Bible.

We chose to act in ways that do not follow

     the greatest commandment ever taught:

     “Love one another.”

Forgive us of our doubt, disbelief, or denial.

Forgive us for hurting others,

     physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Forgive us for our own self-judgment

     separating us from your love.

May we find peace knowing your divine mercy.

May we shine in the light of knowing your love.

May we offer grace to one another so they too

     experience the joy of faithfulness.

In the name of you, our Father, 

     In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,

          And through the Holy Spirit, God within us,

Amen.

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Monday Thoughts: Too much to reflect upon, Yet so much to share

My journey through the year-long Bible study continues and when I add that to daily life and any other reading I do whether continuing The Chronicles of Narnia,or whether it is the Brian Zahand’s book Beauty Will Save the World, or even a scan of the local newspaper, the internet or even broadcast programs, my brain is becoming so filled with ideas, thoughts, questions that I can hardly organize them into any coherent form.

Thus, I stepped away for a few days and visited a friend, checked in with my brother and sister-in-law, and did a little rug hooking.  Therefore, I have the laundry going—it is Monday, you know—and have cleaned up the emails, searched for some information I wanted to locate on line, and cleaned the bathroom.  Mondays are like this for me now.

Which brings me back to the title of the blog. Here it is Monday and I have so much in my brain that this may just be a set of unrelated blurbs in order to clear out my jumbled brain and hopefully be able to move forward in a more cohesive manner.

1.  Ecclesiastes

The reading plan finished the book of Ecclesiastes last week and there is one theme that just strikes me as key to a quality life: our life is a gift from God and we need to enjoy it.  Even if that means being thankful for the jobs we do because that job, too, is a gift from God.

How often do we forget that the experience we have in this earthly life is a gift from God?  What we do with our lives is our decision, and often it seems life is out of our control.  Still, we must look for, or should I say acknowledge, the joy in this life.

Granted the weather here in the United States seems to defy our personal experiences over the past several decades, and we are tired of the storms that just cycle through from one side of the country to the next.  Yet, the experiences of the meteorological highs and lows provide unique backgrounds for our days, weeks, months, and/or years.  So I discover joy even in the patterns of weather.

2.  Revelations

I have read Revelations before; it is not new material.  Yet, reading this mysterious book within the structured reading plan is creating new understanding, new values, and even new surprises.

Maybe using the Wesley Study Biblecontributes to some of the new understanding of Revelations, and that is good.  I am now wondering why the book of prophecy frightens readers or why some individuals and/or denominations chose to read it literally.  

Another possibility is that while reading The Chronicles of Narnia, I am finding references to elements of Revelationsthat connect these two writings, too.  The descriptions of the characters and the events, too, reflect pieces of this book—and others in the Bible, also.  (I hesitate to include any specifics for fear of spoiling someone’s first read of the chronicles.)

3.  Cautions for reading alone

I am a certified teacher, I have completed the United Methodist course of study for being a certified licensed local pastor and I have a journalism degree.  Reading and studying on my own is not uncomfortable, but I miss the conversation with others as I have had in various coursework. 

I find myself wanting to discuss the readings in order to assure myself—and those with whom I share my conclusions—that my thinking is sound.  Whenever I have an opportunity to share with others, I find validation; but what if I do misread and misinform?  

Therefore, a caution:  Whenever reading scripture, make sure you have references and/or study notes to guide in your understanding.  I have researched how to understand ancient literature.  I have googled various characters, locations and cultural issues to find answers to questions that pop up in my reading.

John Wesley demanded that his followers be included in bands or classes to hold each other accountable.  They read scripture together, worshiped, and prayed as a group. The method prevented misunderstandings and overly literal reading of materials written hundreds, even thousands of years before one’s time.

4.  Worship

Because I was not at home, I did not have the weekly worship service that I am accustomed with attending.  Instead, I did everything I could do to listen in to the live broadcast of the service as I began the drive across the state.

Sadly, I could not get the broadcast to work either through the church’s own app nor through my Facebook connection.  My worship had to take a different format.

Therefore, I drove across the state with the accompaniment of the Christian music broadcast for stations across the state. The upbeat praise music is filled with messages of hope and joy, and I felt renewal.  Add to the music, I got to experience the beauty of spring.

You see, I took Hwy 94 along the Missouri River. The woods were filled with white dogwoods and redbuds contrasted against the new green foliage of all the native trees. 

I stopped at Portland to check on the river. I noticed how high the water was, how the flooding water has eaten away at the bank, and how the water was rushing around an island near the other side of the river (and I never noticed this island before as I have stopped here many times).  

The worship was not formal, but the worship of music and nature filled my heart.  And I was reminded of the message in Ecclesiasts again:

“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil.  This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God.”  –Ecclesiastes. 2:24-16 (NRSV)

And a few chapters later, this theme is repeated:

“Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long approved what you do.   . . .  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. . .”  –Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (NRSV)

Please join me in prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for the joy of living this earthly life.

Thank you for creating a world filled with beauty.

Thank you for the gift of a mind that reads

     and learns from words of others.

May we be good stewards of this world.

May we be wordsmiths honestly sharing

   your message.

May we find ways to share the joy of loving you.

In your name, the Lord our God, 

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Just one word makes all the difference

Continuing on my year-long Bible study, I find that my thoughts are so full of ideas that it is difficult to isolate a clear statement. Today, it took me all week to locate what I had read and find a way to state what I learned. I pray that it makes a difference for you, too.

How often does one’s Bible reading reveal the phrase “fear the Lord” or “fear God”?  I always struggle with the word choice of ‘fear.’  

During my reading, I may have unlocked the mystery of the word ‘fear.’  I may no longer fear understanding why that is used over and over in human’s relationship with God.

What I uncovered during my study time came in the study notes in the Wesley Study Bible(p. 762) connected to Proverbs 1:

“In Proverbs 1:7 (and in 2:5; 9:10; 15:33; 31:30), the fear of the Lord refers to moral obedience, the acknowledgment that everything worth knowing and all moral guidance comes from God.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament the fear of the Lord refers to the trembling of the human being in the presence of the divine (Isaiah 6) and the covenant loyalty the nation needs to show the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:20).  Theologically, each of these three biblical postures before God—the obedience of Proverbs, the awe of Isaiah, and the loyalty of Deuteronomy—is a response to God’s prior, gracious activity. . . . “

The term fear in today’s culture typically does not conjure up those images:  obedience, awe and loyalty.  Instead, fear has extremely negative connotations.  Therefore, as I read through the study notes and found this paragraph, I had to stop and reread the earlier note:

“We today do not like the concept of “the fear of the Lord,” assuming it means a fear of imminent punishment.  But, though there are several meanings ascribed to the term in the Old Testament, none of them refers to fear of imminent divine punishment.”

Wow!  For years I have struggled to fully comprehend why the Bible uses “fear of God” if God is love.  My tendency is to read scripture replacing the word ‘fear’ with the word ‘respect’ and move on.

The explanation in the Wesley Study Biblethat I have inserted makes more sense to me than any other word or analysis I have found. 

By looking up the word ‘fear’ in the Oxford Dictionary On-line [accessed on April 5, 2019 at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fear] , I can see why the meaning of fear has evolved into the negative connotations that cause me problems:

As a noun:  An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.

As a verb:  Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful.

No where in these definitions is any reference to ‘awe,’ ‘obedience,’ or ‘loyalty’.  Even when I checked the origin of the word, I could not find a connection to these Biblical definitions of ‘fear’:

Old English fǣr ‘calamity, danger’, fǣran ‘frighten’, also ‘revere’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gevaar and German Gefahr ‘danger’.

Granted the word ‘revere’ shows up, but that does not lessen the negative connotations of the words ‘calamity,’ ‘danger,’ and ‘frighten.’

Thank goodness the study notes has introduced this new viewpoint of the word ‘fear.’  I can read the Biblical use of ‘fear’ differently now.  I can stop feeling guilty because I do not ‘fear the Lord.’  I now can see that fear is awe, obedience, and loyaltyto the Lord.

Please  join me in prayer:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the wisdom of Biblical scholars

who can translate your words in ways

to clarify ancient literature for me today.

Thank you for the sense of awe, 

the desire to be obedient, and

the sense of loyalty my faith provides.

Thank you for your unending presence

through the power of the Holy Spirit,

so I may continue to grow in faith.  –Amen.


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Yesterday was a true Monday; Certainly Job would understand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad things happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My guiding scripture is Philippians 4:13:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please join in my prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the scriptures

In which your faithful people

Mapped out the directions

For life eternal.

May the ancient words 

Reveal universal truths

So your love survives

Despite the detours people take.

May the stories of old

Guide today’s people

In ways to guide others

To love one another, too.

And as our journeys near completion

May the snapshots of our lives 

Serve as guides for future generations 

That they may know love always wins.

In the name of you the Father, the Son,

and the Holy Ghost, amen.

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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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Avoiding Hell Even on Halloween

given on Sunday, October 27, 2013

Welcome to the end of October!  The days are getting shorter and by the time we meet again, we will lose daylight savings time.  Shorter days will be even shorter.  Halloween is just around the corner and the store shelves are filled with images of ghouls, goblins and ghosts.  Every commercial, every DJ on the radio, even the stores make it feel like you are walking into the doors of hell with all sorts of hype.

Halloween may have begun with the tradition of All Saint’s Eve, a time to honor those who have died over the past year, but instead of honoring special saints in our lives, it looks more like a living hell on earth.

Obviously Halloween is really no threat any more.  The idea of hell comes from all the hideous, grotesque, bloody costumes that kids, teens, and even parents don just for a little fun.  The images that people choose to portray ranges from the silly, cute, and sweet to the ogres, the ghosts, goblins, and villains that have become familiar through all the media blitzes for movies, television shows, and events designed to scare one to death, so to speak.  This one day a year, so many feel compelled to dress up in an alter ego that conceals their very identity.

Sometimes the “alter ego” models the wearer’s idea of what hell might be.  Hell may be full of the living dead, the zombies, ax murderers, vampires, or worse; but surely hell is not filled with the neighbors we visit with over the fence or those we sit beside during Sunday morning worship.  The images we develop of hell are all figments or our own imagination.  There is no concrete way to know what the Bible’s hell is.

There are still several days until Halloween, but the question of what hell is or how one avoids hell seems like a timely question.  References to hell are found in the Bible, but most of the images are from prophets’ dreams or John’s vision as described in Revelations.  The scriptures also include ways one can go to hell, but I struggle with understanding how a loving God can assign someone to hell.

Consider this statement:  God does not send people to hell.  What is your first reaction to that statement?  Maybe you want to take issue with it saying that only God sends people to hell.  Or maybe you agree and believe that only people can send themselves to hell.

John Wesley even had his own perception of hell that is identified as a Wesley core term in the Wesley Study Bible:

Most notions of hell are influenced by John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Wesley’s were too.  In his notes on Revelations, Wesley comments, “How far these expressions are to be taken literally, how far figuratively only, who can tell?”  Wesley did believe in a literal “lake of fire” as a place where the damned are eternally tormented.

A Biblical reference to this image is in Revelations 20, where John shares his vision beginning with verse 11, in the section subtitled “The Dead Are Judged,” in verses 13-15:

“And the sea gave up the dead that were in it.  Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

But the discussion of Wesley’s core term of hell continues including what was written in his Sermon 73, “Of Hell”:

. . . Wesley also describes hell as the experience of loss.  Hell is the loss of beauty, music, pleasant memory, kindness, loved ones, friendship, love, and a sense of having been created by God—knowing that rest will never be found except in God.  Hell is also felt experience; a place of hate, horror, greed, rage, lust, unsatisfied desires, envy, jealousy, malice and revenge, characterized by fear, guilt, and shame.  While all of this will “incessantly gnaw the soul” like a vulture through all eternity, most hells begin here on earth. (p.1556)

This definition of hell shows that God does not send people to hell; people send themselves to hell.

Wesley’s list somewhat echoes Proverbs 11:16-19:

16 A gracious woman gets honor,
but she who hates virtue is covered with shame.
The timid become destitute,
but the aggressive gain riches.
17 Those who are kind reward themselves,
but the cruel do themselves harm.
18 The wicked earn no real gain,
but those who sow righteousness get a true reward.
19 Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
but whoever pursues evil will die.

Granted the verses show both sides, the good and the bad; but the message is much the same.  Going a little further into the chapter, Proverbs 11:30-31:

30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
but violence takes lives away.
31 If the righteous are repaid on earth,
how much more the wicked and the sinner!

The argument as to who sends people to hell is found in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament.  Wesley himself created his own perception of hell, and so do we.  The one point that remains in common is that God does not make the decisions as to who goes to hell or not, rather people do.

Maybe those alter egos we will see this week, especially on Halloween, reflect more truth than one might want to share.  As people, Halloween might be an appropriate time to evaluate whether they are living a God-centered life or whether they are working to send themselves to hell.  Do the decisions people make this one night of the year honestly reflect their life-style?  Do the behaviors uphold Jesus’ teachings?  Is all the fun simply fun or is there a more twisted meaning behind the masks?

Our Halloween should be filled with giving.  We should see Halloween as an opportunity to share our beliefs openly.  Hand out the candy with love!  Play a safe trick on others, only if you know they will laugh.  Figure out how to tell others your story without looking at the surface of a fiery lake.  Is your costume pretend or is it real?

Remember that each of your decisions year round is your responsibility.  God is not planning on sending anyone to hell because he loves everybody.  He wants everybody to be in heaven with him.

God is pained by the people who are living with a sense of loss as Wesley listed:  the loss of beauty, music, pleasant memory, kindness, loved ones, friendship, love, and a sense of having been created by God  He weeps for all the people who feel hell as the negatives in life that Wesley outlined:  a place of hate, horror, greed, rage, lust, unsatisfied desires, envy, jealousy, malice and revenge, characterized by fear, guilt, and shame.

Does God send people to hell?  The answer lies within our own heart, our own knowledge of God.  No one can tell us exactly what follows our life on earth.  No one can tell us whether we are going to heaven or hell.  As long as we are living a God-centered life, loving one another, looking at each other through God’s eyes, following the teachings of Jesus, and working to serve one another in love, then our decisions will make the decision for God.

Halloween is ahead, have a little fun.  This is one of those times that living a God-centered life is key to assuring the safety of others.  It is a time when giving treats delights our hearts.  It is a time when we can share God’s love in so many ways, in such silly ways, and maybe even ‘scare’ someone into believing.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving Father,

We know you to be a loving God,

one who sees each one of us as your children.

Protect the littlest ones this Halloween

from those who play tricks out of meanness.

Keep the tummies healthy

even when filled with sugary treats.

Let the hands of parents safely

hold children in love and joy.

 

Lord, we ask one more thing, too.

For some, Halloween is more

than silly tricks and treats.

For them, the day is All Hollow’s Eve,

a time for remembering.

Wrap them in your love

as they wipe away tears of loss.

 

And let each one of us serve

as your hands and arms.

May we give to bring joy.

May we play to share laughter.

May we hug one another in love.

May we offer a shoulder to lean on.

Help us to show others how living

our faith will lead us to heavenly life.  –Amen

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