Tag Archives: Wesley Study Bible

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion