Shake Out the Dust

So many of God’s leaders were challenged by enemies; Nehemiah was one of them.  When God wants something great to happen through someone, all sorts of meanness  tries to get in the way.   Chapter 5 begins with the extraordinary needs that the people had.  Feel the power of the gesture of Nehemiah shaking out the fold of his robe. He does this so that the people will be shaken out of their resistance to what God wants.  When a coat we don’t use very much collects dust, we give it a good shake to make it fresh.  Then there’s spring cleaning when we really shake things out and throw out or give away what we don’t need.  

Whenever you come upon a long list of names in the Bible, don’t think you have to read them all, just to say that you read the Bible!  When you visit a memorial such as the one dedicated to the soldiers that died in Vietnam or World War II or the victims of the Holocaust when millions of Jewish people were murdered, you stand impressed by the long list.  Another impressive memorial is on Ellis Island in New York harbor which has engraved on rows and rows of stone, all the families that came to the United States by ships around the turn of the Twentieth Century.  

There’s another list that’s growing: those who follow this Bible plan…and you’re on the list!

Nehemiah 5—7

These Firestarters are from a new edition of The Bible Through the Seasons being developed for families with children. For the Firestarters in the original edition, I recommend the ebook.  You will have the entire program of well over a thousand of these introductions with you on your phone or table!.  Click here to visit the website for more information.

Joy in Facing East

A fresh, clear, bright sun rises in the east… It’s going to be a beautiful day!  The moment of catching the rising of the sun is such a wonderful experience.  We often feel joy, hope, peace and happiness when we see a sunrise.  That time of day has power in it for connecting with God.  That’s why we have Easter sunrise services; the rising sun is a sign of the Resurrection. 

There’s a word in ancient Latin for the rising of the sun, oriens, from which we get the word “orientation.”  To be basically oriented is to know which direction you are facing.  When students begin college, for example, there’s an opening time called “orientation.”  That’s so that first year students will get to learn where everything is located.

God wants the new temple to face east as a way to have the people get excited about the new life that God is going to bring. It’s in the eastern door that the glory of God enters the temple. There used to be a tradition of having churches face east.  Jewish synagogues face Jerusalem; Islamic people pray toward Mecca.  When we face east, we pray for the whole world that everyone be open to the joy and love that God wants to bring to all people. Try it: face east and pray for the world that all be one and in harmony with one another.

Ezekiel 43:1-12; 44:1-4 

These Firestarters are from a new edition of The Bible Through the Seasons being developed for families with children. For the Firestarters in the original edition, I recommend the ebook.  You will have the entire program of well over a thousand of these introductions with you on your phone or table!.  Click here to visit the website for more information.

Beyond Affection to Commitment

How do you think that an ordinary person would answer this question: “Which is to be preferred—loving or being loved?”  I think that most people would say that they’d prefer to be loved than to love.  There is a famous prayer of the thirteenth century saint, Francis of Assisi in Italy who wrote a prayer, part of which says: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love.

The key to understanding this different way of loving comes from Jesus in today’s Gospel.  The world sees love as affection—a feeling, a possessing of the other.  For Jesus, it’s very different.  Love is more than an emotion, it’s a commandment!  Whether we feel like it or not, we are called to love.  Beyond the affection of love is the commitment to love. 

Jesus’s love for us is so great that he freely died to show us this love and to give us his Holy Spirit so that we would love as Jesus loves.  What changes need to take place in the way you look at things so that you can be open to receive the grace to love as Jesus loves?

John 13:31-35

These Firestarters are from a new edition of The Bible Through the Seasons being developed for families with children. For the Firestarters in the original edition, I recommend the ebook.  You will have the entire program of well over a thousand of these introductions with you on your phone or table!.  Click here to visit the website for more information.

Take Time to Be Holy

Carved into the concrete arch over the front door of a seminary I attended were these words:  “May they seek God in all things.”  This was a saying that Ignatius of Loyola in Spain used to encourage his companions to be open to find God in everything.  Wouldn’t that be amazing…that there be absolutely nothing that cannot make a link to God’s presence!  Even the terrible things that we see on TV or the stories in the Newspaper…God is there in the suffering of the people, in the call for us to pray and intercede for the circumstances that are bringing so much pain to so many.

This is what it means in the book of Leviticus to be holy.  One of the ways to find God in everything is to especially find God in some things.  This is the reason for describing the Sabbath and the basic festivals for the Hebrew people.  Like rest stops along the highway, so were the festivals intended to be times to stop, relax and sense God as Lord of the whole journey of life.  By making stops on a trip, we can enjoy what’s left of the journey and be more open to continue to find God along the way.  Life is like that.  “Take time to be holy,” as a hymn says, so that your whole life can be holy.

Leviticus 23:1-8

These Firestarters are from a new edition of The Bible Through the Seasons being developed for families with children. For the Firestarters in the original edition, I recommend the ebook.  You will have the entire program of well over a thousand of these introductions with you on your phone or table!.  Click here to visit the website for more information.

Wounds: Jesus’s and Ours

Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas 1601-02

Then Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me.
Blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.”

John 20: 29

The stories in the Gospels are so wonderful that they need to be retold again and again.  That’s why you’ll find that Gospels on Sundays will be repeated on Fridays.  

We turn once again to the story of Thomas and focus on some details that we didn’t consider when we told the story on the Second Sunday in Easter.  Take the demand of Thomas to put his fingers and hands into the wounds of Jesus so that he could feel for himself that it was truly Jesus.  When the Lord appeared to him, do you really think that Thomas went ahead with his plan?  Very soon he found that Jesus wanted to place his hands into the wounds of fear and discouragement in Thomas’ soul…and ours as well!  We, into Jesus’ wounds…Jesus into ours—a way to understand a spiritual aspect of our mystery of living in Jesus: we live in him and he lives in us.

Living in Jesus: what are the ways that you experience this by faith? What are the areas that need to improve?  Thinking as pastor, I long that the community that gathers to worship on Sundays would more and more sense itself as part of the body of Jesus, so that we might enter into the hurts and wounds of each other and find Jesus there.                      

John 20:24-31

These Firestarters are from a new edition of The Bible Through the Seasons being developed for families with children. For the Firestarters in the original edition, I recommend the ebook.  You will have the entire program of well over a thousand of these introductions with you on your phone or table!.  Click here to visit the website for more information.

Telling the Story

There is something special about telling a story.  This is because the story has a beginning, middle and end, usually short enough to hold our attention.  St. Paul tells the story of his conversion for the second time.  Even telling such a story again can be refreshing, as you remember from being a little child. What must it have been like for St. Paul?  

Are their stories about your own life that you can recall and tell that have God’s presence and direction in them?  These become part of your witness of how God is at work in your life.

Acts 22

These Firestarters are from a new edition of The Bible Through the Seasons being developed for families with children. For the Firestarters in the original edition, I recommend the ebook.  You will have the entire program of well over a thousand of these introductions with you on your phone or table!.  Click here to visit the website for more information.

Clickity-Clack

In your unfailing love, spare my life;
then I can continue to obey your decrees. Psalm 119:88 See also v. 79

A train going across the separations in the tracks…your bike on the sidewalk making regular bumps crossing the concrete pieces—the verses of this psalm are like that. The rhythm and repetition of familiar phrases that say similar ideas, is meant to work its way into our spirits, in much the same way that the rhythmic sound of a train or your bike, as well as how the rhythms of quiet music, relax us and draw us toward peace.

The word we’re going to focus on today means much the same as what I’m saying here. The Hebrew root of the word edah, translated as “decrees” or “testimonies,” is uwd which means “to repeat” or “to go around”.  Edah is a word from the courts.  If a defense attorney is going to win a case, his or her witnesses have to go around the same pathway of truth and repeat similar things, so as to be consistent.  If you have ever told a lie, you know how hard it is to let everything about what you are saying to hang together!

I suggest that you often repeat the word, edah, throughout the day, making it part of the clickity-clack of the “train” of minutes and hours of the day! It’s like the pleasant sound of a train moving smoothly across the tracks…not the harsh, terrible sound if it derails!  Take this idea into your own life in God’s Holy Spirit.  Are you going forward consistently, with habits that further your spiritual growth, or are being derailed somewhere along the line?

Psalm 119:73-96

These Firestarters are from a new edition of The Bible Through the Seasons being developed for families with children. For the Firestarters in the original edition, I recommend the ebook.  You will have the entire program of well over a thousand of these introductions with you on your phone or table!.  Click here to visit the website for more information.