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

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

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.

 

3 ways to get closer to God

Each of these spiritual disciplines provides the basis for a sermon, article, or beginnings of a book. May God guide you as you communicate – clearly, accurately, and lovingly – for Christ.

Pray:

Matthew 6:9 – As Jesus taught us “This is how you’re to pray: Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name….”

Mark 11:24 – Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe you’ll receive, and it shall be yours.”

Psalm 122:6 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”

1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “Pray constantly.”

Romans 8:26-27 – “The Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit intercedes with groans that cannot be expressed. And the one who searches our hearts knows the intention of the Spirit, Who intercedes for us according to God’s will.”

Ephesians 6:18 – “Be alert! In every situation, pray in the Spirit. Use every kind of prayer and request for God’s people.”

Matthew 5:44 – As Jesus told us, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who mistreat you.”

Mark 11:25 – Jesus also taught, “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a complaint or grudge, so your heavenly Father may forgive your offenses.”

Confess:

Psalm 32:1-6 – “When I kept silent about my sins, even my bones ached from groaning. Your hand felt heavy upon me, and my strength drained as in summer heat! But when I acknowledged my sin and no longer tried to hide it, You forgave me and took away my guilt.”

Proverbs 28:13 – “Those who conceal their sins do not prosper. Those who confess and turn from their wrongdoing will receive mercy.”

1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

James 5:16 – “And so, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so you may be healed.”

Romans 10:9 – “If you confess aloud that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Worship:

1 Chronicles 16:29 – “Give to the Lord the glory due His name! Bow down before Him. Bring your gifts of worship to the Lord, Whose holiness is splendid.”

2 Maccabees 1:3 – “May God give you all a heart to worship Him and do His will sincerely with a willing spirit.”

Matthew 4:10 – Jesus said, “Get away, Tempter! As it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord, your God, and God alone shall you serve.’”

John 4:21-24 – “Indeed, the time is coming – and is here – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship Him. For God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Revelation 4:11 – “O, Lord our God, You alone are worthy to receive glory and honor and power for You created all things. Through Your will all creation came to be.”

Psalm 100, King James Version (KJV)
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord is God: it is He Who hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endures to all generations.”

Compiled by Mary Sayler, ©2018, following word searches of various translations found on Bible Gateway.

10 tips for sermons that keep everyone awake

Sermons aren’t meant to be lullabies or long songs that drone on and on, lulling people to sleep! The idea of a weekly message is not to offer advice or tell people what to do but to show the relevance of God’s Word as you work and pray for a Christian faith community of Christ-like love.

If you’re the priest or pastor of a liturgical church or one that offers Eucharist or communion every week, you probably have only five or ten minutes at most to deliver your homily or message. If, however, your church service allows more time, you might consider adding another hymn or Bible reading and confine your talk to fifteen minutes or less (yes, preferably, less!). Some churches offer online church sermons so, in theory, sermons can be as long as they need to be, can be digested at a later date, and can be viewed from anywhere.

Regardless of the worship format used, these tips will help you get to the point, be concise, and encourage Christlike lives and actions.

1.Pray! Ask God to give you insight.

2.Study the appropriate readings from the 3-year scripture-reading cycle (Year A, B, or C) used by many churches to encourage Christians from all over the world to read, study, and pray the same scriptures at the same time. Notice which Bible verse or passage speaks to you the clearest.

3. Focus on the single theme or primary topic in your chosen verse(s).

4. Read commentaries and the footnotes in a variety of study Bibles to see what God has given others to bring light to that portion of scripture.

5. List every point you can think of that’s related to your theme or topic.

6. Arrange key points in order of importance to your congregation or particular audience and its needs.

7. Get everyone’s attention with an unusual fact, a question they might have, or a startling statement. For instance, if I say: “This morning I swept the dead bodies off my deck,” you might wonder about that true statement! The “bodies” were the belly-up frogs and snakes the young hawks dropped out of the nest above us, but who knows? Maybe that would lead to a sermon on how we might not like to look at death, but we can rejoice in God’s Word of eternal life in Christ.

8. Keep it simple. Stay on track. The longer the message lasts, the more restless people will become and more likely the sermon will be to wander.

9. Apply God’s Word to everyday situations and concerns. Use Bible people, Bible stories, or contemporary examples to build faith, encourage relevant action, and aim toward a Christian lifestyle.

10. Emphasize your three main points. Use numbers, First…, Second…, Third.… Or repeat a catchy sentence as a refrain to help people remember God’s message to you and them long after they’ve gone home.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

words and The Word

Christian poets, writers, pastors, and other communicators for Christ have much in common. As ministers of words and The Word, we need:

Something to say
The ability to say it well
Credibility

Regularly reading the Bible gives us much to talk or write about, and practice helps us to do that well, but if we also have credibility, people pay attention. They begin to trust our ability to handle God’s Word and their concerns rightly. They might even become more open to God’s Word and work in their lives.

Without credibility, however, people will not believe us. They might expect to be entertained but won’t necessarily take us seriously.

To increase credibility:

Check the facts: Do you plan to write or talk about something you’re so familiar with that you see no need to research or verify scripture? Verify anyway! A Bible concordance, Bible atlas, or dictionary will help, but even more important is researching relevant scriptures on your topic and keeping them in context. Reading those same verses in more than one translation not only ensures getting the facts straight, but increases the opportunity of receiving those God-given insights that come with prayer and meditation on God’s Word.

Find your voice: Do you take on a tone that sounds like you think a minister or poet or writer should sound, or do you sound just like yourself? God made you as you are and gifted you with a personality unique to you. Reading a word-for-word translation of the Bible will show this in action. Compare, for example, the voice of King David in the Psalms with the prophetic voice of Jeremiah. Or, compare the Gospel and letters of John with the long, complex sentences written by Paul. In each of these instances, the Holy Spirit guided the writer or poet, and yet each book sounded like the individual.

Let the love flow: God has no favorites! And, as Christians, we can afford to be generous and gracious! We’re to love one another as we love ourselves. That becomes easier as we realize God is with us, God is in us. Then we can accept ourselves as God-loved and more readily notice that God-love in others.

Prayer: Dear Lord God, thank You for Your Word that shows us how to live and speak and write in a manner that’s credible, kind, and pleasing to You. Help us to believe and accept Your Word to us as we communicate Your love and truth to others in Jesus’ Name.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2018