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Spring 2020

in the Mature Years


Long Distance Bicycle Touring

beloved pastor and author Maxie Dunnam invites readers to spend time every day exploring Wesley’s understanding of salvation through prayer, study, and reflection.

Celebrate Earth Day

Based on John Wesley’s theology and the Bible’s teaching on what it means to be saved, this workbook will help readers consider anew God’s ever-present grace, the experience of

The Practice of Listening Prayer

acceptance, pardon, and forgiveness, and the lifelong journey to become more Christ-like.

Through eight weeks, each with seven days of content for

prayer and self-reflection, Dunnam leads us through Wesley’s understanding of salvation in the Bible, helping us see that

Bible Lessons: Life

full salvation is not a one-time experience of redemption but a lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus every day.

Learn more at AbingdonPress.com/WesleyanJourney

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RELIGION/Christian Education/Adult $12.49

ISBN-13: 978-1-5018-7696-7

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in the Mature Years Vol. 52, No. 3 Spring 2020

GREAT COMPANION RESOURCE TO CHRISTIAN LIVING’S BIBLE LESSONS! Let's Talk About the Bible is a show that promises to do exactly what the title says: talk about the Bible. Each month, Rachel Hagewood and Ben Howard will get together for an in-depth look at a different concept from the Bible. They'll read Scripture, talk theology, bounce ideas off of each other, and do their best to make you think and make you laugh. In between these biblical deep-dives, Rachel and Ben will be joined by a different guest each month to explore these concepts from a different, and occasionally unusual, angle. Listen to the first two episodes at LetsTalkAboutTheBible.com, and then subscribe for all episodes!

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Editorial/Design Team Rachel Mullen, Editor Diana Hynson, Editor of Bible Lessons Ed Maksimowicz, Designer Julie P. Glass, Production Editor Administrative Staff Rev. Brian K. Milford, President and Publisher Marjorie M. Pon, Associate Publisher and Editor, Church School Publications CHRISTIAN LIVING IN THE MATURE YEARS (ISSN 2639-8931) is published quarterly by Abingdon Press, 2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228-1306. Periodicals Postage Paid at Nashville, TN, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to CHRISTIAN LIVING IN THE MATURE YEARS, 2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228-1306. Copyright © 2019 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Scripture quotations in this publication, unless otherwise noted, are from the Common English Bible, copyright 2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations referred to as Amplified Bible, Classic Edition are from the Amplified® Bible (AMPC), Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org For permission to reprint any material in this publication, call 615-749-6421, or write to Permissions Office, 2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228-1306. Email: permissions@abingdonpress.com. All Web addresses were correct and operational at the time of publication. To order copies of this publication, call toll free: 800-672-1789. Use your Cokesbury account, American Express, Visa, Discover, or Mastercard. CHRISTIAN LIVING IN THE MATURE YEARS is designed to help persons in and nearing the retirement years understand and appropriate the resources of the Christian faith in dealing with specific problems and opportunities related to aging. Cover Photo: Shutterstock

Upload unsolicited manuscripts, photos, and cartoon submissions to https:// matureyears.submittable.com/submit in order to be considered for use.

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All God’s Creatures In the Saddle: Stories from a Bicycle Seat Earth Day: Caretakers of Creation 5 Tips for Planting and Caring for Trees This Arbor Day Come As You Are I’m Only Superhuman on Tuesdays Listening Prayer: An Introduction Choosing a Grandparent Name You’ll Love Ancient Dead Sea Salt: A Permanent Covenant How to Create a Smoky Cubano Sandwich Sustainable Eating Made Easy The Wonderful Land of Oz: Australia’s Tropics We’ve Come All This Way Must We Always Get Our Way? Waiting for Test Results (And Other Scary News) God’s Driving Lessons Blood Clot Risk Factors 5 Tips to Reduce Litter and Protect the Oceans

Bible Lessons




53 Life

In Every Issue 2 3 4 49 52 96

Bookshelf Chaplain’s Corner Fragments of Life Puzzle Time Bible Verse: Psalm 36:5-9 Merry-go-round

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The Grace of Les Misérables by Matt Rawle The hit Broadway musical, Les Misérables, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, is one of the longestrunning musicals in the world. This profound story of Jean Valjean’s quest for redemption and a changed life has inspired audiences to ponder themes of justice, poverty, freedom, and love. In keeping with his previous works, Matt Rawle brings us to the intersection of church and pop culture by drawing parallels between the popular story and the life of Jesus, another revolutionary who shared a gospel of justice for those on the margins of life, and in turn, a sacrificial life with the least of us all.

The Passion Play: Living the Story of Christ’s Last Days by Rob Fuquay With few exceptions, the Oberammergau Passion play has been presented by the inhabitants of the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany, every ten years since 1634. The play is a staging of Jesus’ Passion story, covering the final period of his life, from his visit to Jerusalem to the journey to the cross. In his new book and study, The Passion Play: Living the Story of Christ’s Last Days, author and pastor Rob Fuquay follows the biblical story of the Passion and how it has been experienced through the centuries against the backdrop of this amazing play.

Women Bishops of The United Methodist Church: Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit by Margaret Ann Crain and Sharon Zimmerman Rader Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader and Dr. Margaret Ann Crain interviewed the women bishops of The United Methodist Church, the first denomination to elect women to the episcopacy. Through the stories they collected, they learned what enabled these women to persevere, claim

authority, define leadership in their own ways, and rise to the episcopacy. Their stories reveal how these clergywomen changed the church, blazing leadership trails both before and after their elections. This book shares inspirational stories and pivotal moments that illustrate how these women managed the complexities of family, faith, and authority. Through their histories, women bishops have made––and will continue to make––both realized and unrealized differences in The United Methodist Church.

The Walk: Five Essential Practices of the Christian Life by Adam Hamilton How do we walk with Christ—daily follow him, grow in him, and faithfully serve him? In the Gospels, Jesus modeled for us the Christian spiritual life. The apostles taught it in their writings. And the Church has, through the last two thousand years, sought to pursue this Christian spiritual life. In The Walk, Adam Hamilton focuses on five essential spiritual practices that are rooted in Jesus’ own walk with God and taught throughout the New Testament. Each of these practices is intended as part of our daily walk with Christ, while also being an essential part of growing together in the church.

Christ Is for Us: Scriptures for the Church Seasons—Lent by April Yamasaki Christ Is for Us invites readers to explore God’s saving and redeeming love through a seven-week study of the Scripture readings for Lent and Easter. Key Bible passages call us to embrace God’s salvation and the new life offered to us through Christ. This study includes commentary and reflection on readings from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles. It offers the opportunity to explore these Bible readings in a seven-session study. It will help readers understand, appreciate, and engage in meaningful and life-changing spiritual practices and offer gratitude for God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.

Read sample chapters and find more information at AbingdonPress.com


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The Biggest Star to the Smallest Seed BY ROB E RT H . S PA IN


must break free of its hard, old, protective coating and make itself vulnerable to its new possibility. This alone is a battle many seeds never accomplish. It must then fight its way out of the darkness. The same darkness that nurtured it can now kill it if it does not find light. Once in the light, it basks until it is desperate for water to drink, water to live, perhaps one might say living water. Then it must marshal all of its resources to grow each and every day, despite the bugs, the critters, and the elements that would hold it back or take such a toll it might die. And this means changing every single day. If it is ever static, it will die. This week I am enjoying the gorgeous, colorful peonies. A while ago, they were only thin stalks emerging from the winter sleep. Quickly, they grew with buds, some the size of golf balls; and with a day or two of sun, they exploded to four or six inches of unfolding beauty. How can this be? How can such beauty and color come from a buried root? It makes me wonder what the good Lord wanted me to look like and be like when I became a mature plant.

n TV last night, I watched a program on the cosmos. Our universe and those that exist beyond our realm of recognition boggle my mind. The extrasolar systems are so far beyond me that I cannot even begin to grasp either the place or activity of them. All of us have studied the basics of our solar system; but after the introductory level things, it is beyond my comprehension. There is a lot I don’t understand. It’s not just the big things floating around in some kind of a sky that I don’t comprehend; it’s little things that I have been around all my life. Much of it relates to the natural world of which we are a part. I used to be a gardener—more than making a trip to the local nurseries where they come “ready-made.” I like to start things from seeds—sometimes tiny seeds. I know they are just “little ole seeds” collected from spent blossoms. But in every seed there is a vast potential of life that is unrevealed, hidden away. Who could ever guess from that one minuscule seed would come a long reaching vine or a flower of fragrance and color and beauty? Each seed is a hidden secret waiting to reveal its true nature. I also know when I plant a seed that I am committing it to a struggle. It is not without effort that a seed becomes a plant and ultimately a harvest. First, the seed


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Robert H. Spain is a retired United Methodist bishop and former chaplain of The United Methodist Publishing House.

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Fragments of Life

White Swans O

ne lovely summer’s morning, I walked alongside the river in Buckingham, England. Two shining white swans sailed majestically along on the river—big, beautiful birds. Father and mother swans were followed by three almost-full-grown young swans, still covered in dull, gray feathers. All swans (the mute variety) in the UK technically belong to the Queen, thanks to a twelfth-century law, and are protected. But they are quite wild, swimming or flying from river to river or lake. A little boy and his mother were standing on a bridge watching them, and I joined them on the bridge. “The little swans look very dirty,” said the boy. “Why aren’t they white?” “They will be white one day. When they’re properly grown up, they’ll be white like their parents,” explained his mother. The boy frowned as he peered at the swans. “But—how does the white get on?” Chuckling to myself, I walked on, thinking, Well, how? The white feathers will grow naturally, out of the life of the young swan. The life is there; all he has to do is live it and grow up. So, how does a Christian get to be like his Lord? As I continued along the path into town, I remembered the time when I received the Lord Jesus. There and then, I



know I became a child of God and received God’s life. But am I like God? Sometimes I know I am very far from being like Jesus, but I am encouraged to believe his promise that, one day, I shall be like him. God works from the inside out. I need to keep my eyes looking to Jesus, and allow God’s life, invested in me when I received God’s Son, to grow and mature. And maturing is a day-to-day process, as God takes us through life as it is and not always as we would like it to be. A few days later, I walked again by the river and passed by the young swans. Looking closely, I saw white feathers showing through the gray. One raised his wings, which were growing bigger and more powerful each day, and flapped them vigorously. A few of the old feathers flew off, and more white appeared. His beak, which had been almost black when he was younger, was changing into bright gold, like his father’s. “Dear friends,” says the apostle John, “now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). One day when we see him, we shall be like him. What an encouraging thought!

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Fragments of Life

Barefoot for Blessings BY A L L I SON WIL S ON L E E


myself, and my church community seemed a likely group to recruit for the project. With my pastor’s approval, I set up a big cardboard box in the children’s Sunday school area where shoes could be dropped off. I wanted my Sunday morning announcement about the shoe drive to have an impact, so I decided to do it without shoes, hoping my barefoot presence at church would remind our congregation of how much we take shoes for granted. Living in Florida, I didn’t have to worry about traversing barefoot through snow or freezing weather. And I didn’t have to walk to church, so my feet got only slightly dirty in the process. People paid attention. Our small congregation collected over 120 pairs of shoes. Not long before Christmas that year, I contacted Lucinda and asked if she could come retrieve them from my house. “Oh, yeah . . . I know what it’s like to try and store hundreds of pairs of shoes,” she chuckled. Soon after, she and her husband showed up with a pick-up truck to haul the footwear back to their house. From there, the shoes made it on a plane and then to Honduras. I wanted to encourage my faith family to be cheerful givers of shoes that fall, and I felt cheerful going barefoot so I could motivate them to give.

should really paint my toenails before church tomorrow, I thought one Saturday night. I had good reason to ensure my nails looked presentable: I planned to attend church services the next day without shoes. Although I’d spent every summer of my childhood as a country kid running around barefoot, even going without shoes to the grocery store on occasion, I’d never showed up at church without shoes—at least, not since I’d learned to walk. Now, as an adult, I would make my first foray into barefoot church attendance. Several years ago, I connected with a woman via Craigslist who collected all manner of items to send to an impoverished village in Honduras. Lucinda had a relationship with some healthcare providers from the US who ran a clinic in this village, and they told her how the people there need almost everything. In particular, they need shoes. One summer, I helped clean and prep more than one hundred pairs to go in a shipping container (along with bikes and toilets) to the Honduran village. But Lucinda had gathered all of those; I only wiped them and then rubber-banded them together for transport. Now, I wanted to make a bigger contribution to these villagers. I wanted to organize a shoe collection


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Fragments of Life

Butterflies BY R E V. R ITA H AYS


f all God’s beautiful creation, butterflies dazzle me the most. On a spring morning, they quietly flutter around me on delicate wings of grace. Sitting outside on a sunny afternoon, butterflies delight me when they softly land on my wrist, remaining only for fleeting moments, but lingering long enough to proudly show off their vivid colors and calm manner. They gladly decorate my yard with rainbow hues. My friend, Lori, and I share a passion for these majestic creatures. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, she gifted me with all things butterflies: pins, scarves, writing paper, notepads, pens, magnets, and books. Then, when Lori suffered with throat cancer, I returned the favor. We kept our spirits alive and our hopes rekindled through our offerings to each other. These precious mementos provided strength and courage, along with cementing our abiding friendship. The butterfly, a symbol of new life, took on deep significance and purpose for us. Our faith, put to the test during those trying times of chemotherapy and radiation—along with their unpleasant side effects—refused to waver for very long whenever the butterflies appeared. And they did. One gorgeous summer day, I sat inside, feeling sorry for myself. Why me, Lord? I thought. Look at 6

this ugly being—head bald as a baby bird’s, body scarred and worn out from worry and fatigue, tongue with taste buds the flavor of metallic—poor, pathetic Rita. And out of the depth of the pit of despair, I cried out like the psalmist, “Help me, Lord! I long to know you have not forgotten your child. Give me a signal of your healing mercy and love.” Yet, God remained silent. Or so it seemed. Until I ventured outside. And looking in my garden, I spied more butterflies than I could possibly count. Never had I, nor have I since, observed such a large number at one time and place. Dancing from flower to flower, delighted to worship their Creator, these soothing creatures dared me not to notice the multitude of them. And to view them as none other than a powerful sign, a message from their Maker. Intended just for me, only for me. In the darkest of times, in the most difficult situations of life, Emmanuel God comes. God arrives, bringing a manifestation of abiding presence. As do the butterflies—gently rising up, joyfully soaring—lifted by the mighty winds of resurrection into the great beyond.

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Fragments of Life

A Bunch of Sparrows O BY K AT H Y B U N S E

ur yard is a year-round buffet for birds, thanks to my husband. There’s suet for woodpeckers, niger seed for finches, mixed seed suitable for many kinds of birds, and sugar water for hummingbirds. He even designed a heated fountain/birdbath so birds can stay hydrated in winter. All these props and provisions set the stage for avian entertainment outside our kitchen window. “Anything interesting out there?” my husband asked as he peered out the window one morning. “Just a bunch of sparrows,” I replied. After taking a closer look, he said, “Actually, there are several kinds of sparrows under the clothesline. Most of them are house sparrows, but I see a few white-crowned sparrows and a Harris’s sparrow. Harris’s sparrows are rare around here.” He grabbed his copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies and returned to the window. I followed, with interest. “Here is the white-crowned sparrow,” he said, pointing to a handsome bird with bold blackand-white stripes on its head. “This is the Harris’s sparrow,” he continued, indicating a bird with a glossy black head and a body streaked with black, white, and brown. While watching sparrows in the yard and perusing the twelve pages of drawings and descriptions in the field guide, I decided that sparrows are just as interesting as cardinals or finches. Their markings identify them by type and sex. Their behaviors display their individuality. No two are exactly alike. Each is a unique and valuable part of creation. “Aren’t five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them is overlooked by God” (Luke 12:6).


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All God’s Creatures By Rev. Rita Hayes


hey do not always come two by two, as they did during the days of caretaker Noah, when the animals boarded the ark. Yet, they gather, along with their owners—each a modernday Noah—who considers his or her pet nothing less than a family member. Here they are welcomed into the safety and comfort of the holy grounds on which the ark of the church stands. They arrive, a menagerie of God’s creatures: cats, dogs, turtles, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, horses, snakes, and even a tarantula spider named Elvira. They wait, often impatiently, for a prayer of protection and favor given by one of the pastors at our annual Blessing of the Animals Service. We bless animals in recognition of our call to care for all of God’s creation and our responsibility as stewards of God’s good earth. It all started several years ago, when a senior adult in my congregation lost her beloved poodle to cancer. As she was a widow, her pet provided her much-needed daily companionship. At his death, she grieved deeply. She asked if we might gather for a funeral for this beloved dog. I suggested, instead, a Service of Remembrance, based upon the Blessing of the Animals Service approved by our United Methodist church. We gathered on the farm where Max was buried, read the Creation Scriptures from the Book of Genesis, sang a hymn of praise to Creator God, prayed, and shared words of remembrance. This brief service brought great comfort to my friend. Recognizing the importance of pets in family life, I vowed to hold a Blessing of the Animals Service each year in the congregation where I pastored.


God placed all of us in the role as caregivers of God’s wonderful world. Caring for the pets and animals, advocating for animal rights and ethical treatment, and mentoring good stewardship for future generations comes not only as a Godordained duty, but an honor as well. God entrusts us and expects us to copartner in bringing about justice and righteousness that encompasses all of the created order. How, as senior adults, might we fulfill this challenge? • Advocate for a Blessing of the Animals Service in your congregation, your community, your retirement home, or in an assisted-living facility. Resources may be found in The United Methodist Hymnal, The United Methodist Book of Worship, or online. Services are most often scheduled during October in recognition of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Take into account weather conditions, such as hot, cold, rainy, or snowy seasons. • Seek ways to allow retirement communities and assisted-living facilities to invite animals for visits. Many senior adults living in these fondly remember a favorite pet, but are perhaps now unable to care for an animal. They appreciate the opportunity to stroke a dog, hold a cat, or view various species. Studies have proven that a relationship with animals reduces one’s blood pressure level, calms stress, and improves other medical maladies.

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that the covenant given to Noah when he, his family, and the two-by-two animals spilled out of the ark onto dry land was not just for humans. That pledge encompassed all living things: “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, and with every living being with you—with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you” (Genesis 9:9-10). As descendants of the covenant, we are all in the same boat (ark) together. Yet, God appointed each of us as a present-day Noah. God offers redemption for all creation, but we must accept our task, along with our Maker, to turn that promise into a reality.

• If you live in a neighborhood with pets or in a retirement community that allows animals, get to know them and their pet owners. • Invite therapy animals to your church, retirement community, or assisted-living facility. Find ways to show appreciation to police dogs, therapy animals, search dogs, and work animals. • Teach your grandchildren and great-grandchildren respect for animals. Take them on a tour of a petting zoo or farm. Read books about animals. Talk with them about the pets you had growing up and your responsibility toward those animals. Show them the proper way to treat animals, especially safety measures when confronting stray or unfamiliar animals. Teach children to never pet any animal without asking permission, especially a therapy dog.

For further information on a Blessing of the Animals Service or Service of Remembrance for a pet, contact the author at revrita@bellsouth.net.

• Comfort a child on the death of a pet. Remind the child that Creator God takes care of all creation, even after death.

Rita Hays is an ordained deacon in the Tennessee Conference and serves as Associate Pastor at Matthews Memorial United Methodist Church in Madison, Tennessee. She has authored several books and written curriculum resources for the Upper Room and United Methodist Publishing.

While we as a United Methodist church do not have a theological statement concerning the “souls” of animals, our founder John Wesley strongly believed that animals would be included in the new creation, along with plants and other parts of God’s design. Furthermore, a careful reading of Genesis confirms


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In the Saddle: Stories from a Bicycle Seat By Tim Bishop


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Transitions Create Opportunities fter thirty years behind a desk, I was ready for a change. I left a long-term job at age 52 with no intentions of retiring, unaware of how my work transition would create unique opportunities to touch—and be touched by—the world. It started with marriage to my spirited and adventuresome wife. Debbie, also a lifelong single at age 52, brought enough moxie to my life that we embarked on a grand adventure for our honeymoon. We shipped two touring bicycles to the Pacific


Ocean and joined them there. Our plan was to cycle east until either we didn’t want to or we couldn’t continue on. That might be to an airport in a few weeks to fly back to ordinary life or, if all went well, much farther, until Debbie had to return to school in the fall. Little did we know what lay ahead. We’ve since bicycled over twelve thousand miles on six bicycle tours throughout America and lived to tell about it. Our adventures have returned countless benefits. We’ve grown closer; created lifelong memories; and reinvigorated our minds, bodies, and souls. Good for the Mind If you want to clear the clutter from your brain, hop on a bicycle for a few hours. Better yet, do so in the Pacific Northwest, where sparkling mountain streams and lush evergreen forests will escort you to a world much different from the one you left. Let the sound of trickling water, the gentle breeze, the wafting scents of pine and spruce, and the enthralling sights mesmerize you. Think of how blessed you will be to revel in God’s fantastic handiwork. Traveling by bicycle is not for only young muscles and free spirits. It has been the perfect form of travel for us. For decades, I was trapped. A corporate career had prevented me from exploring the physical world around me. Discovering it from the seat of a bicycle has given Debbie and me cherished memories. For example, we cycled riverside to the head of Niagara Falls on our honeymoon and crested 9,600-foot Powder River Pass in Bighorn National Forest five years ago. With a more flexible schedule, you can invest time in cycling adventures like these. A sleeping bag and a small tent may not be as inviting as they once were. Neither do bicycle seats get any softer as we age. However, these temporary discomforts became worthy sacrifices for intimate encounters with America, as we cleansed our minds of the minutia of daily living. Traveling more slowly than by car, train, or plane helped bond us with our surroundings and to the One who made them. Savoring the rewards of bicycle touring with a special friend redeemed its challenges. Any sort of travel is educational. I know more about America now than I ever could have discovered cooped up in an office or tending the


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yard at home. We’ve cycled hundreds of miles through history along the Lewis and Clark Trail, witnessed the bizarre rock formations in the Badlands, rode past Mount Vernon on our way to the Lincoln Memorial, and read countless historical markers on roads all over the country. Our travels have given us a better appreciation for the Civil War, as well as the economies and living conditions in various parts of America. A field trip to places you’ve never gone before will teach you as much about them as hours in the library. On the way, you’ll even learn more about yourself. The world atop a bicycle transcends the one where we live. Good for the Body The health benefits of cycling are whopping. My family’s medical history and my high cholesterol have encouraged me to stay active. Cycling five to eight hours a day redefines the word active. At first, I wasn’t sure how Debbie and I would handle long days in the saddle. I had never seen the Rocky Mountains, and certainly not by bicycle, so I didn’t know what to expect. Our touring bicycles were designed for heavy loads. Among other items, we carried tools and replacement parts, food, clothes, camping equipment, and a computer. While climbing with extra weight initially intimidated me, we had underestimated our abilities. The low gears and riding stability of our bicycles were not only forgiving but also inviting. After a short adjustment period, we were hooked. Today, I would rather ride that bicycle loaded than empty. Camping in the wild also triggered anxiety. Ultimately, though, it only enhanced the touring experience. Debbie and I will never forget the night we had to find a makeshift campsite on a twilight climb in Idaho. Such a beautiful and limitless array of stars we had never seen. When you travel by bicycle as we have, people come to your aid quickly and enthusiastically. Helping seems to provide catharsis for their


spirit of adventure. We’ve had free meals and accommodations in people’s homes; offers to drive us somewhere; and people stopping roadside to give us a drink, hear some tales from our journey, and share local information. Two months after departing on our honeymoon, we arrived in Maine with new physiques. With legs like rocks, we had lost any excess fat that dared cling to our well-traveled bodies. While we had started our journey with reasonable fitness, we ended it in the best shape of our lives, despite ingesting copious calories to keep pedaling along the way. Yes, as we neared journey’s end, we’d paid a price for tougher behinds unsusceptible to saddle sores. However, we could cycle hours on end without difficulty, only to want more of it the next morning. After all, a brand-new world was beckoning. Good for the Soul Prepared and emboldened by our honeymoon tour four years earlier, in 2014 Debbie and I launched into a cross-country tour to raise awareness and funds for a ministry we supported. This time, we would go all out. The honeymoon joyride was history. Instead, we treated this tour as a job, albeit with great perks. In addition to cycling sixty miles a day, we actively engaged people we met and others online through daily blog posts. Periodically, we pitched media in upcoming cities. When we arrived in Sioux City, Iowa, 2,300 miles into the trip, we had “hit the wall” with an overuse injury. However, two weeks of prayer and rest brought a result that defied the local doctor. It was a miracle! The good work God had begun in us a month earlier was not complete. We would encounter God’s activity repeatedly in the many miles to come. Another 2,100 miles later, with $22,000.00 in pledges for our cause, we reached journey’s end. We dismounted our bicycles with so many “God moments” that we would have been remiss not

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to share them with the world. Fifty-two “life lessons” spilled out of our souls onto the pages of Wheels of Wisdom, a devotional that has captured four first-place book awards. Where would those stories have come from had we not encountered them on the road? Touching the World People have traveled vicariously across America and beyond through many books on the subject. As good as those books can be, however, they can’t replace the experience of pushing yourself, connecting with nature, and allowing God more access to shape you as you explore God’s magnificent creation. Leaving behind conventional work models can provide the flexibility to pursue new interests. Bicycle travel offers a slow burn of multiple stimuli to the human senses. Gone are the noise, stuffiness, and restraint of the close confines of faster modes of transportation. The relaxed pace promotes deeper immersion. The personal challenge will strengthen your capabilities and bolster your confidence. So, consider expanding your horizons. Ride into another world on the seat of a bicycle. It will inspire you. In turn, you can touch others even more effectively. You won’t regret the adventure. How to Get Started If you’re interested in exploring bicycle travel further, check out Adventure Cycling Association’s (ACA) website at www.adventurecycling.org. ACA is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire, empower, and connect people to travel by bicycle. It publishes turn-by-turn maps of bicycle routes throughout the United States.


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You can also learn more from our books and our website, www.openroadpress.com. We published a print version of Bicycle Touring How-To: What We Learned. It targets newcomers to the sport. You can convert a dream to a decision in a split second and begin cycling across America only two months later. We’re living proof. See you on the road! At age 52, Tim Bishop left a successful career as a corporate treasurer, married his dream girl, and embarked with her to parts unknown—on bicycles! The Bishops then coauthored the award-winning, Wheels of Wisdom. In addition to his writing and publishing endeavors, Tim volunteers online as a Hope Coach for young people who are struggling with life issues.

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Earth Day: Caretakers of Creation

By Mary Ekstrand


hen my mother turned one hundred years old, I found myself wondering what memories would stay in my mind as I got older and more confined. Certainly, family and friends and major events, but what would be the other colored photos in my mind? I knew immediately. It’s what I remember at the end of each day with gratitude—glimpsing a hummingbird in the Abelia bush through the front window. Harvesting our first crop of peaches. Glancing up when walking to see an eagle circling low above me. That vivid green color in the spring when the trees have just budded. And then the fall colors—and feeling the crunch of leaves underneath my feet. I glissaded down a glacier once at night. I can still see the dark mountains around me in the moonlight and smell the very fresh, cold air, fresher air than I had ever smelled. It was so very silent. None of us exists separately from all of God’s creation. We’re in this together with the eagles and the trees; the water, mountains, and air. God created it all and saw it as good. All of it is sacred because it is God’s creation. Just as we care for our church buildings because they are sacred places, we care for the earth and everything God has made. In a world that has largely seen fit to consume earth’s resources, we Christians are called to be the protectors of Earth—we worship the God who 14

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of a nuclear strike on a nearby military installation. Shortly after that, I remember reading advice from a Christian psychologist on how to handle children’s fears. If they see you working to “make it better,” she explained, they will be reassured. Your involvement, your commitment to peace—or in today’s world, your commitment to creating a healthier and safer world—will assure them that the adults in their lives care and are working for better solutions.

created it and set it all in motion. God made us caretakers. Some of us have not been very good stewards. We have already lost much of creation. In an unusually short time, bird migrations have shifted. Gardeners notice that plant-hardiness zones have changed. We are witnesses and sometimes victims to increasing drought in our country and throughout the world. Storms are worse. Intense rain and snow come in short periods of time leading to flood conditions. Rising sea levels threaten some islands and their residents. My county just spent three to four days hauling in big rocks and positioning them along the saltwater shoreline near my home in order to secure the public road from washing out. It’s the first time in the fifty years I have lived here that I have seen such a big shoreline project in this area. We are called individually to act, first in our homes and the ways we choose to live—our food, transportation, how we spend our money, even what we throw in the garbage. God has no time or patience to hear, “It’s too late” or “It won’t matter that much.” Jesus was never a cynic. We are called to act in our churches in some of those same basic ways—recycling, educating our children and members, and paying attention to energy usage. Then we are called to act in our communities. We are called to speak up for this beautiful, sacred earth that has no voice. And in that speaking out, we become witnesses for our faith. When my children were small, the threat of the nuclear arms race created a lot of anxiety, and children picked up on those fears. I remember my seven-year-old son stretched out on his stomach on the living-room rug studying a “doomsday map” in the local newspaper. It described the possible results www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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I’ve never forgotten a headline in a church newspaper I saw many years ago: “What good is a church without a habitable planet to put it on?” “God so loved the world. . . . ,” and continues to love it. Do you?

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IN YOUR H OM E • Reduce consumption of products that are harmful to wildlife, especially plastic packaging. • Visit wild, beautiful places—get out and go! • Teach grandchildren how to practice earth caretaking, especially recycling. • Aim for acquiring experiences instead of things. • Insulate, weather strip, caulk. • Bring back a clothesline or a drying rack— especially for heavier items. • Pay attention to energy-efficient appliances, light bulbs, cars. • Use public transportation when possible. • Eat “lower” on the food chain—grains, fruits, veggies. • Be kind to yourself, your family, and your friends—none of us “does it all”!

I N YO U R C HU RC H • Check your church building for energy leaks—aim for being energy efficient. • Is recycling available everywhere in the building? • Monitor the products used outside in landscaping—eliminate harmful pesticides. • Take time for reflection on Scripture about creation, like Genesis 1–3; John 1; and Psalm 104. • Create a community garden. • Take on a cleanup project in your community. • Always keep love at the center—we all do what we can, but we all don’t focus on the same things! • Purchase and download the e-book, Green Church by Rebekah Simon-Peter at AbingdonPress.com, for more ideas. 16

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I N YO U R C O M M U N I TY • Make your voice heard in the marketplace by what you buy. It will respond to what we buy—or don’t buy. • Speak out, write letters, make phone calls—the earth needs more caretakers. • Contribute to and join organizations that are defending the earth. • Speak up for the beautiful public lands that we can all get out and enjoy. • Dare to stand up to defend the earth—become a witness to your faith by living it, not just by saying it.

Mary Ekstrand is a retired elementary school library technician. She grows a vegetable garden every summer and nurtures about ten fruit trees in her yard—peach, apple, plum, persimmon, pear, fig, and cherry.


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5 Tips for Planting and Caring for Trees This Arbor Day T

rees are not only beautiful to look at, they also serve important purposes in our communities and all over the world. They provide the oxygen we breathe, regulate the temperature of our neighborhoods, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and add value to our homes. If you’ve ever wanted to plant trees in your own yard or if you want to join a community tree-planting project, Arbor Day is a great time to get started. National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. There may be Arbor Day events happening in your community. You can find out at arborday. org/celebrate/ways-to-celebrate.cfm. Tree-planting is a great opportunity to involve the whole family, teaching your grandchildren the importance of the natural environment and how we can all be better stewards of our planet. Below are some tips for a successful tree planting. 1. Location, location, location. Where you plant a tree matters. Tall trees should be planted far enough from utility lines (and homes) to avoid problems when they grow to maturity. Shorter flowering trees may be a good choice closer to utility lines. Large evergreens shouldn’t be planted close to a house on the southern side, as they can block warming winter sunlight. However, planting trees to the north of a house can help shield it from cold winter winds.


2. Choose your tree with care. The Arbor Day Foundation can help you find the right variety of tree for your climate zone, soil conditions, sun exposure, and location. Visit arborday.org/trees for guidance on choosing the right tree for your purposes. 3. How to start your tree. Whether you start with a bare-root seedling, a balled and burlapped tree, or a container-grown or potted tree, be sure it looks healthy. For a bare-root tree, look for abundant root growth: numerous small fibrous roots that appear moist and a good color. A balled and burlapped tree should have a firm soil ball that does not seem broken, without circling roots at the base of the trunk. Always carry these by their soil ball, not from the trunk, stem, or branches. A containerized tree should not be root-bound in the pot or can—if roots have circled around the edge of the container, you should cut any circling roots before planting. Always remove any container before planting. Balled and burlapped is the preferred choice for larger trees. 4. Plant properly. Watch the videos at arborday.org/howtoplant to see the best practices for planting bare-root seedlings, balled and burlapped trees, or containerized trees. Tips for all three types include: digging a hole wider than what seems

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The time for planting trees is now. By doing so, you are an important part of something bigger. The Arbor Day Foundation’s Time for Trees initiative aspires to plant 100 million trees by 2022, the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day. Each tree planted will help clean our air and water, fight climate change, prevent damage from storms and flooding, and beautify our world. Enhance your yard, your community, and the planet by planting a tree this Arbor Day.

necessary for your tree; packing the original soil around the planted tree firmly but not too tightly; creating a water-holding basin in the soil around the tree; and giving the tree a good watering, then keeping the soil around the tree moist but not soggy, watering every seven to ten days during the first year after planting. 5. Continuous care for your trees. For your newly planted trees—and even existing trees on your property—help them thrive by watering them correctly (which is especially important when conditions are hot and dry), adding mulch, pruning as needed, and watching for issues such as pests or tree diseases.


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Source: Brandpoint

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Come As You Are

By Selena Cunningham


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time to grow on me. It has a couple of meanings. Come as you are physically––in your jeans and your T-shirt, in your work boots and your uniform, in your worn-out sneakers and soccer jersey—is often part of what some of the “new school” churches mean. There is the deeper meaning––which is most often associated with church. Then there is come as you are spiritually––broken, in need of prayer, in need of healing, searching. The latter meaning has always been a part of church culture and was never hard for me to embrace, at least in thought; but the former, I admit, took some time to grow on me. Yet, there is a connection between the two. Casual churches are nothing new; they’ve been around for years and have increased in popularity with time. I admit I’m a slow adopter. The part of me that wore frilly dresses and shiny, patent leather shoes to church as a girl, because it was “what you did,” hesitates at the thought of going to church in anything less than Sunday best. As a person who was raised in church, I know that God loves me just as I am, no matter what I look like. Still, there is part of me that has been socialized to believe that I must present my physical “best self ” on Sunday morning to be acceptable among God’s people and to be respectful to God. Recently, I decided to visit some of these places where one may “come as one is” physically, and it was eye-opening in ways I did not expect. I visited churches where not only was the dress code more casual, but so was the worship experience. In these worship settings, bringing one’s coffee cup into the sanctuary or even being served coffee in the lobby and sipping during the service was not uncommon. In one church, the congregation sat at round tables rather than in pews to foster a sense of community. They even served sausage biscuits during the worship! Having been accustomed to a traditional church environment, these experiences seemed foreign at first. Then one day, as I was sitting in one of these casual worship services, I looked around at all of the dressed-down people who were singing a praise song, fully engaged in worship, and it hit me that the people around me were not wearing their “church masks.” When I say this, I don’t mean to suggest that people in any church come to worship with the intention to deceive God or their neighbors, but

ne afternoon as I thumbed through the mail, I came across a flyer for a church with the words, “come as you are.” I’d seen these words on similar flyers in my mailbox recently and also on more church websites than I could name. I live in the South, where churches have never been in short supply, and there seem to be more churches popping up every day. I’ve noticed that this “come as you are” phrase seems to be more often associated with the new churches than the old. Having grown up in old-fashioned churches where going to church in your Sunday best was the norm, I have to admit this phrase, “come as you are,” has taken some


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often, and sometimes unintentionally, we hide our true selves in our Sunday best. We hide that part of us that is broken, searching, and in need of healing or prayer behind shiny shoes, ruffles, and frills like a mask. And when we hide those vulnerabilities behind that mask, sometimes it’s hard for our faith communities to truly see us. We are quickly scanned and visually processed as “whole” or OK, when inside we are in pieces and in need of love and prayer. So many of us go into a church setting dressed as more than we feel and come out feeling even less because we haven’t allowed our real selves to be seen. We’ve presented false selves through tricks of clothing and makeup, almost like actors in a play. I’m not saying that you should come to church dressed in rags because you’re going through a tough time, but I wonder if allowing people to come as they are in some ways eliminates a lot of the façades that people put up when it comes to church and allows us to connect on a deeper level than we might otherwise. It seems silly that such things could have such an impact, but there’s something to it. I’ve had days where my favorite dress didn’t fit because I’d been stress-eating butter pecan ice cream, humidity had gotten the best of my hair, and all hope of makeup ended after the dress and hair. Maybe if, on those days, I had thrown on a baggy sweater and let my face and hair be what they were, the lady in the pew across the aisle who didn’t have time to pull herself together because the kids were a handful that morning would have felt less awkward. And maybe we would both have recognized a need in each other and felt empathy. Perhaps we would have thought of each other in prayer later on because we “saw” each other. Maybe a man who can’t afford designer suits will feel more comfortable coming to worship at all, if he’s sitting next to a man who chose jeans and a T-shirt, even though he could have purchased the designer suit. Maybe the two of them will share a supportive glance or a word of greeting, when before they might not even have met each other’s gaze because they didn’t want to see their differences and feel the emotions that come with seeing and acknowledging those differences. 22

As I looked around at those near me who had come as they were, I realized that the “come as you are” church culture that is so popular now may actually be helping us get closer to the church we’re supposed to be in other ways. In these churches, I noticed more diversity of race, age, and economic background than ever before, all in one space. I don’t think that’s an accident. Yes, I realize there may be other factors at play, but as many public school systems in our communities that have gone to school uniforms have recognized, removing cultural and economic markers in clothing makes a difference. I admit to being the sort of “rule follower” who might have judged a cup of coffee in the sanctuary as disrespectful before my recent explorations. But on some level, I admire the honesty of a person who can admit to needing a cup of coffee to make it through Sunday morning more than the person who wants one but doesn’t take it because “it’s not how things are done.” Deep down, I’d rather be the person who took a so-called irreverent sip and heard the sermon than the person who missed the message because she couldn’t keep her eyes open during the service. I admire the person who didn’t feel like dressing up or didn’t have the means, but came to worship slightly disheveled because he or she still had the desire to worship and to be a part of the community of believers. Before, I saw the “come as you are” church culture as trendy; now, I see it as authentic. Being with God in sweats and sneakers is no less holy than being with God in a dress and heels. Selena Cunningham is an editor, writer, and educator who lives in Franklin, Tennessee. She enjoys learning new things, spending time with family and friends, and experiencing good stories.

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announce a finished book for my Selah Press clients, whether it is under my imprint or their own. And I love it when a website is done or a book cover or some other project I have finished for my company or someone else’s. You know that feeling? That moment when you get to reveal what you have worked so hard on. I’m going to start rewarding myself with a few more ta-da exclamations in my day. Ta-da—I got out of bed! Ta-da—I fed the chickens and the cats and the dogs and even the people! Happy dance. Ta-da—I didn’t lose my phone today! OK, I know those aren’t big things, but some days when you consider all the other things on our plates, the little things can be massive, giant, showstopping ta-da moments. How about you? Do you also put too much focus on what you didn’t get done? Celebrate the ta-da moments with me and start to feel a little superhuman power in your step.

’m only superhuman on Tuesdays, and it isn’t Tuesday very often around here. I know— Tuesday rolls around every week—but sometimes I forget that it is Tuesday and leave my wonder powers in the closet. By Friday, I am often left wondering how I accomplished so few of the things on my must-do list and realize that I forgot to activate my superpowers when Tuesday rolled around. Maybe I should set a reminder for myself for Tuesday mornings. All kidding aside, many of us have so much on our plates that we actually could use some superhuman powers. People often ask me how I do so much. Mentally, I do a quick inventory of all the undone things on my to-do and must-do lists and think they might have gone mad. That got me thinking that if we focus on what we didn’t get done because we overcommitted, we will not only be overwhelmed by what we have left to do but also underwhelmed by our own performance. If we placed unrealistic expectations on ourselves then, how can we ever experience the ta-da moment at the end of the day? I’m all about the ta-da moment! I love that moment at the end of a project when I get to

Kayla Fioravanti is an award-winning author, certified aromatherapist, and cosmetic formulator. She is the author of The Art, Science and Business of Aromatherapy and coauthor of the Amazon #1 New Release, The Unspoken Truth About Essential Oils.

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By Kayla Fioravanti

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Listening Prayer: An Introduction By Scott Spradley


earlier days is an undeniable knowledge that there is a God; and this God wants to be with us, spend time with us, and, yes, speak to us. God has much more to say to us than, “Hey! Get your act together!” To tell the truth, God rarely uses that tone with me, even when I feel I deserve it. I discovered listening prayer, as it is for me now, on the corner of the couch in my living room early one morning before work. I was using a journal, a Bible, and the Jesus Calling book. But I was tired of digging through Scripture, tired of reading. I had run out of words. At that point, something inside let me know that I had been having a one-sided relationship, and the reason it felt like I was working so hard at it was because I was working so hard at it. I’d never just stopped and shut up. Then, I did. I stopped, slowed and deepened my breathing, let myself relax, and listened. At that moment, I had a deep sense of God’s presence and a loving whisper, so gentle and so simple. As I sat there, I didn’t want to get up. And as I listened, the words were few, but the message was clear: “You are loved, you are not alone, and I am here.” Honestly, most of the time that’s about all I need to hear when I am sitting with God. Since that day, noticeable encounters with God have been much more frequent and much more natural. Now, I don’t have to go on a retreat or go astray to hear God’s voice and know God’s presence, and neither do you. This first experience of listening prayer taught me that taking time to be with God and hear

f you are like I was much of my life, most of your prayer may seem more like “listing” prayer than listening prayer: giving God your daily list of needs, requests, and sometimes thank-yous, with a little praise sprinkled in. These are all valid and important parts of prayer and our relationship with God. But since it is a relationship, our communication with God should include all the elements of communication that any important relationship does. Listening is one of these elements. In life with our earthly loved ones, it is very important. So, why not with God? For me, listening prayer was not something I read about in a book or heard about in a class and tried until I got it. It really seemed to be born of my hardheadedness. In other words, God had to get loud to get my attention. I like to call this experience the almighty foot of God kicking me in the right direction. I have a friend who seems a much more obedient follower of Christ than I’ve ever thought myself to be. When I shared with him these early experiences of hearing God, he would tell me that he wished he could know or hear when God was speaking to him. Back then, I would tell him, “You’re so obedient, and in God’s will, God doesn’t have to speak to you. God has to save God’s voice to keep people like me in line.” I have learned a lot since that time, and I don’t recommend emulating my disobedience or straying as a way to hear from God. There are much simpler paths. I think the gift from those


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from God doesn’t have to be complicated or a lot of work; it requires us to take the time to stop and just be. Though I’m not a fan of living by lists, here is a way to help you remember some of what’s involved when listening prayer happens: Believe, Be still, Be silent, Be aware, Be present, Be with, and Be loved. Believe. Fortunately or unfortunately, God has made it impossible for me not to believe God is real and ever-present. This is because God is constantly turning up in my life. This may not be so for you. If that is where you find yourself, be patient with yourself, your own experience, and your understanding. Also, be patient with God. You might begin your journey by asking God to help you know of God’s existence. Be still. Find a place, time, and position where you can stop and be still. Once in the right spot, I find that slowing and deepening my breathing helps to still me. The right spot used to be on the corner of my couch early in the morning, when I could be alone with God, uninterrupted. Since my wife rearranged the furniture, my old place doesn’t work anymore. Now there is a chair next to a piano bench in the den where I like to go to. Be silent. This doesn’t mean to pray silently. This means turning off your own words. For me, it meant letting go of the notion that I was required to keep the conversation going. Sometimes, before I can reach this point, I find that I need to journal or write my thoughts, rambling or not, to help me get all of my stuff out. Then, stop. Be aware and Be present. Since I know God is always present, I know it is usually something in me that keeps me from experiencing and knowing this. We’ve become expert at being “not aware” of and “not present,” even with people in the same room with us. This mind-set can also carry into our time with God. One of my regular prayers is, “God, make me aware of your presence and help me be present to you.” Be with and Be loved. I am an introvert, so I’m good at being alone. But I need to spend


time being with those I love and those who love me. When I am with them and we are distraction-free, I find I like to drink in deep the goodness and essence these people bring into the space we share. The same is true in being with God. Allowing yourself to sit with God and experience God’s love for you is in itself a beautiful part of most prayer, and something I think we all long for. In listening prayer, being with and being loved can bring clarity to what we may hear. Without this, I think it is easy to confuse other voices or our interpretations of life events for God’s true voice. Now that I’ve given you a bit of a structure for listening prayer, it’s time to tear it all down. What I shared may help you understand some of what happens or what is involved when we listen to and hear God speaking, but God’s interactions with us aren’t confined to designated times and places. I’ve found myself practicing listening prayer in my office and in meetings at my job; when I’m walking my dog, riding my bike, running, or sitting in my backyard under a tree. Listening prayer is also something I experience in spiritual direction sessions as both directee and director. In fact, a spiritual direction session or a group spiritual direction session will often feel like a joint listening prayer session. These times, when two or more are gathered in God’s name, God’s presence and voice are regularly made known. I don’t want to give the impression that spiritual direction or listening prayer brings immediate change to situations or makes bad times suddenly wonderful. What it does offer us is the chance and the encouraging companionship to be different in the situations and places we find ourselves; to embrace all the parts of the abundant life we are in, rather than make failed attempts at blocking out, numbing, or covering up what we find painful or unpleasant. In as many ways as we are each unique, there are also many ways of going about listening

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prayer as you seek to spend time in God’s presence and hearing God’s voice. It is my hope that this short treatment of the subject will introduce you to the possibility that prayer can be different, and also give you some ideas of how you might introduce this gift of presence into your own relationship with God. May you hear God’s voice and know God’s love. A practicing spiritual director since 2013, Scott Spradley received his certification in Spiritual Direction from Perkins School of Theology. Scott also serves as director for the VBS team at The United Methodist Publishing House. Scott regularly facilitates small groups on topics such as walking as a spiritual practice, dreamwork, and spiritual discernment. Scott, his wife, and his son attend Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, and live in Smyrna, Tennessee. For more info: www.spradleyspiritualdirection. com.


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Choosing a Grandparent Name You’ll Love By Becky Alexander


nder the guise of an early Mother’s Day gift, my adult daughter handed me a small box to open. I expected to find a necklace or a pair of earrings inside. So, when I saw the contents, I gasped—not once, but three times. It was a pacifier. As a first-time grandparent-to-be, the days and months that followed were filled with joyful tasks. I shopped for tiny clothes, fuzzy blankets, and a crib for my house. My family and I planned a pink baby shower. (Yes, I was having a granddaughter.) And I spent lots of time researching grandmother names and deciding which one was right for me. I knew I didn’t want Grandmother, Grandma, or Granny. My son-in-law suggested Big Mama, and I told him no way. I desired something different and fun. Rebecca is my given name (though I go by Becky), so I thought Becca would be a creative selection. My daughter, however, requested a name closer to Grandma. In the end, I decided upon Grammy, and I love it. My heart melts when I hear it spoken with my granddaughter’s sweet little voice. To help you choose a grandparent name you’ll love, I polled one thousand people for name ideas and the stories behind them. The results revealed ten trends in “grand” names. 1. The spelling of a grandparent name displays a personal preference. Many variations exist for the same pronunciations. You can be Geepaw or G-Pa, Nana or Nanna, Grandpa or Granpaw, MiMi or Meme. 2. Similar names are often paired together. Some of the paired names mentioned in the poll include Grandmother and Grandfather, Grandma and Grandpa, Mamaw and Papaw, Ma and Pa, and Big Mommy and Big Daddy.


3. Creative names help children differentiate multiple grandparents. One family has a grandma called Mama and a grandma called Blue Mama. (The color has no significance.) 4. Some choose a grandparent name that looks or sounds like a given name. For example, Connie is Nonnie, Junior is Papaw JuJu, Gina is GiGi, Bruce is Boo, and Jo is JoNanna. 5. A grandparent name can reflect something unique about a person. RunMa is an avid runner; her name combines her love of running with her love for her grandson. HoHo is a grandpa with a laugh that reminds his family of Santa Claus. 6. A family may reuse a name to honor a special grandparent. One woman in the poll said, “My grandmother was Mammaw, my mother was Mammaw, and now I am Mammaw. My grandmother was a loving Christian woman. It is a privilege to carry on the tradition.” 7. International grandparent names provide interesting options. Grandpas can be Zaydee (Israel), Babu (Africa), or Doda (Uzbekistan). Grandmas can be Lola (Philippines), YaYa (Greece), or Tutu (Hawaii). 8. Families are sometimes playful with grandparent names. Grandma is Lolli, and Grandpa is Pop; together, they are Lollipop. Grandpa and Grandma are Fred and Wilma, as in The Flintstones cartoon.

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To continue your search for just the right grandparent name, check your local library, bookstores, and online book sites for best-selling grandparent name books. They aren’t as plentiful as baby name books, but they are growing in popularity. You can also access internet articles and blog posts with name ideas. Will you be a BaNana or a MiMi? a Mamaw or a YaYa? Does Big Daddy or Poppy suit you? Or maybe G-Pa or Shugie? Choosing a grandparent name you’ll love is loads of fun, but it is only a hint of the fun that is to come.

9. A chosen name is frequently changed by a grandchild. The child can’t pronounce the name correctly and utters her own version of it. The new name sticks, becoming a treasured gift to the grandparent. One Granddaddy became Bondaddy. Because “bon” means “good” in French, his granddaughter unknowingly named him Gooddaddy. 10. The first grandchild holds all the name power. Usually, the grandparent name used by the first grandchild is the name used by all the grandchildren. That’s how one Grandma is dubbed GooMoo for life.

Before becoming Grammy to Sadie, Becky Alexander was children’s minister to hundreds of kids for twenty-five years. Now she leads tours to Washington, DC; New York City; Boston; Toronto; and Niagara Falls.

Have you already grabbed a pen and started a list of your favorite grandparent names?


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Ancient Dead Sea Salt: A Permanent Covenant By Nancy J. Schaaf RN, BSN, M ED


n their book, Salt and Pepper, the Cookbook, authors Sandra Cook, Sara Slavin, and Deborah Jones state in the preface, “The saltshaker we reach for so casually on our table is the result of millennia of human endeavor, laden with history, symbolism, and ritual.� Salt is an essential mineral used since ancient times in many cultures as a seasoning, a preservative, a disinfectant, and an element of ceremonial offerings. References to salt occur in both the Old and New Testaments. The Dead Sea provided a bountiful supply and was indispensable to the Israelites for flavoring, preserving food, and sacred rituals including the salt covenant. As a child, Jesus likely watched his mother, Mary, use salt in the kitchen to preserve meat and season vegetables. Throughout history, people confirmed agreements using salt, often as part of a meal together. As salt was added to foods to preserve them from decay, it became a symbol of incorruptibility and permanence. Salt covenants are perpetual agreements symbolizing unbreakable friendships and enduring alliances. Today, salt is still a vital commodity. In the spice aisle of grocery stores, specialty food shops, and even department stores, the array of gourmet sea salts


is astounding. Exotic salts create a delightful culinary experience. Home and restaurant chefs value the distinctive qualities of gourmet salts and the ways these salts enhance the flavors of food. Gourmet salts transform even the simplest foods into something remarkable. Salt makes dishes taste better by reducing bitterness, enhancing sweetness, and boosting different flavors. It can intensify aromas, make meat taste juicier, and preserve food for years. Salt is extracted from seawater all over the world. The different mineral compositions and algae change the color and flavor of the seasoning. Sea salts offer a stunning array of colors and shades. The selections of gourmet salts include Himalayan Pink, Hawaiian Red, Celtic Grey, and Hawaiian Black. Textures vary from fine to coarse, from flaked to crystalline to crushed. Incredibly, we now can consume salt from the same sea as those in biblical times. Long used only as bath salt, several salt companies recently found ways to harvest Dead Sea salt and make it edible again. The salt is even available blended with organic herbs and spices to create bold tastes. We can enjoy the intense and full-bodied aroma of this off-white sea salt and reap the benefits of its unique

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Fabulous cooking is all about maximizing flavor and savoring the pleasure of serving good food and enjoying time with family and friends. Symbolically, salt is important in a Christian’s life and symbolizes our covenant with Jesus. Jesus called his followers “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). And amazingly, we can use the very same salt that the ancients used in creating this personal salt covenant.

mineral content. Gourmet Dead Sea salt is naturally thirty percent lower in sodium than table salt and provides essential minerals including potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals are crucial to many bodily functions and need to be replenished regularly. The saltshaker is on virtually every dining table in America. When used conservatively (the American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day or about one teaspoon) and creatively, finishing foods with natural salts can make nutritious eating more enjoyable.


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Nancy J. Schaaf, RN, BSN, M ED, is a retired registered nurse and educator. Schaaf ’s articles have been published in numerous magazines.

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how to create a smoky

cubano sandwich


or flavor fans, there is nearly no better combo than the complementary tastes in a Cubano sandwich. Complete with layers of roast pork, ham, soft Swiss cheese, mustard, and topped with tangy pickles, all the flavors and textures play in concert. For an upgrade on the classic sandwich, try this version from Sammy Hagar, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who’s known for his riff on the iconic recipe. He takes his favorite sandwich to the next level by adding a smoky kick. “The Cubano has everything I love in a sandwich: gooey melted cheese and a crispy, crunchy crust on the bread,” Hagar said. “It’s great to be able to get all the flavors in each bite. It has pickles and mustard that cut through the rich cheese and pork. When you splash a little Tabasco on it, you get the last perfect ingredients—flavor and heat.” Find his signature sandwich at Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill locations throughout the country, or try creating Sammy’s Cubano Sandwich at home with this recipe. Sammy’s Cubano Sandwich Cook time: 3 hours and 30 minutes Servings: 6 Mojo Marinade 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 cup cilantro, minced 3/4 cup orange juice 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice 3 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced 32

2 teaspoons cumin, ground kosher salt, to taste coarse black pepper, to taste Sandwich 3 1/2 pounds pork shoulder or boneless pork butt 2 teaspoons Tabasco Chipotle Sauce 3 tablespoons mayonnaise 6 pieces Cuban bread or baguette (6 inches each), cut lengthwise 8 ounces deli ham, thinly sliced 1/2 pound Swiss cheese, thinly sliced 24 dill pickle chips 4 tablespoons yellow mustard 1 cup unsalted butter 4 tablespoons reserved Mojo Marinade To make Mojo Marinade: In bowl, whisk olive oil, cilantro, orange juice, lime juice, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper until incorporated. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Reserve 4 tablespoons marinade in separate bowl, cover, and set aside in refrigerator. Place pork in large zip-top bag. Cover with Mojo Marinade and close bag. Place in roasting pan and refrigerate overnight. Heat oven to 450 F. Remove pork and marinade from bag and place in roasting pan. Cover with foil and cook in oven 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, reduce heat to 375 F, remove foil, and cook two hours until internal temperature

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reaches 175 F and pork is fork tender at thickest part. Remove from oven and let rest twenty minutes before slicing. In small bowl, mix Tabasco sauce and mayonnaise until fully incorporated. Spread mixture on bottom bread slice. On top bread slice, place two slices deli ham, 3–4 ounces roasted pork, two slices Swiss cheese, 4–6 pickles, and yellow mustard.


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Over medium-high heat, butter flat surface of griddle and add reserved Mojo Marinade while butter is melting. Place assembled sandwiches on griddle, pressing grill weight or heavy skillet on top of sandwiches. Cook until bottoms are golden brown and cheese is melted. Source: Family Features

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Sustainable Eating Made Easy


he needs of grocery shoppers are seemingly always evolving, and now more than ever, they want to know where and how their food is produced and what impact it has on the environment. This is commonly referred to as “sustainable eating,” and its popularity is growing among shoppers. Plant-based diets are a tenet of sustainable eating, and mushrooms are often included as part of the movement. Known for their inherent umami (meaty) flavor and nutrition properties, mushrooms are recognized for their unique growing process and need for minimal natural resources used during production, which makes mushrooms both healthy on the plate and gentle on the planet. In addition, mushrooms are a versatile ingredient, and with so many fresh varieties to choose from, it’s simple to incorporate them into most meals. Three Mushroom and Garlic Grilled Pizza can satisfy the entire family, while favorites like Sautéed Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Avocado Toast may hit the spot morning, noon, and night. For more information on mushroom sustainability, as well as additional recipes, visit mushroomcouncil.com.


Sautéed Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato Avocado Toast Recipe courtesy of the Mushroom Council Servings: 4 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes 8 ounces sliced button mushrooms 1/4 cup water 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves kosher salt, to taste 2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and sliced 4 slices toasted bread shaved Parmesan cheese In skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes and cook one minute. Add mushrooms and gently incorporate with tomatoes. Add water and stir well until water evaporates and mushrooms darken and become tender, about four minutes. Add thyme and salt, to taste. Set aside to cool. To assemble, gently smash half of each avocado over one slice of toast. Top each slice of toast with mushroom mixture. Top each with Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil before serving.

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Three Mushroom and Garlic Grilled Pizza Recipe courtesy of the Mushroom Council Servings: 4

Heat grill to medium-high heat, about 425 F. To make sauce: In medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Whisk in garlic and basil; cook one minute. Sprinkle in flour while quickly whisking to form paste. Reduce heat to medium. Slowly pour in halfand-half while continuing to whisk until there are no clumps. Increase heat slightly to bring to simmer. Stir as mixture thickens into sauce, about one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper; set aside. In large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to turn tender, about two minutes. Carefully pour in stock and continue cooking until liquid evaporates, about one minute. Sprinkle with salt. Stretch dough to make 14-inch pizza. Brush grill grates generously with olive oil. Place dough on grill and let cook about three minutes, until underside is browned and dough removes easily from grill. While removing dough from grill, flip it onto baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray so cooked side is up. Spread sauce over pizza and evenly cover in mushrooms. Add mozzarella cheese. Return pizza to grill, topping-side up. Close lid and let cook 3–5 minutes. Once top crust browns and cheese melts and bubbles, remove from grill. Let rest 2–3 minutes. Garnish with Parmesan and basil leaves; slice to serve.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 3 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced 3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 3 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced 1 ounce chicken stock 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt pizza dough (14 inches) olive oil nonstick cooking spray 4 ounces whole milk mozzarella cheese, chopped shaved Parmesan, for garnish basil leaves, for garnish Sauce 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 4 garlic cloves, minced 5 basil leaves, minced 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 3/4 cup half-and-half 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Source: Family Features www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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The Wonderful Land of Oz: Australia’s Tropics By Rachel Mullen


floated on the surface of the Pacific Ocean miles from land; something fluttered below me. I focused on a blue-spotted ribbontail stingray gently stirring up the sand as another creature, large and green, caught my eye. I turned my head to see a hawksbill sea turtle lurching for a jellyfish. Rainbowcolored parrotfish loudly munched on hard bits of coral, and a whitetip reef shark slept off to my left. I cleared the water from my snorkel before heading farther out onto the reef. As freezing temperatures still lingered in my corner of America, Australia’s Tropical North

there, so if you visit the area, you’ll most likely spend some time in the city. The vibe was a little faster than what we were looking for, though, so we headed to the picturesque northern beach of Palm Cove for a taste of the slow life. Palm Cove hosts a strip of restaurants, resorts, and shops right along the water, and we chose to stay at the Melaleuca Resort because of its central location and self-contained apartments. I also loved the tropical landscaping and lagoon-style pool. Our apartment looked right out onto the beach and had every amenity we could wish for. Each day we were there, we walked up and down the esplanade, listening to tropical birds squawk as the palm trees swayed.

Queensland was in the dog days of summer. My husband and I made the trek to the land down under to experience some of the most unique biodiversity in the world. For me, that meant exploring the world’s oldest rainforest and following sea turtles through the coral of the world’s largest living organism: the Great Barrier Reef. For my husband, it meant spotting koalas and kangaroos. Before heading out to sea, we explored what the land had to offer. We landed in Cairns, which is a bustling city and the busiest jumping-off point for the Great Barrier Reef. Most reef tours leave from 36

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watched chocolatiers create footballsized milk chocolate Easter eggs and sampled some of the most delicious cheeses I’ve ever had. My favorite was the macadamia cheese, which is made with local nuts for a nutty, creamy, almost-chocolatey flavor. We lingered over plates of local specialties in the café for lunch before grabbing some takeaway cheese and chocolates for dinner that night. As we continued our tour, we stopped along the road to marvel at towering strangler fig trees and kept our eyes peeled for kangaroos (which we saw). We also tried to spot the elusive platypus in local streams (which we did not see). The next day, we took to the skies! Sort of. We wanted to explore the Wet Tropics Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world, and the perfect way to do that is on the Kuranda Skyrail. The Skyrail experience was unlike anything we’d ever done before. A cabled gondola whisked us above the lush forest, making stops along the way so guests could

But there was so much more to explore than the beaches, so we headed inland. The Atherton Tablelands, which lie southwest of Palm Cove, encompass some of Australia’s most fertile farmland. We decided to take a self-guided food tour of the area by visiting some of the highlights. Our first stop was Jaques Coffee Plantation for a morning cup of joe. Tours of the facilities were available, but we settled into the café for some snacks and coffee. Caffeinated and ready to explore, we set off toward the town of Atherton. Along the way, we found a local roadside market called The Humpy. This small store in the town of Tolga is a local institution. Here you can find produce, nuts, and gifts from around the Atherton Tablelands. If you’re like me and don’t come from a tropical climate, stopping in for some locally-grown macadamia nuts or dragonfruit is a true treat. Our next stop was Gallo Dairyland, a familyowned farm just outside Atherton. There we


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experience the scenery, including breathtaking lookouts of Barron Falls and a ranger-guided tour of Red Peak. Gliding above the treetops was a wonderful way to see the rainforest. The only sound was the whoosh of the wind as we looked out at 360-degree views. The one-and-a-half-hour trip was a wonderful chance to center myself, enjoy the silence, and pray amongst the ancient landscape.


The Skyrail transported us to the small town of Kuranda. This small village nestled in the jungle is the perfect spot to spend an afternoon. You can visit the butterfly sanctuary or the Koala Gardens (tick that off the list), or take a nature cruise on the river. We spent most of our day shopping for souvenirs. Many local artisans have set up shop in the village, which meant we bought wares from the people who made them rather than mass-produced trinkets. For the return trip, visitors have the option of taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway to experience the rainforest at ground level. As we said goodbye to our lovely beachfront apartment in Palm Cove, we kicked off our shoes and pulled on our fins for an overnight stay on the Great Barrier Reef. A number of companies in Cairns offer day tours out to the reef, but we wanted to experience it under the stars with the waves gently rocking us to sleep, so we booked ourselves on

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Night Markets. This huge complex was the perfect spot to grab dinner, finish souvenir shopping, and even get a quick post-snorkeling massage. We noshed on gelato from a local vendor while strolling along the esplanade beside Cairns’ giant public pool, the Lagoon. As we looked up, a colony of bats streamed around a skyscraper and alit in a small group of trees. Fruit bats the size of puppies landed and flipped upside down to hang in the branches in front of us. My husband and I exchanged glances and shrugged. Australia had proved to be a truly unique experience all around.

an overnight liveaboard trip. While a day tour lets snorkelers stop at two or three spots on the reef, we were able to take advantage of six “dives” on two different reefs, my favorite of which took place at 6:00 a.m. when the fish were most active and the daytrippers were absent. Our ship was a floating hotel, although a strippeddown version. Meals were served communally, and staff were there to answer questions about the fish we spotted and where the best places to snorkel were. The company we chose also included a glass-bottomed boat tour, which gave us better views of the coral gardens from above (perfect for my non-snorkeling husband). The next day, we headed back to shore to finish our trip in Cairns. We launched into the hustle and bustle of the city by strolling around the Cairns


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Rachel Mullen is the Features and Acquisitions Editor for Christian Living in the Mature Years.

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We’ve Come All This Way A fter a four-hour transcontinental flight, then a trans-Pacific fourteen-hour flight, we took the opportunity to see some of New Zealand’s gorgeous scenery since we were “in the neighborhood.” Because we had limited time, we decided to stick to the South Island near Queenstown. We met up with local tour company Aroha Tours, who helped us set an itinerary. Aroha caters all of its tours to its guests, so no two are alike. We only saw the things we wanted to see and had a private tour guide to help us along the way. We left from Queenstown on a misty morning, heading into the Tolkien-esque landscape at dawn. We twisted and turned through mountain passes


around the sleeping giant of Lake Wakatipu into Fjordland National Park. Along the shores of Lake Te Anau, we stopped to admire the stunning scenery with walks around Mirror Lakes and The Chasm (where rushing waterfalls thundered into a ravine). Our morning drive led us to Milford Sound nestled deep in the national park—bounded by steep cliffs and dense rainforest—a gateway to the Tasman Sea. There we boarded a ferry for a cruise around the sound. We watched seals splash around a cluster of rocks and drank glacial water straight from a waterfall. A nature guide provided commentary on the various flora and fauna of the area and told us about the area’s history.

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By Rachel Mullen northern end of Lake Wakatipu. Many scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed in this rustic town, and it’s easy to see why. The views were breathtaking. We went for a short hike on one of the local trails before heading back to Queenstown. At dusk, we walked the streets of the city among the hundreds of backpackers, hikers, adrenaline junkies, and sightseers back from a long day of adventures. Through the cobbled streets and along the lakefront, we strolled, tired and content, as the sun set on our time down under.

After a full day of driving and soaking in the scenery, we headed back to the town of Te Anau. Accommodations in New Zealand require a bit of a vocabulary lesson to get used to. Hotels and hostels are basically the same as in America. Lodges, however, are not the log cabin, middle-of-the-woods rustic inns I had in mind. Lodges are the crème de la crème of Kiwi boarding. We checked in to the Dock Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Te Anau, and our every need was immediately met. This gorgeous home was divided into six suites, and our second-floor room had a private balcony that overlooked the lake. The next day, our tour guide drove us to the town of Glenorchy. The scenic drive took us to the


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Rachel Mullen is the Features and Acquisitions Editor of Christian Living in the Mature Years Magazine.

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Must We Always Get Our Way? A By Sheryl Boldt

highway sign tells me to merge into the next lane because my lane is ending. Within a short time, I merge. “We get injured when we try to do things beyond our abilities,” notes Kim Lombard, an injury prevention coordinator at Mayo Clinic. “Often I hear, ‘I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I did’ or ‘I knew I should have asked for help.’ People are so afraid to lose their independence, they don’t want to ask for help, but asking for help actually extends their independence.” Then, close to where the lane ends, several drivers who were behind me before I merged remain in the lane that’s about to end. I see their blinkers, but I refuse to let them in. I merged on time, therefore I have the right to ignore them (and in a way, punish them) for waiting to merge until the last minute. They should have merged sooner—behind me. I justify my selfish attitude by believing I’m a more righteous driver than they are. Can you relate? First Corinthians 13:5 says, “[Love] doesn’t seek its own advantage.” The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition adds, “does not insist on its own rights.” What if, instead of insisting on our own rights, we asked God to help us yield our agendas and rights to God’s purposes? Our best model, of course, is Jesus. He never exerted his rights while living on 42

earth, even though he had every right to do so. His death at Calvary is the best example of this. When we put the needs of others ahead of our own, we demonstrate God’s love in us. Why, then, are we so quick to catch people not respecting our ways and our rights? Instead, shouldn’t we be quick to catch ourselves when we don’t respect the rights of those around us—including their beliefs and needs? For instance, how many times do I allow people to express their opinion, even when I disagree? At work, how often do I help a coworker succeed or pray for a competitor to prosper? How would it change our relationships if we simply practiced good manners by saying, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry”? Or if we saved the last piece of pie for someone else? How would it change our mood on a crowded interstate if we let the late merger in—and smiled while doing it? We just might be extending grace to a driver who learned his wife has cancer or to a stressed single mom who simply missed seeing the earlier merge sign. What would it cost us to give up our rights just once this week? How much would we gain? Sheryl H. Boldt is a sales executive for Wave 94 in northern Florida and author of the blog, www.TodayCanBeDifferent.net.

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Waiting for Test Results (And Other Scary News)


As I waited, the Lord led me to do several things that helped. If you’re in a waiting time, perhaps you’ll find them helpful too.

o woman ever wants to receive a call back after a mammogram. Like many, I treat the annual test like my home’s yearly termite inspection—something necessary and responsible, but not worth much thought. And when it’s done? Check off the box and move on. Until I got that phone call. “The radiologist would like you to return for additional scans. Your mammogram shows some changes that concern him. . . .” In God’s mercy, the facility I use schedules callback mammograms within five days of the dreaded phone call. But those were five very long days. When women get calls like this, some cry. Some pray. Some update their wills and healthcare powers of attorney. All try to keep busy. Activity pushes the fearful thoughts back into the closet.


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By Lori Hatcher

I prayed. “Lord, my life is yours to use however you see fit. I don’t want to have breast cancer. In your mercy, spare me. But if this isn’t your will, help me trust you. Give me your peace, and help me not be afraid. In the strong name of Jesus, I ask. Amen.” Like a child running into the safety of her father’s arms, I flung myself on Jesus. “There’s a monster chasing me,” I admitted, “and I’m scared.” Praying reminded me it didn’t matter how big the monster was; God was bigger. After I prayed, I asked God to speak to me through the Word. I found precious comfort there.

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I asked others to pray. Not everyone. There would be time later to sound the alarm if the second scan was also suspicious. Part of me wanted to keep the news to myself, not wanting to bother anyone, but I knew I needed prayer. Corporate prayer is powerful. I shared my situation with a few women who knew how to approach the throne of grace with confidence. One friend shared a similar experience, reassuring me that ninety out of one hundred suspicious mammograms show no cancer. Another prayed with me immediately, strengthening me with her faith. Yet another offered to go to the imaging center with me. During my wait and on the morning of my scan, several texted reminders that they were praying. Sharing my need with others brought the monster out of the closet. It helped me realize that while my future was uncertain, I wasn’t facing it alone. If the outcome was favorable, my friends would rejoice with me. If the outcome was concerning, they’d walk with me every step of the journey.

I deliberately limited what I read about mammograms and breast cancer.

I accessed a few online articles on reputable sites, but then I made a deliberate choice not to read anything else. Every mammogram website linked to a breast cancer site, which fueled the flames of fear. There would be time to research later if I needed to.

I captured (almost) every thought. Second Corinthians 10:4-5 encouraged me: “Our weapons that we fight with aren’t human, but instead they are powered by God for the destruction of fortresses. They destroy arguments, and every defense that is raised up to oppose the knowledge of God. They capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We can’t prevent fear from knocking on our door, but we don’t have to invite it in. For me, fear knocked often during those five days of waiting. Some days, it would manifest itself as scary thoughts that led me from diagnosis to death in three days or less. Other times, I imagined dreadful treatment options. It was easy to get caught in the quicksand of panic. To escape, I forced myself to wade toward solid ground. This meant redirecting my thoughts, not allowing myself to fret, and reminding myself that no matter what happened, God would be with me.

We can’t prevent fear from knocking on our door, but we don’t have to invite it in. 44

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When I looked up, shiny tears sparkled in the corners of her eyes. Within twenty minutes, Sheila spoke the words I’d hoped to hear: “You can go now. The doctor says everything’s normal.” I may never know the reason for my anxious five days. Maybe I needed to strengthen my resolve to trust God no matter what. Perhaps I needed a greater understanding and empathy for those whose lives have been impacted by cancer. Not everyone gets an all-clear like I did. Maybe I needed to be reminded of how faithful God is to believers, especially in times of crisis. Or maybe Sheila just needed someone to pray for her. My experience was a powerful reminder that God uses all things for good if we trust.

On the morning of the fifth day, as my husband and I prayed one more time, a thought occurred to me: Maybe this isn’t about me at all. Maybe, instead of me needing the folks at the imaging center, they needed me. Pray with the technologist before she does your mammogram, the Spirit of the Lord whispered to me. I was so sure the prompting came from God that as soon as the technician called me into the room, I blurted out, “May I pray for you before you do my scans?” Her eyebrows shot up, then scrunched into a puzzled frown. “Pray for me?” she asked. I suspect many patients pray for themselves, but perhaps no one had ever offered to pray for her. She shrugged her shoulders: “OK.” So, I did. “God, thank you for Sheila. Bless her today. Enable her to do her job to the best of her ability. Use her skills to help the radiologist make an accurate diagnosis, not just for me, but for every person she cares for today. In Jesus’ name, I ask. Amen.”


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Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two (soon to be three) devotional books, including the award-winning, Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time: Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women. She and her husband live delightfully close to their three grandchildren in Lexington, South Carolina.

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God’s Driving Lessons By Carol Strazer


t the last second, a big white monster— a county truck—caught my eye as it barreled alongside, forcing my 4Runner almost off the highway. What had been two lanes had become one. No room existed for both of us. Terrified, with all my elderly might, I gripped the steering wheel and stared at the steep shoulder. It was too dangerous to drive off the pavement. “God, help me,” I yelped. “I’m dead.” Usually my husband insisted on doing the driving, but he was on a fishing trip. Since I had medical appointments, it meant a three-hour round trip from our mountain home to the clinic. This was my first journey of what would be many more. Swerve to the right. Don’t jerk the steering wheel or you’ll roll, flashed through my horrified brain. I swerved. And I managed to stay, just barely, on the pavement. If I hadn’t, I would’ve been roadkill. In that instant, I recalled my husband’s advice not to jerk the wheel. If the huge truck had been any closer, disaster. Our side-view mirrors nearly kissed. At the same time, I hit my horn. As if from nowhere, a disembodied voice said, “Is there a problem? Can I help?” Who was this? A guardian angel? No, it was my GPS system that had been directing me to the clinic. Oh my gosh. Was she listening? Did I swear? What would the ladies at church say? 46

Still shaking, I drove on. The near accident scared me. Finally, I breathed, as gratitude—to God, who helped me avoid an accident and to my husband, Bob, for his endless driving lessons—replaced fear. I wanted to give up driving, but if I did and Bob was unavailable or unable to drive, then how would we get to doctors’ appointments, shopping, and church? And if Bob and I couldn’t drive, we might have to move into a care facility. When I returned home, I began researching safe-driving resources. I did not want to have an accident. According to a report I read, senior drivers, compared to younger 25- to 64-year-olds, are seventeen times more likely to experience a fatality (www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com). Even though in 2009 seniors were the safest drivers—wore seat belts, observed speed limits, didn’t drink and drive, avoided dangerous situations—58 percent of driver fatalities were those over sixty-five. Seniors may be the safest drivers, but even in a minor collision, their age-related medical conditions make them more likely to become a statistic. Years ago, when my husband and I completed an AARP Safe Driving Class for Seniors, our insurance company gave us a discount. Also, as it had been a long time since I’d passed my driver’s test, I downloaded and reviewed our state’s Colorado

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Driver Handbook. Then, I signed up and took a AAA online defensive-driving course. Although it took some hours to complete, I found the interactive online model greatly improved my aptitude, attitude, and awareness. Designed for flexibility, the program allowed me to take the course over a week—whenever I had time. To maintain our independent lifestyle—and my husband’s fishing and my writing days—we improved our defensive-driving skills. We didn’t want to injure others or be injured in a car accident. Today, before I start the engine, I’m thankful for newfound knowledge, renewed confidence, and faith as I recall, “The Lord will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life” (Psalm 121:7). God continues to help us live in the mountains. By the way, now I’m giving my husband driving lessons.

Safe Driving Tips for Seniors To be a safe, independent driver, take an online or on-site safedriving class, review your state’s driving laws, get an annual physical, maintain your car, practice defensive driving, check out alternative transportation options, and pray for God’s driving lessons. Some useful resources offered by AARP, AAA, and several independent companies, for varying fees, are online defensive-driving classes. Also, AARP provides on-site classes. Call 800-350-7025 for a course near you or for AARP Driver Safety Online Defensive Driving Course class at https:// aarpdriversafety.org/. After the successful completion of a driving course, some automobile insurance companies will reduce your premium, but check with your agent first. To find a recent issue of your state’s drivers’ handbook, go online or contact your department of motor vehicles. To arrange other means of transportation, check your phone directory or Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, www.usa.gov/federal-agencies/ eldercare-locator.

Carol Strazer has written articles for newspapers and magazines, including Woman’s Day, Power for Living, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Recently, Colorado Independent Publishers Association gave her second book, Mountain Smiles and Tears, two EVVY awards. Carol is a retired health educator, therapist, author, and a volunteer supporting her mountain mission church.


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lood clots can affect anyone and may lead to significant health problems, but some people are at higher risk for life-threatening blood

Recent hospital stays. Roughly fifty percent of life-threatening blood clots happen within three months of a hospitalization, surgery, or traumatic injury, though only one in four adults knows that hospitalization is a risk factor for VTE. Hospital patients at the greatest risk are those with limited ability to move, people with previous history of blood clots, patients age sixty and older, people who have abnormal blood-clotting conditions, and patients who have spent time in an intensive care or coronary care unit.

clots. One in four people worldwide die of conditions caused by blood clots, also known by the medical term “thrombosis.” In fact, thrombosis is the third leading vascular diagnosis after heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. There are two types of life-threatening blood clots, also called venous thromboembolism (VTE). Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a clot in a deep vein in the Cancer diagnosis. Cancer patients typically spend leg, arm, or other large vein. A pulmonary embolism, significant time in the hospital, which often means or PE, occurs when a clot breaks free and travels to the they are lying still for long periods and are more lungs, blocking some or all of the blood supply. likely to have surgery or receive chemotherapy, Although VTE can be fatal, many, if not most, which also increases risks. Cancers in bones, cases are preventable. Talk with a healthcare provider ovaries, the brain, or pancreas and lymph nodes to understand your risk and use this information are associated with the from the American highest incidence of a Heart Association Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) life-threatening blood to understand the clot. circumstances that may lead to higher risk. If you have concerns about your risk for Extended travel. blood clots, especially if Traveling longer than you have multiple risk eight hours, whether by factors, consult with your plane, car, bus, or train, healthcare provider about can increase risks for lifehow to lower the risk. threatening blood clots. Learn more at heart.org/ Being seated for long bloodclotrisk. periods can slow blood flow, and high altitudes Source: Family Features can activate the body’s blood-clotting system. Consider wearing compression socks or finding time to stretch or walk around when traveling to aid in proper blood flow.


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b i B

r C y e p s t r o e g V ra e l


Puzzle Time


By Christina Galeone [All verses from the Common English Bible.]

Hints: Z = T and G = E




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Puzzle Time

b i B


Answers to the cryptograms on page 49.

Answer: “I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13, CEB

Answer: “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28, CEB

Answer: “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” John 10:10, CEB


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2. Choose reusable containers. Taking advantage of reusable containers for food and beverages is one way to live a more eco-friendly life. Since only nine percent of plastic bottles are recycled, according to National Geographic, reusable containers can serve as an ideal replacement for bottled water whether at home or on-the-go.

he tide of environmental studies showing the harmful effects of litter and mismanaged waste on oceans are seemingly everywhere. For example, eight million metric tons of plastics wind up in streams, rivers, and waterways each year, according to research published in Science. According to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic product consumption is predicted to double over the next ten years. With the health of the oceans closely tied to the health of the environment, marine life, and humans, making choices that help reduce ocean pollution is one way to make an impact. In fact, research from the Plastic Free July Foundation shows that more than six in ten people refuse plastic shopping bags, avoid prepacked fruit and vegetables, pick up litter, and avoid buying water in plastic bottles. “Mismanaged packaging waste is a threat to our oceans and the overall health of our planet,” said Lynn Bragg, president of the Glass Packaging Institute. “We can all make a difference by changing the type of food and beverage packaging we buy, opting for reusable and refillable containers, following local recycling guidelines, and helping keep beaches and waterways clean.” The following tips from the Glass Packaging Institute are just a few ways to contribute.

3. Reduce your single-use footprint. Whenever possible, bring reusable bags and containers to the store. Some foods like cereal, pasta, and rice can be purchased from bulk bins and placed in a glass or stainless-steel storage container. 4. Recycle better. Learn what you can and can’t recycle in your community. Certain items like disposable cups, greasy pizza boxes, nonrecyclable plastic containers (like those for yogurt), and take-out containers can contaminate entire batches of recycling. About 91 percent of plastic is not recycled and can linger in the environment for hundreds of years, contributing to ocean pollution. 5. Get involved. Volunteering or donating can help keep local beaches, parks, and waterways clean. Getting involved with international and national groups with local chapters is another way to participate in a cleanup.

1. Think about the packaging you choose. When making a purchase, consider alternatives to plastic like glass or other natural and sustainable packaging.

Find out more about the benefits of choosing and reusing glass packaging to help reduce ocean pollution at upgradetoglass.com. Source: Family Features


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PSALM 36:5-9

But your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies; your faithfulness reaches the clouds. Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains; your justice is like the deepest sea. Lord, you save both humans and animals. Your faithful love is priceless, God! Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the bounty of your house; you let them drink from your river of pure joy. Within you is the spring of life. In your light, we see light.


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s Bible Lessons



IKE POTEET is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. He currently serves the larger church as a curriculum writer, including regularly contributing to FaithLink, LinC, Bible Lessons for Youth, and Christian Living in the Mature Years. He, his wife, and their two children live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

UNIT 1: Suffering   1.  March 1   2.  March 8   3.  March 15   4.  March 22   5.  March 29 UNIT 2: Salvation   6.  April 5   7.  April 12   8.  April 19   9.  April 26   UNIT 3: Grace 10.  May 3 11.  May 10 12.  May 17 13.  May 24 14.  May 31

Expulsion from the Garden 55 Jesus in Gethsemane 58 The Israelites in the Wilderness 61 Jesus in the Wilderness 64 The People of Judah Are Exiled 67 Jesus Dies on a Cross 70 Jesus’ Resurrection 73 Rebuilding the Temple 76 John Prepares the Way for Christ 79

Scripture quotations in this section marked NRSV are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org.

The River of Life-giving Water 82 God’s Grace Toward Adam, Eve, and Cain 85 God Provides Food in the Wilderness 88 Grace to the Dying Thief 91 The Holy Spirit Inspires Jesus’ Followers 94

Scripture quotations in this section marked KJV are taken from The Authorized (King James) Version. Rights in the Authorized Version in the United Kingdom are vested in the Crown. Reproduced by permission of the Crown’s patentee, Cambridge University Press.

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible background information comes from The New Interpreter’s Bible, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, or The CEB Study Bible.

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Daily Meditations | February 24–March 1 Monday | Psalm 104:24-30

Scientists estimate some 8.7 million different species live on Earth.1 What unites this mindboggling menagerie? God created and sustains them all. Creator God, thank you for this world’s glorious diversity of life. Help me to live as a good caretaker of it.

Tuesday | Genesis 3:1-7

The man and woman failed to trust God to care and provide for them, seeking instead to become like God themselves. We human beings have been trying ever since, and it only increases our suffering. Loving God, when I am tempted to doubt your goodness, keep me aware of how you provide and how you are present.

Wednesday | Genesis 3:8-19

Every Ash Wednesday, God confronts us, as God confronted Eve and Adam, with the inescapable truth of our mortality. The promise of resurrection we have in Christ doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility to live obediently to God in this life we have already been given, in this world God so loves. May your Spirit, O God, lead me to repent and return to you, this day and all days, until I return to the dust from which you formed me.

Thursday | Genesis 3:20-24

God made the tree of life inaccessible to the human beings out of concern for their well-being. Only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16). The fact that our lives are finite are not failings, but part of God’s good plan. Immortal God, help me cherish this mortal life as the gift you intend it to be.

Friday | Ezekiel 28:11-19

Through the prophet, God compared the fall from splendor and power by the king of Tyre to the privileged position the first humans originally enjoyed in Eden. This king’s sin took the form of corrupt trade practices (verse 18), but the root cause was the same tendency to selfexaltation to which Adam and Eve yielded (verse 17). Keep me mindful, O God, that you alone are high and holy, and that all mortal beauty only reflects your greater glory.

Saturday | Ezekiel 31:2-13

The ancient Assyrian empire was glorious—so much so, even Eden’s trees envied it (verse 9). But this passage says it fell because it did not acknowledge God as the source of its success, and gave in to overwhelming pride. Prosperous and powerful nations must never mistake themselves for God. Sovereign God, keep this nation genuinely humble before you, and use it for your good purposes.

Sunday | Revelation 2:1-7

It is easy for things to become routine, to forget “the high point” (verse 5) when we first came to know Christ. When this happens, Christ reminds us to “do the things [we] did at first” and “change [our] hearts and lives” (verse 5). Faithful God, forgive me when my commitment wavers, and remind me of the ways I can draw closer to you.


Key Verse: The Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to farm the fertile land from which he was taken. He drove out the human. (Genesis 3:23-24)



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Lesson 8 | January 20

Lesson 1 | March 1

EXPULSION FROM THE GARDEN Lesson: Genesis 3:8-24 • Background: Genesis 3:1-24

At one level, we can read Genesis 3 as suffering’s “origin story.” The chapter is only one part of a longer narrative about the first human family (Genesis 2:4b–4:16), but it’s the pivot, the turning point. Before Genesis 3, the man and woman lived in harmony with each other, with their fellow creatures in the beautiful garden paradise for which God called them to care, and with God, who enjoyed strolling through the garden in the human beings’ company in the cool evenings (3:8). But after Genesis 3, the woman and man no longer live in paradise. The man’s relationship to the earth from which God shaped him has changed. God still calls him to “farm” it (2:15 and 3:23), but the farming will now be labor-intensive, as though the ground resents the curse the man’s actions brought upon it and will no longer yield life-sustaining produce without a fight. The woman, too, is going to suffer. She’ll feel pain during pregnancy and in childbirth; her labor also leads to life, and now also involves struggle. And she will suffer reduced status. The man will now “rule over” her (3:16). Maybe the man treated the woman with love and tenderness the rest of their days; maybe he “lorded it over” her as too many men do over women—Scripture is silent on the subject. But before Genesis 3, the woman and man lived as equals; after Genesis 3, the man was elevated over the woman—he even named her (verse 20), as he named the animals (2:19)—in what the story clearly identifies as a deviation from God’s good will, not an embodiment of it. Toilsome farming. Painful childbirth. Strained, superior-subordinate relationships. These are ways suffering intrudes on human life after Genesis 3. And the suffering continues and intensifies as Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, become the world’s first murderer and murder victim (4:3-5, 8). By the time the first family’s story ends, the overall biblical narrative has reached a point at which self-inflicted pain and suffering so saturate the world and its people, God grieves the decision to create the human race and sends a flood to make an almost entirely new start (see 6:5-8). The differences between humanity’s experience of the world before and after Genesis 3 couldn’t be www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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sharper. So it’s tempting to read the story of what happened at the tree in the middle of the garden as a kind of “just so story” about suffering. We can almost imagine a narrator saying, “And that’s how human beings came to know pain.” But the story itself never makes this claim. While some very specific kinds of suffering—in work, in procreation, in male-female relationships— characterize life after Eden, nowhere does the story say it attempts to account for all suffering everywhere. In fact, some modern biblical scholars argue if this is an “origin story,” it’s more a story told to explain the changes human societies experienced when they shifted from “hunter-gatherer” to agriculture-based models.2 It may not even be a story about the origin of death, though the apostle Paul and most Christian doctrine after him read it that way (Romans 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). In the story, death is simply a “given” of human existence, and the only question about it seems to be when it will come (Genesis 2:17). But on some day, sooner or later, the human beings who were formed from the soil will inevitably return to it (3:19). God sent Adam and Eve away so they won’t eat the fruit that would make them immortal (verses 22-23), meaning they were mortal at the time, presumably as God intended and created them to be. But even if this story doesn’t answer our questions about why suffering is universal and why “pain is what it’s all about,” it still tells us something important about suffering. It shows us God’s presence with and grace toward us when we suffer, even when we bring pain and suffering on ourselves. Granted, only someone willfully misreading Genesis 3 could claim the story’s tone is gentle or upbeat, or that grace is its dominant theme. Verses 14-19 contain God’s forceful judgment against the snake who instigated the whole unhappy business (the story doesn’t tell us why; all identifications of the snake with Satan came much later) and against the human beings who went along with it. God dealt out painful penalties all around, not least of which was Eve and Adam’s one-way passage out of paradise. But reading the story fully and fairly, we see proof of God’s love even as God judges. Humans, starting Spring 2020


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with progenitors Adam and Eve, hide from God because we know we’ve done wrong and don’t feel brave enough to face the consequences or those we’ve hurt. Even so, God did not hide from them, but called out, “Where are you?” (verse 9). God sought to start a conversation, to stay connected, even when the man and woman would rather stay silent. God provided clothes for the naked and ashamed humans, dressing them in warm and durable animal skins (verse 21) to replace the fig leaves they hurriedly stitched together (verse 7). God didn’t leave them completely exposed or vulnerable when expelling them into the world where they will suffer. God provided for them, giving them protection better than they were able to give themselves. Even the eviction from Eden emerged as a kind of grace. God drove Adam and Eve away from the tree of life before they could eat its fruit and thus condemn themselves to never dying in a world deeply scarred by suffering. Surely, given this reality, the cherubim who blocked the way to the tree of life with flaming swords were a sign of divine mercy (verse 24). And maybe Genesis 3 refuses to explain all suffering for a similar reason. Would an explanation actually help us when we’re in pain? Is this what we want: “Well, you see, if only Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit, you’d be much better off right now”? Think about people who have helped you most when you’ve suffered. Haven’t they been the ones who stay with you in your suffering—to listen, to empathize, to comfort, to encourage, to help?

Maturing in Faith

The older we grow, the more we can see ourselves in Adam and Eve. When I read their story, I find myself more sympathetic than I used to be toward their attempts to hide (verse 8). I’ve made enough mistakes and deliberately bad choices by this point in life to know, as the human beings in the garden found out, that hiding from them never works out in the long run—but I can remember, and sometimes still feel, the temptation to try and hide anyway. It’s not just the physical attempt to hide from God that I recognize from my own experience. It’s the attempt to hide from responsibility. As Eve blamed the snake and Adam blamed Eve, I’ve sometimes been quick to try and blame others for—or at least heavily implicate them in—my own failings. 56

For whatever reason, suffering is universal. Pain won’t go away in this world, in our lives. And Genesis 3 tells us God won’t, either. The man and woman left God’s garden, but they didn’t leave God’s care. God continued to be with them, as God continues to be with us as we make our way through this sufferingscarred world. Our suffering, our pain, doesn’t scare God away from us. God still calls to us, still protects us, still guides us for our own good. This we especially believe as Christians because of another turning point, at another tree, on which Jesus hung and suffered more deeply than we will ever have to, so that, one day, we will be with God in paradise again (Luke 23:43).

1. Science Daily, “How many species on Earth? About 8.7 million, new estimate says,” August 24, 2011; https://www.sciencedaily.com/ releases/2011/08/110823180459.htm 2. How to Read the Bible, James L. Kugel (New York: Free Press, 2007), 55.

I also recognize my attempts to hide myself from other people. As the man and woman covered their bodies in shame, I’ve sometimes refused to show myself openly and honestly to other people, even the people I care most about, because I’ve been convinced no one would want to see. I’ve grown the most as a person and as a Christian when I own up to my faults, as hard as that can be, and reveal who I really am to others, as scary as that can seem. Have you found the same to be true? When we try to hide from the truth, from each other, and from God, we only make our suffering worse. May Adam and Eve’s story motivate us to stay open to life and to the world, to those who live in it with us, and to the One from whom we cannot hide even “at the farthest limits of the sea” (Psalm 139:9, NRSV).

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Daily Meditations | March 2–8

Lesson 8 | January 20

Monday | Psalm 61:1-5

Psalm 61 begins with a command to listen—an imperative not from God, but to God. What makes the psalm-singer bold to demand God’s attention? Both the urgency of his present suffering and the memory of God’s past faithfulness. O God, give us confidence to cry to you in prayer when we suffer, trusting you will answer and save.

Tuesday | John 17:1-8

Jesus’ prayer puts the pain he is about to undergo in perspective. In his suffering and death, he will glorify God (John 3:16) by making God’s will to save the world fully visible. Jesus’ work of suffering glorified God in an unrepeatable way, but we can pray God would use our suffering to reveal God’s power and love. Glorify yourself in us, O God, even when we suffer.

Wednesday | John 17:9-19

Jesus paints a stark picture of the world’s hatred for his followers. How do his words match your experience? While God doesn’t call us to court opposition actively, does our faith—and our faithful action—make it clear we “don’t belong to this world” (verse 14)? God our Protector, keep us from being afraid to suffer for the sake of keeping your word.

Thursday | John 17:20-26

Jesus prayed for us! Not just by virtue of praying for his disciples in first-century Palestine, but for we who believe in him because of their testimony. He prayed we would know the unity he knew with his Father. Holy God, bind your church more closely together, that we may more clearly show the world your love.

Friday | Matthew 26:36-39

Christian faith doesn’t encourage suffering for its own sake. How could it, when Jesus himself prayed to be spared? But it does encourage obedience to God’s will, even when obedience means risking pain. May we never cling so closely to our comfort, O God, that we fail to follow you into the painful places where true life with you awaits.

Saturday | Matthew 26:40-46

As he taught his disciples to do, Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done on earth. He did not pray in weak resignation, but in the conviction that, as difficult as it may be, God’s will brings about what is good for God and for the world. O God, increase our trust in your perfect and loving will.

Sunday | Luke 22:39-43

Not all ancient manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel include the appearance of an angel who comforted Jesus as he prayed. Textual questions aside, the image is welcome as a symbol of how prayer can bring us into God’s presence right away when we are suffering. We may or may not see angels, but we believe God hears and cares for us. Comfort us in our suffering, O God, that we may be strengthened to comfort others.


Key Verse: [Jesus] began to feel sad and anxious. Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” (Matthew 26:37-38)


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Lesson 2 | March 8

JESUS IN GETHSEMANE Lesson: Matthew 26:36-46 • Background: Same

In the church sanctuary where I worshipped as a child was a large stained glass window that pictured Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. In the window’s warm, softly-glowing panes, Jesus knelt with hands clasped, a shaft of golden light from above piercing the dark night to shine on his decidedly serene face. No hint of hesitation. No trace of trauma. If this Jesus felt “sad and anxious,” as Matthew tells us Jesus felt (verse 37), he gave no sign of it. He certainly didn’t look so anguished his sweat fell like drops of blood, as Luke relates (Luke 22:44). No, this Jesus patiently and peacefully gazed heavenward in silent acceptance of his Father’s will. Contrast the Gethsemane in that window with the song, “Gethsemane,” Jesus’ major solo in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. In “Gethsemane,” Jesus laments the way his ministry has depressed and demoralized him. He demands answers from God about what his impending death means. He pleads to be spared, before savagely telling God to give him this “cup of poison” before Jesus changes his mind. Which Jesus is more like the one you picture when you read today’s Bible text? Which Jesus is more like the one in whom you believe, the one to whom you pray? A Jesus who can feel gripped by grief, heartache, even rage . . . or a Jesus who remains completely untroubled and untouched by suffering, even his own? In theory, the idea of Jesus’ suffering should never have scandalized Christians. He died as a victim of a Roman execution method so painful, a new word had to be coined to describe it: excruciating. (You can see cruc or crux, the Latin word for “cross,” in the middle of it.) His crucifixion is a key element of the earliest proclamations of Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:3; Philippians 2:8; Acts 2:23-24). Both the ancient and honored Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds spotlight it. But believers’ acceptance of Jesus’ suffering hasn’t always come easily. The apostle Paul declared Jesus’ death “a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). The author of Hebrews argues, at length, it was “appropriate” for God to perfect Jesus through “experiences of suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). And early Christians who promoted a school of thought called “docetism” believed they were safeguarding Jesus’ divine nature by saying he’d only 58

“seemed” (Greek, dokeo) to be human. Nevertheless, the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ private prayer on the night of his arrest show us Jesus was a man who suffered. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describe the incident, and leave no doubt: Jesus was suffering hours before he was nailed to the cross. He saw the horror in front of him, and it scared him. No, the evangelists don’t show him railing loudly against God as he does in Jesus Christ Superstar. But neither do they show him meekly awaiting his fate as he did in that stained glass window from my childhood. As Jesus confided to his closest disciples, he was “deeply grieved, even to death” (Matthew 26:38, NRSV). He was already in pain—emotional, psychological, spiritual—and he prayed God would, if possible, spare him. Each evangelist tells the Crucifixion story slightly differently. (John mentions the anguished prayer earlier; see John 12:27-28). In one detail, Matthew notably deviates from Mark, his probable source, by asking Peter, James, and John to “keep alert with me” (Matthew 26:38, italics added). With me. It’s a minor addition, but it brings a core truth about suffering into focus. When we suffer, we shouldn’t have to suffer alone. Whenever anyone suffers in solitude, without companionship from his or her fellow human beings, we see another sign of how broken this fallen world is, for God declared at our race’s creation, “It’s not good that the human is alone” (Genesis 2:18). Pain and suffering aren’t part of God’s design for the world, but neither is facing it by ourselves. And so Jesus, when he suffers, seeks support from those closest to him. Preachers and teachers frequently point to the story of Jesus’ agony in the garden as a lesson in how to pray. Jesus was, they say, showing us how to submit ourselves, as he ultimately did, to God’s will instead of our own. And he is. But he’s also showing us how to handle suffering. Jesus didn’t deny or ignore his suffering. Instead, he named it and reached out to other people he thought could share it with him—not in its fullness, because his suffering was unique (as everyone’s is), but fully, truly, to the extent they can. That they proved unable to “stay alert one hour with [him]” (Matthew

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26:40) didn’t negate Jesus’ positive decision to tell his friends he was troubled and to ask for the kind of help he needed from them. If Jesus reached out to other people for help when he was suffering, how much more should you and I when we suffer? Sometimes the people we reach out to may “fall asleep” on us, as Jesus’ friends failed him. But other times, people will “stay awake” and suffer with us, and their presence can help us through our pain and even, in time, bring healing. When my son was a high school junior, his best friend killed himself. He had graduated only days earlier and was looking forward to attending his firstchoice college in the fall. None of his friends, my son included, had ever imagined he would take his own life. The loss and confusion and anger they felt was raw and overpowering. My son learned the terrible news first thing on a Saturday morning. He spent almost that entire weekend on our living room couch, wrapped in a blanket, looking at TV—I don’t think he actively “watched” much of anything. My wife and I sat with him some of the time, but didn’t push him to talk about the suicide any more than he wanted to. That Sunday evening, one of the dead boy’s friends asked our son to come to his house. And over the following days and weeks, more and more of the friends met together, in larger groups each time. I don’t know what they said to each other. I think they

were, in effect, telling eachLesson other, “I’m sad. It’s 20 as 8 |very January if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” And they did—and so, slowly, they helped each other heal. It’s not good for us to be alone when we suffer. Jesus knew this and showed us how to reach out to others for support. He didn’t find it from his friends that night—their spirits were eager; their flesh, weak. You and I won’t always find it from others, either. But sometimes we will, making it more than worth the risk of naming our pain and asking for help. And we will always find Jesus more than ready to respond when we tell him our pain and reach out to him for help. He is no stained glass Savior, but one who has suffered as we have—we, the sons and daughters he is “leading to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).

Maturing in Faith

out ministries of compassion. Fred has made visiting older, retired men like himself his special ministry. He has more daytime hours free than other deacons, and understands how lonely these men sometimes feel. He doesn’t wait for them to request a visit through the church office. He takes the initiative to get together for lengthy visits with them. He’s told me he spends a lot of time in those visits just listening. “A lot of these guys are really hurting inside,” he says, “and they just don’t feel they have anyone to talk to. It’s a privilege for me to be able to give them that.” It is a privilege to “stay awake” with others who suffer. As the apostle Paul taught the Corinthians, it’s nothing less than offering them “the same comfort that we ourselves received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Reading about Jesus’ anguish as he prayed in Gethsemane can give us strength and hope when we face our own emotional and spiritual turmoil. But in his experience, we can also hear his call to be disciples who, unlike Peter and the sons of Zebedee, “stay awake” with people who suffer. Being fully present with and attentive to people who suffer isn’t easy. Other people’s suffering can startle or scare us. It can make us anxious and uncomfortable. But if it isn’t good for us to be alone when we suffer, it’s also not good for others. If we are growing as Jesus’ followers, we’ll realize we don’t need to wait for people who suffer to ask us to “stay awake” with them. We will reach out to them before they reach out to us. Fred is a deacon in the congregation I attend. In our tradition (Presbyterian), deacons are ordained church officers whose sole responsibility is carrying www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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Daily Meditations | March 9–15 Monday | Exodus 17:1-7

When our suffering is immediate and intense, as the Israelites’ thirst was, it’s easy to forget how God has acted for us in the past, and to doubt God will continue to sustain us. When suffering threatens to turn our hearts to stone, generous Savior, bring refreshing memories of your grace and prepare us for new experiences of your power.

Tuesday | Numbers 14:1-4

Why would the Israelites want to return to where they suffered for so long as slaves? Sometimes we’re tempted to choose a familiar but painful past over the future to which God is calling us. God of the future, grant us the courage to risk the unknown in order to follow where you lead.

Wednesday | Psalm 78:12-22

We may read the psalm-singer’s recitation of miracles God performed for Israel and wonder how the people could ever have spoken against God. But are we confident we haven’t dismissed less dramatic, but no less decisive, miracles in the same way? Keep us alert, O God, to the subtle and surprising ways you work wonders in our world and our lives.

Thursday | Psalm 78:23-30

God more than satisfied the Israelites’ actual need for food and drink in the wilderness, but didn’t satisfy their desire for excess. What do we think we need more of in order to be satisfied with life, or with ourselves? May our deepest desire be always to do your will and to know your love, faithful God.

Friday | Numbers 21:4-9

This story marks the last time the Israelites grumbled against Moses and God. It marks the last time some members of the generation that left Egypt said anything (see Numbers 26:64-65). How will you leave, for those who come after you, a legacy of praise and obedience to God? Eternal God, may we always live so that our faithfulness inspires others to be faithful to you as well.

Saturday | John 3:9-15

Artists often depict the pole on which Moses raised the bronze serpent as being shaped like a cross, because Jesus first drew the connection between the story and his own suffering. When we contemplate your cross, Lord Jesus, may we see, beyond and through its horror and pain, the gift of life lived always with you.

Sunday | 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Paul says the Israelites who were killed by the snakes tested Christ (verse 9). His apparent anachronism reminds us that the “Old Testament God” and the “New Testament God” are, of course, one and the same. Our God always takes sin seriously, judges it, and provides a way through it to life and salvation. We praise you for your eternal holiness and love, God of Israel, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.



Key Verse: So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died. (Numbers 21:6)


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Lesson 3 | March 15

Lesson 8 | January 20

THE ISRAELITES IN THE WILDERNESS Lesson: Numbers 21:4-9 • Background: Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:9-15 Even though only some two hundred of the world’s three-thousand-plus snake species can “kill or significantly wound a human” (according to National Geographic)1, something about these slithering citizens of the animal kingdom sparks a deep-seated distaste in so many people. Scientific research suggests even infants experience, if not fear, at least observable stress at the sight of snakes (and spiders too).2 Centuries of evolution have heightened our awareness of and aversion to creatures who could do us harm. When we read today’s story from Numbers, this instinctual avoidance alone might be enough to make us ask, “Why’d it have to be snakes?” But when I read this story, I find myself asking that question for a different reason. It’s the unflinching way the narrator explains the sudden snake infestation among the Israelites: It was God’s doing. God sent “poisonous” snakes (verse 6)— the Hebrew adjective can also be translated “fiery,” a suitable description for the pain of a serpent’s bite—as punishment for the people’s grumbling. We can likely empathize with the Israelites’ complaints. They’re hot. They’re hungry and thirsty. And they’re tired of wandering in the wilderness. They’ve been wandering for decades now, long enough for a brand-new generation to have begun taking the place of the generation that remembers what life in Egypt was like. Not long before this incident, the community had finished a month of mourning for Moses’ brother Aaron (20:29). Perhaps Aaron’s death underscored just how long this journey to a Promised Land was taking; maybe it made the people feel more anxious or more despondent, and made them feel even more “impatient on the road” (verse 4). But for all that we might understand why the people grumbled, we shouldn’t miss the story’s insistence that their grumbling is sinful. We can’t forget it’s only the latest in a long series of resentful rumblings since the people left Egypt—where, they seem to forget, they had been slaves. It’s not even the first time they had complained about what they will drink and what they will eat; they only have “this miserable bread” to disparage because God has miraculously been giving it to them (see Exodus www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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16). For that matter, God miraculously gave them a military victory over their enemies immediately before this story (21:1-3), and still they complained. The people weren’t merely venting frustration. They were once again rejecting God’s guidance and goodness. They were testing God, as they did when they stood on the cusp of Canaan but let their fear keep them from entering it (see Numbers 14). They were choosing resentment over gratitude, impatience over obedience. They were rebelling against God, and the story depicts God acting to put their rebellion down. When TV preachers, politicians, and selfappointed moral pundits draw direct lines between people’s suffering and their sin, I think Christians should be skeptical. Certainly, I don’t picture God busily smiting sinners with disease and natural disasters, not least because I know I’m a sinner, too, and I’d hate to think God has me targeted in some heavenly crosshairs. But I can’t rewrite this story. Whatever God does or doesn’t do other times, or even most of the time, God is seen as directly causing suffering this time. If the idea of sin means anything, it must at least mean God is opposed to it, judges it, and punishes it. And this time, God opposes, judges, and punishes sin through creatures who often disgust and disturb us, whose fangs fill us with fear before they ever fill us with venom. In the end, no matter how attractive it seems, sin is always ugly and frightening and deadly, because it is always at odds with God’s good will. Maybe it’s only fitting that God here uses ugly and frightening creatures to judge sin—creatures who even confront us with the memory of our first sin, in Eden so long ago, as they slither through the dust on their stomachs (Genesis 3:14). But by this story’s end, seeing a snake means something very different. If Moses hadn’t been following God’s instructions when he cast the bronze serpent, he might have been fairly accused of violating the divine commandment against manufacturing images of any creature (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8). The bronze snake seems like something more at home in the ancient, snakeSpring 2020


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venerating cults archaeologists have unearthed evidence of in the Middle East.3 Centuries later, King Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent during his reforms of Judah’s worship, because it had become an object of idolatry (2 Kings 18:4). The Israelites who first saw the bronze snake were not worshipping it. They were following God’s plan for healing: “If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live” (verse 9). Why does God choose to deliver the people in this way? One final time: Why did it have to be a snake? I can’t claim any definitive answer, but I think I glimpse a powerful psychological and spiritual truth in the fact that, in order to be healed, the people must first face a reminder of their ugly and frightening and deadly sin. But of course, this snake cannot harm them. It is powerless over them. More than that, it’s likely even beautiful, in an odd way, cast as it is in precious metal, no doubt gleaming brightly in the hot wilderness sun. The people see the symbol of their sin and the suffering it caused transformed, by grace, into the sign of their salvation. And perhaps that’s why Jesus, a devout Jew who knew his people’s history, used this story to talk about what people who believed in him would see when they saw him “lifted up” (John 3:14). He was elevated on a Roman cross because of our sin. He suffered there in an ugly and frightening and deadly way, and when we see him on his cross, we are confronted with

Maturing in Faith

The people’s confession of sin (Numbers 21:7) precedes their looking squarely at Moses’ bronze serpent to find healing and life. As we mature in faith, we may discover that looking squarely at our sin and its consequences sometimes comes before repentance. In fact, it can spark it. We cannot feel or express regret for what we have done, let alone stop doing it, until we have looked at it, fully and frankly. This insight is not the exclusive property of our faith tradition. Members of twelve-step recovery programs, for instance, need not profess any conventional religion. But they all must make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of themselves as part of their recovery, admitting “the exact nature of [their] wrongs” to God (as they understand God), themselves, and another person, and making “direct amends” to anyone they have hurt through their 62

the terrible truth about our own rebellions against God. But his elevation on the cross began his exaltation back to heaven, from where he came (3:13) and where he promised to go ahead of us (14:2). And so, lifted up on his cross, he is beautiful, in an odd way, for he shows us he has made sin powerless over us. We see the symbol of our sin and the suffering it caused transformed, by grace, into the sign of our salvation.

1. National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/ animals/reptiles/group/snakes 2. National Geographic, “Babies Confirm: Fear of Snakes and Spiders Is Hardwired,” Sarah Gibbens, https://news. nationalgeographic.com/2017/10/infant-fear-phobia-science-snakesvideo-spd/ 3. ABC Science, “Snake cults once common in Middle East,” Jennifer Viegas, http://www.abc.net.au/science/ articles/2007/05/18/1926969.htm 4. Alcohol.org, “Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) & the 12 Steps,” Nicolle Monico, last updated July 14, 2019; https://www.alcohol. org/alcoholics-anonymous/

addiction.4 Looking at and naming the sin precedes any progress toward health. Within Christianity, this same dynamic is why many Christian worship services include corporate prayers of general confession followed by a period of silence in which worshippers confess their specific, personal sin. The point isn’t to make people feel bad for the sake of feeling bad, but to affirm the necessity of facing our sin. Only then can we greet a pastor or priest’s words assuring us of God’s pardon with a glad cry of, “Thanks be to God!” or a heartfelt singing of the Gloria Patri. The apostle Paul wrote about “godly sadness” that “produces a changed heart and life that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). When we feel that sadness as we look squarely at our own sin, we, too, can experience the release and joy from sin that God gives.

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Daily Meditations | March 16–22

Lesson 8 | January 20

Monday | Proverbs 1:10-17

Ancient Israel’s sages believed sinners always sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Because daily living doesn’t always support this conviction, we need to be reminded, as these verses remind us, that sin’s attractive appearance is a dangerous illusion. God of justice, keep us on your righteous paths.

Tuesday | Matthew 12:43-45

Jesus’ strange warning stresses how persistent the power of sin can be. We may win one victory over it, only to confront it again in a much stronger form. Give us strength, mighty Savior, to meet sin’s persistence with continued reliance on your steadfast love.

Wednesday | James 1:2-4, 13-15

No, the devil doesn’t make you do it—and neither does God. James teaches temptations arise from within us. When we resist yielding to them, we grow in faith. Source of all good, may your Spirit help us stand firm when tempted that we may grow as your people.

Thursday | Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Jesus’ forty days of testing in the wilderness evokes the Israelites’ four decades of desert trials. Moses asserts God tested the people to humble and discipline them—a kind of “tough love” preparation for life in the Promised Land, teaching them to rely on God above all else. Save us from mistaking anyone or anything other than you, loving God, as our true source of sustenance.

Friday | Deuteronomy 6:10-19

In this part of his farewell speech to Israel, Moses cautions the people against mistaking the material prosperity they will soon enjoy as the result of their own efforts. Whatever we are able to do to flourish in this life, we do only because God has given us the strength to do it. Generous God, so ground us in gratitude that we never forget to give you thanks and praise.

Saturday | Hebrews 4:11-16

All have sinned, but sin is not a natural part of being human. Sin is our refusal of the obedient fellowship with God for which we were created. Because Jesus never sinned, then, he is more fully human than anyone who has ever lived—and he is our intercessor in heaven. We praise you, holy Jesus, for bringing us before God in love and compassion.

Sunday | Matthew 4:1-11

We might assume temptations come because God is not with us, but Jesus’ experience proves otherwise. Matthew reports “the Spirit led Jesus” (verse 1) into the desert where his ordeal awaited. Living as God’s beloved children does not make life easier. Our new, God-given identities require more vigilance against sin and more dependence upon God, not less. Powerful God, give us courage to follow where you lead, even when the way leads through the wilderness of temptation.


Key Verse: Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him. (Matthew 4:10-11)


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Lesson 4 | March 22

JESUS IN THE WILDERNESS Lesson: Matthew 4:1-11 • Background: Same

Much later in the New Testament than today’s Bible reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews declared that Jesus is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” because “in every respect [he] has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (4:15, NRSV). Truthfully, I don’t tend to think about Satan too much, let alone feel as though I’m up against some singular, supernatural being who’s doing all he can to keep me from following God’s will. I acknowledge sin and evil are real and powerful, in the world and in my own life. There’s simply too much evidence—on both fronts, I’m afraid—to pretend otherwise. I ate lunch at a restaurant with a man who’s usually quite calm and composed, but at one point, he started loudly and animatedly telling me, “You’re going to think this sounds crazy, but Satan is real, and I’ve seen him.” I scrambled to steer our conversation back into what would be more comfortable territory for me. I suggested he meant the metaphorical “demons” he’d faced, like his experiences in the Vietnam War or his past drug use. But he insisted, “No, I mean the devil. The literal, actual devil.” So, I simply smiled and nodded and kept eating my French fries, hoping people at the other tables weren’t listening in. Jesus, of course, had no trouble thinking about “the literal, actual devil.” By the first century, “the Satan” of Hebrew Scripture—a member of God’s heavenly court, a sort of celestial prosecuting attorney on God’s staff for the specific task of testing mortals’ faithfulness and righteousness (as he famously does in Job 1–2)—had morphed into the deceitful and rebellious enemy of God we think of today. Jesus called this being “a murderer from the beginning” and “the father of liars” (John 8:44), whom he saw “fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18) and who was fated for the fires of hell (Matthew 25:41). We can assume that three of the four evangelists included some account of the devil tempting Jesus because Jesus told his followers about the ordeal. (Mark, in 1:12-13, doesn’t delve into the details as Matthew and Luke do, but he still includes it.) Clearly, then, Christians need to pay attention to this story— even Christians like me, who find that Satan talk makes them squirm. 64

But why? Even setting aside the question of Satan, the testing Jesus suffered seems so radically different from yours or mine. As scholar M. Eugene Boring points out, Jesus isn’t wrestling with a desire to do something bad; the temptations “are not to lust and avarice.”1 What can we glean from them to help us when we feel tempted today? The first test might seem harmless enough. After forty days of deliberate fasting—an ancient spiritual discipline Jesus assumed his followers, as devout Jews like him, would continue (Matthew 6:16-18)— Jesus was “famished” (4:2, NRSV). Satan suggested that Jesus feed himself. It would take only a word commanding stones to become bread. Surely God doesn’t want Jesus launching his ministry on an empty stomach! No doubt Jesus, whose authoritative word would later cast out demons and still storms, could easily have pulled bread from thin air. But he was committed to trusting God’s word, not his own. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 to make his point. Centuries before, when the Israelites were about to leave the wilderness behind, Moses warned them not to start putting too much stock in their own strength. He urged them to remember the lesson God gave them along with manna from heaven: Only God provides ultimate sustenance, ultimate nourishment (see Deuteronomy 8:11-20). Jesus resisted the temptation to rely on himself more than he relied on God. Now knowing Jesus looks to Holy Scripture for guidance, Satan quoted it for his own purposes in the second test, just as Shakespeare said the devil does2. Sweeping Jesus up and away to the top of the temple in Jerusalem—the place above all places where Jews could expect to encounter the God of all the earth (1 Kings 8:27-29)—Satan challenged him to jump, quoting Psalm 91:11-12 word for word. Had Jesus wanted to pull off this dramatic demonstration, he probably could have. Much later, on the night of his arrest, he acknowledged as much (Matthew 26:53). But Jesus again quoted Moses from Deuteronomy (6:16) to stress that, in his relationship with God, Jesus didn’t decide when and how God would act. If God had wanted him to toss himself off the temple in a flamboyant display of faith—maybe to

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win a large following overnight or to send a message about real power to the Roman Empire—Jesus would have done it. But Jesus resisted the temptation to demand God put on a command performance. Finally, Satan took Jesus even higher, to a towering mountain peak from which they gazed on “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (verse 8). Perhaps Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms with the biggest boundaries, the most ornate architecture, the strongest militaries, the wealthiest treasuries—all the things that make nations the envy of their neighbors. Satan claimed he could turn it all over to Jesus to rule, if only Jesus would first genuflect before him, acknowledging him as the ultimate ruler. Jesus decided he had had enough. So far from submitting to Satan, Jesus commanded him to leave, adding one last, emphatic quote from Moses (Deuteronomy 6:13). Jesus resisted the temptation to obey or worship anyone or anything but God. Feeling tempted to trust ourselves more than we trust God . . . to demand God act as we want, when we want . . . to treat other people or purposes as worthy of the ultimate loyalty and trust that God alone deserves. . . . These temptations sound familiar, don’t they? We may or may not ever feel like we’re going toeto-toe with Satan, but Jesus was, in this wilderness ordeal, being tested as we are, because his identity as God’s Son was at stake. The CEB translates Satan’s tests correctly: He did not question “if ” Jesus was the

Son of God, but stated, “Since you are Son...”20 Lesson 8 |God’s January (verses 3, 6, emphasis added). The heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism confirmed he was God’s Son (3:17). Jesus’ test was deciding what kind of Son he would be: obedient or rebellious (compare his parable in 21:28-31). Baptized Christians are also confirmed as God’s daughters and sons, through the Son of God. But after the baptismal waters, we, too, must decide whether we will be obedient or rebellious children; whether we will embrace and live into and live up to the identity God has already graciously given us. In the end, the story of Jesus’ temptation isn’t about whether Satan really exists. Believe he does; believe he doesn’t; but by all means, believe this story is about whether you and I will, like Jesus before us, really exist—really live, every day—as God’s beloved children, with whom God is well-pleased.

Maturing in Faith

As I angrily thought about how I could make her feel as bad as I felt, I found myself also thinking about the words of 1 Corinthians 13. I believe it was God’s way of telling me, “If you really love this person, as you say, then you won’t keep a record of wrongs, and you won’t insist on your own way. You will be patient and kind.” I can’t tell you I got over her overnight. I can’t tell you I handled the situation perfectly. But when tempted to be as mean to her as I could, I heard the call, through Scripture, to live more like Christ. As we hear in the words of Scripture the summons to love and worship God by loving and serving others, we mature not only as Bible readers but also, and more importantly, as Jesus’ followers.

I’ve heard preachers and teachers reduce the story of Jesus’ temptation to a case study in the importance of reading the Bible. I’m afraid I’ve done it myself in the past. Jesus was able to thwart Satan at every turn so effectively, the thinking goes, because he knew the Scripture so well. Of course, it’s important for Christians to read the Bible. But being able to quote chapter and verse isn’t necessarily proof of faithful living. Satan knows the words of Scripture just as well as Jesus does. It’s not simply reading Scripture that matters, but reading and allowing it—more precisely, allowing the Holy Spirit through it—to shape us, more and more, into God’s obedient children. I first fully realized this distinction in college. Toward the end of my freshman year, I’d started dating a young woman who, over summer break, met and started dating someone else. www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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1. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, “The Gospel of Matthew,” M. Eugene Boring (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 165. 2. The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare.

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Daily Meditations | March 23–29 Monday | 2 Kings 23:34–24:7

How far the kingdom of Judah has fallen! Egypt, the very nation that enslaved the Hebrews centuries before, installed a puppet king who taxed God’s people in order to fill Pharaoh’s coffers. Then that king started a failed rebellion against the rising power, Babylon, whom God was using to judge Judah. Sovereign God, help us discern your hand in the nation and world today, and faithfully respond.

Tuesday | 2 Kings 24:8-17

Babylon is fully in charge. Its emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, personally accepted teenage king Jehoiachin’s surrender, plundered the temple of its valuable gold, and deported Judah’s royal family and thousands of its people. Nations can delude themselves into thinking their power and prestige will last forever. Save us from pride that ignores your will for the world, O God.

Wednesday | 2 Kings 24:18–25:7

Having failed to learn from history (relatively recent history at that), Zedekiah defied Babylon. His thwarted revolution sparked the last act in Judah’s tragic downfall. When we focus only on the immediate present, we can fail to act wisely. God of the ages, help us learn the past’s lessons, that we may live more fully and faithfully in the future you prepare.

Thursday | 2 Kings 25:8-21

Jerusalem’s fall shocked the people of Judah. It shattered their belief that the city and temple were as everlasting as their God. Eternal and almighty God, help us distinguish our beliefs about you from you yourself, that our faith may withstand and even thrive amid suffering.

Friday | 2 Kings 25:22-30

As devastating as the national suffering of Jerusalem’s fall was, it would not prove the last word in God’s story with God’s people. Jehoiachin’s unexpected good fortune shows us we should never count out God’s ability to turn apparently definitive endings into hopeful new beginnings. You are the God of surprising new starts; when we suffer, direct our vision to your future.

Saturday | 2 Chronicles 36:17-21

In his account of Jerusalem’s fall, the chronicler notes the land “finally enjoyed its sabbath rest” (verse 21). How does our society refuse to grant “rest” to God’s natural world? What consequences have we already seen because we have exploited nature too fully? Creator God, help me do what I can to live as a better steward of your good earth.

Sunday | Ezekiel 36:33-38

Biblical faith proclaims God responsible for the exile. It also proclaims God as the One responsible for restoring the people. Desolation and ruin are never God’s ultimate will for humanity; God’s will is vibrant, abundant life. We praise you, living God, for your commitment to our well-being, seen most clearly in the new life to which you raised your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.


Key Verse: The king of Babylon struck them down. . . . So Judah was exiled from its land. (2 Kings 25:21)



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Lesson 5 | March 29

Lesson 8 | January 20

THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH ARE EXILED Lesson: 2 Kings 25:8-21 • Background: 2 Kings 23:34–25:30 On September 16, 2001, I stood in the pulpit of the congregation I served and tried to talk about what had happened on 9/11 in a way that acknowledged the nation’s suffering and grief while still proclaiming God’s good news. I remember stressing God had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks. God in no way caused them, I said. God in no way willed them. I stand by those words. But I sometimes wonder what preachers in the far future may say as they look back and try to discern how, if at all, that day’s terrible events fit into God’s plan for history and how, if at all, they reflected God’s rule over the nations. One reason I wonder is because some preachers from ancient Judah, when that nation faced a dark and devastating day of suffering, spoke a very different kind of word. The attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and whatever building Flight 93’s hijackers intended to hit are not identical in scope or effect to the devastation narrated in 2 Kings 25. America survived 9/11. Judah did not survive “the seventh day of the fifth month in the nineteenth year of Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar” (verse 8). The narrator’s choice to give the dateline according to the conquering foreigners’ calendar, rather than Judah’s, reinforces this reality. It’s impossible to exaggerate the explosive impact Jerusalem’s fall that day in 587 BCE had on Jewish history, culture, and faith. The event capped a decade during which Babylon, the geopolitical superpower of its day, forcibly removed much of Judah’s population in multiple waves. Much of the Old Testament as we have it was written down and given shape during those decades of exile, as Judeans wrestled with what their nation’s demise meant for their identity as God’s people. The enemy troops under Nebuzaradan’s command—his name means “the cook” but can also be translated, quite suggestively, “the butcher” or “the slaughterer”1—tore down the city walls and torched its homes. They took away most of the city’s remaining citizens, leaving people behind in poverty to till the earth for their conquerors’ benefit. And all this is horror enough. www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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But the Babylonians targeted “every important building” (verse 9): buildings that carried profound psychological and spiritual significance, that symbolized the nation’s self-understanding. As Al-Qaeda struck symbols of America’s financial, military, and political strength, Babylon struck symbols of Judah’s covenant relationship to God. Consider the royal palace, for example. God had promised that a member of King David’s “house” would always rule (2 Samuel 7:11-12). But now flames consumed the royal palace (2 Kings 25:9), and Zedekiah, the last of David’s descendants to rule in Jerusalem, was captured by the Babylonian army. After being forced to watch his sons’ executions, he was blinded and carried in chains to Babylon (verses 6-7). Even more troubling, the temple—the magnificent structure made more beautiful when God’s glory filled it as a cloud (1 Kings 8:10-11), God’s own house where God promised to live among and never abandon the people (1 Kings 6:13)—was burned to the ground. Notice how the narration mentions the temple’s destruction (2 Kings 25:9) and moves on, but then returns to the smoldering site (verses 13-17), as if the loss still can’t quite be believed. The author of Kings mentions many of the same details he lovingly lingered over in 1 Kings 6–7 when recounting the temple’s construction. We read again about towering columns with their weighty, ornate capitals; gold and silver pots and dishes used in worship; and the massive bronze reservoir—able to hold 10,000 gallons of water (1 Kings 7:23-26)— called “the Sea.” In ancient cultures, the sea often symbolized violent chaos. Now, ironically, this bronze symbol of God’s authority over such chaos has fallen victim to it. More than buildings fell when Jerusalem fell. God’s dream for God’s people was apparently being dismantled, piece by piece, just as surely as Jerusalem’s supposedly inviolable walls (Psalm 48:12-14) came tumbling down. Faced with national shock and suffering on this scale, what did the preachers of Judah say? I imagine some were quick to tell any who’d listen, “God in no way caused this; God in no way Spring 2020


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willed this.” I imagine they meant well and had a pastoral interest in reassuring the exiles that God hadn’t brought this calamity on them. But whatever audience they may have gained, they didn’t, in the long run, persuade biblical tradition. Scripture says Jerusalem’s fall and the people’s exile fit God’s plan for history and reflected God’s rule over the nations because it was ultimately God’s doing. Nebuzaradan carried out his king’s orders, but beneath it all, God “was angry with Jerusalem and Judah . . . [and] thrust them out of his presence” (2 Kings 24:20). Through the nation’s suffering, God judged Judah for its sins so severely, “the ears of anyone who hear[d] about it” rang (21:12). What sins, specifically? The “detestable things” King Manasseh did himself and led his subjects to do (21:11, 16). The Book of Kings calls out idolatrous altars and occult acts, even child sacrifice, as the primary problems (21:2-9). We know from Judean prophets like Jeremiah that widespread immorality and oppression of society’s poorest members also inflamed God’s vengeance (see, for example, Jeremiah 5:25-29; 7:8-10). Not even the reforms Manasseh’s grandson, King Josiah, carried out in compliance with the rediscovered scroll of Deuteronomy could spare the nation God’s wrath (2 Kings 22). The exiled Judeans could have told their story differently. They could have decided, as the Babylonians surely did, that Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuzaradan’s triumph meant the God of Israel had

Maturing in Faith

I’ll never forget the shock on my coworker’s face when I told her I’d be thinking about my faith when voting in the upcoming election, or the disdain in her voice when she asked, “Why?” She said she’d be thinking about tax policy, environmental regulations, civil rights, the kind of judges candidates had promised to appoint to the courts—she listed a host of issues from the campaign. She seemed surprised, but skeptical, when I explained I’d be thinking about issues like those, too, but in light of my Christian faith. By no means am I the best informed or most politically active citizen. But I try to vote for candidates whose visions for my local community, state, and country align in some way with God’s values and priorities as I understand them from Scripture. It’s not always an obvious choice. America is a secular democracy. Office-seekers must prove themselves relevant to a diverse electorate, not all of whose top 68

been defeated. They could have concluded God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah’s family was forever broken. But instead—remarkably, humbly, courageously—they came to believe Judah’s suffering was God’s just judgment against the nation’s sin. A painful interpretation? Yes. Soul-wrenching? Yes. But it contains a glimmer of good news. We glimpse it in the Book of Kings’ closing scene. Judah’s King Jehoiachin, who had been taken into exile years before Jerusalem fell, was freed from prison and dined with a new king over Babylon for the rest of his days. He even received preferential treatment over other exiled monarchs (25:27-30). Jehoiachin’s elevation could be nothing more than Awil-merodach indulging a whim, as victorious despots do. But it also holds out the hope that God is not done with God’s people, that God’s anger at their sin will not be God’s final word. God brought this suffering on the people, claims Kings, but God will also be able to deliver them from it. God’s judgment is not punishment for punishment’s sake, but suffering that will refine the nation’s remnant and renew it for continued relationship with and service to God.

1. Jewish Virtual Library, sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ nebuzaradan-2

issues match mine. But making the effort to think about issues in the context of faith is one way I feel I’ve matured as a Christian over the years. How Christian faith and political involvement intersect isn’t always clear-cut. Believers disagree about which candidates, legislation, and social priorities reflect God’s will. But as citizens in a secular, representative democracy, you and I have the opportunity and responsibility to witness to God’s will in ways our forebears in faith could never have imagined (and, sadly, which many Christians around the world today still can’t). We won’t always agree on how we should vote—or when we should call and write our elected officials, start petitions, march in the streets, or organize community action—but growing in faith means refusing to live as citizens of the state in ways that contradict our ultimate status as citizens of God’s realm.

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Daily Meditations | March 30–April 5

Lesson 8 | January 20

Monday | Psalm 22:1-11

No affirmations of God’s omnipresence can comfort the anguished soul who believes he or she truly is godforsaken. But the psalm-singer, though severely distressed, does not entirely despair. The God whose presence is not felt is still “my God.” Save me from giving up on you, my God, even when I fear you have given up on me.

Tuesday | Psalm 22:12-18

How callous the psalm-singer’s enemies are, playing games to win the clothes off his back! But how unfeeling we are when we choose to ignore those whose pain and suffering leaves them “down in the dirt of death” (verse 15). By your Spirit, God of the forgotten, help us see those who suffer and take action to aid them.

Wednesday | Hebrews 9:1-12

Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t a priest. But the author of Hebrews argues Jesus ultimately proved himself the highest of priests. He offered his own blood to not only stand directly in God’s presence himself, but also to open our transformational path to the Most Holy. We praise you for your sacrifice, our Great High Priest, and thank you for bringing us before God for all time.

Thursday | Mark 15:22-32

Some religious leaders jeered Jesus because he couldn’t save himself from death. Jesus could have pulled off a miraculous escape—but at the cost of refusing God’s will. To be the king God wanted, Jesus couldn’t save himself because he had to save us. King Jesus, thank you for your love of God and the transformational love for us that kept you on your cross.

Friday | Mark 15:33-37

Why did the bystanders mishear Jesus? Surely, they spoke Aramaic. Did Jesus’ suffering garble his shout? Or did they, even unconsciously, choose not to understand? We cannot answer for them—we can only speak to why we so often fail to comprehend our Savior’s words. Forgive us, our God, for the times we fail to hear and to do your Word.

Saturday | Mark 15:38-41

In Mark’s Gospel, none of Jesus’ male followers watch him die. But women followers, including Mary Magdalene, another Mary, and Salome, are witnesses to his crucifixion. They support Jesus as he dies in the only way they can, even as they and other women had supported him as he lived. Like the women who kept watch, dear Jesus, may we always look to you and remain steadfast.

Sunday | John 19:31-37

The blood and water that flow from Jesus’ side prove he is dead, but they also signify the new birth Jesus makes possible for those who believe (compare John 3:5). John is committed to helping his readers believe or continue to believe in Jesus as Savior (see 20:31). God of truth, inspire me to give my true and trustworthy testimony to Jesus’ salvation in my life, that others may also know and believe.


Key Verse: But Jesus let out a loud cry and died. The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.


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(Mark 15:37-38)


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Lesson 6 | April 5

JESUS DIES ON A CROSS Lesson: Mark 15:22-39 • Background: Mark 15:1-47

I once dreamed about Jesus’ crucifixion—a mercifully brief nightmare. The scene was brutal. Jesus was frantically contorting his body as he tried to pull himself away from the cross. And he was screaming, though the word “scream” doesn’t do justice to the sound I heard. It was an impossibly loud mixture of rasp and roar, like audible flames from the back of his throat. God can speak through dreams, but I doubt God spoke through mine. My dream conveyed nothing about what, if anything, was meant by what I was seeing. I assume the man in my dream was Jesus, but I didn’t see a placard over his head (Mark 15:26) or a crown of thorns on his brow (15:17). I simply saw a man dying a torturous death, and it wasn’t humbling or inspiring. It was just ugly. Each Gospel tells something about who was present, what was said, and what happened around the cross, but none spend any time describing Jesus’ death itself in-depth. If you want the medical, morbid, blow-by-blow of how crucifixion killed its victims, you can find it in history books or online, but not in the Gospels. The evangelists knew their accounts had to do more than simply let readers “watch” Jesus suffer and die. Their accounts needed to help readers “see” what his death was about. Mark, generally accepted as the earliest evangelist (around 70 CE [Common Era]), tells us three times that Roman soldiers crucified Jesus (verses 24, 25, 27). Rome routinely executed criminals this way. Mark’s original audience knew it. They’d seen it. Why would Mark need to elaborate? Mark’s account proves that simply seeing Jesus’ crucifixion reveals nothing about its significance. • The soldiers who carried out the sentence pass the time playing games of chance to see who’ll get the dying man’s clothes. For them, this Friday is just another day on the job in Caesar’s service. • Some people milling around the cross find the scene funny. Ha! The miracle worker who would be king, the man who said he’d tear down the temple and build it again in three days (see 14:57-59) ended up dying as a common crook. Hysterical. 70

• Even the bullying bandits crucified with Jesus (15:32) were cursing him. But it’s not just other people who failed to see any deep meaning in Jesus’ death. So many of us easily “mash up” the Gospels’ Crucifixion accounts in our minds, helped along by Bible movies and worship services on the “Seven Last Words from the Cross,” that we find it hard to appreciate each evangelist’s account on its own. I find Mark’s version the most disturbing because it seems not even Jesus, during these sickening six hours, sees any hope. Yes, Mark makes it clear elsewhere Jesus understood how and why he was going to die (8:31; 9:9, 30-32; 10:32-34; 14:22-24). But here, now, Jesus howls the opening words of Psalm 22. That’s his only “word from the cross” in Mark’s account. While it’s possible he intended to evoke the psalm as a whole, including the suffering psalm-singer’s ultimate expressions of vindication and praise (Psalm 22:2231), that suggestion seems counterintuitive at best— and at worst, a desperate attempt to “protect” Jesus from suffering (a tendency we noted in our lesson for March 8). Matthew, too, records Jesus’ anguished cry (27:46). But his mention of the Resurrection before Jesus’ corpse is even off the cross (27:53) blunts the cry’s impact, at least in my opinion. Luke leaves out the cry; Jesus, in his account, confidently entrusted his soul to God before dying (23:46). And in John’s version, Jesus, with his last breath, declared that his death perfectly achieves God’s will (19:30). But Mark doesn’t let us retreat from the horror and apparent senselessness of what’s happening at Skull Place. Like my dream, Mark’s narrative is brutal and ugly, and we can’t make sense of this execution on its face. Even the executed believes God has abandoned him. Curiously, the centurion who saw Jesus die called him the Son of God. But does the sight of the death itself convert him? Or were the centurion’s words ironic, even sarcastic?1 Were they a dramatic declaration of newfound faith—or one more example of how, as Mark tells it, merely seeing Jesus’ crucifixion does nothing to reveal its significance? “That dead

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guy, God’s Son? As if!” (Contrast Luke’s unambiguous treatment of a similar declaration, 23:47.) That’s why Mark abruptly shifts our attention from Golgotha to the temple. There, a curtain is torn, top to bottom. Mark doesn’t make clear which curtain in the temple he’s talking about, but it could well be the ornate curtain concealing the Holy of Holies, the building’s most sacred spot, where God was believed to sit enthroned above the cherubim on the ark of the covenant’s lid. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus described that curtain as a huge, ornate veil, and colorfully “embroidered upon it [was] all that was mystical in the heavens,” so that it was, in effect, “a kind of image of the universe.”2 And if this is the curtain that was torn that first Good Friday, its rending would bookend a traumatic tearing at the outset of Jesus’ ministry in Mark. At his baptism, Jesus saw heaven “splitting open” (1:10)—Mark used the same, violent verb describing the curtain’s division at Jesus’ death. Through the torn heavens at Jesus’ baptism, God’s Spirit descended like a dove. Who, then, emerges through this torn image of the heavens at Jesus’ death? Believers through the centuries have found solace and hope by meditating on Jesus’ physical suffering. But at least for Mark, that’s not where the deepest meaning of the Crucifixion lies. Jesus’ death is not meaningless, but to see its true meaning, to see how it fits into God’s “saving purposes,” we have to look elsewhere. We have to look for signs and signals of God entering and acting in the world in new, dynamic, disruptive ways; ways possibly even

destructive of what we thought we knew, that rip open Lesson 8 | January 20 our “images of the universe”—how we see the world, others, ourselves, even God—as surely as that curtain in the temple was ripped. If seeing Christ crucified doesn’t move us to look away—not in horror, but in hopes of seeing God’s mighty and saving power in action in the world—then we have only seen a raw and repulsive death, and may not have truly seen salvation at all.

Maturing in Faith

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz had Jesus’ words about caring for “the least of [his] brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25:40) in mind when he designed Jesus the Homeless.3 But the art, depending as it does on the scars of Jesus’ suffering, may make those who see it stop and think of homelessness as a modern kind of “crucifixion”—not a penalty imposed on criminals, but an intense suffering in which people may often feel forsaken by God . . . and are, in fact, too often forsaken by their fellow human beings. When we see people on the edges of our society “being crucified” in one way or another, do we look away in discomfort and disgust—or do we look for some way we can be involved in what God is doing, dramatically and decisively, in the world? Our response may say much about how much we have or have not matured in faith.

If, as Mark’s mention of the torn temple curtain suggests, Jesus’ death somehow signals a dramatic and decisive reentrance of God into the world, then shouldn’t it also stir us to move in dramatic and decisive ways—even if only relatively, compared to what we have or have not been doing already—toward a world where people are still “crucified” in countless ways? Statues of Christ on his cross are common in religious art. In recent years, a new kind of statue of Jesus is being seen in several cities. One is installed outside St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina. It depicts Jesus as a figure lying on a bench, almost completely covered up by a blanket. Only his feet—marked with the wounds inflicted at his crucifixion—are visible. www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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1. Shaping the Scriptural Imagination, Chapter 2: “The Strange Silence of the Bible,” Donald H. Juel, eds. Shane Berg and Matthew L. Skinner (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011), 41-42. 2. The Wars of the Jews, Chapter 5.4, Flavius Josephus; https://www. gutenberg.org/files/2850/2850-h/2850-h.htm 3. NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, “Statue of a Homeless Jesus Startles a Wealthy Community,” John Burnett, April 13, 2014; https://www.npr. org/2014/04/13/302019921/statue-of-a-homeless-jesus-startles-a-wealthycommunity

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Daily Meditations | April 6–12 Monday | Psalm 118:1-9, 14-18

Christians have long seen in verses 17-18 of this psalm an anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection. Though we all must die, because we believe we are, with Christ, not finally handed over to the power or death, our song, too, is “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” For the miracle of new life with you, saving God, we give you thanks and sing your praise.

Tuesday | Matthew 27:57-61

Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus the tomb he, Joseph, had purchased and intended for himself. What plans have you made for yourself that you have given up or would be willing to give up to be a follower of Jesus? Lord Jesus, may what I give for you always honor you.

Wednesday | Matthew 27:62-66

The chief priests aren’t the only people who’ve tried to “secure Jesus’ tomb.” Whenever we give up hope in the face of evil and death, whenever we tell ourselves God can’t bring new beginnings out of painful endings, we post our own guards against resurrection. God of possibility, guard us from despair and strengthen our trust in your power to create a new future.

Thursday | Matthew 28:1-10

Twice in these verses, we read that the risen Jesus is going ahead of his disciples to Galilee. Jesus did not linger at his grave after he had been raised from it! Christian faith does not depend on the empty tomb, but on the experience of the living Christ who goes ahead of us into the world. Give me faith to follow you, risen Lord, that I may know your presence and power in my life.

Friday | Matthew 28:11-15

Sadly, Matthew’s story about the chief priests bribing the guards to lie about what they witnessed at Jesus’ tomb has helped fuel anti-Jewish sentiment throughout Christian history. Gracious God, forgive us, who are only included in your family by grace, when we turn against or turn our backs on the people whose covenant with you still stands, and from whom Jesus the Messiah came.

Saturday | John 20:19-23

In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples receive the Holy Spirit on the first Easter evening. The proclamation of his resurrection should immediately propel us into the world, empowered by the Spirit to spread the good news and share Jesus’ forgiving love. O God, breathe your Spirit on us again, that we may give your compassion and peace to all.

Sunday | Revelation 1:13-18

The early Christian prophet John’s vision of the risen Christ is filled with striking and strange details, but John intends them all to communicate the unambiguous truth of Jesus’ authority over life and death. Glorious Savior, we worship you for defeating death and for giving us your word of life to share.


Key Verses: But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6)



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Lesson 8 | January 20

Lesson 7 | April 12


Lesson: Matthew 28:1-10 • Background: Matthew 27:57–28:15 I don’t know the original source of the popular inspirational mantra, “Do it scared.” My internet search turns up several celebrities and self-help bloggers saying it. My quick-check at Amazon shows several books using that phrase, or a close variant, as their title. Because I’m a big Star Wars fan, I first heard it as a paraphrase of something the late Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia, said about how she lived her life with bipolar disorder: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident.”1 More and more, I wonder whether Christian faith isn’t a similar proposition. The basic wisdom in “doing it scared” rather than waiting to act until we have all the information, all the reassurances, all the guarantees we’d like to have, rings true to me. I haven’t yet found the Bible verse where Jesus says, “Follow me only if you’re absolutely sure it’s going to be safe and will never make you nervous or uncomfortable.” When we read Matthew’s account of the first Easter morning, we may find it reinforces this idea that Christian faith is something we have to “do scared.” “He isn’t here,” the angel tells the women, “because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6). Sit with that announcement for a second. A dead man—a man brutally executed, whose bloody corpse was sealed in a tomb, behind a large stone—is somehow alive. With brightly-colored eggs and chocolate bunnies, fine new dresses and fragrant lilies, we’ve managed, in church and culture, to tame the Easter story to the point where we forget the terror it contains. Is it all terror, or even mostly terror? Of course not. But the dead stay dead. We often wish it weren’t so, but it always, always is—except here, at Jesus’ tomb. Death, which all human beings forever have known to be final, is no longer the end. How can such a radical revision of reality itself fail, on at least some level, to frighten us? After all, only a tremendous power could overturn death. Matthew doesn’t describe Jesus’ resurrection itself, but he includes more details around that moment than the other Gospel writers: the www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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violent earthquake, the descending angel’s dazzling appearance, the Roman soldiers who tremble with such fear they become “like dead men” (verse 4). Who could be in the presence of power like this without feeling some fear? Not the two Marys, who had come expecting simply to resume their vigil outside Jesus’ tomb (27:61). These were devout Jewish women who believed in God and would recognize signs of divine might from their knowledge of Scripture, and the angel still had to tell them, “Don’t be afraid” (28:5). And even after hearing his entire message, they were still fearful (verse 8). But that’s when this story becomes a story about “doing faith scared”—a story about not waiting, about taking action. Matthew diverges from his presumed source material, Mark, when he relates how the women left the tomb. In Mark, the three women who had gone to anoint Jesus’ body ran away, “[o]vercome with terror and dread,” and they said “nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (16:8). Mark’s Gospel originally ended right there, with fear keeping the women from obeying the command to go and tell Jesus’ disciples about his resurrection. But Matthew says the two Marys ran away from the tomb with “great fear,” yes—but also with “excitement” (28:8). The Greek word is charas,2 and it is more usually translated “joy” (NRSV, NIV, KJV, ESV, and many others).3 The women trembled with fear, but still set out to do what the angel told them to do because they were also trembling with joy. Where the women in Mark ran and said nothing, the women in Matthew “ran to tell his disciples” (verse 8). We see intent. We see purpose. These women set out to “do it scared.” And because they did, they soon found themselves face-to-face with Jesus. He, like the angel, told them not to fear (verse 10), but not before he had “greeted them” (verse 9). Many English translations render it as a direct quote from Jesus: “Greetings!” The Greek word here is chairete, and you can see its etymological link to charas. Though it is, as one scholar writes, “the normal greeting . . . comparable to our ‘hello,’” it Spring 2020


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literally means, “Rejoice!”4 The women, feeling some mixture of fear and joy, accepted their mission even though they were scared, and that decision led them to a place where meeting with Jesus ultimately left only joy. Living in the presence of the risen Jesus makes the difference. And while Christians believe our life with Christ, now and in the future, is a gift we cannot earn, it is also a gift we can’t receive or fully experience if we allow our fears to keep us away from him. A beautiful spring day, as many Easter Sundays are, is a gift we can do nothing to earn. But if we stay indoors, afraid of anything from allergens to accidents, then it’s a gift we cannot enjoy. Matthew’s Easter story makes me think life with the risen Christ is like that spring day. Because, beyond today’s reading, his account ends with the disciples having made their way to Galilee, where Jesus had gone on ahead of them (verse 7). Some disciples doubted, Matthew notes (verse 17), but they did not let their doubts—nor, we can assume, their fears—keep them from going to Jesus. And then Jesus told them they would have to go farther still, to “all nations” to make disciples (verse 19), promising, “I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (verse 20). Even though Matthew knew the risen Jesus did not stay bodily on earth, he didn’t end his Gospel with an ascension. He ended with a strong affirmation of Jesus’ continuing, constant presence

Maturing in Faith

During your life, when have you had to “do it scared”? What changes and challenges have you had to meet head-on when you felt least prepared to do so? Maybe you had to deal with a loved one’s death. Maybe getting a new job or losing a job meant you had to move to a new place. Maybe dealing with the departure of children from your home or departing your home yourself due to illness or age proved to be a tough transition. The specifics will vary, but I suspect we’ve all faced situations in which we really had no choice but to forge a fearful way into our personal or family futures. Without diminishing the wondrous miracle that took place on that first Easter morning, I think Matthew’s message about the risen Christ—that he goes ahead of his followers into the future, promising to meet and empower them there—is good news on any day and in any season of life. 74

with his followers as they went forth, even if they went scared or doubtful or with questions and concerns or feeling unsafe or uncertain. From the women at the tomb to the disciples receiving the Great Commission, Matthew’s Easter story presents faith in the risen Christ as a life where what’s important is the action. Fears are real, and fears can be powerful. But when we “do it scared”—when we take action for Christ anyway—we position ourselves to experience his presence. Our decision to “do it scared” can lead us to a place where we meet with Jesus, who promises, in the end, we will enter into the joy he has prepared.

1. The Sydney Morning Herald, “‘Stay afraid, but do it anyway’: Carrie Fisher’s honesty about mental illness inspired a generation,” quoted by (among myriad others online) Clem Bastow, December 28, 2016; https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/stay-afraid-but-do-itanyway-carrie-fishers-honesty-about-mental-illness-inspired-a-generation20161228-gtiovy.html 2. Bible Hub, https://biblehub.com/greek/5479.htm 3. Bible Study Tools, https://www.biblestudytools.com/matthew/28-8compare.html 4. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, “The Gospel of Matthew,” M. Eugene Boring (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 500.

None of the Gospels’ Resurrection narratives give biblical characters much time for quiet, contemplative communion with the risen Christ. (In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke does say Jesus appeared to his disciples for over forty days after the Resurrection—see Acts 1:3—but in his Gospel, Luke gives the impression Jesus’ ascension happened that first Easter night! See Luke 24:30-31.) The consistent emphasis is on what comes next: proclamation, mission, service to others—all of this outward motion flows from the announcement, “He has been raised!” The future doesn’t stop being scary as we get older. But as we mature, we can hopefully look back on more and more times when we have met the living Jesus as we moved forward, even fearfully or hesitantly, and can draw on those memories for courage and hope as we face whatever the rest of our days hold.

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Daily Meditations | April 13–19

Lesson 8 | January 20

Monday | Ezra 1:1-11

King Cyrus II of Persia may have thought sending conquered people, including the people of Judah, back to their homelands to rebuild was simply sound policy. But the Book of Ezra identifies God as the ultimate catalyst of Cyrus’s actions. Stir up the spirits of leaders today, Sovereign God, that the nations may know your glory and your peace.

Tuesday | Ezra 3:8-13

When the work of rebuilding the temple began, Ezra reports no one could distinguish tears of sorrow over its former glory from tears of joy over the new beginning. It’s all right to rebuild our own “ruins” with a mixture of sorrow and joy. What matters is that we make the beginning (verse 8), confident that God’s graciousness endures (verse 11). Grant me a sustaining faith in your everlasting love, O God.

Wednesday | Haggai 1:1-8

The former exiles who returned to Judah tried to rebuild their community without keeping God at the center, as seen in their neglect of the devastated temple. When we, like they, work hard and consume much but are never truly satisfied, we must ask ourselves whether we are orienting ourselves to God’s glory or to our own. Show me, O God, how I may best honor you in my community.

Thursday | Haggai 2:1-9

For all of its architectural magnificence and splendid ornamentation, what had truly always made the temple beautiful was the beautiful presence of God. With God in their midst (verse 4), the people can be assured of the reconstructed temple’s glory: God will be there, and the material beauty will follow later. God of glory, may your Spirit always guide me to behold true beauty in your presence and your love.

Friday | Zechariah 1:12-17

Why did God insist the people rebuild the temple? Because the temple was a physical, highly visible sign of God’s compassionate presence, signaling the people’s special relationship to God, not only to them, but to the world. Holy Spirit, so fill me that all I do and say points to your presence and power.

Saturday | Ezra 4:24–5:5

Ezra 5:2 states God’s prophets helped rebuild the temple. Perhaps the author means the prophets actually helped in the labor itself! Both words and works are essential to faithful living. Strengthen me to not only speak but also act in your service, O God, helping my community of faith obey your will in whatever ways I can.

Sunday | Ezra 6:13-22

Passover was especially joyous in the year the work on the temple was finished. Even the king of Assyria, a nation that had destroyed Israel’s Northern Kingdom centuries earlier, had helped the rebuilding (verse 22)! Surprising God, keep us daring to believe you can forge new bonds of peace between the nations today.


Key Verse: This house will be more glorious than its predecessor, says the Lord of heavenly forces. I will provide prosperity in this place, says the Lord of heavenly forces. (Haggai 2:9)


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Lesson 8 | April 19

REBUILDING THE TEMPLE Lesson: Haggai 2:1-9 • Background: Haggai 1:1–2:9 As I write these words, little more than a day has passed since firefighters extinguished the blaze that destroyed the spire and two-thirds of the roof of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Already, French president Emmanuel Macron has called for the medieval Gothic masterpiece to be restored, and made “more beautiful than ever.”1 Already, donors from around the world have pledged funds to make the work possible. And already there is skepticism the cathedral can be restored. “[I]t’s not going to be the same,” one man told the Times, “you’ll see the patches.”2 The range of reactions to the thought of rebuilding Notre Dame helps me more fully appreciate what faced the former exiles who returned to Judah in the late sixth century BC, after Cyrus II, king of Persia, defeated the Babylonian Empire and urged the peoples Babylon had deported to return to their homelands. As we recently read when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, the magnificent temple, built during Solomon’s reign to house the omnipresent God of Israel, was devastated. And the temple’s destruction dealt an emotional, psychological, and spiritual toll of which the fire at Notre Dame, as much as it grieved people the world over, only hints at. So, we might be forgiven for assuming the people of Judah were eager to rebuild the temple upon their return, as Cyrus encouraged them to do (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). But the prophet Haggai preached to a people still reluctant to begin the rebuilding, even eighteen years later. Haggai, about whose personal biography we know nothing, apparently did all his preaching during a scant three-and-a-half months in Judea, in the late summer and fall of 518 BC,3 on four distinctly dated occasions (the last two of which take place on the same date). But for all its brevity, the book bearing his name contains an important message, significant to its original audience and to believers today. Haggai’s first prophecy is a blunt message addressed to the community’s governor, Zerubbabel (the descendant of King David whom the Persians authorized to lead the returning exiles), and for Joshua, Judah’s first “high priest” (and grandson of the chief priest executed when Babylon conquered 76

Jerusalem).4 The drought and economic insecurity currently plaguing the people would continue until efforts to rebuild the temple began. Haggai’s preaching accused the people of having been more concerned with their own houses than with God’s house (1:9). The charge rings true to human nature—most of us usually seek our own safety and comfort first—but I also wonder whether the prospect of rebuilding the temple had become politically charged and considered suspect, as is so quickly happening with the rebuilding of Notre Dame. Somewhat surprisingly, given ancient Hebrew prophets’ track record of not being believed, Haggai’s message produced results. The restoration work began (1:14-15). But, as we find in today’s reading—which records Haggai’s second prophecy, delivered a month after the first, during Sukkot, the annual festival of thanksgiving for the harvest—the prophet still has work to do. Older returnees in the community, who saw and remembered the temple as it had been (2:3), were dubious about this restoration effort. They saw the reconstructed temple taking shape before them as shabby and second-rate. Indisputably, the temple used to be glorious. The accounts of its construction in 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3 highlight its size and magnificence. Finely-carved wood, glittering precious stones, walls and floors covered in gold—“the whole temple shined,” wrote first-century Jewish historian Josephus “and dazzled the eyes of such as entered,” and we can believe it (Antiquities of the Jews, VIII:3).5 And the older generation of returnees were still dazzled by their memories of the temple. They could hardly help finding its replacement lacking in comparison (verse 3). But Haggai urged Zerubbabel and Joshua not to listen to plaintive voices of dissent. God’s message is to keep on working, “for I am with you” (verse 4). As pledged in the covenant made with Israel during the Exodus—a covenant also celebrated during Sukkot— God still “stands in your midst” (verse 5). And God promised that this rebuilt temple will not always pale in comparison to its predecessor. In a verse anyone who’s heard or sung Handel’s Messiah

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may recall, God promises to shake the earth in order to fill the temple with “the treasure of all nations” (verse 7, NRSV). Scholar W. Eugene March explains the phrase is “in part . . . a reference to the treasures that once were taken away from the Temple.”6 These treasures and more will return to God’s house because they, like everything and everyone else on earth, belong to God. The physical beauty they will bring to the temple will be a visual sign of the “prosperity” God will bring to God’s people (verse 9). Some modern TV preachers have hijacked that word, “prosperity,” by all but guaranteeing material blessings to viewers who will send financial contributions to their ministries. But the Hebrew word in verse 9 is actually shalom, more familiarly and appropriately translated “peace” (NRSV, NIV). The word implies both physical and spiritual well-being, an all-encompassing wholeness that suffuses life with beauty in every aspect. For the sake of the people’s shalom, God wants them to rebuild the temple: not because God needs a house on earth (as even Solomon knew—1 Kings 8:27), but because the people will find themselves rebuilt by reorienting their life together around the God who gives freedom and new beginnings. They must rebuild the temple so it does not remain a ruinous reminder pointing backward to what was, but becomes a sign pointing forward to what, by God’s grace, will yet be.

When we face ruins inLesson the world8and in our lives, | January 20 it’s tempting to turn away from the task of rebuilding or to decide that no reconstruction can measure up to the original, and that all anyone will see are the patches. But Haggai teaches us that looking to the future that God promises is when God is most glorified. In doing whatever we can to build that future, patches and all, God’s people will be found most faithful.

Maturing in Faith

decade career as a teacher, started walking through the church’s neighborhood every afternoon, offering to help students with homework. Within a year, 65 children were coming to “Sunday” school (now held on Saturdays), and many were baptized. Other outreach programs like a summer day camp and a scholarship fund have followed.7 Whether or not we are mature enough in years to remember a time when the church was more outwardly prosperous, we can all become mature enough in faith to work for rebuilding communities of faith—not so they can necessarily enjoy former levels of social influence or prestige (for they likely will not), but so they can have prosperity of spirit, hope, joy, and purpose as they meet new needs and serve the world around them today in love. God always calls God’s people to service, not status. When God’s people rebuild their efforts to serve, God is glorified, and the gospel is shared.

Amid rapidly changing demographics and religious affiliations in the US, the term “mainline denomination” seems increasingly incongruous. Many congregations in these traditions are wrestling with a sense of unease not unlike the one those older returnees in Judah wrestled with in Haggai’s day. Church members look at the state of their buildings, their programming, their attendance, their financial resources, and say, with a sigh, it appears as nothing— or perilously close—and can’t compare with the “glory days” long gone by. But many congregations also rise to the challenge of rebuilding. For example, Presbyterians Today magazine profiled Oxford Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and its pastor, the Rev. Ethelyn Taylor. When she was called to Oxford, only four children attended its Sunday school. Taylor, who entered professional ministry after a threewww.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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1. The New York Times, “In Aftermath of Notre-Dame Fire, Macron Urges Unity in Fragmented Nation,” Adam Nossiter, April 16, 2019; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/world/europe/notre-dame-fireinvestigation.html 2. The New York Times, “What the Notre-Dame Fire Reveals About the Soul of France,” Steven Erlanger, April 16, 2019; https://www.nytimes. com/2019/04/16/world/europe/france-notre-dame-religion.html 3. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, “Haggai,” See Eric Meyers, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 1333-1334. 4. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VII, “The Book of Haggai,” See W. Eugene March (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 715. 5. Antiquities of the Jews, Book 8, Chapter 3:2, Flavius Josephus; https:// www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.htm#link82HCH0003 6. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VII, second column in commentary, W. Eugene March (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 724. 7. Presbyterians Today, “Redefining Golden Years—and Ministry,” Paul Seebeck, February 20, 2019; https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/pt0319-newold/

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Daily Meditations | April 20–26 Monday | Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

The psalm-singer captures the dual character of righteous living: it is a response to (verses 1-2, 8) and preparation for further experience of (verse 13) God’s goodness and grace. For your merciful blessings, generous God, we praise you and pray our lives would open our own and others’ hearts to deeper reception and sharing of all the peace and love you give.

Tuesday | Malachi 3:1-4

In its original context, Malachi’s message may have referred to the prophet himself (Malachi means “my messenger”) and anticipated the cleansing of corruption among the Levitical priesthood. Holy Spirit, purifying flame, purge us of sin that we may work to cleanse our world and our lives of injustice and sin.

Wednesday | Isaiah 40:3-8

The voice the prophet Isaiah hears comes, not from a wilderness, but from the heavenly courts, announcing the radical transformation of the wilderness into God’s royal highway (verses 3-5). Help me to see glimmers of your glory in wild places today, Sovereign God, that my voice may announce your coming glory to those around me.

Thursday | Luke 1:67, 76-80

John’s father, the priest Zechariah, foretold his son’s ministry as God’s prophet. How are you “preparing the way of the Lord” in your daily living? God Most High, may other people see, hear, and experience your deep compassion and peace in and through all I say and do, that I, too, may prepare your way in this world.

Friday | Mark 1:1-8

John appears on the stage of Mark’s Gospel as though out of nowhere, in the desert wilderness. Is it possible we look for signs and listen for messages from God in the wrong places too much of time? God of the margins, move us to pay closer attention to those unexpected places and people in whom you are moving and through whom you are speaking your message of transforming truth.

Saturday | John 1:19-28

These priests and Levites don’t seem to accept John’s multiple denials of messiahship, do they? Perhaps they fear John’s truthful answer will not satisfy the authorities to whom they must make a report (verse 22). Does our own anxiety about “reporting to” others—meeting others’ expectations, satisfying others’ conditions—ever keep us from recognizing and responding to God’s truth? Keep me focused on making my faithful answer to you alone, O God.

Sunday | Acts 19:1-7

Even though the apostle Paul affirms the superiority of baptism in Jesus’ name, he recognizes the baptism John administered showed people “were changing their hearts and lives” (verse 4). How can we help those who do not know or believe in Jesus as Savior see a desire for his power they may not yet be aware of? Grant us grace, Lord Christ, to gently lead others to you, as you change us all into the people you want us to be.


Key Verses: One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:7-8)



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Lesson 9 | April 26

Lesson 8 | January 20

JOHN PREPARES THE WAY FOR CHRIST Lesson: Mark 1:1-8 • Background: Mark 1:1-8; John 1:19-28

You just don’t forget someone like John. You don’t forget the way he looked, for starters. That shaggy mantle made of camel’s hair, cinched around his waist with a leather strap? Hardly the height of fashion, as Jesus later acknowledged, not without humor (Matthew 11:8; Luke 7:25). Who did John think he was, dressing like that—Elijah (2 Kings 1:7-8), the ancient prophet in Israel who called down fiery judgment from heaven on pagan priests and ascended to heaven himself in a chariot of flames? Well, Jesus would call him Elijah—and not just because John wore the same wardrobe (Mark 9:13). You also don’t forget what John ate. When my wife and I toured Israel with a group two decades ago, our tour guide at one point held up a carob bean pod and told us John had eaten those, not actual insects. The Ceratonia siliqua is, in fact, known as “locust bean” or “St. John’s bread.”1 Scholar James Tabor writes, “the Greek word translated ‘locusts,’ (akris) seems to clearly refer to a species of grasshopper” but goes on to say that akris is very close to enkris (like manna or honey-cake).2 Eating plants isn’t an especially vivid dietary detail. Eating grasshoppers is. Hopefully, the wild honey made John’s meals a little more pleasant, whatever they were. And you certainly don’t forget someone who caused such a public sensation. Yes, Mark was exaggerating when he described the size of the crowds John drew (verse 5). Everyone in Judea? All the people of Jerusalem? Not likely. But Mark’s hyperbole must be based in some memory of the impact John made, even all the way out there in the wilderness around the Jordan River. After all, John was the preacher who even attracted and troubled King Herod Antipas, the puppet monarch Rome had installed over Judea, taking him to task for divorcing his first wife so he could marry his still-living brother’s wife (Mark 6:18; see Leviticus 20:21).3 John’s willingness to call out Herod for this sin may well have raised John’s profile. We often look up to others bold enough to say what needs to be said to those in power, don’t we? Especially when we aren’t bold enough to say it ourselves. www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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John’s boldness also landed him in prison, and ultimately cost him his life. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, cites Herod’s fear of the crowds who went to John, who “seemed ready to do anything [John] should advise,” as the reason he ordered the baptizer executed (Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII.5.2).4 Josephus’s account doesn’t necessarily contradict the New Testament’s; had John not landed in jail for preaching against Herod’s immorality, he may have kept his head longer (see Mark 6:22-26). And so, John’s disciples were busy burying their teacher’s headless body even as Jesus’ disciples were busy curing diseases and casting out demons in their teacher’s name (Mark 6:29-30). But Jesus and his disciples remembered John the Baptist. The fact that John appears in all four Gospels (and is mentioned in Acts, Luke’s “sequel”) proves he loomed large in the early church’s memory. It’s not even too much to suppose the earliest Christians disagreed about how much John should be remembered, respected, and revered. The Gospel of John (not named for the Baptizer), generally considered the latest of the four, could yield the most evidence of such a controversy. In its pages, John goes to great lengths to make his subordinate status to Jesus clear. The Baptizer freely confessed, “I’m not the Christ” (John 1:20); pointed his own followers to Jesus, whom he called “Lamb of God” (1:29, 36); and met reports of Jesus’ growing ministry with approval: “He must increase and I must decrease” (3:30). Perhaps he actually said such things, but the evangelist might be making his theological position on John’s importance, relative to Jesus’, plain. Still, the fourth Gospel’s position on John tracks with those in the other three. Luke tells us John, Jesus’ slightly older cousin, drew attention to Jesus even when they were both in their mothers’ wombs (Luke 1:39-45). Matthew reports that John thought it more appropriate to be baptized by Jesus and only baptized Jesus when Jesus insisted (Matthew 3:13-15). Whether Mark didn’t know other traditions about John or simply because he wrote a more economical narrative, he includes only one detail to establish Jesus’ superiority to John, but it is crucial. The Baptist declared that the people streaming to him should look for one more powerful still to come, who will baptize them with God’s own Spirit. John claimed he Spring 2020


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was unworthy of performing even a household slave’s most menial duty for the one who is to come, so great is the gap between them (Mark 1:7-8). What is this baptism with the Spirit? Mark’s John doesn’t match Matthew’s or Luke’s for fiery talk of judgment (compare Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-9), but he was readying God’s people for an end-of-theage event, an outpouring of the same light- and lifegiving power with which God created all things in the beginning. A new world is on its way, and John’s baptism signifies penitential preparation for it. John didn’t invent baptism. As scholar Pheme Perkins notes, “Several Jewish texts of the period associate washing in the flowing (i.e., living) waters of a river as part of the appeal to God for forgiveness.”5 But again, if Mark’s estimate of the crowds John attracted was more than careless exaggeration, a significant number of people were making that appeal by seeking baptism. John had one job, and he devoted himself to it: washing God’s people with water in order to prepare them for a greater “washing” in God’s Spirit. Notably, Mark doesn’t tell us whether John even knew Jesus was the one who would bring this washing about. Apart from the moment John baptized Jesus (verse 9), Mark recorded no interaction between the two men. Mark’s John says nothing about Jesus by name—not even to send messengers from prison, as he does in Matthew and Luke, questioning whether Jesus is the one for whom he was waiting (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23). Only because Mark “set the stage” for John’s sudden entrance by way of a

Maturing in Faith

My alma mater, the College of William and Mary in Virginia, takes great pride in the fact that, while the school was closed for several years in the 1880s due to lack of funding, its president, Benjamin Stoddert Ewell, faithfully rang the college bell every morning as a reminder “that the ancient College still lived.”6 Mark’s portrait of John the Baptist makes me think of President Ewell’s indefatigable bell-ringing, although John certainly made his noise for a greater, transcendent purpose. In the wilderness, despite attracting risky attention to himself, and not knowing the outcome of his work, John nonetheless issued the call to baptism every day, reminding all who would listen that God was not only alive but actively preparing an outpouring of the Spirit. Who have been the bell ringers and baptizers you’ve known over your life of faith? Who have been 80

scriptural citation pieced together from Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 do we readers know Jesus is the one whom John’s ministry heralds (Mark 1:2-3). Mark seems to remember John not for any thundering oratory, not for his family connections to Jesus, not even for any direct proclamation of Jesus he may have made. Mark remembers John because the Baptist faithfully went about the work God had given him, perhaps, as Mark tells it, never even knowing whether the stronger one he looked for had arrived... but definitely remaining faithful even to death. No. You just don’t forget someone like John.

1. Encyclopaedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/plant/carob 2. TaborBlog, “Did John the Baptist Eat Bugs, Beans, or Pancakes?” James Tabor, December 20, 2015; https://jamestabor.com/did-john-thebaptist-eat-bugs-beans-or-pancakes/ 3. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, “The Gospel of Mark,” Pheme Perkins (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 598. 4. Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 5.2, Flavius Josephus; http:// penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-18.html 5. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, Perkins, 531. 6. The College of William & Mary website, “William & Mary 1850– 1899,” https://www.wm.edu/about/history/chronology/1850to1899/index. php

the men and women who have committed themselves to obeying God’s call as they hear it and doing God’s work as they understand it, whether conditions are favorable or unfavorable, whether they see any favorable and practical results from what they do or not? What lessons in persistence, patience, and dependence upon God have you learned? I think of Deb, who directed a chronicallyunderfunded and short-staffed adult literacy tutoring program for which I volunteered. She’d been at it for more than a decade, and softly but often lamented the lack of money, the challenge of securing tutors and textbooks, and some students’ unwillingness to stick with the studies as they got more difficult. “But I keep planting the seeds,” she once told me, “hoping that I’ll see some of them bloom.” I know she did see some “blossoms,” but believe she would have kept on even if she hadn’t because she was convinced it was work God gave her to do.

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Daily Meditations | April 27–May 3

Lesson 8 | January 20

Monday | Psalm 36:5-10

The psalm-singer describes God’s constant love as a “river of pure joy” (verse 8). Like a strong, deep, and refreshing river, God’s love sustains our lives. With gladness, O God, I thank you for the ever-flowing, joy-inspiring river of your love, and pray you would spread its flow through me this day.

Tuesday | Psalm 46:1-11

This psalm’s most familiar verse, verse 10, is no quiet call to prayer, but a sudden and dramatic “cease fire” enforced by God upon the world’s warring nations. The river of God’s love is also the river of security and peace for God’s people. God of shalom, may we seek to be those through whom you bring peace, that all peoples may be glad in your presence.

Wednesday | Ezekiel 47:1-12

The prophet’s vision of the temple in Jerusalem in a future after the Babylonian Exile includes an ever-increasing amount of water flowing from the house of God. As the water grows deeper and deeper, it spreads new life wider and wider, and waters trees whose leaves bring healing where health is needed. Healing God, may your loving presence nourish me, that I may know the wholeness you desire.

Thursday | Revelation 21:9-14

Unlike our modern world’s biggest and brightest cities, the New Jerusalem is radiant not because of electric lights, but because God’s own glory is fully present there. By your grace, God of glory, may my life shine with your brilliance, that others may see and respond to the light of your love.

Friday | Revelation 21:15-21

The beautiful New Jerusalem, with its golden street, its dozen pearl gates, and its jewel-encrusted foundations, is a picture of perfection, as its dimensions suggest. The twelve gates, the twelve foundations, and the multiples of twelve in its measurements remind us of the twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus’ twelve apostles. In the new heaven and earth, God’s people will be whole. God of Israel, God of Christ: may your people experience now more of the wholeness you will bring in the New Jerusalem.

Saturday | Revelation 21:22-27

When God has come to dwell with humanity in immediate and inescapable glory, all of life becomes an ongoing service of worship. How might you make everything you do more worshipful? May I praise and proclaim you in all I say and do, O God, giving my whole life to you in worship.

Sunday | Revelation 22:1-5

The mention of the tree of life, watered by a river, can’t help but remind us of Eden. But the new world is not a return to the garden. It is life in a city—a human arrangement, now redeemed and perfected by God’s grace. O God, move me always to seek the welfare of my city, looking always for the day when your heavenly city comes.


Key Verse: Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always. (Revelation 22:5)


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Lesson 10 | May 3

THE RIVER OF LIFE-GIVING WATER Lesson: Revelation 22:1-5 • Background: Revelation 21:9–22:5 When you tour someplace you’ve never been, do you want to see the sights in as much detail as possible? Or are you content to soak up the sense of a place, not stressing too much about catching all the specifics? In the final chapters of Revelation, John, a late first-century Christian prophet who may have been a political exile because of his preaching (see 1:9), attempted to take his readers on a “tour” of God’s “new heaven and . . . new earth” (21:1), replicating in limited, human language the tour on which an angel had taken him during a mystic trance (21:10). To get as much out of this tour as possible, we must use both kinds of sightseeing—looking at the general and the specific, the fine details and the big picture, without letting one obscure the other. For most English speakers, the word “apocalyptic” carries cataclysmic connotations, though the word “apocalypse” simply derives from the Greek word for “unveiling.” Through arresting imagery and heavily symbolic language, apocalyptic literature offers a glimpse “behind the scenes” of the world, a peek “backstage” or “behind the curtain” at a meaning and purpose in history normally hidden from us. It’s easy to get bogged down in Revelation’s strange, specific details. But to grasp what John wants to communicate—or, more accurately, what the Spirit wants to communicate to the churches (3:22) using John’s inspired imagination and literary artistry—we can’t let this text’s details so absorb us that we lose sight of the message he says he heard God’s voice announce loud and clear: “Look! I’m making all things new” (21:5). John wrote for an audience in need of some assurance, some promise, that all things will become new. In the late 90s CE, the Roman Empire had not yet begun widespread persecution of Christians. But John believed, correctly, the Empire had the stillyoung but steadily growing sect in its crosshairs. After all, Christians often refused to play along at being good citizens. They didn’t offer incense at the statues of Caesar nor did they refer to His Imperial Majesty as “Lord.” This refusal led to Christians being accused of “atheism,” for they did not worship Rome’s gods. They insisted the titles of “God” and 82

“Lord” belonged only to their teacher—who had been crucified as an enemy of the state. From its vantage point, Rome had done so much civilizing good for the world—the aqueducts, the roads, the Pax—surely requiring its subjects to pay homage to the emperor wasn’t too much to ask. To most Romans, worshipping Caesar was probably as perfunctory as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is to most US citizens today. But our first-century forebears in faith were far more discriminating about to what and to whom they pledged allegiance. They belonged to the Lord Jesus, and to him alone—to him “who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him”—not to any human prince—“be glory and power forever and always” (1:5-6). John could see his community’s faithfulness to God putting it on a collision course with the Empire. Persecution had been brutal but sporadic in the past. John anticipated more widespread and sustained persecution to come, and so he wanted to sustain his readers by helping them see and hear, through his words, what he had seen and heard in his vision. And what John saw and heard, when given his chance to peer behind the cosmic veil, was this: God will not forever leave this old, broken, and sinful world as it is. God is even now in control, and God will defeat all forces opposed to God’s good will. In God’s good time, God will reclaim and redeem the world to make it the world God has always wanted it to be. In a book filled with pictures of this message, the picture of the New Jerusalem is the biggest. This beautiful city symbolizes God’s reality-transforming, unending presence with humanity. Because God is with the peoples of the world (the Greek word in 21:3 is plural, not singular), they will no longer experience the powers set against God’s good gift of life. Dying, grief, pain, sadness, tears—all will be gone (21:4). God’s will for life will finally and fully prevail. That is the big picture, the bold proclamation of John’s vision that he hoped would motivate them to remain faithful as opposition mounted and as martyrdom became a more pressing possibility. It is a

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call “for the endurance of the saints, who keep God’s commandments and keep faith with Jesus” (14:12). Once we have John’s message firmly fixed in our minds and hearts, we can examine the details he used to sound it in all its richness. We can become those “tourists” who closely observe all we can about the New Jerusalem, asking how all we see points to God’s life-giving presence. One of the most prominent details is “the river of life-giving water” flowing through the city’s center (22:1-2). It’s not hard to understand why water symbolizes life. Without water, life cannot exist. Note that this water issues from “the throne of God and the Lamb” (verse 1)—the Lamb of God who was slaughtered but lives (see Revelation 5), the crucified and risen Jesus who shares his Father’s throne. Many supposed sources of life exist, and we turn to many “waters” in attempts to slake our deepest thirsts. But true life, including new and eternal life beyond death, comes only from God. John wanted his readers, who might soon be facing martyrdom, to know this truth. But the crystal river gives life not only to individuals. John’s phrasing is awkward—he is, after all, attempting to describe the indescribable—but “the tree of life” grows on both of the river’s banks, bearing a dozen kinds of fruit and growing leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:2). What an astonishing sight for John’s readers, who knew the world’s violence and would soon have it directed at them. In God’s new reality to come, the nations will not be gone, but will be whole and at peace, with themselves and with

each other, gathered as God’s peoples8(compare Isaiah Lesson | January 20 2:1-4). Of course, for all the New Jerusalem has to see, it’s also notable for what we don’t see there. We see no temple (21:22) because worship of God is at the heart of life in the city. No set-apart “sacred space” is needed because God’s presence is everywhere and immediate. And we see no lights—not the artificial light of a lamp, not the natural light of either moon or sun— because God is the peoples’ light, and the darkness of night never falls (21:23; 22:5). Touring the New Jerusalem with John by looking at its details in light of the big picture, we may begin to see not only how much our world differs from the new world God has promised to bring about, but also how much we can do, even now, to participate in the ways God is already making old things new, before God at last makes all things new in the end.

Maturing in Faith

Sunday, looked at me ashen-faced and grief-stricken as he shook my hand on his way out the door and asked, “Did you mean that? You don’t think I’m going to see Margaret again in heaven?” Truthfully, I may not quite have felt the tug of an invisible millstone around my neck, but I had an intense desire to sink down into my pulpit robe and never come out of hiding. I’ve learned that maturing in faith sometimes means speaking softly and cautiously about the details of what God has prepared for us in life beyond death, but always boldly and truthfully about the broadness of God’s goodness and God’s love. Whatever heaven may or may not be like, whatever images (and there are many) we find in Scripture to describe it, Jesus’ death and resurrection prepared and reveals what God has in store for us, and for the world—a new life that will be holy and good.

In Revelation 21 and 22, John doesn’t picture the New Jerusalem as someplace we go to when we die. If anything, in picturing God’s city descending to earth (21:2), he pictures heaven as coming to us. But part of my own maturing in faith has involved learning to appreciate how and why traditional language about “going to heaven” matters to so many believers. I’ll never forget—and will never stop cringing when I remember—how, as a fresh-out-of-seminary pastor, I once confidently declared in a sermon, “Heaven is not a place; heaven is life in the presence of God.” I could marshal plenty of Scripture to defend that statement, including John’s vision of the New Jerusalem. But that fact made me feel no better when one of the congregation’s most devoted members, whose wife of decades had died not long before that www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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Daily Meditations | May 4–10 Monday | Psalm 115:9-18

The psalm preserves a call-and-response emphasizing God’s favor toward and strength exercised on behalf of Israel. God relates to us in fundamentally gracious ways. We praise you, O God, our help and our shield, for remembering and relating to us in love.

Tuesday | Psalm 40:11-17

The psalm-singer claims the corporate trust in God’s powerful goodness on a personal, individual level. Whenever evils surround us—including the evils we commit and their consequences (verse 12)—we can cry to God for help and rescue. Gracious God, inspire me to seek you when I am troubled, that I may add my voice to the chorus of your people’s praise.

Wednesday | Jonah 1:4-17

The Bible doesn’t say it was a whale, but God provided “a great fish” (verse 17) to swallow Jonah, the reluctant prophet, in whose belly he recognized and rejoiced in God’s grace. He would still, however, have trouble accepting God’s display of grace to Israel’s enemies. God of surprising mercies, help us always celebrate your grace, especially when you shower it upon those whom we would never choose to receive it.

Thursday | Revelation 12:1-6, 13-16

John’s vision of the childbearing woman in heaven pursued by a dragon is, in part, a symbolic story of God’s grace. It reflects John’s conviction that God would guard and defend the church under Rome’s imminent persecution. Strong God, we pray for your people wherever they face persecution and ask that you use our prayers and our resources to protect and nourish them in the face of danger.

Friday | Matthew 6:25-34

To the eyes of faith, signs of God’s grace in nature abound. When have you most recently stopped to appreciate the lilies of the field or the birds of the air? Generous Creator, assure us of your provision and your love, that we may be instruments of your love and provision for all people and for the world you have given us.

Saturday | Genesis 4:1-9

More than individual wrong deeds, sin is a beast-like power, pacing as it waits for a chance to strike us. While Christians trust Jesus alone as Savior, might we not rely more readily on his Spirit’s power to resist the sin-beast and live lives of righteousness here and now? Empower us to do right, O God, and to experience your accepting favor.

Sunday | Genesis 3:21; 4:10-16

These “grace notes” in Genesis’ earliest stories—the clothes God tailors for Adam and Eve, the protective mark God grants to Cain—ring out with compelling clarity. God judges us when we sin, but God’s judgment does not contradict God’s mercy. Even as we confess and face the consequences of our sin, loving God, may we put our trust in your amazing grace.


Key Verse: The Lord God made the man and his wife leather clothes and dressed them. (Genesis 3:21)



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Lesson 11 | May 10

Lesson 8 | January 20

GOD’S GRACE TOWARD ADAM, EVE, AND CAIN Lesson: Genesis 3:21; 4:10-16 • Background: Genesis 3:21; 41:1-16 Lynne has been a devout Christian and a faithful Bible-reader her whole life. Not too long ago, she even worked her way through a “read the entire Bible in a year” program. So, she caught me by surprise when she mentioned, almost in passing, that “God is much more loving in the New Testament than God is in the Old.” How, I wondered, could a woman who’s been a Christian for some seven decades believe that? Of course, she isn’t the only Christian who does. One of my seminary professors cautioned, “We’re all heretics about something.” He meant we all have biases and presuppositions shaping what we believe. It takes critical thought and emotional awareness to recognize our theological “blind spots.” But this particular blind spot has bedeviled Christians since the faith’s earliest days. It even has its own name—Marcionism, so called for the secondcentury Christian who, as doctrinal historian John N.D. Kelly writes, “refused to identify the God of love revealed in the New Testament with the wrathful Creator God of the Old Testament.”1 For Marcion, only the merciful compassion Jesus displayed defines divine truth. Marcion even adopted his own, radically-abridged Bible, which contained no Old Testament at all, only shortened and edited versions of Paul’s Letters, and Luke’s Gospel. Marcion was that certain the church had gone wrong in identifying the God and Father of Jesus Christ as the God of Israel who brought all things into being, and who gave Israel the Law at Sinai. Though the church excommunicated Marcion and condemned his teaching, his influence endures, as Lynne’s offhand comment reminded me. True, she didn’t talk about two Gods, as Marcion did, but she saw the same supposed discrepancy between God’s character in the Old Testament and the New, even after a lifetime of participating in mainline Christian worship, listening to Christian preaching, and acting in Christian service. How have so many in the Christian church come to read the Old Testament so incorrectly? It yields www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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ample evidence that Jesus did not somehow “invent” the idea of a loving God. Born into and raised by a devout Jewish family, Jesus knew the Scriptures, and those Scriptures confirmed his faith in the Creator God of Israel who is “compassionate and merciful, very patient, and full of faithful love” (Psalm 103:8). They do not contradict it. From its first pages, Scripture shows us God’s grace, for Creation itself is a gift. This universe, this beautiful world, this world God deemed “supremely good” (Genesis 1:31), overflowing with life, including human beings created in God’s own image—none of it had to be, but all of it is. God would be God without any of it, but God chose to make a reality outside God’s own self in order to be in relationship with it. In the beginning, there was grace! And despite our resistance to that relationship with God, there is still grace. In our lesson for March 1, we read about and reflected on Adam and Eve’s disobedience. We saw the consequences brought by their violation of God’s commandment: expulsion from paradise. But we also saw God dress them before they left, garbing them in more durable clothing than they could make for themselves from fig leaves (3:7, 21). God created human beings to be physically and spiritually naked—open, honest, unashamed before each other and before the Creator (2:25). Eve and Adam’s sin disrupted this design, but God graciously accommodated the disruption without approving it. The leather clothes symbolize the first humans’ estrangement from God and from the rest of the natural world with which they had lived in harmony, while giving them at least a fighting chance to stay safe and warm in this newly hostile life. God’s early grace toward sinful humanity appears even more strongly in the story of Cain and Abel. The narrator does not tell us why God accepted Abel’s sacrifice over his brother Cain’s, and it’s ultimately irrelevant, as nothing would justify his subsequent actions. The fact that we don’t know why God rejected Cain’s offering doesn’t mean Cain didn’t know, but verses 5-7 suggest that Cain sinned somehow. Spring 2020


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Though God rejected the offering, Cain was not rejected. Just the opposite: God encouraged Cain to resist the power of sin prowling around, waiting to pounce. God treated Cain as someone responsible enough to know what is right and capable of doing it. Even when Cain committed an even greater wrong by killing his brother, God graciously stayed with him. Who knows what might have happened had Cain answered God’s question honestly, declaring, “I am my brother’s guardian, and I have violated that holy responsibility”? God pronounced judgment on Cain by cursing the ground that would no longer yield to his labor or provide his livelihood, but God also proclaimed mercy. Not absolution or a shoulder shrug as though Abel’s murder didn’t matter, but mercy all the same. God marked Cain to protect him, even though Cain did not protect his own brother (4:15). Ironically, the phrase “mark of Cain” today connotes shame and stigma. Historically, the idea of Cain’s mark has also been abused to justify racism and anti-Semitism. But Genesis clearly presents it as an example of God’s grace so astounding that it borders on the offensive—as grace so often does, when extended to anyone but us. Why should Cain—who refused to do what was right, who struck down his own flesh and blood in anger—be granted God’s protection as he wandered ever farther from paradise? But the scandalous nature of God’s grace is one reason it’s so important we see it as a constant

Maturing in Faith

For too long, Christian assumptions that the “Old Testament God” is all about wrath while the “New Testament God” is all about grace have caused the distorted view that Judaism is a legalistic, loveless religion, while Christianity is loving and forgiving. This mischaracterization contributes to toxic, tragic outcomes. Yes, observing God’s law is central to Judaism. An official statement from the state of Israel’s mission to the United Nations says the Jewish religion teaches “it is by deeds, not creed, that the world is judged; the righteous of all nations have a share in the ‘world to come.’”2 But the Bible teaches that God gave the law to Israel in love, and a focus on deed over creed also finds prominent expression in the New Testament, such as Jesus’ parable of the judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported a 57% rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017—“the 86

through all of Scripture. If the good news that Jesus died to save sinners had emerged out of nowhere in New Testament times as a radically new and different teaching, we would have to hold it suspect. It would be too good to be true, this idea that we, sinful but struggling Cains, all of us, could cry out for and expect favor and protection from God as we wander ever farther from paradise. But the grace we receive through Jesus is none other than the grace of the God of Israel, who “doesn’t deal with us according to our sin or repay us according to our wrongdoing” (Psalm 103:10). The God of Israel, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, marks us as God’s own, clothes us with garments of salvation, and gives us new and eternal life. From beginning to end, Old Testament to New, and Alpha to Omega, God is the God of grace.

1. Encyclopedia Britannica, “Patristic literature,” John N.D. Kelly; https://www.britannica.com/topic/patristic-literature#ref67678 2. Mission of Israel to the UN in Geneva, “About the Jewish Religion”; https://embassies.gov.il/UnGeneva/AboutIsrael/People/Pages/Jewish-Religion. aspx 3. Anti-Defamation League, “2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents”; https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/2017-audit-of-anti-semitic-incidents 4. The New York Times, “One Dead in Synagogue Shooting Near San Diego; Officials Call It Hate Crime,” Jennifer Medina, Christopher Mele and Heather Murphy, April 27, 2019; https://www.nytimes. com/2019/04/27/us/poway-synagogue-shooting.html

largest single-year increase on record.”3 Those incidents included the violent white nationalism in Charlottesville. The next year, an anti-Semitic shooter killed eleven worshippers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. On the last day of Passover in 2019, a gunman attacked the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, killing one person and wounding three more.4 Both Old and New Testaments contain vivid expressions of God’s judgment and God’s mercy, God’s wrath and God’s grace. Misrepresenting God as “more loving” in the New Testament reinforces negative, hurtful, and hateful stereotypes about Judaism that are significant, long-standing elements in anti-Semitic speech and act. We Christians must reject these stereotypes when we hear and see them, standing with our Jewish neighbors in a shared commitment to the God of justice and love.

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Lesson 8 | January 20

Daily Meditations | May 11–17 Monday | Numbers 11:4-9, 21-23

It appears the longer the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, the easier it became for them to forget the manna’s miraculous nature. They longed for the meat they ate as slaves in Egypt instead of the bread they ate as God’s free people. How quickly we can take God’s blessings for granted! God our provider, may I never dismiss your gifts, but use and share them always for your glory.

Tuesday | Psalm 105:37-43

The psalm-singer remembers God’s miraculous provision of food and water with joy (saving any discussion of the people’s eventual grumbling for the next psalm!). When we remember that all our sustenance comes from God’s hand, supernaturally or not, we can also rejoice. May every meal make me glad and grateful for your gifts, O God.

Wednesday | Exodus 16:2-8

Wishing for death in the face of hardship is perhaps understandable, but wishing for death at God’s own hand (verse 3) is an affront to the One whose will is always for our life and freedom. Loving God, when I face difficulties and hardships, may I always thank you for life and look to you for help and hope.

Thursday | Exodus 16:9-15

God’s loving provision for the people is so great; the food they clamor for comes twice a day: quail in the evening, manna in the morning. If we can’t stop to recognize and give thanks for God’s gifts at least twice a day, perhaps we aren’t looking diligently enough for the signs of God’s grace. For your daily mercies and undeserved blessings, generous God, we give you thanks and praise.

Friday | Exodus 16:16-21

Although the manna was God’s gift, the people still had to gather it—and, as we read on Monday, grind it, shape it, and bake it. God has given us the resources we need, but we must work to use them as wisely and as widely as possible. We thank you, O God, for your gifts and for the strength to live as good stewards of them.

Saturday | Exodus 16:22-30

Even though God’s “official” Sabbath-keeping commandment awaits the people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:8-11), the Sabbath rest from gathering manna reflects the importance of rest in God’s design for human life. Keeping one day holy—set apart—for God is not only muchneeded time for renewal, but a much-needed reminder that all our days belong to our Creator. God of all our time, may our times of rest show that we trust in you to provide.

Sunday | John 6:26-35

Like the miraculous manna in the wilderness, Jesus came from God. Unlike that perishable bread, Jesus will provide eternal sustenance. Lord Jesus, we thank you for feeding us with your very life, that we may live eternally with you in this world as well as your world to come.


Key Verse: I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, “At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 16:12)


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Lesson 12 | May 17

GOD PROVIDES FOOD IN THE WILDERNESS Lesson: Exodus 16:2-15 • Background: Exodus 16:2-30

Recent dinner conversations in my home shape how I hear the Israelites’ question in today’s Bible reading. It’s the same question my eleven-year-old daughter has been asking lately about the food set before her. My wife heroically shoulders the biggest share of planning our family’s menus and is spearheading an effort to have us eat healthier food more often. But my daughter isn’t always completely “on board” with the results. She’ll give some of the fresh, non-processed dishes a sidelong glance—baked falafel was one, avocado sandwiches another—and ask, in a wary and reluctant tone, “What is it?” What it really is, of course, is a tangible (and an exceptionally tasty) expression of love. My wife loves our family enough to spend extra effort and time preparing dinners that taste good and are good for us. It’s also evidence of good fortune. We don’t play the old “there are starving children” card to guilt her into eating; still, for too many people in the world, including the US, asking, “What is it?” about a plate full of fresh and nutritious food is an unimaginable luxury. The opportunity our family has to eat a varied diet is a privilege we all, not just my daughter, too often take for granted. We do not inherently deserve it any more than any other family, and we should be thankful for the gift. The narrator of Exodus appears to take the question at face value. When the people saw that flaky substance on the desert sand in the morning sunlight, they only asked what it was because they “didn’t know” (Exodus 16:15). Manna, after all, means “what is it?” But I suspect their query might have had the same edge my daughter’s does. It’s not simply a request for information. It’s a reluctance to receive an offering of love and grace. So, each day, when the people ate “what is it?” what did they eat? Writing for Smithsonian, Lisa Bramen suggests that the manna was actually a “sweettasting secretion of a kind of plant lice” found in the Sinai desert.1 That explanation doesn’t sound as appetizing as calling it “the grain of heaven . . . the bread of angels” (Psalm 78:24-25, NRSV)! But would it diminish the manna’s miraculous character? Not necessarily, if we believe the insect kingdom is as much the Creator’s handiwork as the animal kingdom is, or 88

if we choose to see the manna as an example of the wondrous, providential balance God wove into the world. But the story as we have it won’t let us explain the manna simply as louse secretion, unless we are also willing to believe the lice kept the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23-25). And the context makes it clear the people’s question was a contentious one. The story is bookended by episodes in which the Hebrews complained about Moses’ leadership because they were thirsty—and on both occasions, God miraculously provided water to drink: bitter waters made sweet (Exodus 15:22-25), then water flowing from a rock (17:1-7). And the manna itself immediately followed “a flock of quail” (16:13) that suddenly showed up to satisfy the people’s longing for meat (verse 3). As scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, this entire section of Exodus demonstrates how, at every turn, “the need of Israel is more than met by the powerful generosity of Yahweh.”2 That’s a big reason it’s hard not to hear the people’s question, “What is it?” without hearing an undertone of skepticism, stubbornness, or reluctance about receiving God’s offering of love and grace. This extra effort God has made to provide a meal for the people, both good and good for them, is a privilege they do not inherently deserve more than any other people (see 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:7-8). They should be thankful. I do not want to read this story first as though it is about something other than food. Our nation’s population leads the world in both calorie consumption and food spending. We also toss out 200,000 tons of edible food every day3 while one out of every eight citizens—including more than twelve million children—lacks consistent access to food.4 It is far too tempting for someone like me, who has easy access to food and who also throws it away, to rush to a “spiritualized” reading. I could expound at length on today’s key verse as evidence that God’s primary purpose in sending the manna—and the quail, and the water—wasn’t so much to feed Israel as to glorify God’s self: “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God” (verse 12). I don’t even think such a reading is all that wrongheaded. I had forgotten that the story’s climax is arguably not the Hebrews’

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discovery of the manna, but the whole community’s sight of “the glorious presence of the Lord” (verse 10) dancing in the desert, in their midst. As the text stresses several times, God had heard the people’s complaints, just as God heard their cry when they were slaves in Egypt. In response, God drew near and took action. God desired to be in a covenant relationship with Israel, through which God would bless and redeem the whole world. Yes, the manna, meat, and water are miracles, but might the real miracle be the relationship in which “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4, KJV)? The manna, meat, and water are signs—sacraments, perhaps—of something bigger, something greater; but something more comfortably abstract, which we could define as we wish. The “glory of God” can quickly become a pretty, but also a pretty vague, phrase when sundered from specifics. What if God still more than meets people’s need today, including their need of food? What if God’s grace still abounds in this material way as well as in “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3)—but we, like some in those wilderness-wandering tribes so long ago, are hoarding much more than our daily bread (Exodus 16:20)? What if God still intends for an abundance of food for all to glorify God and to make God known among the nations, but the reluctance some of us feel about receiving and sharing God’s offering of love and grace is getting in the way?

What would it take forLesson us to change our will and 8 | January 20 our ways with food so that the whole community, the whole world God loves and has pledged to bless through God’s covenant family, would finally see God’s glorious and gracious presence, dancing in all our deserts, in the midst of us all? Maybe then, when we ask, “What is it?” we would ask it with awe and wonder, lost in love and praise.

Maturing in Faith

Again, you’ll find nothing to satisfy a gourmand’s taste buds, but the pantry provides “daily bread” once a month to families across our county. There’s yet another congregation down the road that hosts meal-packaging events for Rise Against Hunger on a regular basis. The social hall becomes a sight to behold, full of volunteers preparing bags of rice and soy that, when they reach their destinations in hunger-stricken communities around the world, become nutritious meals. Hunger in the US and abroad is an overwhelming problem. Individually, none of these or similar efforts make any dramatic, overnight impact. But as we mature in faith, we realize we have an ongoing part to play in providing the daily bread for which so many pray. And while we can’t stop paying attention to larger, systemic solutions for hunger, we can all take small, immediate steps to glorify God by meeting our neighbors’ needs.

For one month every summer, the congregation with which I worship hosts about fifty people who are homeless in our church building’s basement at night. We make sure each guest has a sack lunch to take with them when they leave the building each morning. Our “never say never” volunteer coordinator mobilizes us into daily peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich assembly lines and arranges donations of bottled water, fresh fruit, and snacks. It’s hardly gourmet dining, but it’s the only food some of our visitors get to eat during the day. Another congregation not far from us hosts an emergency food pantry, which several churches, synagogues, and other organizations help keep fully stocked. Rice, noodles, pasta sauce, canned fruit, shelfstable milk, and just-add-water pancake mix always rank high on the list of requested donations—as does money, because the food pantry can make financial donations go further than individual consumers can. www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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1. Smithsonian.com, “What the Heck Was Manna, Anyway?” Lisa Bramen; April 8, 2009; https://www.smithsonianmag.com/artsculture/what-the-heck-was-manna-anyway-56294548/ 2. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. I, “The Book of Exodus,” Walter Brueggemann (Abingdon Press, 1994), 805. 3. International Business Degree Guide, “Hungry Planet: Consumption Around the Globe”; https://www. internationalbusinessguide.org/hungry-planet/ 4. Hunger + Health | Feeding America, “What Is Food Insecurity?”; https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/ understand-food-insecurity/

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Daily Meditations | May 18–24 Monday | Colossians 1:9-14

The author paints salvation as God’s great and daring rescue mission, moving us from danger to safety—from darkness to light, death to life. How much are we willing to dare to share the news of what God has done? May your Spirit make me bold, great God, to declare your forgiveness and grace in Jesus so others may celebrate salvation.

Tuesday | 1 Peter 1:17-23

For Peter, the freedom we find in Christ’s death makes it possible for us to live a new kind of life here and now, loving others deeply and truly. We cannot declare we are saved only in what we say. The way we live and love must declare our salvation too. We praise you, Lord Jesus, for the blood you spilled to save us so we might live lives of love.

Wednesday | 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

The deliverance God gives us in Jesus turns the world’s values and priorities upside down. If we have been saved, how much have our values and priorities been turned on their heads? O God, increase my trust in your wisdom and way, and decrease my dependence on what the world considers important.

Thursday | 2 Corinthians 12:1-6

We are understandably curious about the details of heaven, but Paul shows restraint when he discusses paradise. For him, the focus is not the unutterable glories of life with God in other worlds, but the difference life with God, through Christ, makes in this world (see 12:9). Holy God, may I discover, as Paul did, that your saving strength is more than enough for me in my weakness.

Friday | Acts 7:54-60

Stephen sees heaven opened and displayed, but describes only that most worth describing: the presence of the risen Christ (verses 55-56). To be in Jesus’ presence, even in times of trouble and death, is to be in paradise. Grant me to see your majesty, great God, and Jesus at your side, when I am in danger and afraid, and assure me anew of your salvation.

Saturday | 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul stresses that we are temporary residents of this world. But this knowledge leads not to indifference, but to living with confidence (verse 6). Because we look for our eternal home, we are free to act as Jesus would have us act in our temporary home, for justice and love. In your mercy, Lord Christ, find us acceptable in your sight, whether away in this world or, at the last, at home forever with you.

Sunday | Luke 23:32-33, 39-43

Cynics may see it as an “eleventh-hour conversion,” but Luke does not actually describe the thief as “penitent,” only as confident in Christ’s ability to forgive and to save. May I have the same trust, loving God, that your Son, my Savior, will bring me to paradise.

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Key Verses: Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)


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Lesson 13 | May 24

Lesson 8 | January 20

GRACE TO THE DYING THIEF Lesson: Luke 23:32-33, 39-43 • Background: Luke 23:32-43 When we considered Jesus’ crucifixion on Palm/ Passion Sunday, we read Mark’s account. Like Matthew after him (27:44), Mark reports the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus mocked him as onlookers and passersby did (15:32). But whether Luke is drawing from a tradition unknown to his fellow evangelists or is exercising some divinelyinspired artistry, Luke tells us only one of those criminals berated Jesus. The other sought and received Jesus’ blessing. Specifically, this man asked Jesus to “remember” him when he, Jesus, begins to reign as “the king of the Jews” (verse 38). This man’s plea echoed the cries of the psalm-singer (106:4) and those of others who called to God for help (for instance, Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:11 or the prophet in Jeremiah 15:15). The God of Israel—the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ—is a God who remembers, both individuals and God’s people, in times of trouble, and who takes action to save (Genesis 8:1; 19:29; Psalm 132:1; Jeremiah 31:20). It’s this divine memory on which the one condemned man depended. Only if Jesus remembers him as God remembers does he have any hope beyond death. What moves the one man to rebuke the other, to refuse to join that other’s mockery of Jesus and to throw himself, pinned though he is to his cross, on Jesus’ mercy instead? Why should he think this man whom he knows Rome is executing unjustly has any power to save him? We can’t know for certain, but perhaps the way in which Jesus meets death strikes him. Luke records no anguished cry from Jesus, as Matthew and Mark do. Luke makes no notice of Jesus thirsting, as John does. Far from it. Luke alone reports—in a verse not all manuscripts of the Gospel include—that Jesus prayed for God to forgive those responsible for his crucifixion because they acted in ignorance (verse 34). Scholar R. Alan Culpepper surveys the evidence for and against the verse having been an original part of Luke’s Gospel and concludes it “favors accepting the prayer as authentic,” in part because it “fits Luke’s style, the Lukan emphasis on forgiveness, and Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ death as a model for Christian www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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martyrs.”1 And when Luke recounts the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, in his Acts of the Apostles, he includes Stephen’s similar intercession on behalf of those who stone him (Acts 7:60). The man who taught his disciples to pray for those who mistreat them (Luke 6:28) practiced what he preached, even facing his own death. Is it possible the one criminal heard Jesus’ prayer and thought that, if Jesus could ask God’s mercy for the men carrying out his unjust death sentence, Jesus might also intercede on his behalf, even though he was “receiving the appropriate sentence” for his deeds (verse 41)? Look at the scene again: Jesus hanging there between two other crucified men; one calling on him to harangue him, the other calling on him in simple supplication. “This is the only time any character [in Luke] calls Jesus by his first name only,” writes one commenter in The CEB Storyteller’s Bible, “and creates a moment of intimacy between the two.”2 And as the one crucified man figuratively moved closer to Jesus, the other figuratively moved further away. If the scene seems familiar, it’s because it’s a scene we’ve seen played out repeatedly in Luke’s Gospel: a sharp, stark division between those who reject Jesus and those who accept him. In Luke, Jesus is destined to create such division. The prophet Simeon, holding the infant Jesus in his arms, told Mary (and Joseph): “This boy is assigned to the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition” (2:34). Once Jesus began his public ministry, it didn’t take long for that opposition to begin, either. No sooner had he preached his inaugural sermon in Nazareth, where he dared to suggest (basing his comments in Scripture, no less) that God loves and acts on behalf of Gentiles, the congregation tried to throw him off a cliff (4:29)! And on it goes—as religious authorities questioned his Sabbath activities, including the miracles of healing he performed (6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6); as various villages refused to welcome him and the apostles he sends (9:51-56; 10:14-16); as he debated other interpreters of the Torah about what God truly requires (11:27-54); as he drove out merchants from the temple (19:45-48). At point after point, as Jesus Spring 2020


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announced the good news of God’s impending salvation, many of the people embraced it and him— often great crowds of the poor, the prisoners, the oppressed (see 4:18)—while others—usually leaders who thought Jesus threatened their authority and their privilege—did not. Jesus himself saw this separation as part of his purpose. It’s jarring to hear him saying so, but he does: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division” (12:51). He says he has come to set even the members of a single household against each other (12:52). “Although the kingdom of God is characterized by reconciliation and peace,” writes Culpepper, “the announcement of that kingdom is always divisive because it requires decision and commitment.”3 Even in these extreme circumstances, the one criminal was unwilling or unable to put hope in the man who had just invoked God’s boundless mercy even for his own enemies’ sake. With his dying breaths, this one criminal clung to suspicion and scorn, channeling his admittedly understandable fear and anger into abuse against the very one who could forgive him. But the other criminal hears the announcement of God’s reconciling love for what it is, his only remaining hope for pardon and peace; and with his dying breaths he entrusted himself to Jesus (23:42), as Jesus would, moments later, entrust himself to God (verse 46).

Maturing in Faith

In a Bible study group I recently participated in, one man brought up the “penitent thief ” in today’s reading. “It just doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “You live your whole life believing in God and trying to do the right thing and be a good person. So, why should somebody else who just does whatever the heck they feel like doing get to go to heaven just because they say they believe in Jesus right before they die?” One of our group’s other members said, “Well, you have to assume the dying person’s conversion is sincere . . .” Another said, “But we’re all sinners. Isn’t every sin equally wrong in God’s eyes?” Me? I wasn’t sure what, if anything, to say. I had feelings about what each person was saying, and I could have quoted relevant Bible verses for each part of the conversation. But in the moment, it seemed 92

When humanity first sinned, God drove us out of the garden and stationed angels with flaming swords at its entrance (Genesis 3:24). Now Jesus, stationed on his cross, promised the one man he would be with him in paradise—originally a Persian word for a king’s walled garden, used in the Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture to describe the garden of Eden4— that very day (Luke 23:43). Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the entrance to paradise is unguarded once more. God will welcome us back into the fellowship for which we were made, walking with God in Eden’s evening breezes. The only barriers now are the ones we put in our own way, the ones to which we stubbornly cling with our dying breaths—and because we are mortal, every breath is a dying breath. Will we call on the name of Jesus, the only name “given among humans through which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), even today?

1. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, “The Gospel of Luke,” R. Alan Culpepper, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 455. 2. The CEB Storyteller’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 1441. 3. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, Culpepper, 266. 4. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, Culpepper, 458.

more valuable to let each group member grapple with the mystery of God’s grace, in his or her way. I don’t believe I’ve ever “figured it out” entirely, either. Why not allow more time and space as a community of faith to ask questions without rushing to definitive answers? Coming to terms with grace is an ongoing part of maturing as a Christian. But I think one way to understand God’s grace is to practice more grace of our own. In Luke’s Gospel, as this scene at Jesus’ cross illustrates, forgiveness is a dominant theme. We may never, in this life, fully comprehend the workings of God’s grace. But the more we follow Jesus’ command and example, practicing compassion because our Father in heaven is compassionate (see Luke 6:36-38), the less important such intellectual questions may seem because we will be experiencing in our deep beings the life-changing power of grace more and more.

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Lesson 8 | January 20

Daily Meditations | May 25–31 Monday | Numbers 11:24-29

When a scandalized Joshua told Moses that Eldad and Medad were daring to proclaim God’s message, Moses wished all God’s people were prophets. How do we react when we hear God’s truth outside what may or may not be the “official channels” for it? Free and living God, help me to recognize and welcome your Word wherever and from whomever I hear it.

Tuesday | Joel 2:28-32

The prophet interprets an infestation of locusts (1:3-4) as God’s judgment and as prelude to God’s “great and dreadful” final accomplishment of God’s purposes (2:31). God will make God’s Spirit manifest on an epic scale (verse 28), and faithful people will respond by committing themselves to God (verse 32). In troubling times, holy God, may your Spirit move me to call on and trust in your power alone.

Wednesday | Romans 8:12-17

For Paul, living by the Spirit meant living selflessly and bravely. God’s Spirit rescues us from selfcentered worry and fear by confirming for us that we are God’s children, and as God’s daughters and sons, we are “heirs with Christ” of resurrection victory (verse 17). Loving God, may your Spirit strengthen my faith in Christ’s triumph, that I may live as his bold follower all my days.

Thursday | 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

The Holy Spirit unites us to believers in every time and in every place. God is not our private possession. Jesus is Lord of all who call on him (verse 2). Do you keep your fellow believers in your prayers? How do you support brother and sister Christians in other places? Keep me mindful, O God, of my bond, through your Spirit, to everyone who calls on the name of Christ.

Friday | 1 Timothy 2:1-7; John 3:16

The apostle declares God desires “all people to be saved” (verse 4), including those in high authority (verses 1-2). Do we pray that our leaders will conform to our will or to God’s? Sovereign God, grant all who are in positions of trust and responsibility a clear vision of your truth, made visible in your Son, Jesus.

Saturday | Acts 2:1-13

The spectacle of the Spirit’s arrival ought not distract us from the purpose: to propel Jesus’ followers into the world for the not-always-spectacular but always-critical work of proclaiming God’s saving love. Fill me again, Holy Spirit, with power and purpose to announce your mighty works in all I do and say.

Sunday | Acts 2:14-21

We may never have the chance, as Peter did, to witness to crowds of thousands about Jesus, but every chance we have to point even one person to him brings glory to God. Give me the words and deeds I need, good Lord, to communicate the saving love of Christ to those around me.


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Key Verse: And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:21)


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Lesson 14 | May 31

THE HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRES JESUS’ FOLLOWERS Lesson: Acts 17:16, 22-34 • Background: Acts 17:16-34 When the original Star Trek TV series debuted over fifty years ago, viewers marveled at its depictions of far-future technology that, today, seems mundane: automatic sliding doors; palm-sized “communicators”; lightning-fast, voice-activated computers. The show’s faster-than-light “warp speed” and its transporter for “beaming down” to strange new worlds will likely always remain in the realm of science fiction, but one piece of Trek tech seems tantalizingly close: the universal translator, by which Captain Kirk and all manner of extraterrestrials could converse with each other, never giving language gaps a second thought. Real-life computer programmers and engineers have made strides toward universal translation. Right now, you can enter text into Google Translate and get it back in one of more than one hundred languages—a broad enough selection to cover ninety-nine percent of the world’s online population, according to Google.1 Some apps go further, producing instant, on-the-spot translations of what you say via your smartphone’s built-in microphone and speaker. How accurate these translations are is another matter. Author Benny Lewis, who is fluent in seven languages, makes a persuasive case that smartphone apps will never be universal translators, and that marketing videos purporting to prove otherwise “are only impressive if you don’t understand what is actually required for communication.”2 Lewis is talking about such critical factors as context, shades of meaning, even nonverbal elements like gestures and body language. But the fact that true communication happens even among people who speak the same language is nothing short of amazing. I recently heard a psychologist comment that communication can go “off the rails” in at least four places: the speaker’s mind, where thoughts are formed; the speaker’s mouth, where those thoughts are expressed; the listener’s ears, where those expressions are heard; and the listener’s mind, where what is heard is interpreted. Given all that room for error, it’s nothing short of miraculous we humans don’t fail to communicate more frequently! In Acts 2, Luke describes a bona fide communication miracle. The sound “like the howling of a fierce wind” (verse 2) and the sight resembling “individual flames of fire” (verse 3) are remarkable enough, although 94

Luke gives no clue that Jesus’ disciples do anything but take these phenomena in stride. After all, their risen and ascended Lord promised he would soon pour out on them a powerful gift from heaven (Acts 1:8). The only real astonishment we read about comes from the Jewish residents of Jerusalem who originally hailed from other lands. They were amazed to hear these Galileans “speaking in our native language[s]” (2:6-8). Some prejudice against Galileans may be at play here, some assumption that these poor people from a rural backwater wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be educated enough to be talking like this. There’s no logical reason Jesus’ followers should be able to say anything of substance in the native language of any of the foreign locales listed in verses 9-11. The “speaking in tongues” taking place on this Day of Pentecost is not the ecstatic utterance in angelic tongues the apostle Paul will later describe (1 Corinthians 13:1; 14:2, 27-28), and which we may see later even in Acts (19:6). No, this “speaking in tongues” is the instantaneous ability to speak in a human language one does not know—not for the sake of making small talk, but for making known “the mighty works of God” (2:11). Pentecost was and still is a Jewish harvest festival usually called Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-21).3 Later Jewish tradition also connected it to God’s giving the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai. Both associations speak to God’s abundant generosity and grace: the gift of food to sustain the community, the gift of law to structure it. Perhaps these gifts are among the “mighty works” the disciples recited before Peter explained how Jesus of Nazareth’s crucifixion and resurrection reveal God’s latest “mighty work.” As with God’s gifts of the harvest and the law, this is a gift where much, including life, is at stake. Peter made the point by quoting and reinterpreting the prophet Joel’s words (2:21; see Joel 2:32): “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” on “the great and spectacular day of the Lord” (verses 20-21) by the risen Jesus, whom God has vindicated (verses 32-36). If this life-saving message is to be heard by “everyone,” then some universal translation is in order! And so, God’s powerful Spirit reversed the linguistic confusion from Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Now, among the multicultural and multi-language people God makes universal communication possible, so everyone may hear and have opportunity to respond to the news of Jesus’ exaltation as Savior (see also Acts 4:12).

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Outside of Pentecostal and charismatic traditions, I suspect the Holy Spirit remains vague, abstract, and impersonal for many Christians. If anything, however, we should consider the Spirit very familiar because the Spirit is the presence of God at work in the world, invisible but as real and as knowable as the wind (John 3:8). We don’t need to hear and see dramatic supernatural interventions like howling winds and flickering flames to know the Spirit is living and active. We only need to look for those times and places where God’s mighty, saving work in Jesus has been truly proclaimed and truly heard—where real communication of grace has, miraculously and against all odds, actually taken place. Whenever and wherever it has, the Holy Spirit has been busy. Note that even this miraculous communication doesn’t close off the possibility of rejection. Luke points out that some people in the Pentecost crowd scoffed at the whole business, dismissing it as drunken babbling (2:13), just as Jesus’ male apostles first dismissed the women’s Easter morning reports as “nonsense” (Luke 24:11). But our acceptance or rejection of the gospel does not measure the Spirit’s success. What it may measure, however, is how much we are or are not doing to get out of the Spirit’s way. As Acts 2 illustrates, the Holy Spirit is strong and mighty—but we are still capable of quenching and suppressing the Spirit’s movement (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). The Spirit does not invade; the Spirit inspires. When the Spirit seeks to universally translate the good news about Jesus in new ways, do we make ourselves open and available to amplifying that

communication, as Peter and the disciples did on 20 Lesson 8 | January that Pentecost so long ago? Or do we try to muffle or even mute the message because it challenges what we thought we knew about God, and our place in God’s ongoing mission? Again quoting Joel, Peter says the Spirit causes the young to see visions and the old to dream dreams (2:17). May the Spirit continue to give us new visions and dreams for communicating Jesus’ saving name to everyone in ways they can truly hear.

Maturing in Faith

the pastor was asking morning attendees to come and support the new service as it launched, and also to give gifts to help pay for the projection technology it would use. “I love my church the way it is,” the woman repeated, “and this new service isn’t what I find meaningful. But,” she added, calmly and deliberately, “I understand other people do. My own grandchildren do. And if I want the church I love to be here for them, as it has always been here for me, I need to support this new thing the church is doing.” She did not call it a new thing the Spirit was doing. But her mature response convinced me she understood the Spirit was stirring in her congregation, translating the Gospel into a language other people could hear, and she was determined to do nothing to quench the Spirit’s work.

“I love my church the way it is,” the woman told me. She was talking about the old, established downtown congregation she attended—a landmark in the neighborhood and long regarded as one of the pillars of its denomination, widely known for its formal, liturgical worship. For decades, she had found deep and rich meaning in this worship life. But the congregation was aging, and “the younger folks”—by which she meant people like me, in my mid-forties or younger—wanted to experiment with a simpler, more casual worship style. The preacher would pray extemporaneously, in everyday language. The music would be led by a band with a guitar and an electronic keyboard. And people would be expressly encouraged to come dressed in a relaxed fashion. The traditional service would continue on Sunday mornings with the new service in the evenings. But www.AdultBibleStudies.com/MatureYears

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1. VentureBeat.com, “Google Translate now supports 103 languages, covering 99% of Internet users,” Emil Protalinski; February 17, 2016; https://venturebeat.com/2016/02/17/google-translate-now-supports-103languages-covering-99-of-internet-users/ 2. Fluent in 3 Months, “Why your smartphone will NEVER be a universal translator,” Benny Lewis; https://www.fluentin3months.com/ translator-app/# 3. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X, “The Book of Acts,” Robert W. Wall (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 53.

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Christian Living in the Mature Years - Spring 2020  

Christian Living in the Mature Years - Spring 2020