Category Archives: Bible Study

At taste of theology for Holy Week

Image by James Chan from Pixabay

What does the “torn curtain” mean?

It’s Easter Saturday. At our house we’re preparing for our Easter family gathering and my birthday. In the quiet of work done, and services ready for tomorrow, I have paused to think again about our Easter story.

In three of the gospels there is a small detail buried amidst the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. When Jesus says, “It is finished.” And hangs his head in death, the story says, a darkness descended and the curtain that separated the outer temple, where people came to worship, from the “holy of holies” that only the priest with the sacrifices was allowed to enter, that curtain was torn in two. According to scholars, that meant the separation between God and the ordinary human person was ended.

In Jesus’ day, people brought animal sacrifices to the priest. The priest’s role was to present the sacrifices to appease God’s anger with the people’s sins. There was an entire culture built around this practice. With Jesus’ death, came the belief that sacrifice was no longer needed. His death was the last and only sacrifice. From this comes the understanding that Jesus died for our sins.

For me, understanding God as angry and needing to be appeased by Jesus’ horrible and tragic death has always been difficult. Over the years after much discussion and study, I have come to believe that Jesus died because of our human fear, greed, and lust for power. God, in Jesus, loved us so much that Jesus was willing to give his life, not to appease God’s anger, but to show us God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For me, the significance of the temple curtain torn in two is, God gave us a new understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. We no longer needed a priest and sacrifices to feel God’s love. God’s love is there for us no matter what. There is nothing we can do to drive God’s love away. Most of the time we don’t deserve God’s love but God loves us anyway.

Even in today’s society, we like to think in terms of guilt, judgment and punishment. But God’s thoughts and ours are different. God’s love is bigger than any of that. God has loved us from our beginning. God will love us through our foolishness, through our cruelty, through our goodness. God just loves us.

Because of that unconditional love, I do my best most days to love others as I know God loves me. When I fail, I know I can pick myself up and try again. God is with me as my support, coach and parent, God wants me to be the best I can be. God celebrates with my success and cries with me in my failures. Always God loves me as God loves all of God’s creation. That is the blessing of our Easter story.

 

Tomorrow I will post my sermon that will be delivered at Lakefield and Young’s Point United Churches.

Let’s Read the Bible. It’s Amazing!!!!

I have been reading the Gospel of Luke every morning for the past three weeks using Eugene Peterson’s, The Message/The Bible in Contemporary Language. Peterson is a Biblical Scholar

Today, I read verses 17-46. What a clear presentation of Jesus’ teaching. If all of us could totally live these few verses we would immediately be on our way to world peace. Not everyone has a copy of “The Message” and/or has been introduced to it. Because the copyright at the front of this Bible allows for large direct quotes, I’ve decided to give you those 29 verses to read in this blog.

I would love to hear your reflections on this passage.

What do these words mean for your own life?

In 2019 what changes would you have to make, in order to live them fully?

You can go to www.biblegateway and look up Luke 6:17-46 in many different translations and interpretations of the Bible. Check them out, if you choose, not in order to critique The Message,  but to enlarge your understanding of Jesus’ teaching.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Luke 6:17-47 The Message (MSG)

You’re Blessed

17-21 Coming down off the mountain with them, he stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. Everyone was trying to touch him—so much energy surging from him, so many people healed! Then he spoke:

You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.
God’s kingdom is there for the finding.
You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry.
Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.
You’re blessed when the tears flow freely.
Joy comes with the morning.

22-23 “Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.

Give Away Your Life

24 But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
What you have is all you’ll ever get.

25 And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.
Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games.
There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.

26 “There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.

27-30 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

37-38 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

39-40 He quoted a proverb: “‘Can a blind man guide a blind man?’ Wouldn’t they both end up in the ditch? An apprentice doesn’t lecture the master. The point is to be careful who you follow as your teacher.

41-42 “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour.

Work the Words into Your Life

43-45 “You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.

46-47 “Why are you so polite with me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Live Out Loud

Living Out Loud

I don’t often put large portions of something I have read on my blog. I worry about copyright issues. But today’s reading from the Daily Bread touched my heart, and I wanted to share it. David McCasland wrote:

“While staying at a hotel in Austin, Texas, I noticed a card lying on the desk in my room. It said:

                                                        Welcome                                                                                                       Our prayer is that your stay here will be restful                                                                   And that your travels will be fruitful.                                                                            May the Lord bless you and keep you,                                        and make his face shine upon you. “

This simple blessing touched David’s heart. When I lived in Bethany, between 1989 and 2003, a family owned gas station called Rangco’s was thriving.  On the walls inside were plaques saying that Rangco’s had sold the most gas in that part of central Ontario year after year. The business was located on highway 7A, so there was lots of traffic, even in the winter time. I remember asking Rangco when I first moved to town why he closed on Sundays. “Aren’t you missing out on a lot of business?” I asked.

Rangco just smiled and said, “We’re members of the Dutch Reformed Church. We work long hours Monday to Saturday. Sunday, we rest and go to church. We enjoy our church family. We don’t want to miss.” Then he pointed to the plaques and smiled. “We have lots of business.”

Like the hotel with the little prayer card in Texas, Rangco and his family quietly lived what they believed. They knew the commandment about Sabbath rest. Their faith told them that rest and attending worship were more important than money. They and their employees were free on Sundays to attend church. In Bethany, we made sure our tanks were full on Saturday evening.

 

In the reflection from Our Daily Bread, David McCasland said, “A friend of mine calls this, ‘living a lifestyle that demands an explanation.’ No matter where we live or work, may we, in God’s strength, live out our faith today – always ready to reply gently and respectfully to everyone who asks, the reason for our hope.”

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

(1 Peter 3:15)

 

 

How Will I Find God’s Peace

 

Luke 15: 11-32 Jesus’ story of “The Lost Son”

          The last few days, my thoughts have focused on Jesus’ story of “The Lost Son.” In movies, books, and life, I seek happy endings. I smile when the lost son realizes his folly and returns home. I nod when the grieving father runs out to meet him when he is still a long way off. The elder son’s response of anger and righteous judgment feels good and proper. The father’s response also feels good.  Will the elder son understand his father’s plea for love and mercy? We aren’t told, so I can fill in my happy ending. Both sons have learned how to love. Father is wiser.

How does Jesus’ story end today? Too often today, addiction swallows us up leaving us lost, sleeping on the streets, even murdered. Sometimes it’s our commitment to overwork, an extramarital relationship, total self-indulgence, that carries us away from family, loved ones, God. Unlike the lost son in Jesus’ story, we don’t return home. We may have started home many times but we stumbled again and again and again. We can’t stay on that homeward path.

And so, too often, as parents, spouses, children, friends, we are left sitting at the gate, still loving, still praying, still hoping, still weeping. The opportunity to run down the path, arms open wide, love pouring forth, never comes.

Too often, as elder siblings, we keep plugging away, doing our best, resentment hidden and growing, judgment made. We want to hang onto our rage, our self-righteousness. We’re sure we are right. We don’t want help forgiving those who are unforgivable. We don’t want to face God’s unconditional love, God’s endless mercy, let alone participate in it.

Today, whether we are the lost son, the elder brother or the loving parent, we go to our death still paralysed, still lost on life’s journey. And so we think there is no possibility for a happy ending.

For me, the Good News, the “happy ending” comes when we learn to trust our Christian story which tells us that the power of God’s love is so strong, God’s plan for each one of us so flexible, so creative, that even death cannot keep us paralyzed. In fact, death, in whatever form it comes, opens the way for “new life,” the happy ending.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

Jesus’ own life story tells us that whether our death brings forth the possibility of new life, transformation, abundance.

Today, whether we are facing the loss of a beloved person, the ending of a life-long dream, the closing of our precious church,– wherever we find ourselves present in Jesus’ story, we can trust that the resurrection will come. God will not be defeated. We may not see the transformation, but it will come, if not in this world than in the next. Weeping will end. Joy will come with the morning. We are not truly paralyzed. We can open ourselves to understanding, forgiveness and love. We can receive God’s peace that is beyond our understanding because we can trust in God’s transformation, whenever it happens.

God’s love will prevail

We have hope, for God has assured us there will be “a happy ending” in this life or the next. Our transformation is guaranteed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We can hear and live Jesus’ words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) For this, I am truly grateful.

 

Check Out the Story!!!

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“Live the Story. Let Love Enter Your Heart.”

Part of my preparation for Christmas is attending our Keene United Church’s live re-enactment of the Christmas story at Lang Pioneer Village. This year as always, the service was well attended. It’s become a Christmas tradition for many.

Whether you claim no religion, or Christianity or another religion, the magic of the Christmas story can make a difference in your living. During these last few days before Christmas, I encourage you to seek out a variety of ways of learning more about the traditional Christmas story. Google “Live nativity presentations”. Consult your local library or bookstore. They’ll have lots of books to choose from, that tell the Christmas story. Dust off your Bible(or borrow or buy one) and find the Book of Luke. Open it to Chapter two and read the story together as a family. Once you’ve heard the story this year, use the following guide to think about the story.

1. What would it be like today to be Mary, 9 months pregnant and unmarried? Imagine travelling a long distance on a bus, using all your money for the ticket. When you get to family/friends, there is no place for you. You go to the homeless shelter.

2. Who are the Mary’s, the innkeepers, the shepherds, the Herods, the Wisemen today?

Thinking about the characters as real people like you and me will make a huge difference in your Christmas celebrations, secular or religious. Let the story speak to your life. On Dec. 25, 2015 make room in the Inn of your heart for love to enter.

“…the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:15-16)

How Do I Access the Bible’s Wisdom?

Written On Your Heart
Written On Your Heart

In June, I led a workshop about Storytelling and Dynamic Worship for Small Rural Churches. Storytelling is fun and it requires detailed preparation. I needed to know my stories off by heart, which means a great deal of practice. As children, we were assigned memory work at school (High Flight) and at church (23rd Psalm). I remember this “memory work” being pure drudgery.

Today, we think we don’t need to memorize anything, because all we have to do is “google” it and we have it on our phone, i-pad or computer. I believe having access to something is good, but having it written on your heart, deep within your being is a totally different kind of knowing, one that affects every day decisions. When we learn words of wisdom or comfort or faith by heart, we take those words into our being. They become a part of us so that we can call them to mind when the going gets tough..

My suggestion for you is to choose a quote, a Bible verse, a poem, something that touches your heart. Think about those words. Talk about them with your friends. Write them out and put them on your fridge and your bathroom mirror. Read them. Speak them aloud, over and over again.

Once you have learned them completely, they will be available for wisdom in times of temptation, or difficult decisions, for strength when life feels over whelming, for peace in times of emotional and physical pain. Once learned by heart, you can choose a new set and repeat the process. These words will be your anchors in the seas of life. Then, when the batteries die or the lights go out, the wisdom and comfort of these words will be with you, because they are written on your heart.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

Five Steps to a Dynamic Faith.

Five Steps to a Dynamic Faith.

By Janet Stobie

instruction manual

Our new kitchen island came with an instruction manual, and all the pieces numbered. Neither Tom nor I has natural ability to put things together, but we can read. We felt sure we could complete this project. The courier helped Tom lug the three boxes containing two hundred and fifty pounds of wood and metal up to our living room. I travelled to London for a sisters’ visit while Tom completed the assembly. Putting it together involved some mistakes and some faulty material, but Tom had the Manual. Today, our solid cherry wood kitchen island stands proudly in our kitchen.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a “Do It Yourself Manual” for our Christian faith?

Well, we do. It’s called the Bible. Our problem is the Bible is mighty big and cumbersome and contains some words we don’t understand. Besides, it’s a collection of stories, not clear instructions. Consequently, many avoid the Bible.

I need help.
I need help.

Since today’s young people turn to the computer for everything, I decided to try “Google” as a short cut bypass for the Bible. I summarized Google’s information into the following five suggestions.

  1. Read the Bible, especially the stories of Jesus.
  2. Pray as though you believe.
  3. Join a Christian group for support. Church is the easiest.
  4. Take action to love and care for others.
  5. Be patient. God’s free gift of faith will come.

Even Google starts with “Read the Bible”. There are no short cuts to faith. Commitment and desire are foundational. Over my lifetime, I have learned that faith in God gives me an amazing basis for living. On the days when fear is running rampant in my mind, when exhaustion wracks my being, when pain is overwhelming, I know God is my anchor, my strength, my support.

Try the five steps. Pick up the Manual. God will welcome you to a life of faith.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24, NIV)

“Have You Been Saved?”

I offer this post here on my own blog because it has received criticism elsewhere.

Basically, the objection as I understand it, is based on the basic thought that there might be more than one way to come to God.

Jesus words, “I am the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6) . No one comes to the Father but by me.” are the basis of the objection.

What exactly did Jesus mean by this statement?

Was he saying that only Christians who claim Jesus as Lord would inherit eternal life? Was he saying that everyone else is going to hell or will be left out?

Please read the post and then make your comment. I need your thoughts.

 

“Have you been saved?”

By Janet Stobie

Over the years, I have often been confronted with the question, “Have you been saved?” Usually I ask them to explain what they mean. Too often, I hear:

  1. Our amazing God, whose creation contains infinite variety, has only ONE way to “save” people.
  2. Our unconditionally loving God has created us all with a basic flaw that is leading us to eternal damnation.
  3. Our generous God, who offers blessings tamped down and overflowing, has limited the number of God’s creation to be saved, to just a tiny portion of the millions in this world.

I know I don’t have a complete and total understanding of God. Therefore, 

I see no value in putting limitations on God.

Over my lifetime, God has constantly surprised me.

Just when I think I have this faith thing figured out, God gives me yet another revelation.

Here are my thoughts and experiences for the moment.

I have experienced the beauty and goodness of a young man committed to the Muslim faith. I have discovered that the Koran and our Bible both speak about God’s endless unconditional love. Solid in my heart comes the realization that God is the source of all human beings, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and many more about whom I know nothing. Of course, God has more than one way to teach us about loving one another. Of course, God has more than one way to give us guidance, strength, comfort and courage. God must have more than one way to teach us how to live.

Every time I hold a baby, child or animal, I know again that we are all created for joy, love and goodness. I wonder why we are so worried about eternal damnation. Surely, God is stronger than any evil we can create. God certainly illustrated God’s power when God rose from death in Jesus, the Christ. In Jesus God triumphed over the worst we can do.

Actually, I’m beginning to wonder if what God is doing is saving us from ourselves. God creates and declares that creation is good. Maybe our world would take another step towards God’s realm if we gave up trying to decide who is in and who is out, in God’s eyes. I believe God calls us to focus on the goodness of God’s creation.

My question is:

How have you experienced God’s goodness today?

 Please post a Comment. Thank you.

 

 

Help!

I’m late! I’m late!

Our little holiday beckoned us to hurry,  Already we were late for our appointment in Toronto. I eased my aching body into the car seat and felt the stress slide away. From here on, the travelling was out of my control. Tom was driving. My back relaxed somewhat. The pain receded to a manageable level. Stress, I thought, makes my back hurt even more. How can I decrease the stress in my life?

On this particular day, I knew the source.

  1. Guilt – Thanks to my recent back injury, Tom had to do all the packing. I tried, It had taken me a half hour just to put a few things into my suitcase. I kept needing to stop and rest. I’d get up and put two or three things in the suitcase and have to sit back down.
  2. I really wasn’t well enough to travel.
  3. We were late leaving.

Once in the car, there was nothing I could do or should be doing. The relief was amazing. I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that we were finally on the road. I asked for safe travel, and opened my devotional book to do my morning meditation. The writer introduced Psalm 27: “God is my strength and my salvation whom shall I fear.” Immediately, my mind slowed down. Of course, God is with us, I thought. Instead of fretting, I should have gotten this out when I first got up as I do every morning. Start your day with God has been my mantra for nearly thirty years. Now is not the time to change that pattern.

When stress seems to be running your life, I offer this solution:

  1. Identify the source.
  2. Discuss your problems with God,
  3. Read your favourite scriptures

Your faith may not change your life situation but it will change your attitude. Focusing on God’s strength and care helps us face our lives with patience and confidence.

Scripture:  “God is my strength and my salvation whom shall I fear.” (Psalm 27: 1)