Blogs for poets, writers and all communicators in Christ

When I began this blog on my website, I’d hoped to collect in one place my posts from other blogs. Now that I’ve seen the site only retains prior posts for a limited time, I hope you’ll follow my individual blogs that interest you.

Bible Prayers – brings you prayerfully paraphrased (pray-a-phrased) prayers from the Bible – prayers you can pray in community or alone, knowing you automatically have “prayer partners,” now and from centuries past. These actual prayers from God’s Word have since been collected in a book with many, many more added, but if you “Follow” the blog, you’ll know when the book has been published and new posts resumed.

Bible Reviewer – reviews new editions of English translations, study Bibles, biblical resources, and Bibles for children. Scroll through the posts to find the edition that speaks clearly to you. And, if you want to give the gift of God’s Word to someone else, these reviews will help you to decide which to order.

My personal blog on Blogspot  discusses Bible topics, various aspects of Christianity, sermon tips, devotionals, writing tips and topics based on decades of writing, revising, and having my work accepted by numerous editors and publishers.

Poetry Editor on poetry – focuses on poetry techniques useful in all genres of writing, traditional poetry forms, free verse, unique terms used by poets, and things to consider when writing, revising, marketing, and publishing your poems.

 

Pray First! Then Write.

Some writing projects might not even mention God’s name, but every manuscript needs to begin with prayer as we ask God to guide, inspire, and be with us. In the Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father, Jesus gave us the highest example. Similar to an outline, the prayer can be adapted to lift each need and encompass each occasion, such as this prayer-a-phrase especially for Christian writers:

Our Father Who Is in Heaven,
let Your Name be holy in us.
Let Your Kingdom Come.
Let Your Will be done
in our earthly writings
as though written in Heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread
to nourish us and our readers and
strengthen the whole Body of Christ.

Forgive us for trespassing
with old assumptions or
biased words that intrude,
and help us to forgive  those
who speak ill of You.

Lead us not into the temptation
of accepting facts without checking
or giving up when our work
seems rejected.

And deliver us from evil –
especially unloving words that speak
unfairly of us or others and reflect
poorly on our LORD God.

For Yours is the Kingdom –
where our work and writing
belong as we long to live
and write in Your Power
for Your Glory forever. Amen.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019-2013 from the Christian Writer’s Guide e-book

The Gift of Wonder

Many of us think of Lent as a somber time, but this unique season of reflection on spiritual matters can also help us to become more aware of the ongoing gifts of wonder given by our loving God. That said, Christians with decades between us and childhood might need some help!

Poet, author, and physician Christine Aroney-Sine offers that help in her new book from IVP Books, The Gift of Wonder, which I happily received as a gift to review – and to renew those creative practices that explore and expand our delight in the Lord.

As Christine says in the Introduction: “I am increasingly convinced that rediscovering our inner child is essential for our spiritual health.”

With that thought as the central theme of the book, the author began to ask people, “What makes you feel close to God?” Interestingly, the responses rarely included what we think of as spiritual practices but were more apt to involve playing with children, taking a meandering walk, or even stirring a compost pile!

Subsequent pages aim to “awaken your inner child” through creative suggestions and interactive exercises designed to implement the main focus of a chapter, each of which “addresses one characteristic we need to embrace:

 

  • delight in God
  • playfulness
  • sharing our stories
  • imagination
  • curiosity
  • awe and wonder
  • love of nature
  • the ability to live in the present
  • gratitude
  • compassion
  • hospitality
  • the intrigue of looking with fresh eyes
  • trust 

The author also encourages readers to consider such questions as:

“What do I enjoy doing that makes me sense God’s pleasure?”

“When was the last time you experienced a sense of wonder at the world around you or sat in awe of God’s greatness?”

“How would it change your life and faith if you took regular awe-and-wonder walks?”

“What distracts you from the Divine Presence and prevents you from fully appreciating the revelation of God in this never-to-be-repeated moment?”

Not sure how to answer? No worries! The author’s experiences as the founder of GodSpace and, with her husband Tom, the co-founder of Mustard Seed Associates, will guide you gently into the wonder of creation and God’s ongoing love.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019, poet-writer, reviewer of Bible resources and poetry

 

 

 

First Love, God

In Matthew 10:37, Jesus made a puzzling statement: “People who love their father or mother more than Me are not worthy of Me. Those who love a son or daughter more than Me are not worthy of Me.”

To keep that hard saying of Jesus in context, however, He showed us a bigger picture in Matthew 22:37-39: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Clearly God wants us to love other people and ourselves very much but not put what they want –or what we want – before anything God wants.

What does God want? Who can possibly know without knowing what God says? And so, Jesus urged His followers to listen to God. Quoting from the Torah (Jewish law) He commanded: “Hear, O Israel.”

Known as the Shema (Hebrew word for listen), the full commandment in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says: “Hear, oh Israel, listen! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord! Therefore, you must love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. Keep these words I am commanding you today in your hearts and on your minds. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit around your house and when you go out, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them on your hand as a sign, and put them on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on the doorposts of your home and on your gates.”

As these Bible verses show, God wants us to use everyday opportunities and experiences to show our children, friends, and neighbors our beliefs. Even strangers who knock on our doors will be able to see that we belong to the Almighty Lord God and Father of Love if we have symbols and signs of God all around our yards and houses. A lawn statue, a Bible verse plaque, a cross on the wall, or a dust-free Bible on a table can openly but quietly attest to our love for God in a way that people can see as soon as they enter our homes. More importantly, those same signs, symbols, or icons also remind us to love God and to put God first and foremost – in our relationships, decisions, our daily activities, and even our décor.

Prayer: Dear Lord God, help us to love You more and put You before anyone or anything else at any time. Help us to listen and really hear what You have to say to us. Help us especially to see how You first loved us so much that You gave up Your only Son for us, so we could forever be Your beloved children too. We thank You and praise You, O Lord God, for your ongoing love.

Mary Harwell Sayler, from her book What the Bible Says About Lovecontemporary paraphrases of the scriptures on love interspersed with short devotionals

What the Bible Says About Love: scriptural prayer-a-phrases

is Our Father still alive?

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 37
New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50
The Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

Today’s reading in Genesis 45 picks up after Joseph has finally revealed his identity to his brothers, who had come to Egypt looking for food.

Many years before this, Joseph’s brothers had grown weary of his pride and rather arrogant behavior. They had gotten tired of the favoritism shown to him by their father Jacob – and probably felt hurt. Except for Benjamin, the youngest, none of the other brothers had been born to Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, which likely added to their pain of feeling left out or ignored.

Even Joseph’s famous multi-colored coat showed favoritism that must have been like a red flag to the brothers every time they saw him coming. Some translations, however, refer to that coat as “long-sleeved,” rather than multi-colored, which is entirely possible since Hebrew words to this day leave out vowels, thereby allowing for a variety of word choices when translating into English. If that’s the case, those long sleeves would have been yet another source of irritation as this implied royalty or, at the very least, a man who was not the hard-working laborer they were expected to be.

Added to these hard feelings was the assumption that Joseph came to spy on them and report back to their father. In other words, Joseph’s brothers had every reason to believe he was a “tattle-tale.” And so, what did they do? They threw him into a pit!

Eventually, travelers picked him up, carried him off, and sold him into slavery. Through this and other trials, the prideful young man undoubtedly learned humility.

To Joseph’s credit, he didn’t sit around wallowing in his misery. Wherever he was, he helped other people. And so, he rose from imprisonment to servitude in the house of Potiphar, but after Potiphar’s wife hurled false accusations against him, Joseph landed in prison again!

More years passed until word got around that he could interpret dreams. Through God’s grace and guidance, Joseph was able to let Pharaoh know to prepare for a severe famine, and wisely, the ruler of Egypt put Joseph in charge of that project of storing then distributing food.

Now, one way to look at this is that Joseph was in the right place at the right time. Some might call that coincidence, but believers in the Lord will call that God-incidence, which, in essence, is what Joseph did. After years of suffering, hardship, and rising again, Joseph realized that God had prepared him for such a time as this.

Just by recognizing and acknowledging God’s hand on him, Joseph had no cause to be prideful about his own gifts but to give credit to God for every good thing the Lord had brought from bad circumstances.

Joseph knew without a doubt that the Almighty God was with him. The strength of that faith surely got him through the worse times, and, as he matured spiritually, he could see God’s orchestration over his life. Joseph had every reason to believe, as we do, that Father God was and is alive and well and working for our well-being.

But what about his earthly father – the man who had doted over him and adored him to the expense of all others? As soon as Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers, the first thing he did was ask, “Is my father still alive?”

Do you notice anything odd about that question? Joseph is talking to his brothers, and yet he doesn’t ask, “Is OUR father still alive?” but “MY” father.

His father was alive, of course, and the two were reunited for the rest of Jacob’s life. Although they had been through extreme hardship, God brought them together again.

Do you believe it? Do we believe God is still alive and well and working for our well-being?

If so, we, too, can hope for God to find a way to bring good out of the very worse circumstances we face. But what do we do in the meantime? How do we cope?

Psalm 37, which we read, in part, today provides biblical answers:

  • Trust in the Lord. Do Good.
  • TAKE delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Commit your way to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will act.
  • Be still before the Lord. Wait for Him.
  • Refrain from anger. Let go of whatever makes you mad.

In the Beatitudes we read last week, Jesus quoted Psalm 37:11, which says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The humble, strong-in-faith, non-arrogant people are assured of an inheritance from OUR Father – God.

By recognizing, more and more, that God is OUR Father – rather than just mine or yours or theirs – we’re getting ready for the biggest task our Father gives us: Love.

Today’s New Testament reading from the epistles reminds us that we look like Adam and Eve – our first parents, born of the earth and dust. But, through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we now bear the image of God’s Son – born not of dust but of Holy Spirit – born of ongoing love and life.

Our dependence on Christ opens up countless opportunities for us when we no longer rely on ourselves, but on the Lord Jesus Who gave everything for us that we might live – forever, of course. But also right now!

Right now, we live in Christ as though He is alive in us. God our Father is still alive. And so is God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

As soon as we realize we cannot orchestrate our own lives much less anyone else’s, we might not be so angry with others or so mad at ourselves. Think about it. If Joseph had sat in a damp, musty prison stewing for years, do you think he would have risen to the second highest position in all of Egypt? Would years of wallowing in self-pity or fear or anger or self-loathing have given him the same chance to help others and keep his father and siblings from dying of hunger?

Is his Father God still alive? Is ours?

Trusting God our Father and taking delight in Him enables us to enjoy His presence as we wait for Him to guide, inspire, and empower us to act.

Act how? With love.

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke 6, Jesus tells us: “Listen! Listen to Me! Love your enemies. Treat haters with kindness, with goodness. Bless anyone and everyone who curses you. Pray for anyone and everyone who treats you badly.”

Say, what? Say: Yes!

Can we give anyone and everyone the kindness, courtesy, exhortation, and even the chastisement needed? Can we give them the benefit of the doubt and the forgiveness we want other people to give us? And, to avoid grudges or resentments, can we do this without expecting anything at all in return?

God Himself gives us what we need to pour onto others the love and mercy He pours onto us. He blesses us through the majesty of creation, the sacrifice of His Son, the communion we have with one another, and the Bible. God generously gives us His love, forgiveness, and the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit.

Our Father God is still alive!

As we believe and receive Him, our Father God is alive in us! Let’s talk to Him now:

Our Father in heaven and on earth, may Your love permeate our lives. Help us to trust You, delight in You, and wait for Your word to guide and empower us. Help us, Lord, to love as You love in Jesus’ Name.

Amen.

Mary Sayler, ©2019

Readings from The Revised Common Lectionary used by many church denominations

Symbols: Water and Fire

Scriptures for Sunday, January 13:
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22

Pop quiz!

If I ask you to name a symbol – any symbol – what do you think of immediately?

A symbol can bring to mind something we all understand – like the symbol of a cross, a wedding ring, the sign of the fish – or it can be unique to ourselves. For example, you probably wouldn’t guess a personal symbol that represents something memorable to me: a cold baked potato! For me, that potato symbolizes amazing generosity because of something that happened years ago.

When I was growing up, my family lived on the top of a hill in a very nice but modest house. Running perpendicular to our street, another road ended in an unpaved path that trailed off into an overgrown, unkempt wooded area where small, weathered cabins were scattered here and there. For some reason, people called the place “Kinney Town.” And, every so often, one or two girls would come up the hill, knock on our front door, and ask Mother is she had any shoes or clothes that my sisters and I had outgrown. Somehow, Mother always had something to give.

One day, when I followed my mother to the door, one of the girls asked if I wanted to come to her house. Our of curiosity, I did, and Mother said yes. So I went down to Kinney Town and into an unlit one-room shack with no furniture that I can remember, except for a pot-bellied wood-stove that stood, black and cold, in the dark room. Atop that stove was – you guessed it – a cold baked potato, which the girls offered me and which, decades later became to me a symbol of incredible generosity and the impetus for this short poem:

Down Kinney Town

Feet bare, the girls came up today,
and Mama gave them ouch-grown shoes
that once belonged to me or Kay,
but, oh, I longed to give them too.

Two girls they were: soiled blonde, unkempt –
not like Mama’s girls who shone
in new sewn clothes and often dreamt
of finer galaxies than home.

With clean hands bare, could I, a child,
share much with girls from a small shack, wild?
But one said, “Come,” so I went down –
down the tangled path to Kinney Town.

Theirs was adventure I could play.
A cold potato rationed me –
eyeless, grown in soil, unbent. They
gave that last leftover. Free.
I took.
Then home I went with backward look.

Mary Harwell Sayler, (c) 1985, 2019, all rights reserved.

Over a half-century later, I still like cold baked potatoes, but I wish I knew what happened to those girls after we moved away. I pray God rewarded their sweet, giving spirits. And I pray God gives each of you equally memorable symbols to remind you of important mile-stones and character-building, life-changing moments in your lives.

God started this, you know! God invented and initiated the use of symbol – probably because God knows how easily we forget! So, the Bible offers a variety of symbols to remind us of those spirit-building moments in our lives and other matters of faith.

The scripture readings today included two symbols often used in the Bible – water and fire. Normally, when we think of fire and water, we don’t think of them as symbols, but as unique substances with distinctive characteristics and accomplishments.

For instance, we know that water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, and that H2O has the ability to refresh, purify, and cleanse. Water quenches our thirst and replenishes a vital element in our bodies without which we would die! Water washes our clothes, our cars, our hair, our houses, and water puts out fires.

Fire! This other symbol in today’s readings also has substance and practical purposes. For example, fire purifies and purges. It warms us, comforts us, and heats our water for a nice cup of tea.

Fire also burns. Sears. Scorches. Torches. It can grill a hamburger or set a forest ablaze. Fire ignites, but it also lights. Candles, the glow of a fireplace, a lit lantern help us to see.

But how do these symbols relate to our lives – or more specifically, our lives in God? What does the Bible show us in the scriptures?

In Isaiah 43, we glimpsed the possibility of suffering – of drowning, of being overwhelmed, of being burnt. But immediately God makes a promise! God’s Word says, “Do not fear! I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name for you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and the rivers will not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, you won’t be burned. The flames will not consume you.”

Is God asking us to remember the example of the “Burning Bush” Moses saw – the bush that kept throwing off light, warmth and power but never got burned up or burnt out? Are fire and the burning bush symbols God uses to help us remember who we are as the light of Christ, the light on the hill?

Our Gospel reading from the third chapter of Luke bring fire and water together as we listen to the word John the Baptist gave people who came to hear his message. As John said, “One more powerful than I is coming, and I’m not worthy to even loosen His sandals! I’ll baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The Gospel reading goes on to tell us that Jesus did indeed come to be baptized by John in the Jordan River – not because He needed to repent and have His sins washed away by baptism as we do, but because He set an example for us to follow.

Why? Maybe it’s because baptism gives us a symbol – an icon, a picture – of a precise moment in time we remember as having committed ourselves to God while making a public declaration that lets others know what we believe and where we stand.

Baptism acts as a personal symbol and a communal one as we gather in worship with others who have confessed their belief in Jesus Christ and been baptized too. Baptism also connects us with Bible people and our biblical heritage as it symbolizes Noah’s protection from the flood and reminds us that, like God’s people in the Exodus from Egypt, our Almighty God and Father will part the Red Sea for us and will do all that’s needed to redeem us and free us from whatever enslaves.

As Luke 3:21-22 tells us, the heavens opened as Jesus was praying on His baptismal day, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove – another symbol. And The Voice said, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I Am well-pleased.”

Through the water of baptism, God also proclaim us as His beloved children! As we enter those waters, God refreshes us spiritually, mentally, and physically, bringing us forgiveness, healing, and a new life in Christ.

For some of you, however, baptism might have been initiated by your parents, who believed in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and wanted to give you a head-start, spiritually. If so, your personal profession of faith most likely came later, perhaps at your confirmation or your decision to go forward one Sunday and pledge your life to Christ as people prayed for you.

Regardless, the water of baptism symbolizes cleansing, purification, and a new start. But what about the symbol of fire? How does that affect us, spiritually?

Are we all fired up for God?

Do we feel like we – along with other Christians – have come under fire from others?

Shall we suspect that the fiery trials in our lives might be a purifying test from God?

One or more of those experiences or concerns could be true for us, but no matter what, those of us who have given our lives to Christ need to worry about being thrown into the everlasting fires of hell.

Jesus Christ Himself sets us afire with His Holy Spirit, but it’s a controlled burn, for Jesus Christ is the Living Water – the vital, life-giving, spiritually refreshing, purifying, healing waters of our lives.

Dear Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your gifts of water, fire, and an ongoing life of forgiving love in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to be vessels for You, Lord. Fill our cup with You, and give us the opportunities this coming week to offer a cool cup of water to everyone You bring to us in Jesus’ Name.

 

 

 

Christmas poems from PRAISE!

Adore, adore our coming Lord
– the Greatness
of Almighty God
arriving
in a newborn Child –
a baby boy
named Jesus,
Who cries for you
to hold Him close
and cradles you
like an infant.

 

When God gave us Jesus
 – the One Who would save us –
Heaven could not contain itself.

Light spilled from a star,
heralding His arrival.

The earth burst into life.
Birds called for revival.

Morning Glories began
to bloom in the night chill,

and frightened
shepherds
trembled like sheep
when angels awakened
their sleep with song

as light as snowflakes,
as powerful as a
Tsunami of harmony
pouring onto the earth
at Jesus’ birth.

Oh, praise Him!

 

Oh, come! Let us celebrate
the birth of the Christ-Child
Who rejoices at our rebirth.

The Holy Infant Jesus –
dependent
on us for His care –
shows us
how we must
come to Him
like trusting children.

Hold Him on your lap
with love,
and let Him hug you,
heal you,
and hum a lullaby.

 

Praise You, Jesus, for showing us God
Whom
I could no more picture than
helium
in a balloon,

but You gave us fresh vision
of God flesh,
bones, blood,
and body cells
drawn as circular wells, filled
with love and life and living water.

 

Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler from poetry book PRAISE!

All rights reserved. Use only with proper acknowledgement.
Better yet, buy the book from
Amazon or Cladach Publishing
and have a blessed Christmas!

 

 

 

Rejoice! For God rejoices over you!

Scripture Readings for December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

This time of year, many of us have family trips planned or other commitments that might keep us from gathering for worship. Since I’m almost always at the Lake Como Community of Hope church in Lake Como, FL, I asked what dates others would be available in December to lead or read, and I’d do a Bible Talk on whatever Sunday was left. Well, guess what! The first reading for this very Sunday is the same Scripture I have posted beside my desk! So I’m delighted to have an opportunity to share with you the Zephaniah 3 reading from the Contemporary English Version that’s beside me every day, reminding me how God rejoices over us! Amazing!

Here's that wonderful Song of Celebration in Zephaniah 3: 14-17 as the Contemporary English Version translates.

Everyone, celebrate and shout
with all your heart!

Your punishment is over.
The Lord has forced your enemies
    to turn and retreat.

Your Lord is King of Israel
    and stands at your side;
you don’t have to worry any more.

The time is coming,
    when it will be said to you:
“Don’t be discouraged
    or grow weak from fear!

The Lord your God
wins victory after victory
    and is always with you

He celebrates and sing
    because of you,
and He will refresh your life
with His love.”

Wow! The Almighty God – The Creator of Heaven and Earth – celebrates because of you! God sings of you!

Here's another translation of those verses from the Tree of Life Version of the Bible:

Adonai your God is in your midst—
    a mighty Savior!
He will delight over you with joy.

He will quiet you with His love.

He will dance for joy over you with singing.

So before we even think about reasons to rejoice in the Lord, scriptures tell us, “Rejoice! For God rejoices over you!”

In our second reading, we hear Isaiah's declaration, “Surely God is my salvation.” That thought alone is cause for rejoicing! But the Prophet takes it further. Isaiah lets us know he has made up his mind to trust God. He’s made a commitment, not to let himself give in to fear because his heart, mind, spirit, and experiences tell him that the Lord God is his strength. He’s so certain of this, that he urges us to “Shout aloud and sing for joy because the Holy One of Israel is in our midst.”

As you know, Isaiah and many other Old Testament prophets gave us this assurance numerous centuries before the birth of Jesus. But with that Christmas birth soon completing this year’s ADVENTure of ADVENT and beginning a new liturgical church year, we’re reminded that Jesus – Emmanuel – is The Holy One in our midst, coming first to us as the Holy Infant Son of God and becoming the Mighty Healer, Redeemer Son of God, and Friend. Now that’s cause for rejoicing!

Using this same theme, the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Philippians in today’s Scripture readings, also encourages us. As the fourth chapter of that letter says:

“Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice! Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.”

Those words came from Philippians 4:4-7 as translated in The Voice version of the Bible, but here's another contemporary version of the same verses, as pastor and Bible scholar Eugene Peterson translated in The Message:

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

As these Scripture readings clearly tell us, God rejoices over us, and we’re to rejoice or take joy – in Him. But how?

To be honest, we can’t! We cannot possibly believe and accept the truth of God’s joy in us, nor can we honestly have joy in Him IF there’s anything “off” between us.

John the Baptist knew this. In the Gospel reading from Luke 3, we hear John warning us! He even called his listeners a “brood of vipers” – or snakes.

As you recall, a snake turned the ears of Eve and Adam away from what God had said, toward their own self-pleasures and indulgences. So, we don’t want to be snakes! We don’t want our church fellowship to be infested with vipers!

John wasn’t trying to be mean. His sole job in life was to prepare the way for the first coming of the Lord Jesus – The Holy One of God and Son of Mary who came to us that first Christmas as a human being, newborn as we all were, but without sin.

Holiness cannot abide sin. And holiness cannot be pals or buddies with sinners. God knew this. And so He sent John the Baptist to help people clean up their acts. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John came to prepare the way for Christ and to prepare us for The Way.

The Revised Common Lectionary gave us that reading today because we’re in the middle of Advent – the time that begins the new church year by preparing us to receive Christ more fully at Christmas. So, like the people who hung out, listening to John, we, too, can ask, “What am I to do?”

Notice how John gives a different response to each group who asks that question. As Luke records it, John told the entire crowd, “If you have two coats, share one with someone who has no coat, and share your food with the hungry.”

Then tax collectors, who had a reputation for gouging people and charging them more than the government required them to pay, asked John, “What should we do?” And John told them,” Collect only what’s mandatory.” Then soldiers – non-Jewish men in the Roman army – asked, “What should we do?” And John told them, “Don’t threaten people. Don’t falsely accuse anyone. Don’t try to extort money from anyone, but do be satisfied with your wages.”

Do you see how each group, each person, was told to do – or stop doing – something unique to them, to their jobs, and to their attitudes about other people? The same is true for us. So, if we ask, “What should we do?” to prepare our hearts, minds, and attitudes for the coming of Christ, what would John the Baptist say to us, to me, to you?

Would he chastise us about holding onto old wounds, grudges, anger, resentments, self-pity, self-loathing, worry, or fears?

Would he tell us to be more honest with each other and with God and ourselves?

Would he tell us to treat other people the way we want to be treated? Or, better, would he tell us to treat other people the way Jesus would treat them?

Regardless of what John the Baptist might say to us – or what we need to give up or confess to the Lord – the good news of the Gospel does not end with our preparing the way for the Lord. John goes on to tell the people – and to tell us – that the Holy One will baptize those who welcome the Lord in their lives with the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is available to all Christians today! What a source of joy and blessed reason for rejoicing!

In case you’re not sure you have received this gift, let’s pray for God’s forgiveness, healing touch, and power right now:

Oh, Holy One, we thank You and praise You for rejoicing in us! Help us to rejoice in You more and more each day. Help us to let go of anything that’s hindering us from a closer relationship with you – as individuals and as the Body of Christ. Open us up, Lord, to the joy of Your presence. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit as we celebrate Your love in Jesus’ Name.

May God bless your Advent adventure and Christmas with joy and re-joy throughout the coming year.

 

Mary Harwell Sayler

(c) 2018

Bible Talk: What do we have to offer?

Scripture Readings for November 18, 2018

1 Samuel 1:4-20
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14, 15-18, 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Every Sunday we read scriptures, which usually include a Psalm, from the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible.) Then from the New Testament, we read a letter to the early Christians and a passage from the Gospels. We select these Bible verses from the ones suggested for the week in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is used by many churches and denominations all over the world. So, for one day a week anyway, we are literally on the same page as other Christians.

There’s unity in that, but also diversity. In other words, we each hear the same passages from the Bible, but each of us will most likely notice something unique to us, something personal, or something that leaps out from the Living Word of God and speaks to us, individually, but also corporately as one Body of Christ. For example, God’s Word might evoke a reminder of something we’ve been taught or give us a new insight or bring to our mind the thought of doing something differently from what we’ve done (or not done) in the past.

Very often God speaks to us quietly – like a mere impression or unexpected idea. Those impressions that come to mind as we read the Bible ourselves or hear it read in church and Bible study are like the Lord’s way of helping us to apply God’s Word and will to our lives. For example, reading the scriptures suggested for today brought to mind a word that seems to connect one Bible passage to another, thereby giving a theme for this Bible Talk, “offer.”

The most obvious example is when Hannah offered her child to God – even before he was born! Then the Psalmist reminds us that God offers us protection. Then the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews recaps how Jewish priests offered sacrifices to God every day even though that didn’t remove sin forever. And so, God came to us in Jesus Christ to offer Himself as the sacrifice that He himself required. What wonderful offerings we see in those highlights from today’s Bible readings! But let’s look closer.

Hannah didn’t just suddenly offer her son. She didn’t even have one! What she did have was frustration, sadness, grief, and the emotions anyone might get when ridiculed and mocked to the breaking point. Eventually, she couldn’t take it any more. She could no longer tolerate the way she felt nor the way she was being treated by society, by her husband’s other wife, and even by her husband, who loved her but met her grief with the insensitive remark: “Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?”

Now, this had been going on for a long time and had probably been building and building the hurts, grief, and resentments inside Hannah for many years – at least enough years for her husband to take a second wife and have several children with that pesky woman!

But then in today’s story in 1 Samuel, Hannah has had it! At long last, she pours out her heart to God, and there, in the Temple, she offers up her disappointments and woundedness. She offers up herself and her desire for a son. And THEN, she offers up the child she asks God to give her – even though she doesn’t have him yet!

Meanwhile, the priest Eli is watching. Since people usually prayed aloud in the Temple, Eli initially offered Hannah his judgment, condemnation, and call to repent! But, by then Hannah was on a roll. She didn’t respond to her husband who thought he ought to be worth more than 10 kids, but she did respond to Eli to set the record straight. She offered the priest what she had offered God – her honesty. She told him how she’d been feeling and how she had poured out those pent-up emotions, so she no longer felt anxious or worthless, but she didn’t want Eli to think she was worthless either.

The priest believed her. He offered up a prayer for her. He offered a blessing and told her to go in peace, and she did. Now that she had laid the negatives in her life at the altar, she was freed of the past and free to conceive of all she had asked for! God gave her a child, a son – Samuel, whom Hannah offered up to God. She went on to have other children, but, raised in the Temple with Eli to teach him, Samuel became the son offered to God and, eventually, the man offered by God to the people, for Samuel became a priest, a judge, and a prophet who could be trusted to be honest, to hear God, and speak the truth – something God’s people had not witnessed for a long time!

When it comes to offerings, God started it!

As Psalm 16 reminded us, God offers us His protection, spiritually and mentally – and often physically too. Then, like the Psalmist, we in turn offer our thanks to God as well as offering our faith and trust.

In today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews, we’re reminded how the Jewish priests offered daily sacrifices to God – an ongoing bloody mess that didn’t remove sin beyond that day. And so, when the time was right, God offered Himself as The Sacrifice to end all blood-sacrifices forever.

Jesus’ offering ended the need for blood sacrifices on the Temple altar – animal sacrifices which had been offered year after year with no cost to the priests or people, other than the loss of an unblemished, healthy animal. The cost to Jesus was His life – His blood. This not only made everything right between God and us, it removed the need for the Temple as the only place designated to offer sacrifices.

Remember last month’s readings about King David and how he longed to build God a temple? He gathered supplies and made big plans, but God chose David’s son Solomon to commission and oversee the actual building. The grand temple that resulted became the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, beautifully built of the finest materials, thick walls, and humongous stones! But, as the Gospel of Mark, reported centuries later, Jesus let His followers know the Temple was coming down, and a few decades later, it did.

The famous Western Wall of the Temple, now known as the Wailing Wall, still stands as a place and a pilgrimage where God’s people offer their prayers (including wails!) as Hannah had done. However, the Temple was no longer needed for animal sacrifices or tears or worship because, as the Body of Christ, WE the Church ARE the Temple of God. And so, as the letter to the Hebrews told us, at any time in any place in any circumstances, we can approach the Almighty God as only priests could once do. First though, we must be open to receive what God offers!

Thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God offers us forgiveness, guidance, and empowerment in this life with eternal life to come or to be more accurate, with our relationship with God continuing forever, so even death cannot break that unending bond.

For now however, God offers to write on our hearts what God wants of us. As the letter to the Hebrews said, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Now that’s an offer we don’t want to refuse!

When we’re open to all God offers us, we can come to the Lord like a beloved child who freely approaches a kind and loving Father. We can receive more fully God’s kindness, comfort, forgiveness, and love, and then we can offer the same to the people with whom God places us in contact – our families, our neighbors, our church fellowship, the clerk in the store, and the stranger on the street, which brings us to the bottom line:

Anything and everything good that we have to offer – to God, to other people, or to ourselves – first came to us from God. So what we have to offer is God’s offerings or gifts to us.

Dear Heavenly Father and Most Generous and Loving God, thank You for offering to help us in every aspect of our lives. Help us to receive Your gracious gifts with thanksgiving and love in Jesus’ Name.