Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Traffic Jam Thoughts (by Judy)

As I was stuck in traffic last week, I began to pay attention to the car in front of me. It was from Texas, and it proclaimed the faith of the owner, loud and clear. As you can see from the photo, lettering on the back door invites people to “Come just as you are,” and the license plate said “PRAYZM.” I had to think about that one for a minute, but since the lights changed and the traffic didn’t move, I had time to figure out the owner likes to “Praise Him.” Clearly the owner talks the talk. Only God knows whether he also walks the walk.

I began to think about the Bible, and Peter in particular. I LOVE that man who talked the talk sort of; and walked the walk, sort of! He is so human. Let me ask you – what is he best known for? Aside from his being a fisherman, one of the first called by Jesus to leave the Sea of Galilee and become a fisher of man, what comes to mind? One reader may answer – I know, he is the one who denied Jesus three times before the rooster completed his daily crowing. Another reader may answer that he was the first one to declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. A third reader may say that his name Peter (Petros, meaning Rock, or actually Rocky) was given by Jesus for he was a solid no-nonsense man who could be counted on to further the Church. A fourth reader may say that Jesus likened his behavior to Satan’s and had to ask him three times to please, please feed His sheep.

Clearly, here was a man who had “talk the talk” ambiguities, but did he “walk the walk”? Well, his most famous walk was on water, but when worries slipped in, despite this miraculous feat and the fact that Jesus was with him, he began to sink. He took a hike up a mountain with Jesus and watched with his own eyes as Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah; and then wildly suggested that three buildings be constructed to commemorate the occasion, not realizing that Jesus stood alone. He allowed Jesus to wash his feet as a sign of humility, and then eagerly suggested that Jesus wash his hands and head!

What a comfort it was to consider this man of contradictions while the traffic slowly began to move. He talked the talk out of both sides of his mouth, as I so often do. He walked to the heights and sank to the depths, as I so often do. He is a case study in falling down and picking himself up again, sure of the love and forgiveness that belongs to his Lord, Savior and close personal friend. And remember - he was chastised by Jesus for having little faith, but he got out of the boat when the other 11 cowered. What a perfect example of trust - and grace!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bible Study by Carolyn

As a hospice volunteer one of the questions people often ask is what is heaven like. Have you ever considered it seriously? What would you say? How would you answer the question? In the past my answer was vague. Folks asking that question don't need vague answers. There is an excellent book on the subject called Heaven by Randy Alcorn. He uses an amazing amount of Scripture to paint a comprehensive, accurate, authentic picture of heaven, where it is, what it is, what goes on there, and who will be there. It lifts the spirit high reading about it!

I have a concordance in the back of my Bible with 48 references to heaven. If you were to put those all together in a study for the summer, you would no doubt emerge with a much better understanding. It is often an excellent idea to conduct your own study, but barring that, this book offers a delightful alternative.

For eight months four women and I have been getting together once every two weeks to discuss chapters in the book. There is a study guide to accompany it which keeps everyone accountable, but beyond that, searching for, thinking about, and answering the questions in writing helps cement in your mind what you have learned. It also stimulates questions of your own that you might share with your group. Be warned: after eight months we are barely half way through the book!

But it is summer and summer is an excellent time to read. If you decide to do any sort of Bible study on your own, or with a small group during the summer there are valuable principles on interpretation that may interest you.

The Bible was written by many men over a period of about 1,500 years; and last author has been dead 1,900 years, but the Bible is the inffallible, inerrant, and inspired Word of God. The Bible is history. Understanding the culture of the times and people may help you understand Scripture better. Be sure to study the verses in context. Knowing what comes before and after a verse adds understanding to each verse. Keep a dictionary handy and a thesaurus. Use Scripture to interpret Scripture. In other words, look up other related Scripture references to help you.

One way or the other it's vitally important for us to stay in God's Word. It's the one area in life from which we should never take a vacation!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Planting Season (by Judy)

Planting is much on my mind these days. Because we hardy residents of northeast Ohio live in Zone 5, we are just now approaching the time that we can think putting small seedlings into the ground. It has been a tough winter, and one of the wettest springs on record, so we are eager, but cautious. I have students lined up this very day to clean out the raised beds, turn over the soil, and distribute bales of straw on mounds where native grasses are just beginning to sprout.

At the same time, my church is wrestling with decisions related to growth. The basic question is, in an effort to reach those who have yet to hear the Good News of God’s love and grace, should the church build a new, larger sanctuary on its existing campus; or would the money be better spent by planting new, smaller churches in areas of the region where no one is preaching the Bible with clarity and conviction.

And then, last week we spent a wonderful time in Seattle with my family from China as they considered whether that beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest would be a safe landing when they decide to return “home" - and if they do, are there implications for my husband and me, as we consider where we want to spend our retirement years. The idea of a move from what is familiar and agreeable is daunting – but at one point, I asked myself whether I have lost my sense of adventure, or am I still someone who can “bloom wherever I am planted”?

Three different scenarios - all related to today’s reality and the future’s possibilities. I wondered what the Bible has to say and found God’s Word abundant on the issue. Jeremiah laid his message out in a letter from Jerusalem to his people who were in exile in Babylon: "Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food you produce." Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says: "So please don't, out of old habit, slip back into being or doing what everyone else tells you. Friends, be what you are called to be. God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side." And a favorite, back to Jeremiah: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Iris DeMent sings in an old gospel hymn:
I'm pressing on the upward way
New heights I'm gaining every day
Still praying as I onward bound,
"Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."

There we are – PRAY ON. No worry. No fear. Why? Because God has said over and over in His Word, the same five words, “I will be with you.” This doesn’t assure me that there is no more frost in the spring of 2011. It doesn’t say clearly whether my church should build. I am not positive that my bones will be buried in Seattle. But one thing I know for sure. When I stay grounded (literally and spiritually), Psalms 16:5 is true - "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure."