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.

 

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

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.

 

Is Every Trial a Court Case?

Scripture Readings and my Bible Talk for October 28, 2018:

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

This month we’ve been reading about the trials Job experienced, and, like him, we’ve been trying to make some sense of all his tribulations – and maybe our trials too. To get a better understanding of what’s going on, the word “Trial” is key, because the book, which is one of the oldest in the Bible, begins with God’s holding a heavenly court that Satan attends.

The next thing we know, God and Satan are challenging one another in court by putting Job’s faith on trial. One devastation leads to another and another until Job has lost his herds, his children, his health, and his good standing among his friends and community. Even his wife tells him to give it up, curse God, and die!

Fortunately, Job doesn’t do that. He continues to say he’s done nothing wrong that he’s aware of and certainly nothing to deserve this terrible wreckage of everything he holds dear.

At first, his friends show empathy. They sit with him in silence for a whole week, saying nothing as Job mourns his life and losses. This seems totally right, for In such awful circumstances there’s really nothing to say. But being there matters.

Eventually, Job breaks the silence with a lengthy lament after which one of his friends asks if it’d be okay for him to say something. He does and a trial among friends begins. Job maintains his innocence, while his friends keep trying to get him to realize he must have done something wrong, and if he’d just remember and confess, everything would surely get better, and they could all go home.

In defense of Job’s friends, the truth is that much of what they say is good counsel, particularly for the times and understanding of God. The problem is, their advice just does not apply to Job’s situation. So, in a way, the friends themselves are on trial for lack of faith in Job and, maybe, for fear that strange and terrible things will also happen to them if they’re unable to solve the timeless mystery and perplexing question of why, God, why?

The debate continues with reasonable arguments on every side, but many chapters later, the mystery still has not been solved. Of course, none of the contestants knows there’s a trial going on in the heavenly court – a trial to test the sincerity of Job’s faith, but also a trial between good and evil, life and death.

Ironically, in this great debate, God Himself is on trial! In essence, Satan accuses God of buying faith and loyalty with bunches of blessings, such as He’s given Job. Another irony, perhaps, is that God has faith in Job’s faith!

Think of it! Job’s friends betrayed him by not believing in him, even though Job himself continued to believe in God. But amazingly, God allowed these trials because God had faith in Job! God believed in Job!

As Job faces the temporary nature of his life, health, wealth, and family versus the timelessness of God, He catches a glimpse of the court case that exists between time and eternity. How different those perspectives are! Confined by time and space, who can truly understand the infinite time and space of God?

At some point in the book – which challenges conventional thinking and the tendency to lock God into a box – Job realizes he needs a mediator, an advocate, a good lawyer – someone to stand between himself and God and plead his case with understanding and empathy.

Centuries later, God’s own Son Jesus became that Advocate for us – the Perfect Mediator between us and our Holy God. For Job though, there was no advocate but himself. And then, ironically again, God appointed Job to be the advocate for his friends. As our reading in Job 42:10 tells us, God restored Job’s family, flocks, and fortunes once he had forgiven and prayed for his friends. Job became the mediator between them and God as he interceded for them in prayer.

The mystery of God is never completely solved for Job or for us, nor can it be, but, like Job, we can see that God’s ways are not the same as ours – God’s ways are far higher, all-seeing, and infinite while our lives are boxed in by time and space. God is interested in results for eternity, not just solutions to present-day problems. And so, we might say, eternity is on trial with time!

The important thing, though, is that when Job sees God he no longer focuses on his own circumstances. The pain and loss no longer seem endless for matter doesn’t matter in infinity.

What remains? Faith. Hope. Love. And ongoing fellowship and communion with God.

Although Job didn’t have the opportunity to meet Christ, he believed – as did the psalmist who wrote today’s reading in Psalm 34, which says, “the Lord redeems the life of God’s people, and no one who takes refuge in God will be condemned.”

But neither should we, who take refuge in God, condemn anyone else. As Job discovered, God wanted him to forgive his friends and restore their relationship by praying an intercessory prayer for them. If Job had refused, there’s a good chance his misery would not have improved, but he obeyed God’s request and, in turn, prayed for his friends, who had wronged him.

We, too, have wronged God. Everyone has. And so, we need the intercessory prayers of One Whose faith in God has been proven to be pure and firm. We need One Whose flawless life, given totally to God, makes our sacrifices puny and unnecessary. We need Jesus Christ, the One in Whom we take refuge to pray for us. And amazingly, He does!

As our reading in Hebrews says, Jesus Christ “is able for all times to save those who approach God through Him.” Jesus Christ, the Perfect Son of God the Father, died for us and now lives to intercede for us – always!

He is our Mediator, the One Whom Job wanted to be his advocate in the heavenly court room. But, thanks be to Christ, that courtroom no longer exists! That ancient trial between faith and doubt, life and death, good and evil was won for all forever when Christ overcame death.

Before this, however, Jesus “practiced law” by taking case after case to court. He put illness on trial and won health for us. He put all kinds of oppression on trial and won our freedom. He even put nature on trial and calmed the winds and seas. Today’s reading in the Gospel of Mark also shows an example of Jesus’ interceding for us when He put the loss of sight on trial and won our ability to see into spiritual matters that the world cannot see. This, too, was a trial of faith.

Consider, for instance, the blind beggar Bartimaeus sitting beside the road as Jesus walked by. When he heard the footsteps and the name of “Jesus,” Bartimaeus began to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Mercy. That’s what Job kept wanting too – the mercy of God, the mercy of his friends, the mercy of townsfolk, the mercy of his wife! And even the most law-abiding of us also wants that. Mercy!

Jesus gave that gift to the blind man – just as God gave wondrously lavish gifts of restoration to Job. But again, the trial of faith first had to be won.

Even in the darkest, loneliest, most skin-scratchingest miserable time, Job’s faith won out! And the faith of Bartimaeus won too. Look again at Mark 10 and see what happens: The blind man hollers at Jesus. Jesus stops in His tracks and calls the man – a blind man who cannot see anything – to come to Him! And Bartimaeus does!

That alone would show faith at work, but according to the Gospel account, the blind man tossed aside his cloak – the one article of clothing that kept him warm. Undoubtedly, that cloak also had some type of pocket or little bag used to hold the coins he received from begging. But Bartimaeus didn’t care! His faith in Jesus’ ability to heal – Jesus’ desire to heal – was so strong that his most necessary possession no longer meant anything to him. The blind man sprang to his feet, threw off his cloak, and came to Jesus, merely by following the sound of the Lord’s voice.

Notice, too, how Jesus ignored the crowd and spoke directly to Bartimaeus, asking him what seems quite obvious. Jesus asked a blind man, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

Didn’t Jesus already know what the man wanted? Of course, He knew! But Bartimaeus needed to put his deepest desire into words, into prayer — and put his faith into action — as he said, “Lord, I want to see.”

Faith comes by hearing.

Hearing comes by The Word of God.

Jesus is The Word of God made manifest on earth.

Today we can hear that word by reading and studying the Bible and listening for God’s response to our unique needs.

Faith also deepens and strengthens as we hear Jesus’ voice echoing throughout Holy Scripture but speaking most clearly in the Gospels. And when we’ve heard and, in faith, believed that Jesus Christ, indeed, is our Savior, our Lawyer, our Advocate, our Mediator, our Intercessor, our Way to spiritual life, we’re ready to toss aside everything else as we walk – faithfully, but sometimes blindly – toward the Lord.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for seeing us! Thank You for knowing our needs yet graciously asking us, “What would you like for Me to do for you?”

Help us to respond to You in faith, truth, and sincerity, and be ready to accept Your forgiveness, healing, and restoration of us and the many relationships in our lives. Draw us closer to You, Lord. Help us to trust You to take care of us. Help us to see You clearly, worship You, and follow Your way for us in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

For God – or against?

With no pastor now, several of us from our Lake Como Community of Hope have been taking turns leading worship, reading scripture, and presenting the sermon — or in my case, a “Bible Talk” — based on the scriptures from The Revised Common Lectionary  for the Sunday assigned.

After reading and re-reading the biblical passages from several translations, I look for a theme that ties the readings from the Torah (aka “Old Testament”) with the Epistle (Letter) and the Gospel readings from the New Testament.

Sometimes a theme or topic is immediately apparent, sometimes not. This week, for example, the readings for September 30, 2018 kept bringing to mind a vital question: “Are we for God or against?”

Although I’ve been known to “tweak” (and even completely rewrite!) a Bible Talk before the Sunday it’s actually presented, I felt urged to go ahead and share this one with you. Before reading, however, you might want to check out the scriptures recommended for September 30, 2018: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50.

“For God – or against?”

In the day’s reading from Esther, we see prejudice and anti-Semitism at work. Haman didn’t just hate Mordecai though. He conspired to put him to death simply because Mordecai was an honest man – a Jewish man – who worshiped God. Haman’s jealousy and intolerance of one person made him hate-filled enough to maneuver the King into ordering the extermination of the entire Jewish populace!

That’s not exactly the justice meant to be found in the biblical law of an eye for an eye! It’s more like taking a whole city for one eye. It’s more like taking revenge instead of giving justice or mercy.

What Haman didn’t realize is that Queen Esther was a relative of Mordecai and also a Jew. More important, Haman didn’t realize that being against the people of God sets a person squarely against God Himself.

Anti-Semitism does that. Bigotry does that. It polarizes Christians against Christians, Jews against Jews, and Jews and Christians against one another. This also happens when one political party or one sex or one race turns against the other, even though both come from the same creator and worship the same God.

Regardless of why such things get to that point, we have to decide – as individuals and as a church Body of Christ: Are we FOR God or against? Are we strongly FOR or against ANY child in the Family of God – even if that child is our self – or someone totally unlike ourselves?

In the other Old Testament passage, we read Psalm 124, which, like many (but not all) of the Psalms, is attributed to King David. Political enemies had come up against David, but the king knew God was with him and with the people of God. By strongly standing FOR God, David had faith that God was FOR him. He showed this by humbly giving credit to God instead of taking credit for the victories and glory that followed.

David was FOR God. And, God was FOR David and the people of God.

Is that true for us too? If we are FOR God does that mean God is FOR us? Or do we think like an immature child might and fear that God is against us?

Here’s the truth according to God’s word: God is love. And, Love is FOR US. God is for us.

Even so, the Bible clearly shows, from Genesis to Revelation, that bad things can and do happen to God’s people. For example, in the New Testament message from the epistle of James, the writer of this letter acknowledges that some Christians suffer and others get sick. Does James complain or blame this on God? No! Amazingly, he tells US to DO SOMETHING about it!

Really? Like what? Well, as James goes on to say, if anyone among us is suffering in some way, we should pray for that person. We should take it upon ourselves to do that. But – if anyone among us is sick, THAT person should do something! The person who is ill should call the elders of the church and ask for prayer! Then, James instructs the elders of the church to anoint that sick person with oil in the Name of the Lord.

But there’s more to it! People don’t just get sick physically. They also get sick mentally and spiritually. So, if that’s the case, James reminds us to confess our sins, admit our wrongdoings, and own up to anything we’re ashamed of or wish we had not done. This act of confession alerts the group to pray for one another, so that we may be healed.

Once we’ve accepted God’s forgiveness, we have a clean slate again! Isn’t that a wonderful plan?! Then, when we’re right with God again, we’re once again righteous. And, as James says, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. Such potent prayers make a big difference in the life of the forgiven, in the life of the person who prays, and in the life of the whole church.

When we’re FOR God’s will as revealed in the Bible, God WILL work to bring good for us, no matter how things look at the time. The catch comes in knowing God’s will, knowing what God is like, and knowing God can always be trusted to do the good and right and loving thing – even if circumstances don’t seem to make that super clear at the moment.

Unfortunately, what we think we know about God might be our faulty first impressions or the rumors we heard early in life or the flawed teachings we received from people, who taught whatever sounded good to them, rather than checking to see if it were biblically and spiritually true.

For example, when you were a child, authority figures might have told you God is watching you or out to get you – not because they were mean, but because they believed “good behavior” would get you into heaven. So, that group or particular person might have presented God as the bogey man in order to make you behave and keep you in line!

In real life and in the spiritual realm, such a deity would be nitpicking and judgmental – not at all the loving, merciful, forgiving God the Bible introduces us to consistently, from beginning to end.

Remember, God is FOR us. And, as today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark lets us know, God EMPOWERS us to overcome evil. How? By believing in God’s goodness, rather than our own, and receiving the strength we’re given in the Name of Jesus, we can cast out demons and be at peace with one another. We can be at peace with God and ourselves because we KNOW: God is FOR us!

As we really, really believe the words of Jesus and embrace His Name, our job is to do whatever we can to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. This might mean giving up something that gets between us and God. Or it might mean taking a risk and praying for someone’s healing or asking someone to pray for you. The Lord likes this, for, as Jesus said: “Anyone who does a deed of power in My Name will not be quick to speak ill of Me.”

God LIKES to send His power through us in Jesus’ Name to minister prayers, forgiveness, love, and healing to other people – and to receive the same ourselves. Such opportunities build up our faith, strengthen the Body of Christ, and draw other people to Jesus.

Just think of it! What would our world be like if everyone we know began to believe that the Almighty GOD IS FOR US. What would our world be like – and how powerful and effective would our ministries be – if all of us, clearly and deliberately, made up our minds FOR GOOD, that, yes! WE are FOR God – and God is FOR US.

 

Dear Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for Your Totally Good Self and all Your good gifts to us. Lord, if there is anything – old or new – that’s standing between us, please bring it to light and help us to confess this and receive Your healing.

And, Lord, if we’ve been wavering between the certainty of Your word and Your promises or the doubt of wondering if You always mean what You say, please fill us with Your spirit, draw us to Your word, and set our minds at ease in the truth of You. Help us to give every part of our selves to You in Jesus’ blessed Name. Amen.