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

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

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

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

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

one time apparently by mere chance

From Merriam-Wesbster.com:

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

From Google search engine:

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

From urbandictionary.com

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

2.  A compartmentalized serendipity formed by an underlying synchronicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 5: A David psalm

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

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

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

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

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

                                                      —The Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Praying the Psalms”: Heard about the phrase. Read, studied the psalms. Finally I understand why.

Over the past decade, I have heard the phrase “praying the psalms, but it never seemed like something I needed to understand. Then I began the year of rest and renewal.  

The first thing I did was start reading—not church related prep material, but fun reading.  Oddly enough I picked up the novel series of the Yada Yada Prayer Group, written by Neta Jackson.  The characters in this series were encouraged to ‘pray the psalms.’  

And I began to sort out the significance of that phrase:  pray the psalms.  

The problem I have long had is how to make psalms fit into today’s culture.  How does the language work?  How does the ancient problems fit or match today’s?  How can the language be used when language changes?

Then I began the year-long Bible study and moved into the psalms this month and I started to understand why the phrase continues to surface as a method of prayer for God’s faithful today as much as in ancient times.

Maybe one of the key tools I have that helped open up my understanding of how to pray the psalms is theWesley Study Bible.  I have a wide range of Bibles and several with study notes, but the subtitles and descriptors that are provided for the psalms, clearly states the purpose of each one.  

Why in the world did I never understand the topic of the various psalms or even the structure of the entire book itself?

I guess that is not really an issue at this point.  The issue is that I have finally unlocked the psalms as prayers that are as appropriate today as they were in ancient times or any time:  past, present and future.

For example, the first section of psalms are considered Book 1 of the Psalter and include Psalms 1-41.  As one begins the study of these psalms, there are clear subtitles for almost each one:

  • Psalm 3:  Trust in God under Adversity
  • Psalm 4:  Confident Plea for Deliverance from Enemies
  • Psalm 6: Prayer for Recovery from Grave Illness
  • Psalm 12:  Plea for Help in Evil Times
  • Psalm 22:  Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility

These are simply the ones I have already studied within the first book.  There are four other books:  Psalms 42-72, Psalms 73-89, Psalms 90-106, and Psalms 107-150.  Looking ahead at how the Wesley Study Bible prints these, one can tell that the subtitles continue to identify the purpose of each psalm.

Praying the psalms may not be a habit that faithful Christians are using, but at times finding words to put one’s thoughts into a logical prayer leaves us in a mental block.  By stopping and scanning through the psalms in a Bible that can guide the reader, such as the Wesley Study Bible,removes that block.

Finding the right source is so important for anybody wanting to understand scripture, but to ‘pray the psalms’ a version that provides subtitles or study notes to guide the reader to find a psalm that matches his/her own need at the time.

While considering how to discuss the idea of ‘praying the psalms,’ I googled the phrase.  What I was unprepared for the number of hits that came up:  about 11,800,000 results!  

And then I began scrolling.  The websites on the first page provided a range of blogs and theologies, but I opened up The Upper Roombecause it was familiar to my Methodist background.

Check out the site: https://www.upperroom.org/resources/praying-the-psalms

Again, identifying the purpose of the psalm can guide one in how to pray the psalms.  On the Upper Room site, there is an explanation of the concept, then a list of topics aligned to an appropriate psalm is included.  And this is just one of the first website I opened.

A caution needs to be added at this point. When doing a web search, make sure to identify the source of the site.  Make sure to understand the theology or the philosophy from which the author speaks/writes.  Some of those 11 million plus websites may not be solid in theology or may be using an entirely different definition of psalm which would be anti-Christian, anti-faithful.

Because the ancient cultures did not have the law or the hymns in print and readily available, the teaching of scripture was done through singing as it was easier to memorize.  The practice has not been maintained, so praying the psalms is not part of our educational process in most cases.  We do not know the psalms—at least not 150 of them.

Therefore, as one begins reading the psalms and re-reading them, the words become familiar and when needed might surface into conscious thought –if we allow ourselves to pray the psalms.

When stress settles in and the mind freezes up, turning to the familiar psalms can unlock the communication channel to God. Certainly he knows what our issues are, but as we seek to work through the stress, turning to the ancient words used throughout the millenniums can reconnect us with God.

And, maybe it is not stress that we need to pray about; maybe we find joy or success or health and we lift our words of praise to God for those experiences, too.  The psalms are not singularly for stressful circumstances; they are for the celebrations, too.  

God is a moment-by-moment presence in our lives and we live in prayer when we remain faithful.  We remain faithful by praying or communicating with God at all times. 

Praying the psalms is a method of communicating with God; and if one has read them repeatedly, the words are familiar.  The words will surface in our minds when we face stress.  Those are the times God is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit.

Please join in prayer:

Using the words from Psalms 34:11-14 (NRSV)

Lord we pray. . . 

Come, O children, listen to me;

     I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Which of you desires life,

     and covets many days to enjoy good?

Keep your tongue from evil,

     and your lips from speaking deceit.

Depart from evil, and do good;

     seek peace, and pursue it.  –Amen.

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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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