Friday, December 30, 2011

May Your Soul Prosper!

Let’s look at one verse from 3 John from four separate translations and see how they compare.
3 John, verse 2:

NIV Translation:
“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”
NRSV Translation:
“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.”
Amplified Bible:
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in every way and (that your body) may keep well, even as (I know) your soul keeps well and prospers.”
The Message paraphrase:
“I pray for good fortune in everything you do, and for your good health-that your everyday affairs prosper, as well as your soul!”
In this letter, John is writing to Gaius, a church leader, to commend him for his hospitality and to warn him about not following the lead of Diotrephes who is only concerned with himself.  This verse is used a lot when talking about the Prosperity Gospel that is preached in some circles.  God wants you rich, God wants you to have that Cadillac, they tell you.  Well, hold on a minute!  What is supposed to prosper the most?  If you read the entire verse, what truly matters is that your SOUL prospers!  Things and good health are not guaranteed.  They are hoped for, but what matters most is how well does your soul prosper?

I thought about this as I thought about all of the individuals making resolutions for the New Year.  Many are health related, such as lose 20 pounds or quit smoking or exercise more.  Good ideas that are usually out the window and forgotten by March.  Not because they were not well intentioned but because they were not so convinced that it could be done in the first place.  Things that had happened in the past proved that they just couldn’t do it.  As far as resolutions go, I don’t think I have ever heard someone say “I am going to work on making my soul prosper.”  Maybe we should consider making that kind of resolution.

In the Wesley Study Bible the notes say that 3 John shows that both evil and good can be found within a congregation.  “Gaius…. supports the elders understanding of the Christian Mission by making his resources of home and money available to itinerant Christian ministers.  Diotrephes, on the other hand, serves himself by seeking to undermine the elder’s influence in refusing hospitality to these missionaries and preventing those who want to help from doing so.”  The Message paraphrase says this: “The two most difficult things to get straight in life are love and God.  More often than not, the mess people make of their lives can be traced to failure or stupidity or meanness in one or both of these areas…there are always people around who don’t want to be pinned down to the God Jesus reveals, to the love Jesus reveals.  They want to make up their own idea of God, make up their own style of love.”

If you stop and think about it, it makes a lot of sense that how well you are on the inside “the soul” correlates to how well you are on the outside.  What you carry inside of you will manifest outwardly.  Your idea of God or love will show up in some manner.  So, perhaps we should consider what we are carrying around inwardly first before we make those resolutions for outward change.  Maybe the first place to start is getting rid of some of the inward baggage.  Still angry at someone?  Still nursing an old wound?  Still feeling like the victim?  Still making the excuse that you do certain things because you were damaged or hurt by what (insert name here) did to you twenty years ago?  Whether we like to admit it or not, old baggage from things that happened that we can not change, can and will weigh us down.  Bad things happen, even to good people.  It’s what you do with it that matters!  If it simply is a weight around your neck than it is not doing you or anyone else any good!  It’s time to let it go.  It is time to choose to love yourself like Jesus loves you and it is time to love others in the same way.  No more my style, it’s time to choose Jesus style!

So here’s a suggestion.  Take all of those things, those issues and write them down.  Make a list.  Then take the list and burn it or shred it beyond recognition.  Make sure you can not tape it back together no matter how hard you might try.  Commit to turning it over to God and then commit to letting it go.  Don’t take it back again.  If something comes up in your mind again say to yourself “I already let that go and turned it over to God” and then move on to something else.  I know, it is easier said than done but I also know that it can be done.  

It is much easier to move forward and create new good positive feelings and memories when you let go of  the old negative ones.  It is easier to accept love when you let go of those things that you think make you unlovable.  It is easier to love others when you can learn to love like Jesus loved.  How does your soul prosper?  May it prosper well!

May your everyday affairs prosper as well as your soul prospers in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bible Reading-Yes You Can!

The checkmarks have just about filled the page on the “Read through the Bible in a year” reading plan.  I have two more boxes to check and then, I will have successfully completed another read through the entire Bible.

So, I need to print out another copy and decide which Bible I’m going to use this coming year.  When I first started doing this oh some 20 odd years ago, the NIV Bible was the “big hit” translation to use.  I did use it for many years and anyone who has borrowed that particular Bible during Sunday School class has seen all of my highlights and underlines and notes from over the years.  Then came the Amplified Bible because it was supposed to more clearly explain certain words.  I used it until it literally split in two.  It still sits on the shelf, notes and all, proud but worn!

Some years, instead of doing a formal read through, I might do an in-depth word study (find all of the verses that use the word joy for example), or focus on particular books in the Bible (Psalms or Proverbs for example) or do a study on Fruits of the Spirit.  But at the beginning of 2011 I decided that I really needed to do a formal read through again and I wanted to make it fun!  I wasn’t so focused on gaining insight as I was in discovering the joy of reading through the Bible again.  I have no idea how long Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” Bible paraphrase had been sitting on my shelf, but it’s been quite a few years.  It was time to pull it off the shelf and use it!  What a joy, what a pleasure it has been, reading through the Bible this year!

Yes, it is not an exact translation and Mr. Peterson is quick to point that out.  But it is a readable and relatable translation and I did gain new insights this year, simply from reading.  I found myself reading these historical stories and finding similarities to what is going on in the world today.  The names and places may be different, but the pain and anguish, the joy and celebration are still the same!  Thousands of years separate us from the writers and yet, they could be writing about current events today.  If anything, it demonstrates just how truly inspired the text is to be able to bridge generations!

So, now I have to decide which translation to use for 2012 and I think instead of buying the latest and greatest, I am going to use one that has been out for awhile-The Wesley Study Bible.  I used it while I was doing Disciple Bible Study and I really like the notes that are found throughout the entire Bible.   I hope that it strengthens my understanding of “the Wesleyan tradition” and the basic tenets of the Methodist faith.  There was a part of me that thought about just doing a word study instead this year but I like the purposeful goal of reading the good book again!  It’s easy to slip out of the habit of reading daily when you are not following an exact plan!

So for those of you who are considering the goal of reading through the Bible in a year, let me encourage you to do so.  It is worth the effort!  Here are some tips for making it through successfully:

-Pick a translation that you are going to be comfortable reading.  If you get frustrated by the words, then you are going to feel like you are just not capable enough to understand it and you are more likely to quit.  If this is your first time pick a translation like the NIV or NRSV or The Message-something that speaks in the current language of today.

-Pick a reading plan that will work for you.  The plan that I have used does not start you at the beginning and work it’s way through the end.  If it did, I’d be done by March because Leviticus and Numbers drive me nuts-all the rules and regulations and bean counting!  For some people, starting at Genesis in January and reading through to Revelation in December works for them.  The reading plan I use gives me variety throughout the week.  Epistles, Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, Gospels.  I like the variety!  Keeps things interesting!

-If you fall behind, don’t worry about it!  Simply catch up when you can!  Life happens and sometimes you will get behind in daily Bible Reading!  It’s okay!  Don’t quit-simply read a little extra when you have the time because you will catch up!

-Don’t be afraid to highlight, underline and write notes in the margins.  This is your personal textbook for life and it is worth keeping track of your thoughts and insights.  If you prefer to keep your Bible pristine then keep a journal.  Either way, keep track of your thoughts and feelings in some form.

-If reading through the Bible in a year seems too daunting, then decide to start somewhere.  Read a Psalm a day.  Read a Proverb a day.  Read the Gospels.  Make the decision to read your Bible!  The only way that you are going to get comfortable with reading the Bible is to start!  The more comfortable you become with reading the Bible the more confident you will become in your ability to do so!

-If you have a question, find someone to ask.  Someone that you can trust, and feel comfortable talking to and who is spiritually mature.  You’re going to have questions!  That’s good!

-Do you have a long commute to work?  How about getting an audio copy of the Bible to pop in while you are driving?  Why not use the time for learning?

Make becoming familiar with your Bible a goal for 2012.  There is a specific reason behind this idea.  There are a lot of very public figures out there “preaching the gospel” and sometimes it can be really tough to separate the wheat from the chaff.  They can and do put a spin on things.  They are not always accurate or correct.  It is much easier to assess the validity of their statements if you are familiar with your Bible in the first place!  It is very easy to take a verse of scripture out of the Bible, out of context and use it to justify a position.  The more familiar you are with scripture the easier it is to spot such attempts.

Is reading through the Bible in a year easy?  No.  Is it worth the effort?  Yes!  Trust me, you will be blessed by the effort!

And thank you, Mr. Peterson, for helping me find the joy in reading, once again!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Go-Carts in Heaven and Goulash too!

Last night our church held a “Blue Christmas” service.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a Blue Christmas service is, it is designed to be a special service for individuals who may find celebrating Christmas difficult due to a loss of a family member or perhaps they are just struggling with various issues in their personal lives.  I was the liturgist for the service.  The attendance was intimate, but it was a beautiful service and Jeff preached one of his best sermons, in my opinion.  It was something worth doing regardless of how many people showed up for the service.  Great things can come out of small beginnings!  And it isn’t about the numbers, it is about the meaning!

Like I said, Jeff had asked me to be the liturgist for the service, which I agreed to do, even though I knew it was going to be hard for me to be a participant.  This is the first Christmas without dad for me.  Add to that, the fact that the children just got word recently that their Omi had died.  Omi is my ex husband’s mother and Monica and Robert’s grandmother.  Wally, as she was called, was larger than life!  She was a very strong, opinionated German woman with a huge heart to match!  I have a soft spot in my heart for her, even after all these years and although the news was not unexpected, it was still hard to hear.  So needless to say, it’s been a tough year and Christmas will be celebrated in our house with a ting of sadness.

So short little me stood up behind the podium, with my head barely poking out over the top, and led the responsive readings and read the scripture.  My friends, Jill and Gail were in attendance and I had to make sure that I didn’t look at them because I knew if I did I would start crying with them.  Both of them had a similar loss this year.  I lost my father, they lost their mothers.  This service had special meaning to all three of us!

After the service was over, we exchanged hugs and conversation with each other and with Jeff’s wife, Patti.  As we were talking, I mentioned the fact that I had had a thought earlier in the day where I wondered what dad was up to up in heaven.  Patti said that she could see her mom and Gail’s mom chatting and exchanging recipes.  I thought of Wally and I could see her being in on such a conversation.  It reminded me of spending Christmas Eve at her house when she made her special Hungarian Goulash.  And I could see her saying in her German accent “you can’t use American Paprika because it’s no good!  German Paprika, it’s better!“  Wally’s Hungarian Goulash was the best!  I’m not sure what exactly was in it-I can tell you that it was a meat dish in a spicy gravy and she always served it with potato balls and egg noodles.  It was even better the next day because it had more time to meld the flavors.  And I guarantee you, if you had clogged sinuses-by the time you were done eating the goulash, you no  longer had that problem because it cleared out your nose and made your eyes water-in a good way!  I wish I had gotten the recipe from her but hindsight is 20/20 and I doubt I will ever have the chance to experience Hungarian Goulash again.  It is a treasured memory for me.

During the conversation and my walk down memory lane, I  suddenly had a  flash of dad riding around on a Go-cart.  Green grass, blue sky all around and there he was with a big grin on his face!  Years ago, dad had built a go-cart for the boys out of tubing and metal and he had put a lawn mower engine on the back.  Someone, I’m guessing mom, snapped a picture of my dad as he took it for a test drive spin in our yard.  There was this big adult man, on this little piece of metal, with the wind blowing through his hair and a little boy grin.  It is one of my absolute favorite pictures of dad!  For just a moment, that little boy that lived inside of him escaped from his big boy frame and he was having the time of his life riding that thing around the yard!  That image is what flashed in my mind as I wondered about what dad was doing in heaven and it delighted me to no end!  I could very easily see my dad doing just such a thing, riding a Go-cart, doing laps on the streets of gold and having the time of his life!

I felt very peaceful afterwards.  It was like dad was saying to me “I know you miss me but I’m okay.  And look, honey, there are Go-carts in heaven!  Isn’t that great?!”

Go-carts in heaven, how cool is that?  I miss you dad, but I’m glad you’re having fun!  Save a ride for me!  And ask Wally if she’d make some Hungarian Goulash when I get there, please.  And I’ll do my best to muddle on down here.  Merry Christmas Daddy!  I love you and I miss but I am so glad that you’re okay!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thank You Mordecai!

As I drove my son up to the bus stop this morning I noticed that my neighbor had walked up with the girls to meet the bus.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped so it was just wet and the bus was there pretty shortly after we had all arrived.  I stopped to offer her a ride back to her house but she declined saying that she needed the exercise.   Rain, snow, sleet, car or no car, she makes sure that the girls are taken care of and that they make it to school every day.  The thing that is so extraordinary about my neighbor is that the girls are not her children or grandchildren, they are her great grandchildren and she and her husband are raising them.  I have another neighbor with a similar story.  She and her husband are raising their grandchildren.  Where would these children be if these two couples hadn’t stepped in?  They would be in Foster care or some sort of group home as wards of the state.  These couples have made some enormous sacrifices in order to raise the children in safe, stable, loving, caring homes and it hasn’t always been easy!  But they made the choice out of love and I don’t think either one would have chosen any differently!

I was really struck by this particular point as I read Esther this morning.  Normally, when the book of Esther is talked about, we discuss her bravery in approaching the king in order to save her people.  But Esther would not have been in that position had it not been for her cousin Mordecai.  We are told that Mordecai took Esther in when her parents died and that he raised her.  If it wasn’t for Mordecai, where would Esther have ended up?  We will never know the answer to that question but I think it is fairly safe to assume that Esther became the woman that she did thanks in part to the loving care that she received from Mordecai.

I was blessed to be raised by two incredible parents with my siblings in a wonderful home.  My parents raised six children and they had done their duty!  But when I left my ex husband, restraining order in hand, my parents opened up their home to me and my two children and took us in so we would have a roof over our head.  My parents loved my children!  They helped take care of them when I got a job so they wouldn’t have to go to daycare.  My daughter started Kindergarten that year and my mother would get her on and off the bus every school day.  My father built my daughter a brand new doll house because her father had burned her old one.  My son was not yet in school so his days were spent with Gramma and Grampa.  I think he got his love of “tinkering” from hanging out with Grampa!  My parents rearranged their schedules and their lives in order to help provide a safe, stable, loving, caring environment for the children.  There was no way I could have financially swung raising the children on my own and if it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure where we would have ended up!  I would have done my very best, but quite frankly, the financial numbers didn’t add up!  They stepped in, when the children and I needed it the most!  That’s not something I can ever repay, but for which I will always be grateful!

I would be willing to hazard a guess that if you looked around in your church or your neighborhood, you would find similar stories.  It may be slightly different, perhaps the death of a parent, or a parent who is in the military and away on deployment but the outcome is still the same.  These are individuals who step up and do the right thing without question.  Their impact is huge and yet so many go unrecognized!

Without Mordecai we would not have Esther’s story.  Without families who choose to sacrifice and raise their young relatives we would not have such wonderful success stories of children who turn out well.  Perhaps it’s time we recognize and acknowledge what these individuals have done and continue to do in the lives of young people.  Perhaps it is time to thank them.  Perhaps it is time to ask them if there is anything we can do to help?  In celebrating the success of all the Esthers in the world, let us not forget to acknowledge the contribution of the Mordecais!  The world is a much better place because of them!

Thank you!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Taking Care of Business

Here’s an interesting thought from the very end of Deuteronomy 29 in The Message paraphrase:
“God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business.  It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.”
What are the revealed things?  For the Israelites, it is the covenant given to them by God through Moses.  The “do’s and don’ts” of living, “right and wrong” of the moral code.  For Christians it is all of this and more.  It is loving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Turning the other cheek.  Praying for your enemies.

Much easier said than done at times, isn’t it?  It becomes a little bit easier at this time of year to be kind, give to others and remember those less fortunate because Christmas is coming!  What happens when January rolls around though?  Are we able to maintain that loving, joyous spirit, or are we back to the old grind?  Joy can be fleeting sometimes.  What we need to remember is that feelings come and go and if we can still do the right thing, even in difficult circumstances, even when we don’t feel like it, God will honor that commitment!

God told Joshua to be strong and to take courage.  Why?  Because God was striding ahead of the Israelites as they crossed the river Jordan.  He wasn’t far off and away, he was there with them.  Joshua had faith and also commitment.  But you know some of the Israelites had to be thinking “are you kidding me???  Cross here, take these people on???”  We know the previous generation had doubts and didn’t always do the right thing.  Thus, they wandered the desert for 40 years!  Faced with the choice of wandering another 40 years or doing what was asked of them, they chose to go forward, even if they weren’t feeling one hundred percent confident!

The revealed things are our business!  If we know about something, if we see something, we are supposed to do the right thing.  I love the story about the individuals who went into a department store and paid off items on lay away so families could have them for Christmas.  All the individuals asked was that those who benefited find some way to “pay it forward.”

So here is a project for you to think about and start planning for after the holiday season.  Look around in your community.  See a need?  It could be an individual or some organization that could use some help.  Make it your business to take care of business!  Find a way to help them!  Make it a goal to continue helping someone in some way through out next year.

Need some ideas?  Your local food pantry might be one place to help out.  I know in our area they have not gotten as many donations in as they usually do, so Christmas is going to be a struggle for them.  Imagine what January will be like!  How about the local Domestic Violence shelter?  Is there a service you could provide?  Are there items that they are in need of?  Could you help out at the local animal shelter?  How about the local veterans group?  Could you drive someone to and from their appointments?  Could you help put together care packages to be sent to troops overseas?  How about visiting the elderly and those who are unable to get out of their homes?  Can you change a light bulb for them or make sure they have an ice free walkway or run errands for them?

There is so much out there that we can do, if we will just make it our business to take care of business!  God will take care of the rest if we will just deal with the things he has revealed.  And if we open our eyes and ears, we’ll see everything that he has already revealed!

Friday, December 16, 2011

First United Methodist Church Washington, MO Cantata 2011

I meant to post this a couple of days ago.  Our church Cantata was last Sunday and my darling friend Chester sent me the link that takes you directly the the recording download.  I wrote the narration for the Cantata.  The Choir and Praise Team already had a general idea of what they wanted to do.  All I did was give it words and form!  They picked the music.  They, and everyone involved did a fantastic job!  So, without further ado, here's the link to the very first Cantata that I have ever written.  I hope you enjoy it!

FUMC Washington, MO 2011 Cantata

Not Blessed???? It's all in the Looking

Well, the media has confirmed something that I already instinctively knew.  I am no longer in the middle of American middle class.  My standard of living is lower than what my parents experienced.  I, like many other Americans, find myself on the lower end of the scale.  Tell me something I didn’t already know, will ya?

Money isn’t my driving factor.  Sure, it would be nice to have a little more just to be able to go out shopping once in awhile.  But, I’m fortunate-I still have a roof over my head.  I know how to cook and bake which helps.  I don’t need the latest fanciest vehicle.  My husband has been able to keep our vehicles running because he is a grease monkey mechanic at heart!  He works on cars for fun!  My Jeep has 280,000 plus miles on it and it’s still running well.  It’s a much older model than most people would drive and I have it because of where we live.  There are certain times of the year when the only way to get in and out of “east middle of nowhere” is with 4 wheel drive.  So, it’s not a status thing, it’s a practical thing.  Shelter, food, water, they are the essentials and right now, we’re covered!  When you think about all of the individuals just in the United States who have no shelter and no food, let alone individuals around the world who are in a similar situation, it’s tough to complain when you are in better shape than they are!

There are many people in this country who would look at me and pity how I live.  I don’t have as much as they do.  I don’t get to eat out or go to the movies or shop.  I don’t live in as nice a house as they do.  I don’t drive as nice a car as they do.  Compared to them, they view my life as dismal.

I have a different view.  I pity them for being so enslaved to the almighty dollar.  A beautiful sunset can take my breath away.  Watching the birds in the yard can be highly entertaining.  Seeing deer or wild turkeys wander through is priceless.  Playing board games with my children and seeing them become better and better is a wonderful feeling!  My children are healthy.  I’m able to spend time with them.  I can come up with an amazing meal from practically nothing.  My husband can fix practically anything!  I appreciate what I have and I’m not caught up in wanting more things.  I don’t feel the overwhelming need to keep up with the Joneses.  I know eventually that our financial situation will improve.  This is only temporary.

In the Beatitudes many people quote it as saying blessed are the poor.  But it actually says “blessed are the poor in spirit” and my Wesleyan study bible refers to that as meaning humility.  Blessed are those who have a spirit of humility for they shall inherit the kingdom.

Humility is a much talked about virtue but it’s not always an embraced virtue.  Being happy with what you have.  Sharing your gifts with others, not looking for the limelight when you do something.  It can be a tough road to walk when you live in a society that preaches so strongly against such an idea!  Somehow, you should never be satisfied.  Somehow, you should always be wanting more.  Working, striving, questing, never having enough.  Working to better ourselves is not wrong, but when you define “bettering yourself” as only a dollars and cents equation, you’ll find that you are never satisfied.  You get that promotion or pay raise and it’s an empty victory because it is still not enough.  What was the price for that victory?  How many missed dinners?  Or missed ball games, or recitals?  How much living have you missed out on because you’re trying to “make a living?”

I may be poor, money wise, by U.S. standards but I can live with that!  I will admit that there are moments of melancholy when I wish I could go out and buy something because I really do need to replace a certain item but they pass.  I still have more things than a vast majority of the people in the world.  I have things that money can’t buy-time with my family and nature at my doorstep.  Things could be so much worse!

Let us remember what really matters in life.  It’s not how much money you make.  It is about how you live and how much you love.  That is the thing that truly matters!  Everything else is secondary, regardless of what the media tries to tell you!  Blessed are the poor in spirit because they will inherit the kingdom!  Amen!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prayer as Conversation-Pray Like You Mean It!

Psalm 145 is David’s description of who God is.  He uses words like magnificent, mercy, grace, boundless, slow to anger, good, generous.  Towards the end of the Psalm The Message paraphrase says this:
“God’s there listening for all who pray, all who pray and mean it.”
That phrase makes me wonder.  Do we sometimes pray and not really mean it?  Do we “have not because we ask not?”  Are we dealing with a case of insincere prayer, sometimes?

How does one pray and not mean what they pray?  It’s an interesting question.  It resonates with something I learned in one of the workshops that I attended at Leadership Institute.  The workshop was led by Rev. Dr. Constance Cherry and it focused on corporate prayer during worship services.  She asked a question that really put the importance of prayer in perspective.  If the people  in this congregation only had me to teach them to pray, what would their concept of God be like?  We may not realize it, but prayer is an important part of a worship service and we need to give it the same consideration that we give other elements as well.

Are we demonstrating that prayer is a conversation?  Are we showing them that God is vast, wondrous and close?  Do we acknowledge God’s presence?  Bottom line, are we teaching our members how to pray?

You may think that is an odd question but think about it, do we teach our members how to pray just for the sake of praying or do we teach them how to have a conversation with God.  A conversation involves not only talking but also listening.  People know how to talk, the fine art of listening-sometimes that isn’t as strongly or equally emphasized.  Dr. Cherry did an informal study and discovered that in all services, prayer time has become less and less during corporate worship.  Corporate worship, our Sunday morning services, are prime opportunities to model prayer conversation.  We shy away from quiet or silence because it’s uncomfortable.  It’s uncomfortable in worship and it’s uncomfortable in private prayer time.  We, as a society,  have become accustomed to noise!

And perhaps that is where the insincere praying comes in to play.  We pray a lot but do we ever stop and listen?  Imagine how frustrating that must be to God.  “Here I am!  I hear you!  Could you stop talking long enough so I can speak to you?”  What would God have to say to you if he could get a word in edgewise?  Interesting thought to consider, if you ask me!  It may be frightening to some but if you look at the list of attributes that David writes about, God wants to speak lovingly, not in a harsh negative manner.  Sure, the possibility exists that there may be some correction but God is slow to anger!  So chances are, there will be a lot of good things, if we are willing to stop long enough to listen!

Can we learn to become comfortable with silence again in our worship services and in our private prayer time?  Can we pray our prayer and wait patiently and quietly for a response?  Can we begin to converse with God again and have a sincere conversation?  Will we learn the fine art of pausing and waiting for the presence of the Lord?

I know that this is a goal for me over the next year.  Talk less, listen more!  Lord give me strength because quietly waiting is not one of my stronger qualities!  But I’m willing to learn!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Give Substance to the Words by Living Them!

Reading Deuteronomy can be a bit of a struggle at times for me because it’s very similar to Leviticus and Numbers.  There are a lot of “do this” and “don’t do that” statements and a lot of counting of things!  After awhile my eyes tend to gloss over and I end up doing some serious speed reading, particularly through the census numbers!  But, all of them are worth reading through because there are some gems that can be found, if you’re willing to do the work to dig.

Take Deuteronomy chapters 27 and 28, dealing with the  blessings and the curse.  There were a couple of sentences that really jumped out at me.  At the very end of chapter 27 in The Message paraphrase, it says this:
“God’s curse on whoever does not give substance to the words of this Revelation by living them.”
In chapter 28 in The Message paraphrase Moses goes on to explain why the curse comes about:
“Because you didn’t serve God, your God, out of the joy and goodness of your heart in the great abundance, you’ll have to serve your enemies whom God will send against you.  Life will be famine and drought, rags and wretchedness; then he’ll put an iron yoke on your neck until he’s destroyed you.”
It goes on further to talk about how everyone would turn against each other when they are under siege and how the most gentle of people will end up doing the most despicable things because  they have lost everything, even their humanity.

Give substance to the words by living them.  Serve God out of the joy and goodness of your heart in great abundance.  Sounds a lot like the words spoken by Jesus in the New Testament “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”  I am also reminded of Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust, who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  I know many consider the book not worthy of discussions in biblical circles but I found that reading the book gave me a greater appreciation for my faith!

Frankl, in his book, talks about a point when he looked in to the face of another prisoner and knew that they had given up.  They would die in a very short time.  They no longer had a name, or, an individual identity, they had a number.  And it was a tremendous struggle to remember your individual value and worth in the face of such utter, cruel, brutality.  Those who gave up, in essence, lost their humanity.  They lost sight of the fact that they were precious despite their circumstances.  Let me just say that I do not believe that the Holocaust was a result of God carrying out a curse against the Jewish community.  No, the perpetrators of the crime lost their “humanity” first in order to carry out such dire insanity!  They thought they were superior and anything inferior must be eliminated.  And I remember watching interviews with citizens who said that they were not aware of what was going on.  They would say things like “he was such a kind person, always treating others well, not the kind of person who would do such a thing!”  Yet, some did do such horrible things.  The atrocities happened and we should never forget that they happened because, quite frankly, similar atrocities have happened in recent years and if we are not careful, will happen again!

Advent and Christmas, the season of peace on earth and good will to men.  We give substance to these words during the holiday season, but do we carry that message with us beyond the holidays?  Do we serve God with joy out of our abundance once we get past the holiday season?  Do we still volunteer and help out at the food shelf or the battered women’s shelter once January first rolls around?  Do we have a kind word for a stranger in the store?  Do we live the message beyond the holiday season?  I know that there are individuals that do, God bless them!  Perhaps the rest of us, should think about making a pledge to do the same.  Not that we will always succeed or get it right, but if our heart is in the right place, how can we not help but be blessed?

Serve God with joy, out of your abundance.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Love of a True Father!

I've always thought Joseph gets short shift when we talk about the story of Jesus and his birth.  He's the guy engaged to Mary.  He's the one who takes her to Bethlehem.  He's the one who finds shelter in the stable.  He's the one who takes them to Egypt for awhile and then back to Nazareth and that's pretty much what we hear about Joseph.  He's just sorta there, like the sheep or the cattle.  But stop and think-how differently would things have turned out if Joseph had just said no? 

He finds out the woman that he is engaged to is pregnant and he knows that he is not the father.  We know he's honorable because he had a plan in place to marry her and then quietly divorce her in order to avoid Mary facing scandal.  And when the angel comes to speak to him in a dream, he listens and does what is asked of him!  More importantly, he raises Jesus as his own flesh and blood.  That my friends is not a minor footnote contribution!  God is the father of Jesus, but Joseph was his earthly father!  True fatherhood, the love of a man for a child who is not his own can be far more precious than any of us realize!

I was reminded of this in my own life yesterday.  It's also the reason I didn't blog yesterday because something big came up and it had to be dealt with immediately.  My daughter called my husband early in the morning.  She is being transferred to a different base and she was scheduled to leave today.  She had been having problems with her Jeep, which she has to drive to the new base because she has to move herself and be reimbursed later.  She's had it in the shop three times in the last week-they thought they had gotten it fixed.  But when she drove her Jeep yesterday morning it started doing exactly the same thing.  So, she called my husband, her step-father because, well, this was a big huge problem!  She had a (and I use this term loosely) "friend" who offered to haul her Jeep, her stuff and her up to the new base but there were "strings" attached to this offer.  Not cool!  Let's just say daddy had his mind made up on a course of action before they even finished the conversation.  I saw the look in Kenny's eyes.  I knew what was coming!  Come hell or high water he was going to drive cross country in order to safely deliver our daughter to the new base and fix that Jeep while he was at it!  I started packing his bag.

This is not just a hop skip and a jump away.  We are in the middle of the country.  The drive to my parents house in Vermont is 1200 plus miles one way.  My husband is driving to the southeastern coast, loading the Jeep onto a tow-dolly, hauling it up the east coast to the northern part of the United States and then turning around and driving all of the way back here!  Did I mention that he is going to try to be back here by Sunday night?!  By the time he's done, he will have driven about 3,000 plus miles in a matter of days.  The man has a father's heart!  If he didn't love my daughter like one of his own, he wouldn't be making that kind of drive!

When I married Kenny I came as a package deal.  I was a full time mother.  I had my two young children full time.  There was not alternating weekends.  There was some holiday breaks but they usually didn't happen because something always seemed to crop up that made it "impossible" for the ex to take the kids.  My husband loved them and raised them just like they were his own.  He always said "there are no steps in this family!"  They have always been "his children". 

It's an amazing and extraordinary gift, this true father's love!  As we celebrate Advent let's not forget the important part that Joseph played.  He loved Jesus as his own.  He gave him the love of a true earthly father, without reservation!  Biological connection is not always the mark of parenthood.  The true standard is how much are you willing to love?  Kenny may not have the biological connection but he has the heart connection.  He has shown my children the love of a true father! 

Kenny's example gives me a much greater appreciation and understanding of just what Joseph did!  How precious a gift indeed!

By the way, he's already there.  Got the call about 30 minutes ago.  Keep them in your prayers-they've got a long way to go!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Malachi's Priestly Smackdown

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament.  It's the last word we hear for a few hundred years before the story of Jesus begins in the New Testament.  Some of you may be familiar with part of the book because there is a section in chapter 3 about tithes and offerings which is discussed by those who preach the "prosperity" message.  But chapters 1 and 2 deal with Priestly conduct and let's just say Malachi doesn't mince words!  If there was ever an example of God giving a "Priestly smack down" this would be it!

Here are some examples from chapter 1 in The Message paraphrase:
"You Priests have gotten everyone in trouble.  With this kind of conduct, do you think I'll pay attention to you?...Why doesn't one of you just shut the Temple doors and lock them?  Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship....You profane me when you say 'Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,' and when you say, 'I'm bored-this doesn't do anything for me."
Or how about this from chapter 2:
"It's the job of priests to teach the truth.  People are supposed to look to them for guidance....But you priests have abandoned the way of priests. Your teachings have messed up many lives....You fill the place of worship with your whining and sniveling because you don't get what you want from God."
Ouch!  Tough words from God but God never sends a Prophet without words of hope as well.  Bottom line, he is asking the leaders to turn and repent and treat God with respect again.  He is asking them to be true servants again.  Live right.  Serve well. 

Are there parallels with this story from old with our faith story today?  Have we gotten out of whack with our worship?  And I'm not talking about just ministers here, I'm talking about anyone in a leadership position within the church!  Do we give our very best to service?  Or do we worry more about what is in it for ourselves? 

These are tough questions to confront.  We may not like the answers.  That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask the questions.  Otherwise we may face a Godly rebuke like we see in the book of Malachi.  Let's listen and heed the wise words of Malachi!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Notes from Around the Blog World

It's snowing here in Missouri!  Not a lot of snow and it is not a steady snow but there was just enough to slick up the roads and cause lots of accidents this morning!

Closer to home, I have had a fun filled and exciting time breaking the ice off of the top of the water troughs for the animals.  So, rather than attempt to write a quick blog post that I am not going to do justice to, I'm just going to link you to some good blogs worth reading!

Allan R. Bevere had two really good blog posts in the last couple of days:
90% of Americans Believe in God, Gallup is unimpressed
Jesus is Not Paula Deen

My friend Craig Adams posted some information on Good ole St. Nick!
Old St. Nick

And a good reminder from Dan Dick!
Occupy Christmas

My children are anxiously watching out the window hoping for some more snow!  Me, I just want to wrap my hands around a warm mug of hot chocolate!  It would be nice to regain some feeling in my fingers!  They're just a tad stiff from breaking up that ice! 


Monday, December 5, 2011

Pondering John's Baptism

This weekend my daily Bible reading took me further in to the Book of Acts, which I've read many times before.  But I was really struck by this story about Paul, and some disciples, in a way that I had never been struck before.  Maybe it is because I am reading it in The Message paraphrase or maybe I just never paid close enough attention!  Anyway, here it is, from Chapter 19:
"Now it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus and happened on some disciples there.  The first thing he said was 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?  Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart:  Did he get inside you?' 'We've never even heard of that-a Holy Spirit:  God within us?' 'How were you baptized, then?' asked Paul.  'In John's baptism.'  'That explains it,' said Paul.  'John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus.  If you've been baptized in John's baptism, you're ready now for the real thing, for Jesus."
I want to point out a few things here-first Paul did not question the fact that they were disciples.  Second, he didn't question the fact that they were baptised.  By asking them if they had received the Holy Spirit, he was in essence asking them what type of baptism they had received.  When the disciples replied "John's baptism", you see Paul saying "That explains it!" 

A modern day reader might look at that exchange and conclude that the disciples were not really baptised because it's assumed that it is a given that we are baptised by the Holy Spirit.  I think Paul would disagree with that assertion.  So, here's what I am pondering.  Those who are in the church are baptised, but how many in the church are stuck in John's baptism?  Weird question?  Let me explain.

Paul describes John's baptism as "radical life change so people would be ready to receive the One coming after him" or in other words  taking "God into your mind only."  They received the Holy Spirit but they had not yet "embraced" the Holy Spirit. 

I may be splitting hairs here but I do wonder how many people are sitting in our churches longing for something more and yet getting the impression that this is as good as it gets in their spiritual life.  Faith, to them, is an intellectual exercise that you try to apply in a practical way in your daily life.  I believe taking faith beyond the church doors and using it in your daily life matters!  But I also get the sense that people are longing for something deeper, something more and they're not sure how to find it!  They sense, that there is something more, that there should be something more but how do you find that something more?

Apollos taught what he knew.  He taught it faithfully and well and the disciples followed.   Paul came along and showed them the next step.   They were not aware that there was something more.  Modern day Christians don't have the same exact problem but there is a similar issue-who will teach them how to take the next step?  Who will help point the way to something more? 

This may seem like a weird thing to bring up during Advent but think about it-when a woman experiences pregnancy she knows that the baby and her body will go through change.  There is a process that happens.  There is something more than simply being pregnant.  The first flutter, the first strong kick, the first bout of 3 a.m. false labor.  All of it leads up to the big event, the actual birth!  But there is even more after that-there is raising, to the best of our God given ability, the little helpless squirming bundle that is now in our arms!  There is always a next step, there is something more.  If you apply that analogy to the church-are we as a congregation teaching that something more?  Or are we just letting our members rest in a baptism that is similar to the baptism of John? 

It's a question that I think we should consider pondering.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Coolest Mystery that You'll Never Fully Understand

Yesterday morning turned a little crazy around our house.  My daughter called me in full blown panic.  She is being transferred to her new post and she has to drive herself.  Her Jeep was acting up again and she needed to find a place to live because there is no housing available on base.  All of this would normally be a minor nuisance except for the fact that she moves next week!  I don't care how old your children get-when something comes up, fully mommy mode kicks in because once a mommy, always a mommy!  Even if they are far away, somehow you find a way to help!  I spent the morning on the Internet and cell phone.  I do believe today will be a much calmer, quieter day-although there is still a lot of work to do!  There's a plan in place now to make the transition smooth!

Yup, my daughter is beautiful, intelligent, poised and level headed but every once in awhile she still needs her mommy!  I look at my children and am amazed sometimes because I wonder how in the world I managed to raise them!  Parenthood is part art, part science and a whole lot of mystery!  That little baby grew and became an amazing individual and in the whole scheme of things you're not really sure how that happened!

In The Message paraphrase Ecclesiastes 11 says this:
"Just as you'll never understand the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman, so you'll never understand the mystery at work in all that God does."
Parents can relate to that statement!  Scientists and doctors can explain the process and National Geographic can create shows that illustrate the mechanical points, but that forming life is still a miraculous mystery that we will never fully understand.  As we come in to Advent I think about Mary and what it must have been like for her and how gutsy and courageous she was in saying yes to God's plan.  She knew, going in, that this child was going to be unique and special.  (All parents believe that each child will be unique and special but Mary heard it from an angel).  I doubt that she could even fathom just how things would turn out.  If she knew that 33 years later, the child that she carried, raised and nurtured was going to have to brutally die on the cross and that she would have to witness this, I wonder if she would have had cause to pause. 

Conventional thinking at the time was that the Messiah would be the "new" David.  He would be a king after God's own heart ruling a kingdom here on earth.  It was envisioned that he would be king and rule justly and live to a ripe old age and then die a natural death and be buried, just like David.  Persecution, suffering, they were not part of the equation. 

No parent ever envisions the worst for their children.  No parent wants to see their child suffer or make wrong choices or worse, that the child dies before the parent.  That is never part of the future that we envision for our children!  We envision the very best!  And though sometimes we can explain their choices, sometimes what happens to our children is a complete mystery!  We don't know what the future holds!  Why do they turn out the way they do with all of the likes and dislikes and quirks and individual personality?  The same set of parents raises the same set of children yet each turns out differently.  That is truly the mystery!

If that is how it is for us as parents imagine what it is like for God!  Each and every one of us created, each and every one his child, yet each and every one unique and different.  God envisioning the very best for each of us.  God also knowing though that pain and suffering will come in to each and every human life, to each and every one of his children.  It is a part of the warp and weave of life here on earth. 

No wonder he created a plan to be able to claim his children again!  No wonder he chose the mystery of childbirth-the creation of a baby in order to fulfill his plan.  God knew that there would be suffering and pain involved yet he also knew that there would be great joy that would come as well! 

God is the ultimate parent and he envisions the very best.  Yet sometimes a child will suffer.  It must be difficult to watch sometimes.  Yet that is the mystery of children, each one individual, each one with free will.  Will they make the right choice?  That is the question and that is the mystery.  It is the coolest mystery that we as parents will never fully understand!  That is exactly how it is supposed to be because that is a part of the mystery of life!  Just like Mary, we made the courageous choice to see it through, not fully understanding what that choice might entail but believing the very best for our children and their future.  We said yes to the mystery!  I for one am glad that I said yes!  I think just about every parent would say the same thing!  Life truly is a mystery!