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Discipleship from a distinctly Wesleyan perspective


rayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness… this is what we commit to when we become members of The United Methodist Church, and it’s a big step. But A Disciple’s Path helps us look beyond membership, presenting an engaging approach to discipleship from a distinctly Wesleyan perspective. Discipleship is ongoing, so the 6-week study is perfect for new-member groups, but also works well in small groups of long-time members. It helps you develop spiritual practices, discover your unique gifts, and engage in ministry that brings transformation to your own life and to the lives of others and the world.

“A very useful explanation of the traditional Wesleyan view of Christian discipleship, strengthened in particular by its stress on the balanced approach of the Methodist way.”

—Dr. Richard P. Heitzenrater, Duke University Divinity School

Resources include: Daily Workbook | Leader Guide Companion Reader | DVD

“A Disciple’s Path resonates with the spirit of John Wesley, whose guidance applies to fledgling twenty-first century disciples.” —David Brownlee, Lead Pastor, Christ United Methodist Church, Jackson, Mississippi

James A. Harnish is the author of numerous books and Bible studies, including A Disciple’s Path, Strength for the Broken Places, Make a Difference, Simple Rules for Money, and You Only Have to Die. He is an acclaimed pastor and ordained elder in The United Methodist Church who has led congregations throughout Florida, most recently Hyde Park in Tampa where he served for twenty-two years.

RELIGION/Christian Education/Adult $10.99

ISBN-13: 978-1-5018-3086-0 51099

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Christian Living


in the Mature Years

Vol. 50, No. 4 Summer 2018 Editorial Team Rachel Mullen, Editor Jan Turrentine, Editor of Bible Lessons Julie P. Glass, Production Editor Design Keely Moore, Design Manager and Designer Administrative Staff Rev. Brian K. Milford, President and Publisher Marjorie M. Pon, Executive Editor, Church School Publications MATURE YEARS (ISSN 0025-6021) is published quarterly by Abingdon Press, 2222 Rosa L Parks Blvd, Nashville, TN 37228. Periodicals Postage Paid at Nashville, TN. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to MATURE YEARS, PO Box 280988, Nashville, TN 37228-0988. Copyright © 2018 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Scripture quotations in this publication unless noted otherwise are from the Common English Bible, copyright 2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked (TLB) are taken from The Living Bible copyright © 1971. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. Lessons and/or readings are based on the International Sunday School Lessons for Christian Teaching, copyright © 2015–16, by the Committee on the Uniform Series. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What does the Bible say?

What does it mean? How does it relate to my life? This newly revised classic Abingdon series helps you discover your answers to these questions. Visit to learn more and order for your group today.

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For permission to reprint any material in this publication, call 615-749-6421, or write to Permissions Office, 2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., P.O. Box 280988, Nashville, TN 37228-0988. E-mail: All Web addresses were correct and operational at the time of publication. To order copies of this publication, call toll free: 800-672-1789. Call Monday–Friday, 7:00–6:30 Central Time or 5:00–4:30 Pacific Time. Saturday 9:00–5:00. Automated office system is available after office hours. Order through Use your Cokesbury account, American Express, Visa, Discover, or MasterCard. 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:

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Features 8 10 14 18 22 24 28 32 34 36 38 44 46 52

Improvements for Independence Getting Involved in VBS The Day the Circus Left Town Yoga Is for Every Body From Imagination to Reality Key Retirement Milestones Everyone Should Know About Starting Over Go Ahead . . . Eat the Whole Watermelon A Sweet Cherry Season Traveling Solo: Getting Started Ancient Cluny Still Inspires Modern Pilgrims 6 Secrets Grandparents Never Tell “Dear Jean” Understanding the Serious Nature of Mini-Strokes



Bible Lessons

56 Justice in the New Testament

In Every Issue 2 3 4 31 48 50 53 55 96

Bookshelf Chaplain’s Corner Fragments of Life Bible Verse: Psalm 65:9-12 Internet Gold Color & Pray Puzzle Time Bible Verse: Psalm 33:20-22 Merry-go-round


Upload unsolicited manuscripts, photos, puzzles, and cartoon submissions to in order to be considered for use.

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Choose Wisely, Live Fully: Lessons from Wisdom & Folly, the Two Women of Proverbs by Donna Gaines Author and speaker Donna Gaines applies the wisdom of Proverbs in very practical ways to the issues women face. Choose Wisely, Live Fully examines the blessings and curses associated with the choices the two women in Proverbs made. This book is a wonderful discipleship tool that will equip you to discern the voice of God and follow God’s clear path between wisdom and folly, experience the joy of wholehearted obedience, and let God help you mentor the lives around you in remarkable ways.

Venite by Robert Benson The Latin word “venite” is an invitation given to pray the prayers of Christ. It is an invitation to pray the ancient prayer, until life becomes a prayer without ceasing. Best-selling author Robert Benson brings together deep-rooted and traditional prayer practices of the Church in a volume for laypeople who want to practice daily prayer throughout the year in their own solitude. Venite: A Book of Daily Prayer offers a means of framing one’s day in the rhythm of the ancient daily prayers of the Church, and allows for participation in those rhythms by beginning the day with prayer to sanctify it; by ending the day’s work with psalms, prayers, and thanksgiving; and by committing oneself to the darkness and silence of the night with confession, forgiveness, and confidence.

In the Line of Fire by Ace Collins Dogs have become more than mere pets; in the eyes of many, these companions are our friends and family. But when it comes to dogs that serve in the military, law enforcement, and medical field, they become equal members of


the team. Each day these canines’ actions and reactions to often difficult situations impact the personal safety and care of men and women as they serve their communities and country. In The Line of Fire: More Stories of Man’s Best Hero shares moving and exciting stories of a dozen amazing canines whose lives have been constantly on the line. Dogs have assisted Navy Seals, tracked criminals, set forth on life-saving missions, and even became goodwill ambassadors. Their incredible missions showcase the most positive aspects of the units with whom they’ve worked, while serving as narratives that teach mankind about courage, faith, and loyalty.

Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season by Lucinda Secrest McDowell Everyone loves to receive a gift. And God has given us many, such as grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. These inspiring devotions reveal biblical blessings that remind us that God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us. Join Lucinda in focusing on and studying the biblical context of one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season.

Godspeed: Voices of the Reformation by David Teems This 365-day devotional commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation features the words of prominent reformers including Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Anne Askew, Elizabeth I, and others, thoughtfully illuminated with both historical precision and charm.

Read sample chapters and find more information at:

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Chaplain’s Corner: Living Your Story B Y R O B E R T H . S PA I N


couple of weeks ago, I read someone’s brief summary of my life. Some of it was factual, but it didn’t belong on the “Memorial” page. What would the story of your life look like? Have you ever thought about writing your life story? Upon reading such a question, one’s mind quickly reboots, and events and adventures and celebrations and accomplishments flash by in rapid-fire order. How would your story be told? Would the chapters be a chronological setting—from birth to the present? Would your story be told through adventures or career paths or relationships or accomplishments? All these things would be good chapters providing structure to your story. That’s the way many life narratives are chronicled. The high points of one’s life usually provide the story its organization. The vacations were fabulous. It’s great to relive them and build a season of your life around them. The career tracks were unexpected but interesting. The opportunities and successes were more than anyone deserves. They make for good reading. The people we have met and the relationships with family and friends—what would we have ever done without them? These life peaks make good chapter divisions for our story, but it’s the stuff between the chapters that really defines who we are. It’s the bits and pieces of the daily grind that temper us and mold us for more. How we handle the blah days equips us for bigevent days. How we live the absolutely

uneventful days readies us for something bigger. How we handle the day when nothing was accomplished tells much about us, though it probably will go unwritten. Most of our lives are lived down in the trenches, down in the everyday variety, where jobs are done, bills are paid, kids are raised, groceries are bought, homes are cleaned, and you finish the day dead tired. In the final analysis, most of our days are regular and ordinary—no flags flying, no banners waving, no gold medals being awarded. But this is where we are shaped. Much is written today about the successes and great things that accrue from a faithful and loving relationship with God. Such a bonding with God brings blessings beyond our imagining, but I doubt that heaven is as concerned with winning and triumphs and top-of-the-chart things as we are. I have no doubt that God rejoices in our victories, but I am pleased and take great encouragement from the fact that God is with me whether I am up or down. As a faithful companion, our Lord walks with us through the trenches. On my not-so-productive days, there is an abiding presence. It is through the regular, ordinary everyday that God knows me best. I’m glad because that’s mainly where I live. 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

New Rule in My Subdivision BY CO N N I E B E D G O O D


y grandson, Jeremy, and I drove to a street where there were no homes and put on our roller skates. Rather, he put mine on for me and laced them up. We skated around and around my car. After thirty minutes, he took off his skates because he was too hot. I kept mine on and drove slowly back toward my house and turned into my driveway. That is when my mistake caught up with me. The wheel from my skate got caught under the brake pedal and pressed the gas. We sped up and crashed right into the bottom of my garage door. Jeremy, who was eight years old at the time, said, “All right, Nanny, do it again!” Kids! I sat there stunned beyond belief. Living on a shoestring financially, I had no credit or money to fix the damaged garage door. To make matters worse, several people in my neighborhood were having yard sales that day. As they came over to offer sympathy, their faces showed concern then laughter as I stepped out of the car in my roller skates with bright pink wheels and matching shoestrings. Ron, my neighbor, surveyed the damage. He said he would call stores to find out the cost for panel replacement or a new door. But what really caught my attention was when he said that his brother had just learned how to install garage doors as part of training at work. “What are you going to do?” Ron wanted to know. I answered, “Pray first, then wait on God.” I went to the backyard alone and prayed, explaining things to God. I came back to the


front with my burden lifted to see what God would do now. My son came over to offer assistance. He hugged me and told me, “You know, God always takes care of you and will this time too. How about calling the insurance company to see if there’s anything they can do?” Back in the house, I dialed the insurance company. I had to put in a claim and wait, but they would be able to help. What should I do in the meantime? Someone knocked on the front door, and it was Ron from across the street. Ron explained, “My brother has some used garage door panels. He will bring them over, and we will install them.” That would solve my immediate problem. The garage would be secure. I told him I had $35.00 in the house from selling a typewriter. Ron and his brother would accept the $35.00 as a down payment, and take the remaining balance when insurance money came. Ron and I shook hands on it. His brother parked his pickup with the secondhand panels in the back. He put the wrecked ones in his truck, and about thirty minutes later, I had a garage door without a car-sized hole in it! I went to the backyard after paying them and thanked God in Jesus’ name for help in my time of need. God was taking care of it all the time. We also now have a new rule in our subdivision: no one can wear roller skates with pink wheels and pink shoestrings and drive a car in this subdivision.

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Fragments of Life

Pillows Galore BY I R E N E M A R A N


ne of my many shopping addictions is buying pillows. One lovely, decorative pillow deserves another . . . and another. Looking back, it’s probably because as a child, I only had one lonely pillow on my bed, strictly for sleeping. My sister and I shared the same room and slept side-by-side in twin beds. Every now and then, we’d engage in a one-on-one pillow fight. When we finished bashing each other, we’d fluff up the pillows and place them back on our beds as if nothing ever happened. Now, I have so many pillows scattered on couches, chairs, and beds that I need a calculator to count them. In my bedroom, I have four sleeping pillows on a queen-size bed: two soft, two firm. In addition, there are two shams and four fancy pillows: two with needlepoint sayings on them. In the guest room, I have eleven cushions propped up on the bed, all colorcoordinated to match the bedspread and walls. One has a print of a sea turtle, two are of birds, and the others are shades of green, yellow, and pink. My grandkids love diving into this sea of fluff and getting lost in “pillow world.” A fight with all this ammunition often results in a war. When it’s time to sleep, the head supports are piled up high on a nearby bench, forming a tall sculpture. The Leaning Tower of Pillows always falls and has to be rebuilt. Do I need all these pillows? I thought so when I purchased them. They looked so pretty that I just kept picking them up.

Each appealed to me for a different reason. It was either the color, size, print, fringe, or design that beckoned me. When one loses its bounce or I tire of it, it gets tossed down to the basement on a couch stacked with discarded pillows. If I placed them all together in a room, the result would be a padded cell, useful at times when the grandkids visit. While shopping one day, I found an oversized stuffed pillow, with blue and brown zigzag stripes on the front and a checkered blue and white pattern on the reverse side. I thought it would look great on my brown leather couch. I could envision myself sinking into it, feeling as comfortable as floating on a cloud. When I brought my purchase home and looked at the label, it said “pet pillow.” How embarrassing! I bought myself a pet pillow! Why should any pet be this comfortable, and why would they ever want to leave once they tried it out? My grandkids jump at the chance to point out to family members and friends that grandma uses a pet pillow and loves it. It has become a family joke. I haven’t purchased any pillows lately. Probably because I have no room left on my beds or couches to toss any and still have ample room for people. Now that the pillow craze is over, I wonder what my next shopping addiction will be.


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Fragments of Life


Heart and Sole BY KEN NEUSER

t was a restless night, bringing the dreaded day. I had hoped to postpone the surgery until after retirement but was overruled. The thermostat for the furnace had yet to kick on. The house was chilled. Turning on the lights and adjusting the thermostat provided a hint of normalcy. I gained satisfaction in picturing my classroom. I had left everything in good order. My long-term substitute teacher will work out fine, I said to myself a thousand times. I had carefully prepared lesson plans for the next six weeks. The staff was informed of the pending surgery. The school principal sent a letter to the homes of the students. All details were cleared with health insurance. I didn’t even like viewing the word on the insurance form: cancer. Surgery day unfolded as if dictated by a lesson plan. Even in the recovery room, my mind found itself envisioning my fourth-grade classroom. The school building was old but well-maintained, a charm in its ancestry. The cloakrooms had been kept intact, student lockers not yet introduced. How often I admired the design of the black wrought-iron clothes hooks with the double pegs at the base, appearing like welcoming arms. The hooks were spaced to allow sufficient room on the floor for footwear. There the gym shoes were neatly aligned, each bearing the name of the owner. The expectation had been clearly defined the first day of school: gym shoes were to be placed with the soles touching the floor, heels against the wall. I took my gym shoes with me to the hospital, having the foresight of physical therapy. I left my sensible comfort shoes, as usual, in the bottom desk drawer. 6

The pages of the recovery calendar flipped more quickly than anticipated. My medical leave was over. It felt good to unlock the classroom door. On the outer wall of the cloakroom was a large double window, the bright morning sunshine streaming a welcome glow, shining directly on the carefully aligned gym shoes. That pleased me, knowing that the students had followed one of the important classroom rules during my absence. Inside each pair of shoes was a neatly tucked index card bearing a message. I looked with amazement at the first pair of shoes, those being the pair of comfort shoes I had kept in the bottom desk drawer. “Welcome back” read the note. Where I typically hung my coat was a printed sign: “We love you because you are . . . ” Then I saw the notes in the shoes of my students, finishing the sentence “because you are . . . . . . caring. . . . interested in us. . . . excited about what you teach. . . . ready with humor. . . . demanding but supportive. . . . kind. . . . not always looking at the clock. . . . positive. . . . one to whom we can turn. . . . challenging me . . . neat with good-looking shoes. Without hesitation, I proceeded to the blackboard, writing: Lesson One: Cinderella is proof that one pair of shoes can change your life. Lesson Two: My continued goal is to touch each of you, one soul at a time.

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Fragments of Life

Tranquility Gratitude BY AUDREY CARLI


t Samuel’s seventy-sixth birthday celebration, I, as a guest, asked him to name his most precious gift that money cannot buy. Samuel beamed: “Tranquility blessings! When I was younger, I hoped for a worry-free life. Still, worries hit. But each time, I prayed and sensed God’s love and strength. Tranquility soon uplifted me. For example, pay raises helped my family, but did not guarantee inner peace. Responsibilities still pressured, but strength and tranquility came from God. I thank the Lord for those inner-peace blessings during my prayer time.” Tranquility, Samuel said, came from many blessings: “I felt blessed with my family’s love, a church where I could worship, the ability to get around with a crutch while my broken leg healed, friendly smiles, loving words, bird songs, fragrant flowers, a baby’s trusting expression—to name some.” He was grateful he could perform daily duties, even if he needed help with some of them. He pointed out Proverbs 10:22: “The LORD’s blessing makes a person rich, and no trouble is added to it.” He smiled. “I am grateful for our Lord’s gifts. They provide tranquility!”


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Improvements for Independence Modifications to Make Your Home More Accessible


eing safe and comfortable at home is a large part of living well. Home modifications and repairs can help everyone, especially older adults and people with disabilities, maintain an independent lifestyle and prevent accidents. Many older adults prefer to stay at home for as long as possible, but too often don’t think about whether their homes will meet their needs as they age. Making improvements for independence before they are needed is a good way to ensure that a home is ready for aging in place. Forward-thinking improvements may also help prevent falls, which often cause the need for long-term care. Many changes, such as adding grab bars in bathrooms, can be done without a major redesign or full-blown renovation. Depending on your circumstance, it may also make sense to consider things like widening doorways and lowering countertop heights for someone who uses a wheelchair. Here’s how you can get started:

Source: Family Features


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Home Assessment Before making any changes, assess the entire home. This checklist can help identify areas that might need improvement. Everyone has different needs, but in general, a “no” answer may be cause for action. h Are exterior walkways and entrances well-lit? h Is there a step-free entrance to the home? h Are entrance doors easy to lock, unlock, open, and close? h Does the main floor include a kitchen, bedroom, and full bathroom? h Are doorways wide enough for someone using a wheelchair, walker, or service animal? h Are hallways, staircases, bathrooms, and the kitchen well-lit? h Is wall-to-wall carpeting secure and in good condition? h Are area rugs secured to the floor with grips? h Are walkways free from obstructions and hazards, like cords and furniture? h Do stairways have sturdy handrails on both sides? h Can bathroom and kitchen cabinets be easily reached? h Is there a step-free shower entrance? h Are grab bars available in or near the shower and toilet? h Do showers have non-slip mats or adhesive strips? h Will smoke detectors provide visual as well as audio alerts? h Are telephones and emergency supplies easily accessible on all floors?

Cost and Contractors Minor improvements can cost between $150.00– $2,000.00, and major renovation costs vary depending on the job. However, many contractors offer reduced rates or slidingscale fees based on income and ability to pay. Public and private financing options may also be available. If hiring a professional, remember to get a written agreement with specific tasks, a timeline, and a cost estimate. Make sure the contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured for the specific type of work. More information about home modifications, including financial assistance, can be found at

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Getting Involved in VBS By Besty Parham


acation Bible school has come a long way since the days of popcorn crafts and Bible lessons taught using a felt board. Today’s VBS aims at reaching children using twenty-first-century methods and approaches. Music is filled with more contemporarysounding songs rather than hymns sung from a hymnal. Multimedia options abound. Children are able to follow along with other kids on DVDs and streaming videos, learning the songs and movements. VBS is still a time for children and youth to connect with each other and with the Bible. It is still a time for the church family to be involved in a fun week of learning, activities, and celebration during the summer. Even though it has undergone significant changes, some things remain the same. VBS benefits not only the children who participate, but also the churches that offer it and the adults and youth who volunteer to teach and lead in it.

VBS provides an opportunity to teach children about Jesus so that they can learn ways to be like Christ. “Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). Children grow in wisdom as they experience teachings from the Bible; they grow in divine favor as they discover more about God and God’s amazing love for them; and they develop in favor with other people as they learn life application skills while interacting with them.

How does VBS benefit children? While at VBS, children encounter stories from the Bible, meet new children, have a good time with friends, and experience new and fun activities. They learn Bible verses, act out Bible stories, sing fun educational songs, watch and participate in skits, create crafts, participate in recreation, take part in hands-on mission projects, discover science activities, and have a snack or a meal. 10

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That sounds great for the kids, but why should adults be interested in VBS? VBS offers the church fun and creative methods of teaching Christ-like values and relationship-building skills. It is an excellent outreach tool into the community—a way to invite those who do not normally attend to come into the church, get involved, and build relationships with others and with Jesus Christ. It offers a variety of ways for the entire congregation to become involved. Adults can decorate, teach, shepherd children, prepare snacks, send invitations, send follow-up cards to visitors, work with publicity, and pray. They can prepare and serve meals. They can also serve as “buddies” for children who need special attention before, during, and after VBS. As adults in a church spend time together to plan for and lead VBS, they build community spirit, make new friends, and work together for the benefit of both children they know and children they don’t know. Their investment of time and energy makes their church stronger and more vibrant, a beacon in their communities. Many churches offer an intergenerational VBS option, where people of all ages experience VBS stories, games, and crafts together. This approach offers additional opportunities to build community since all ages can learn from each other.

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How to Get Involved


Today’s VBS is more than just teaching Bible lessons (although that is still the most important part). It offers modules matching a wide variety of skills and interests:

` Science * Crafts

% Music Y Drama If teaching isn’t your strong suit and you are available to assist during the hours of VBS, here are some other ways to share in the fun.

• Participate in cleanup. • Decorate before VBS. • Set up the rooms before the sessions. • Help take down decorations following VBS. • Work with registration. • Be a greeter. • Direct traffic in the building and in the parking lot. 12

Not available to serve during VBS? Here are some other ways you can help.

• Collect supplies. • Make sample crafts. • Complete the “leader preparation” portions of the craft projects. • Create decorations. • Work with publicity by sending postcards. Want to help with VBS from your home?

• Be a prayer partner. • Donate supplies. • Address and mail postcards.

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Why should you, at your age and stage in life, be concerned about vacation Bible school? Because it is our responsibility to empower and equip children and youth to follow God’s call to action. VBS is based on the Bible and the gospel of the living Christ. As older Christian adults, we can provide a solid biblical foundation for faith development for these children—because VBS offers an opportunity to introduce children and youth to a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Be ready to say yes when someone asks you to volunteer for VBS!

Betsy Nunn Parham is an Associate Editor with Cokesbury VBS. Betsy has been a schoolteacher and a minister of children. Making the gospel real and exciting for children is her life’s passion.

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The Day the Circus Left Town By Gary Griffin


here’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Under the stately trees of southeastern Oklahoma, the red earth is covered in pine straw and epitaphs. “We had the good life,” the words of Donnie McIntosh read across the front of the aging stone marker, “but the season has ended.” Old King Solomon wisely noted that everything would have its season, and though he never envisioned a circus, his wisdom applied to the traveling troubadours of the big top as well. The season of the circus was a long one, but as the wise old king predicted, the season did end. You and I are blessed to have seen it in its glory and in its final days. It has been a grand old time. Who among us cannot remember the day the circus came to town? Usually it was called into business by a parade, a calliope brought its joyous sounds, and the smell of sawdust and peanuts beckoned from a vacant lot just outside town. Sadly, the troubadours of yesteryear have closed their doors, and more exciting things have replaced the joys we once knew under the big top. Hugo, Oklahoma, is the winter quarters of the Carson & Barnes Circus, and it is the final stop on the season of sawdust. “Showmen’s Rest” is in an honored section in the very 14

heart of Mt. Olivet Cemetery, and its corners are marked by elephant statues that proudly proclaim this place as special. It has become the final gathering place of those who came to watch and those who left to wander. Though the circus is now silent for the most part, here under the big top of trees and stars, the circus people have gathered for one more show. The headstones are in the shapes of tents and wagon wheels. The epitaphs proudly declare the role of those who sleep beneath the rich, red soil. While etchings of elephants and actors portray the life that once was, their titles read like a roll call of circus who’s who. John Carroll, we are told, retired here in 1980 after years as an elephant trainer for the Miller Bros. circus. Joe Wallace Cooper was a circus agent who lived, his tombstone tells us, to “give the world a smile each day.” Dudley Hamilton, who worked for several troupes along the way, bid us farewell with this wish: “May all your days be circus days.” From a nearby marker, James Zajicek seems to reply, “We actually live the life most people only dream of.” The bareback riders, the snake handlers, the acrobats, and the clowns all share that sentiment as the stones shout out, one by one, a testimony to the life they once knew and lived. Kenneth Ikirt was the “Boss Elephant Man,” or so his stone declares. He worked

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for Carson & Barnes Circus and was responsible for the largest elephant herd in America. His specialty, the tombstone reads, was working with difficult elephants. He also toured with Kelly Morris, Ringling Brothers, and John Pauling’s Great London Circus. Kenneth came here to rest in 1976. The modern circus began in the late eighteenth century in London and was made up of mostly equestrian acts. The traditional format, with a ringmaster and a host of varied acts, came along a century later, in the late 1800s. The term menagerie, a group of wild animals brought together for exhibition purposes, introduced the use of wild animals into the acts. Lions, tigers, elephants, and other wild animals were transported to England, then on to America for use in the shows there. By then, the shows had become mobile—portable tents began to be used for the first time—and thus the circus soon became known as the “Big Top.” The traveling shows of the great American circuses were performed under the big top set over a ring, where a ringmaster would keep the show moving as one act after another streamed into and out of the big top. Some popular shows had three rings, while the Moscow State Circus, it is reported, had six rings. Circuses once toured with their own orchestras or brass bands, and the calliope became emblematic of the circus and the parades that drew the fans into the arenas. Many of us can still recall the sound and the smells that the circus brought to town every summer, which magically turned every child’s dreams into that of one day being a clown or entertainer. The history of the circus drew to a close in the beginnings of the twenty-first century as electronic and media-driven entertainment steadily overshadowed the sawdust. Then, one by one, countries

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around the world outlawed the use of wild animals in touring shows. In 2016, Ringling Bros. announced it would retire the use of elephants in its traveling shows. In the summer of that year, it retired its last elephant to the company farm in Florida. With the absence of the animals, ticket sales plummeted. Finally, succumbing to the pressures of an ever-changing world, Ringling Bros. was forced to close its tents. On Sunday, May 21, 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performed the Greatest Show On Earth a final time to a sold-out crowd. Only a few traveling circuses remain in business today. But the circus lives on. A new season is always just down the road. The elephants are no longer performing, but they have moved to the Ringling Bros. farm in Florida or to the Endangered Ark Foundation there in Hugo, where the veterans of the sawdust finish out their years at an elephant rescue ranch, pampered and petted for as long as they live. For now, the circus continues nightly under the Oklahoma stars as the ghosts of generations of circus performers carry on the traditions of the past. One final epitaph seems fitting to the end of this season in history. From the wagon-wheelshaped stone of wagon driver Ted Bowman, we hear a final farewell: “Nothing left but empty popcorn sacks and wagon tracks—the circus is gone.” Gone, but not forgotten. King Solomon could not see the circus, nor could he glimpse eternity from his golden throne. But humans are eternal creatures, bound for a grand forever that never ends. You and I will one day rejoin Ted Bowman and the others in Hugo. We will share a cotton candy and a soda where the show goes on forever. We’ll be sure to save you a seat. Hurry, now, the show is about to begin. Gary Griffin is a retired electrical engineer, retired missionary, retired pastor, and is now a freelance writer. He and his wife of 53 years live on a farm in east Texas where they simply enjoy every moment the Lord gives them.


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Yoga Is for Every Body By Brittany Sky


oga is an ancient spiritual practice that blends breathing techniques, physical movements, and prayer (sometimes referred to as meditation). The practice of yoga has been known to reconnect the mind, body, and spirit. Aside from its spiritual benefits, it is also good for building strength and endurance, stretching muscles, aligning the spine, relieving stress, and deepening one’s presence in the here and now. It’s a myth that one should be flexible to practice yoga or should have a certain type of body. What’s true is that this moving prayer is for everyone and every body!


Try the yoga poses included here for five breaths each. You can follow this outline or mix it up. Keep in mind, each day’s practice is different. Some days the poses come easy, and you can go deep into stretches or balance for a long time. Other days are more of a struggle, and you fall out of poses that normally fill you with peace. Pay attention to your body and your breath. Do what feels best in the moment. Be brave on days when you can go further into a pose, and back off on days when you can’t. Have patience and grace for yourself.

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Before beginning this or any new exercise program, especially if you are not used to regular exercise, it is important to consult with your primary care physician. The instructions and advice that follow come not from a medical professional, but from someone who has both practiced and taught yoga for four years. Your primary care physician can best advise you about beginning this practice.

Child’s Pose This pose is a good stretch for your back. You can do it with knees together or spread apart while big toes touch. This is a homebase pose, and you can come into this pose at any time during your practice. Bring your hips toward your heels while your arms are stretched forward. For a deeper stretch, push into your palms and lift your elbows off the mat. While you are here, breathe in and set an intention, a goal, for your practice. This intention could be finding more peace, feeling God’s love, or remembering a person in your life who needs prayer.

Cobra Pose This pose is good for building strength in your lower back. Avoid putting all of your weight on your hands. You should be able to lift your fingers off the mat. If you can’t, bring your chest closer to the mat. You don’t have to be pushed up as high as the student in the photo. Bring your thighs together and lift your chest by using your lower back muscles.

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Tree Pose This pose is great for building core strength and practicing balance. Ground down through the sole of your foot on your balancing leg. Pick up the other foot and place it on the ankle, calf, or thigh. Do not place your lifted foot onto your knee. Lift through the core and chest, and bring your hands overhead if you want to invite openness into your day, or bring your hands to heart center if you need more stability. Repeat on both sides.

Crescent Lunge Pose This pose builds strength in your legs and your core, and works your balance. A modification for this pose is to bring your back knee to the mat. Come into a lunge. Bring your arms overhead. Make sure your front knee is directly over your ankle and that you can see your big toe. Bring your shoulder blades out of your ears and down the back. Repeat on both sides. 20

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Half Lord of the Fishes (half spinal twist) Pose This pose is a great stretch for your spine and shoulders. Bring your right foot toward your left hip. Place your left foot on the mat beside your right thigh. Hug your left knee toward your chest. Place your left hand behind you and bring your right elbow to your left knee. Repeat on both sides. If there is too much pressure on your bottom knee, extend that leg long. You will still get all of the same benefits.

Lotus Pose This pose is great for grounding into the present moment. Cross your legs in an easy seated posture. Place your hands on your knees. Turn your hands palms up if you need more energy or place palms down if you would like more grounding. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Take note of how you and your body feel after moving through this series of poses.

Brittany Sky is the Senior Editor of Children’s Resources at The United Methodist Publishing House. She served as a minister with children and families in local churches in Oklahoma before coming to Nashville to work as a development editor on children’s Sunday school curricula. Brittany is the author of the Deep Blue Bible Storybook and the editor of the Deep Blue Toddler Bible Storybook. She has taught yoga for four years.

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From Imagination

to Reality By Esther M. Bailey


he two skirts hanging side-by-side in my closet always provoked the same reaction: too bad I can’t wear them together. The two fabrics perfectly complemented each other in color and in design. It seemed such a shame they couldn’t go together, since I had never found a top to make a striking outfit from either of them. With a sigh, I resigned myself to mundane dressing. The idea kept nagging me. Why couldn’t these two skirts be worn together? Maybe they could! What if I made a top from one of the skirts? Gradually, a plan began to form. I decided to turn the floral skirt into a blouse. The overlay with an asymmetrical hem could become the bodice. I began to picture a yoke that could come from the flounce at the bottom of the lining that peeked under the overlay. I could make sleeves from the lining, and the waistband would provide fabric for the bands at the bottom of the sleeves. It might work! Do I really want to undertake such a project? I asked myself. If I had known how difficult the job would be, I might have said no. On second thought, though, challenges tend to spur me on. First things first. If I could find the right pattern, I would be on my way to success. Through an Internet search, I discovered 22

McCall’s M7095, available only online. It was exactly what I was looking for! Next, I would need lining for the sheer fabric. The only lining that I found in my local fabric store clashed with the color of the garment. Again, I turned to the Internet. The chosen fabric did not match exactly, but it complemented the paprika color I was working with. The fabric allotted for the yoke was an inch too short. No problem. I simply added an inch to the adjoining piece. Since I did not want the top to be as full as the pattern called for, the seven-inch shortage on each side of the bodice was a plus instead of a minus. In my earlier years, I had done a lot of sewing, but I hadn’t constructed anything like this for more than twenty-five years. Not knowing if I retained my skill, I had to prove myself in this project. Could I topstitch the yoke in perfectly straight lines? With a prayer for a steady hand, I took a slow and easy approach. Not once did I go off course. Success mingled with gratitude felt good. At one point, however, I considered giving up. After cutting out the lining for the front of the bodice with an unusual shape, I mistook one of the side pieces for the top. I went ahead and cut out areas to insert the sleeves. At first, I was baffled when the bodice did not fit the yoke. Discovery of my error spelled defeat.

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I didn’t have enough fabric to cut a second piece. Why not just give up? I wondered. Not to be deterred, I ordered another yard of fabric for the lining. With renewed determination and another appeal to the Author of Creativity, I went to work. I encountered a few more glitches, but I overcame each obstacle and persevered to the end. When I finished, I felt a measure of achievement that surpassed all previous endeavors. Pretty good for eighty-seven years old, I thought. Although my experience was unique to me, it isn’t unusual to turn imagination into reality. Every invention that improves the quality of life began in someone’s imagination. I appreciate the fact that I am writing this article on a computer instead of on a typewriter or with a fountain pen. Not many people can strike a deal with Shark Tank and go on to build a successful business, but everyone can start with a dream and bring it to fruition. How can you take a regular activity to the next level? Use your imagination and turn it into reality! Try a new recipe or create one geared to your taste. Take music lessons to become a better vocalist or instrumentalist. Take another try at repairing the kitchen appliance that cannot be replaced. A ministry-related project has the potential to compound the satisfaction you receive from turning imagination into reality. Anyone who has ever taken a short-term mission trip will long remember interacting with people who appreciate the service rendered. “I began to understand what it meant to experience the joy of the Lord,” one man said. Choose an endeavor that excites you— one you can pursue with passion. Expect challenges, but meet them with determination. Never give up. Above all, cover each aspect of your venture with prayer. In the end, savor the victory. From Scottsdale, Arizona, Esther M. Bailey writes to encourage others in their journey of faith.

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Key Retirement Milestones Everyone Should Know About


etirement can seem like a very distant destination in your early working years. However, as you age, that once-distant destination starts to become more real. As you enter your fifties, you can really start to think about how much you have saved and how that will translate into retirement income. You can also start to better understand the idea of allocating part of your retirement nest egg to guaranteed income based on your calculation of how much pension income and Social Security you will receive. Also critical during this final phase of working is understanding the key retirement milestones and how they will impact your ability to retire. The following are the critical retirement milestone ages: 24

Age 55 If you are fortunate enough to consider the possibility of an early retirement, attaining age 55 is a critical date since you can start withdrawing from your 401(k) without the application of the ten percent penalty tax applicable to premature plan distributions. This exception from the general applicability of the penalty tax, however, depends on you retiring from the company sponsoring your 401(k) plan during or after the year you reach age 55. You cannot continue to work at the company and decide you want to start using your 401(k) assets at age 55. In that circumstance, the ten percent penalty tax will still apply.

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Age 65

Age 59 1/2 At age 59 1/2, you are no longer subject to the ten percent penalty tax for premature withdrawals on all of your retirement assets, such as your IRAs, 401(k), or annuities. Therefore, for many this is really the earliest that one can consider retirement as a possibility. Of course, retirement at age 59 1/2 will increase the length of your retirement and the risk that you will outlive your assets.

Age 62 At age 62, you become eligible for a reduced Social Security benefit. In terms of managing your guaranteed income for retirement, in general it is better not to start taking Social Security at such a young age since the benefit will continue to grow. Only those with a shortened life expectancy should consider starting Social Security benefits at this age. And even someone with a shortened life expectancy might consider delaying benefits if married, since turning on benefits early will reduce a surviving, lower-earning spouse’s benefit. Unfortunately, the reality is many individuals do turn on their benefits at age 62, either because they have not saved enough for retirement or because they want to start getting money back from the system they have contributed to over the years.

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Age 65 is a critical year for considering retirement since you will become eligible for Medicare. Prior to age 65, retirement requires you to consider the cost of paying for your own healthcare insurance, which can be a very costly proposition. This healthcare analysis gets more complicated if you have a spouse who is not working and has not attained age 65 when you do, since you will need to consider the cost of health insurance for that spouse until he or she attains age 65.

Age 66–67 At this age, you will become eligible for full Social Security benefit payments, and not the reduced payment you can take at age 62. The full retirement age has been raised over time and varies depending on your year of birth. For those born from 1943 through 1954, age 66 is the full retirement age. For those born in 1955 through 1959, the full retirement age is 66 plus two months for each year. For example, someone born in 1955 has a full retirement age of 66 and two months, and someone born in 1958 has a full retirement age of 66 and eight months. For those born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67. Bear in mind that while attaining the full retirement age allows you to take an unreduced Social Security benefit, it does not maximize the benefit payment.

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Age 70 Age 70 is the delayed Social Security benefit age, or when you must start taking your Social Security payments. By delaying to age 70, you can increase your full retirement age benefit by eight percent a year from your full retirement age. Given that Social Security is an annuity that pays you for your lifetime and the benefit itself is increased by inflation costs each year, the increase in benefit payments from the full retirement age to age 70 can have a material impact on your benefit payment in future years. Maximizing Social Security should be your first consideration when thinking about how to ensure that your assets last as long as you do. Unfortunately, many nearing retirement do not understand the importance of maximizing this benefit from an insurance perspective, and take the reduced payout at age 62 or at the full retirement age.

Age 70 1/2 At age 70 1/2, you must start taking Required Minimum Distributions, or RMDs, from your retirement assets such as your 401(k) or IRA. Your RMD amount is determined by an IRS table, which effectively requires you to take an increasing percentage of your assets. The idea is that you will be forced to liquidate your account gradually over your lifetime. For example, at age 71 the table requires you to take out around 3.77 percent of your account value, determined on December 31 of the year prior to the RMD withdrawal. At age 80, you must take out around 5.35 percent. At age 90, you must take out around 8.77 percent. You have 26

a choice for the year in which you attain 70 1/2 to take your first RMD amount in that year or defer the distribution to before April 15 of the following year. Keep in mind that if you do defer this first RMD amount, you will have to take two RMD amounts in the following year. You may want to consider carefully whether this makes sense since you could be increasing your overall tax liability. RMDs are not required from a Roth IRA, but are required from any funds you have in a Roth account in an employer plan. You may want to consider rolling funds, for example, from a Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA, if you want to eliminate RMD requirements on these funds. You should know, however, that the time you have invested in the Roth 401(k) does not carry over to the five-tax-year period for income-tax-free withdrawals from a Roth IRA. So if that is part of your future strategy, you may want to open a Roth IRA ahead of time to start the five-tax-year clock running, which could include making a Roth IRA contribution or converting some traditional account assets to a Roth IRA. Once the fiveyear-clock has run, it applies to all future contributions, even if a particular contribution has not been in the account for five years. The above analysis of retirement milestone ages highlights the importance of delaying your retirement as long as you can. Delaying your retirement ensures that you will not be subject to the ten percent penalty tax on premature distributions from retirement plans and IRAs, that you will have affordable healthcare coverage under Medicare, and that you will maximize the Social Security lifetime benefit payment. Importantly, it also reduces the length of your retirement which, of course, increases the likelihood that you will be able to make your retirement assets last as long as you live. Source: Brandpoint

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Starting Over By Patricia Tanner Thomson


never intended to move. For nearly fifteen years, I shoveled and planted and weeded the ground to create a garden that reflected my heart. I moved vast slabs of sod to make the beds; I needed wheelbarrows of dirt to create a terraced wall that hugged the foundation. The garden evolved over time: I added and moved trees, shrubs, and plants. It was a living thing, always changing, ever growing, persistently demanding my care. The garden bordered a large pond. While caring for the garden beds, it was good to see sparkles of sun on the water; to take in the herons, geese, and ducks that were a part of the scene. I liked being outside, loved being a part of the beauty, felt a kinship with the earth. It was a way to get away from the world and get some exercise to boot. The garden was my legacy, an investment of time, effort, and (I won’t even start) money. How could I leave it? Who would take care of the Asiatic and oriental lilies that blossomed each June and July? Who would make sure that Mrs. Robert Brydon (my favorite clematis) kept her vigorous vines from invading neighboring plants? While hostas were easygoing and able to grow nicely without much effort, would a new owner keep the wild Joe Pye Weed in check? How could I leave my trellis decked with William Baffin roses? Bad knees, for starters. And arthritic hips. When my husband and I purchased our


two-story home with its walkout lower level, we were much younger. We never anticipated that climbing three sets of stairs would ever be a problem, or that joint replacement surgery was in the future, necessitating a first-level bedroom and bath. After much searching, we found a place that offered the living features we needed and the opportunity for some gardening. Although only five miles from our former home, the place had a rural feel. Deer, wild turkeys, and coyotes were known to prowl about. The association, which handled lawn-mowing and snow-shoveling needs, would allow planting, with the caveat that any gardening plans would have to be approved by the architectural committee and follow association guidelines. Fair enough. So, as a gardener, what would I do with a blank slate? I knew that the garden I would create in my sixties would differ greatly from the one I started in my forties. My three main goals:

• Design with the future in mind, creating a space that could be managed now and in the years to come.

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• Choose easy plants. I wanted to avoid plant “thugs” that rambled out of control or ones that required extra work. • Learn to be flexible. I would figure out how to use garden benches and tools to make maintenance easier. When putting our house up for sale, we made provision to take some favorite plants with us. Several varieties of martagon lilies made the trip to our new home, as well as some beloved hostas. We also packed up plants that been gifts from friends or were harder to find like double bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), black cohosh/ bugbane also known as Actaea simplex, and variegated horseradish (Armoracia rusticana). When laying out areas at the new house, I stayed away from shrubs and woody perennials, thus minimizing trimming duties. Instead, I went for plants that could be cut down in the fall and simply removed if I could no longer physically manage the beds. Primary emphasis would be on hostas, lilies, and clematis, with a few others added for color, texture, or height.

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Life has changed, but it is still good.

My previous garden had taught me about what plants to avoid. I had learned the hard way about members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor), limelight artemisia commonly known as mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), and snow-in-the-mountain/bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria). To avoid similar heartache, I stayed away from plants like American bittersweet vine (Celastrus scandens) or a rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa). Aggressive plants can produce offspring everywhere. Experience had also shown me that a true friend does not give another gardening friend snowdrop anemones (Anemone sylvestris). Lovely fairy flowers that one, but this variety is almost impossible to remove once established. The first year, I focused on planting around the house’s foundation and underneath the porch and decks. Strapping on my cushy kneepads, I transplanted my horticultural babies and added other plants given by friends or found in stores. Ever the bargain hunter, I was able to find some great additions on Craigslist and clearance racks. Has it been easy? No. We hired someone to remove the sod, but creating the garden beds required more work and sweat than I 30

had anticipated. I’ve also learned that certain garden stools can be turned over to make kneeling easier and that scooting about on one’s hinder can take some pressure off of arthritic knees. Was it worth it? As I take in the blossoms that draw butterflies, hummingbirds, and other wildlife, I realize that, once again, I am surrounded by beauty. It is a place that is intentionally easier to manage: no more 125pound bags of wood chips to throw down, not as many hours weeding on my knees, no pulling wagons up a hill. I am no longer overwhelmed. The landscaping team the townhome association hired makes sure the grass is neatly cut, the bushes are clipped, and snow stays off the driveway. I can spend my time merely making things pretty. I miss my old garden, but parts of it are still with me. I want to be able to dig in the dirt until I am unable to move. Gardening is—and always will be—a part of who I am. Life has changed, but it is still good. Patricia Thomson enjoys townhouse living in Ham Lake, Minnesota. When not writing, Patricia can be found gardening, hunting for Craigslist bargains, or spending time with her family.

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You visit the earth and make it abundant, enriching it greatly by God’s stream, full of water. You provide people with grain because that is what you’ve decided. Drenching the earth’s furrows, leveling its ridges, you soften it with rain showers; you bless its growth. You crown the year with your goodness; your paths overflow with rich food. Even the desert pastures drip with it, and the hills are dressed in pure joy. Psalm 65:9-12

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Go Ahead . . . Eat the Whole Watermelon S

liced or diced, grilled or blended, there are countless ways to prepare watermelon. With some fruits, half or more is wasted when you throw away the seeds and peel, but you may be surprised to learn that you can use an entire watermelon, including the rind, to make delicious and refreshing dishes. Most people think of watermelon as a sweet, juicy snack perfect for hot summer days, but with its high water content (92 percent), the fruit is more than just tasty. It’s also an ideal way to keep your body hydrated. What’s more, the ability to use the entire fruit makes watermelon one of the most versatile and valueconscious options in the produce department. An average watermelon consists of about seventy percent fruit and thirty percent rind. Hollowed out, the rind is an attractive way to serve any number of recipes, but the rind is actually edible, too, and can be stir-fried, stewed or pickled, or even enjoyed raw. The yummy slaw recipe that follows gets its distinctive crunch from the watermelon rind, which is packed with citrulline and arginine, two compounds that may aid in healthy blood flow. Watermelon is also a flavorful substitute for tomatoes, as shown in this traditional Italian appetizer, and contains higher levels of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable per serving, according to award-winning nutrition author and registered dietitian, Elizabeth Somer. Additionally, it lends some sweetness to a spicy salsa and a refreshing twist on a summery salad. You can also try blending watermelon with other fresh fruits for a super smoothie. Find more ideas for using every bite of fruit, juice, and rind at


Superfood Smoothie Makes: 3 cups 2 cups cubed and seeded watermelon 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries 1 cup raspberry kefir 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate 2 tablespoons agave syrup ice (optional)

Place watermelon, raspberries, raspberry kefir, orange juice concentrate, agave syrup, and ice (if desired) in blender, and blend until smooth.

Watermelon Slice Ice Pops Makes: 5–15 servings 5–15 watermelon slices, cut into triangular wedge shapes, about 1/2 to 1 inch thick, with seeds removed 5–15 ice pop sticks

Insert ice pop stick into rind of each slice. Optional variation: After inserting sticks, freeze ice pops before serving.

Source: Family Features

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Watermelon Rind Slaw Makes: 4 one-cup servings Dressing: 1/4 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt 1/4 cup low-fat sour cream 1 1/2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon poppy seeds 2 teaspoons olive oil salt, to taste pepper, to taste Slaw: 4 cups grated watermelon rind (fruit and green peel removed) 1 cup grated carrot 1 1/2 cups diced fresh pineapple

In small bowl, blend Greek yogurt, sour cream, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, poppy seeds, olive oil, salt, and pepper thoroughly. Set aside. Place watermelon rind on several layers of paper towels to soak up excess fluid. In medium bowl, place dressing, rind, carrot, and pineapple, and toss to thoroughly coat.

Watermelon Caprese Salad with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Makes: 6 servings 12 slices watermelon cut into rounds or squares, approximately 3 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick, with seeds removed 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar 2 tablespoons honey 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 12 slices salt, to taste pepper, to taste 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely chopped 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 sprig basil, for garnish

Place watermelon slices on paper towels and cover with additional paper towels to absorb excess fluid. In small saucepan over medium heat, add vinegar and honey. Stir to blend, bring to simmer, and reduce heat. Stir occasionally until mixture is reduced by almost half. (Do not let reduce too far or allow to froth.) Set aside to cool slightly. On large platter, place watermelon slices, and top each with slice of cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle basil leaves evenly over top. Drizzle with olive oil, followed by reduced balsamic vinegar. Garnish with sprig of basil. Tip: Use red and yellow watermelon for an extra pretty presentation.


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A Sweet Cherry Season W

hether fresh cherries are a favorite or a treat you’ve yet to try, the time to enjoy them is now. Orchards in the Pacific Northwest, the nation’s largest growing region, experienced a long, cool spring, which often translates into more time and energy a tree can put into the fruit. When combined with the superior growing conditions characteristic to the area, this season’s fruit showcases what Northwest cherries are known for: their large size and sweet flavor profile. Popular varieties grown in the Northwest include the mahogany-red Bings and supersweet, yellow Rainiers. Rainier cherries, with their unique golden color and red blush, tend to ripen earlier in the year. Growers pick Rainier cherries over multiple weeks, selecting the ripest fruit each time. Other varieties include the early-ripening Chelans and Tietons, followed by the often larger and darker Skeenas, Sweethearts, and Lapins. Aside from the light-hued Rainier (which has juice that doesn’t stain), you can typically spot sweet cherries by their dark red skins—in general, the darker, the sweeter. Great taste aside, sweet cherries are a healthful addition to summer picnics, parties, and barbecues, thanks to their fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory power. They make for a snack that both grownups and little ones can enjoy straight out of the bowl, thanks to their stem “handle.” Outside of summer get-togethers, cherries make for a better-for-you, late-night snack option as well. A cup of fresh, sweet cherries contains only 90 calories, along with a low 34

glycemic index of 22, making their cold, sweet crunch a tasty way to satisfy hunger cravings. Plus, they boost melatonin, which helps regulate circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep patterns. Fresh cherries should be stored in a sealed bag or container, and keep for approximately two weeks when refrigerated. To extend the cherry season and enjoy their health benefits after summer fades, buy an extra bag or two and preserve cherries by rinsing, packing, and freezing them. Source: Family Features

Basic freezing instructions 1 Select three to five pounds of firm, ripe, Northwest-grown sweet cherries. 2 After rinsing and draining, spread whole cherries with stems in a layer on a baking sheet. 3 Place in freezer until firm; then pack into freezer-proof containers or plastic freezer bags. Remove excess air and cover tightly. 4 Add frozen cherries to smoothies or juices, or defrost and put in hot cereal, pies, turnovers, cobblers, and more. Or enjoy as a frozen, sweet, late-night treat.

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To create a festive cherry dish for the summer season, try this Fresh Cherry Jubilee as a delicious dessert at your Fourth of July celebration. Find more recipes and cherry tips at

Fresh Cherry Jubilee Serves: 8

Ingredients: 1/2 cup sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/4 cup each water and orange juice 3 cups pitted Northwest fresh sweet cherries 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel 1 quart vanilla ice cream Directions:

Combine sugar and cornstarch. Blend in water and orange juice. Cook and stir until thickened and smooth. Add cherries and orange peel; return to boil and simmer 10 minutes. Serve over ice cream. Recipe may be halved.


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1/8/18 11:35 AM

Traveling Solo: Getting Started By Susan Salley


t was 2000. A new millennium. We’d survived Y2K—it was time for grand gestures. By now I’d traveled alone for work—to Europe, to Africa, and to Kansas City. (Don’t scoff—at that time, there was no ladies’ room after you passed through security in KC . . . not an easy destination.) Traveling for business is different. You may be alone, but you are cloaked in purpose. “Traveling alone?” “No, I’m here on business.” Some people are good at combining business and personal travel, but not me. I’ve always been doggedly on point. I find it hard to immerse myself in a new place as a traveler when my regular business life begins again at 9 a.m. So back to 2000; here we were in the new millennium. I’d worked through my postgrad-school bucket list and stopped short. What was a secret wish or dream? In the end, it was a destination spa. Somehow, early in my childhood, I’d seen a 1940s movie about women in a spa—the steam rooms, the pool, the exercise machines, the camaraderie, cucumber slices everywhere, and I just had to know what that was like. I started where I always start—books. Lots and lots of books on picking a spa, treatments, resort versus destination, beach versus desert locales, spa cuisine. It hit me that a great destination spa was like summer camp for adults. They even had a packing list for grownup guests that included sunscreen, a hat, and field glasses! (Should I stitch nametags into my yoga pants?)


Even today, I can remember exactly how I felt when I rolled my overpacked bag to the top of the escalator in the Tucson airport and saw the resort’s rep at the bottom of that escalator with my name on a card, waiting to whisk me away in the van—the van with the bottled water, the premium tote bag, and the personalized activity folder. For a first solo trip, a spa or retreat center or camp is ideal. A cast of thousands (okay, maybe 35) were there sincerely hoping I would have a good time; other women there had traveled alone, too, and were open to good conversation at the solo table at dinner. After a day or so, a number of us gathered for drinks most nights. The spa offered more classes and activities than I could ever take in. There was so much to learn and try, and this supportive but anonymous setting was the perfect place to attempt something new. The best part, though, was that quiet time— meditation and long walks alone were not just acceptable, they were recommended. Women taking personal solo retreats was practically a theme. A spa trip was a very easy entry into traveling on my own. It did give me a glimpse of the absolute freedom of stepping off a plane into a new experience, without the baggage of anyone else’s expectations, my home identity, or responsibility for another’s experience. The benefit of that trip began at arrival and lasted a lifetime.

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What I Learned 1. Start with a trip that has a lot of help built in. 2. Choose a trip with purpose—total relaxation, learning, accomplishing something. 3. Try progressing through new experiences—an organized experience like a yoga retreat, then a single city adventure, a resort, or if it’s your style, get your travel legs in an easy destination and then train-hop across the map! 4. Leave your baggage behind. And most importantly, start where it makes sense for you. The most freeing thing about a trip on your own is that it belongs entirely to you—your tastes, your list, your speed, and your mode of transportation. Sleep late or hit the early morning market. Travel by train or walk a new city. Spend every day in a different museum and nights in the theatre or hike your stress away. It’s yours. Susan Salley is an associate publisher at Abingdon Press. A former tour agent and avid traveler, she blogs at SUMMER 2018

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Ancient Cluny Still Inspires Modern Pilgrims By Rev. Ronald K. Bullis, Ph.D.



e all hushed when Cluny’s redtile-roofed tower came into view. It wasn’t just another lovely attraction in the classic French countryside; it was an inspiration. For hundreds of years, Cluny was Europe’s premier monastery. It stood as ground zero of faith, and it breathed life into Western religion and learning. It takes our breath away still. We all came seeking something. We tourists were a motley crew—and boisterous too! When our small cruise ship docked on France’s Saône River at the city of Tournus, we were in high spirits as we boarded buses heading toward the little hamlet of Cluny. This was the Burgundy region of France. It is known as the Côte d’Or, the “Gold Coast.” Some of us had found gold already, lazing on our ship’s top deck soaking up the famous sunshine of Southern France. Some found “gold” in chatting with friends over Burgundy’s fine food and extravagant beauty. Others walked every side street they could find in our port towns of Beaune or Chalon-sur-Saône. We were all looking for something, and we’d soon find even more riches, some of which we did not expect.

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The History of Seeking Others went seeking in Burgundy long before us. The Gauls, tribes of itinerant farmers, hunters, and traders, came even before written history. Then the Greeks sailed to southern France in the fifth century BC and founded the city of Massalia (Marseille). After the Greeks, the Romans arrived, lured by these same rolling hills and the tough, welldrained, extravagantly-sunned land. Then early Christians came. William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, and Abbot St. Berno of Burgundy founded Cluny in the tenth century. In its day, Cluny dominated the Christian West, and its preeminent influence would last almost eight hundred years. Cluny’s magnificent stone abbey was the largest church in the world for more than six hundred years. Only St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome surpassed it when completed in 1626. The abbey church was consecrated in 927 and expanded into the massive Maior Ecclesia (“the great church”) by the eleventh century. Massive stone walls and watchtowers were designed to keep out raiders and armies. The town of Cluny itself grew into its own army of artisans, farmers, and skilled masons. For a thousand years, Cluny’s Christian learning and prayer attracted pilgrims from all over the Western world. Cluny was the “mother house” for one thousand other monasteries and became the headquarters for the largest Western monastic order. History took a sour turn for Cluny. It was rocked by the religious wars of the sixteenth century and the French Revolution in the eighteenth century. The French Revolution, in particular, was unkind to Cluny. In 1791, its monks were expelled, and seven years later the government annexed the property and buildings. Our guide told us that, for all its sanctity, Cluny was regarded as just a stone quarry. Its magnificent stone buildings, including the abbey, were sold to the highest bidder like so many bales of hay. We shook our heads to think that the beauty of one

thousand years could be lost within a decade. While some saw Cluny’s stone abbeys as signs of God’s work in the world, some only saw the stones themselves. French preservation efforts for what remained of Cluny began in 1821, and it was listed as an historic monument by the government in 1862. The tourists and the devout still come. Some come for its history and its beauty. Others come because the feet of so many saints walked these grounds, so many of their prayers were lifted into its steep stony heights, and so much of their learning had seeped into its wood and granite walls. Yet we had a sense that the stones didn’t make the inspiration. Rather, it was inspiration that shaped the stones. It was devotion that drove the skilled work and the hard labor to cut, carve, and center the stones. Cluny’s legacy, if not all her stones, endures through the centuries.

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Technology and Accessibility We walked through the chapels and the walkways with ease. The site was flat, and the stone walkways were smooth. The walking tour was easily accessible, and tour groups moved briskly and sequentially through the halls and exhibits. A 3-D film, made with the assistance of archaeologists and engineers, is available to view how Cluny’s major church originally appeared. Additionally, at intervals in the tour, an augmented-reality screen can be swiveled to see the colors and magnificent detail of the chapels or passageways in which you stand. Just point the screen at the part of the building you desire, and it appears in all its color and detail as it did hundreds of years ago!

Modern Pilgrims and Cluny Today Walking Cluny’s grounds, abbey, and chapels changed us. We began as tourists, but ended as pilgrims. The thirst for inspiration grew in us. We wanted to walk the walk of the monks, pilgrims, scholars, and builders who created a place of prayer and pilgrimage, to somehow participate in their life. Some may say that Cluny is a shadow of its former self—but not our group. We experienced the monastery’s meaning by just walking there, by just running our hands along the surface of the ancient stones, by just looking out the windowless window frames. Guides led us through rooms and hallways that, even without their stained glass windows, shone with the brightest blue from the Burgundy sky behind them. The “Great Transept” drew us into its vast spaces of light and stone. Located at the very heart of the cruciform church, we awkward and boisterous pilgrims hushed. We were stunned by its vaulted ceiling reaching 30 meters high (over 98 feet). We had to 40

strain our necks just to look up to the ceiling. Standing inside the transept made us feel like a very small planet in a very large universe. Maybe that was the experience of those who worshipped there centuries earlier. The years disappeared as we formed a kinship with those early monks, pilgrims, and wanderers who had first stood where we now stood, who saw what we saw and felt what we felt. Somehow we knew traveling here mattered. It mattered that we’d come here to witness this beauty. We “oohed” and “ahhed” over the height and antiquity of the arches and vaulted roofs. We exchanged amazed looks and shook our heads at the grandeur of it all. We continued to speak about it over lunch and dinner. We shared our gratitude together and, in so doing, we formed bonds. Sharing such a beautiful experience bound us together. It seems that sometimes stones outlast the inspiration that first shaped them. Yet the inspiration of Cluny far outlives even the stones themselves. Ronald K. Bullis, PhD, has a JD and is a Presbyterian minister. He writes and speaks on applied spirituality, ethics and law, and art and church history.

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6 Secrets Grandparents Never Tell By Lori Hatcher


YTH: Grandparenting has all the joys of parenting without any of the responsibilities. This is only partially true. In some ways, being a grandparent is even harder than being a parent. I didn’t discover this, however, until I became a grandparent and learned the six secrets grandparents never tell. I’ll share them with you, if you promise to keep them to yourself.

1. Grandparenting is HARD. Grandparents have a deep-seated fear that our grandchildren will get hurt on our watch. So we follow them everywhere, call out warnings, and rise in the middle of the night to check their breathing. We caution against minimally-dangerous behavior, cut grapes into fourths, and renew our infant and child CPR certification. We’d never forgive ourselves if something happened to our precious grandchildren, so if we seem like nervous Nellies, it’s because we are.

2. Grandparenting gives us permission to be silly. Even the most dignified grandparent casts off restraint in the presence of grandchildren. We’re finally old enough to be comfortable in our own skin. The cool factor is long gone, so it doesn’t matter what others think. All we care about is making our grandchildren smile. Silly songs, horsey rides, and bedtime stories complete with different voices for every character. Snowmen pancakes, elaborate games of pretend, and tea parties with water from questionable sources. The more they laugh, the happier we are.


3. Grandparenting gives us more to worry about. The possibilities for harm to our precious grandchildren are endless—just watch the nightly news. Kidnapping, SIDS, choking, drowning, car accidents, playground falls, accidental poisoning, terrorism, bullying. Because their parents are with them most of the time, they know they’re safe. Not so with us. There’s a whole lot of blank space between one video call “visit” and the next, and much fuel for the imagination. So we worry.

4. Grandparenting gives us more to pray about. Not only do we carry the burden of prayer for our adult children, we also extend it to our grandchildren. We pray for their safety, their health, and their protection. We pray for success in school, good friends, and obedient dispositions. We pray for their development, their growth, and their salvation. More than anything else, we pray they will love Jesus, for to do otherwise would break our hearts. We know the pull of the world is stronger than ever, so we do battle for them daily on our knees.

5. Grandparenting makes us eat our words. No matter what we said when our kids were teenagers, we realize we don’t really want our grandchildren to hurt their parents like their parents hurt us. From the toddler screaming, “I hate you,” to the adolescent telling you you’re the worst parent ever, we don’t want our children to know how it feels someday. We don’t. We really don’t.

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6. Grandparenting brings us more joy than almost anything on earth. When the door flies open and our grandchildren race through the house calling our names, the sun shines more brightly. When the busy toddler crawls into our lap and allows us to rock him to sleep, our hearts swell. And when we witness their first prayers, baptisms, and steps of faith, our eyes leak grateful tears. The greatest secret of all isn’t really a secret—we love our grandchildren more than we love ourselves. In this way, perhaps grandparenting is a lot like parenting. Secrets notwithstanding, it’s worth it all. “Grandchildren are the crown of the elderly, and the glory of children is their parents” (Proverbs 17:6). Lori Hatcher is a blogger, women’s ministry speaker, and author of the Christian Small Publisher’s 2016 Book of the Year. She loves small children, soft animals, and chocolate. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time.


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“Dear Jean” By Audrey Carli


ean Woods brushed back a lock of her salt-and-pepper-hued hair and sank into a chair in front of the fireplace. The crackling flames’ warmth soothed her. Yet she wondered what Bob had meant with his last words before dying: “Read . . . in . . . Bible.” She had searched his Bible and hers, but found no answer to Bob’s words. Her husband of 29 years died three days earlier. Family and friends had attended his funeral that day. By late afternoon, Robert and Susan, their young adult children, and others had left for their homes, locally or out of town. Their farewells held soothing sympathy. Far into the evening, she sat and gazed at the lavender-tinged orange flames. She recalled how often Bob had sat in the same rocking chair. He wrote snatches of poems and sentences. Many reflected his trust in God’s love and inner peace from Jesus’ gift of salvation. Jean sensed he had also written some secret or personal words to express his deep faith. She sometimes wondered what he jotted in his journal after he had gazed into space for a while after his evening Bible reading time. Bob had also written words she suspected he had kept from her immediate gaze—as if he meant to save them for a future greeting card, perhaps. Jean recalled entering the room last month with a tray of hot raspberry tea and cheese sandwiches. Bob had closed his journal, seemingly deep in thought. She had opened her mouth to ask if he had written another of his inspirational poems about his peace in God’s love. But she never asked. Bob’s quiet 46

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meditation time was his—and she longed to preserve his solitude. Jean remembered that their mutual affection for each other began when they were bright-eyed young people with zeal to face life, no matter what came their way! Now in her new life stage, Jean gazed at the fireplace flames that she, Bob, and their children had always enjoyed—and she recalled Bob’s last words in the hospital room. Breathing slowly, he had whispered, “Jean, please. . . . ” His brown eyes linked with her tender gaze before his eyes fluttered closed. His words faded. Seconds later, he uttered, “Read . . . in . . . Bible.” His final words sank into the room’s silence. Jean realized he had tried to say that the Bible held comfort for her. Several days later, she picked up the large, worn Bible the couple had used while newlyweds. They also used individual Bibles during their personal quiet times.

Her hands trembled as grief and happy memories intermingled. The large Bible slipped from her hands and thudded on the pale hardwood floor. She stared at the note that fell from the Bible. She saw it bore Bob’s neat, slanting penmanship. Picking it up, she read: Dear Jean, please don’t grieve without hope. I want you to smile right now as you think of me. You know how much I loved you. Soon, we will talk. Then I will remind you to look in our big Bible for this note amid the Psalms. He added: We have both belonged to Jesus for many years. When you need comfort, please turn to Psalm 46. Read the passage and sense my arms around you with my deep, forever love! Your loving husband, Bob. As she opened the Bible, her soothed emotions felt the glow from Bob’s love. Icy grief melted into a rushing river of comfort. “God is our refuge and strength, a tested help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1, TLB). Peace flowed in her like cleansing water. “In time, I’ll be okay,” Jean whispered to the vacant room. “Bob loved me, and God’s love still binds us.” She whispered, “Our loving marriage vows bound us for life. Our love did not die. He took his love for me with him. He left his love for me now on earth.” That evening, Jean gazed through the dark front window at the town’s scattered lights. Somehow, Bob’s love for her and their shared faith in Jesus warmed her spirit. For more than 38 years, Audrey Carli has written for Christian publications. She also speaks at Christian conferences and has published three books: Jimmy’s Happy Day, When Jesus Holds Our Hand, and Valiant Victory.

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Internet Gold


By Jeanetta Chrystie, Ph.D.

re you eating the same dishes week after week? Many websites offer recipes to explore new eating experiences. For the purposes of this article, I excluded recipe websites hosted by magazines, product companies, culinary schools, and specific dietary programs. To separate the gold from the dross on the Internet, I use my seven-letter acronym to rate the “best of the best” websites: PEASOUP. This stands for: Purpose, Ease of use, Accessibility, Search engine optimization, Opening page loads quickly, a URL (Web address) that is easy to remember or guess, and Professionalism. Each of the following websites earned five of five stars:

Food52 ( hosts more than 44,000 recipes. Navigation is easy and consistent. In addition to its recipes database, it offers columns, contests, and a question-and-answer hotline. It also offers an e-mail newsletter of cooking tips and recipes. Chefs and home cooks contribute most of the recipes. If we find favorite contributors, we can click “Follow” to see when they add new recipes. 48

In the Recipes section, we can search for specific recipes or browse categories. Dish Type includes appetizers, breakfast and brunch, cakes, cookies, entrees, hors d’oeuvres, frozen desserts, pies, pizza, sandwiches, side dishes, soups, and other options. Main Ingredient searches offer fifteen food types, including: beans, beef and veal, cheese and dairy, chicken, chocolate, eggs, fish and seafood, game, lamb, pasta, pork, and more. We can also search by season, holidays, and others (including special cooking methods and dietary preferences). We can save recipes to a collection, which is easy to create and name. To save recipes, we merely create a free member account with our e-mail address. We can also save news articles about food information and recent events in the food industry to a collection. I find that saving recipes and news articles online saves printer ink, makes them easier to find when I want them, allows me to delete items as our family’s tastes and interests change, and frees shelf or counter space from notebooks full of printed recipes.

=Favorite Features I like to list ingredients I have on hand and instantly see dishes I can create on short notice. I appreciate Food52’s detailed and informative reviews of each recipe.

Quibbles: I wish the links in their Hotline

discussion forum were easier to recognize as clickable links. Also, Hotline doesn’t appear to be moderated; sometimes another website user answers your question; sometimes a staff writer eventually responds in a few hours.

Kudos: It is fun to see the history behind

some of the recipes, especially the stories behind old tried-and-true family recipes. It is registered to Amanda Hesser, Food52 Inc., 122 W 26th Street, 8th Floor, New York City, NY 10001.

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MyRecipes ( hosts more than 65,000 professionally tested recipes from magazines, cookbooks, and cooking shows. Search categories include Recipes, Holidays, Quick & Easy, Video, How To, Food News, and Well Done (how-to videos). MyRecipes offers recipes by cooking methods, meal type, holidays, menus, special dietary requirements, world cuisines, and other categories. It also has a general search box and subsidiary searches. The Nutrition Search (www. lets us select recipe criteria such as calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol, carbs, protein, and fiber. The Build-A-Meal search (in the purple band on the homepage) is where we can enter ingredients to quickly find a recipe to make on the spot. My Recipe Box is easy to use. We access it by joining for free. MyRecipes also offers free mobile apps for Android-based smartphones and tablets, and apps for Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

=Favorite Features Their daily Food News feature is often interesting and useful information. Their mother company (Cozi) links in a free journal feature to let us easily preserve family stories, funny events, and any story we want to remember with words and pictures. We can e-mail a single journal entry to relatives, create a monthly family e-newsletter, or even a family sharing website.

Quibbles: While they offer the ability to save

people’s information in Birthdays and save favorite foods information for regular guests in Contacts, it is a pay incentive to convince us to join at a premium level.

Kudos: In the Nutrition Search, they offer

nutrition guidelines for healthy eating, broken down by age and gender.

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This screen also provides daily 100-calorie snack ideas with instructions. It is registered to Time Inc. Lifestyle Group, 2100 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209. Comparison: Both websites offer thousands of everyday and creative recipes with photos and clear instructions. Both allow us to save or print favorite recipes. Both provide ingredient search capabilities to find recipes we can make with items we already have on hand. Both help us mark favorite recipes in social media such as Facebook and Pinterest. Food52 offers a larger variety of recipes for special dietary requirements. MyRecipes offers nutrition guidelines and mobile apps; plus their mother company, Cozi, provides the Journal capabilities.

Honorable Mentions Food Network (

recipes) is a popular television network that includes recipes and videos on its website. Many of their celebrity chefs’ recipes tend to be elaborate, yet the how-to videos are very helpful. It is registered to Scripps Network LLC, 9721 Sherrill Blvd, Knoxville, TN 37932.

My Fridge Food (

lets us select food items we have on hand from a nice-looking list, then presents recipes we can make right away. It also hosts contests and kitchen tips. It is registered by Nicholas Dopuch to My Fridge Food, 6716 Armistead Court, Barnhart, MO 63012.

Dr. Jeanetta Chrystie is a freelance writer and speaker in Springfield, Missouri. Her published writing includes more than 800 magazine articles, newspaper columns, devotions, and poems. As a specialist in online training, Jeanetta teaches online college classes in management and leadership for Southwest Minnesota State University in Minnesota and Judson University in Illinois. Her website is

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Color & Pray


Color & Pray

hristians pray in many ways. We pray with words. We ask God to meet our needs or the needs of others. We pray for healing, for peace, for hope, for ways out of difficult situations in our lives. We confess our sin and accept God’s gifts of forgiveness and grace. We offer our gratitude and praise for all that God has done and is doing in our lives and in our world. Sometimes, though, we do not know what words to pray. We find solace in Paul’s words: “The Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case” (Romans 8:26). It is good to know that we can pray by listening, by being still, or by engaging a task that taps into our emotional and artistic selves. We trust God’s Spirit. We begin to feel what it means to let go and let God. A quiet, prayerful task such as coloring can be an important way to focus, to become quiet, and to welcome the presence of God’s Spirit by focusing on colors and patterns. It offers the added benefit of lowering our stress. Take a moment now and offer yourself and your time to God. Use markers or colored pencils to color the picture. If words come to you as you color, write them on the page and offer them to God. If they don’t, trust that God knows what you need. Enjoy the time to color and pray.


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Understanding the Serious Nature of Mini-Strokes


nowing the warning signs of a ministroke could help save a life. A survey conducted by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association shows one-third of United States adults have had symptoms consistent with a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke, but only three percent called 911 for help. “Ignoring any stroke signs could be a deadly mistake,” said Mitch Elkind, M.D., chair of the American Stroke Association Advisory Committee. “Only a formal medical diagnosis with brain imaging can determine whether you’re having a TIA or a stroke.” The survey showed 35 percent of respondents experienced at least one sign of a TIA or mini-stroke, such as sudden trouble speaking or a severe headache with no known cause. According to the online survey, those who suffered symptoms were more likely to wait it out, rest, or take medicine rather than call 911. Stroke is a leading cause of serious, longterm adult disability in the United States and among the top five causes of death. However, with proper, timely medical attention, stroke is largely treatable. The faster you are treated, the more likely you are to have a positive outcome. The American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke initiative, nationally sponsored by Medtronic, teaches the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people remember the most common stroke warning signs and what to do in a stroke emergency:

While the symptoms are the same, the difference between a TIA and a stroke is that the blockage is temporary, lasting between a few minutes and 24 hours. People who suffer a TIA, sometimes called a warning stroke, are more likely to have a stroke within ninety days, according to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Elkind said anyone who experiences a stroke warning sign that appears suddenly, whether it goes away or not, should call 911 immediately. This could improve the chances of an accurate diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Stroke symptoms come on suddenly with no known cause and may include confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding; weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; or a severe headache. To learn more about stroke warning signs and treatment, visit

F—Face drooping A—Arm weakness S—Speech difficulty T—Time to call 911

Source: Family Features


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Hymns of Fannie Crosby


Puzzle Time

By Jeanette Levellie

Look forward, backward, up, down, and diagonally to ďŹ nd the words in the hymn.


To God Be The Glory Praise Him! Praise Him! Tell Me The Story of Jesus Near The Cross Jesus Is Calling Redeemed Rescue The Perishing


Close To Thee Blessed Assurance I Am Thine, O Lord He Hideth My Soul All The Way My Savior Leads Me Saved By Grace Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior

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Puzzle Time

Hymns of Fannie Crosby Answer to the puzzle on page 53


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Psalm 33:20-22 We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. Our heart rejoices in God because we trust his holy name. Lord, let your faithful love surround us because we wait for you.

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s Bible Lessons

Justice in the New Testament BY MARTHA MYRE


ARTHA MYRE is an ordained elder in the North Texas Conference, with a ministry of teaching and writing. Her background is diverse, with a degree from Vanderbilt University in molecular biology, as well as the more usual degrees from Perkins School of Theology (MTS) and Southern Methodist University (PhD in Hebrew Bible). Martha currently serves as the pastor of Parkrose United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. She enjoys music, reading, and exploring the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She has three adult children.

UNIT 1:   1.  June   2.  June   3.  June   4.  June

God Is Just and Merciful 3 Justice and Sabbath Laws 58 10 Parables of God’s Just Kingdom 61 17 Jesus Teaches About Justice 64 24 Reaping God’s Justice 67

UNIT 2: Jesus Calls for Justice and Mercy   5.  July 1 Parable of the Unforgiving Servant 70   6.  July 8 Jesus Criticizes Unjust Leaders 73   7.  July 15 The Widow and the Unjust Judge 76   8.  July 22 Entering God’s Kingdom 79   9.  July 29 Parable of the Great Dinner 82   UNIT 3: Paul Teaches About New Life in Christ 10.  August 5 God’s Justice 85 11.  August 12 Global Economic Justice 88 12.  August 19 Loving and Just Behavior 91 13.  August 26 Practicing Justice 94

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 | May 28–June 3 Monday | 1 Samuel 21:1-6

Like David, we are sometimes at the end of our rope and need refreshment. In David’s case, all that was available was the holy bread of the presence. That may have been a problem for him, but for us, the holy bread of the presence is Jesus himself. Pray: Thank you, God, that when I am feeling spiritually hungry, I am blessed to have the sustenance of your Word available.

Tuesday | Hosea 6:1-6

Sometimes our separation from God is the cause of our difficulties in life. Hosea helps us remember that we can trust we will be healed and restored by God. But Hosea also warns us not to take worship for granted, not to let worship become empty ritual. Does your worship of God restore you each week? Pray: Dear Lord, let my worship of you grow out of love for you.

Wednesday | Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 23:25

We see in the law of Moses a value system that we can learn from. Fields were not to be harvested to the corners because some food needed to be left to provide for those who had no fields and needed to pluck the leftover grain to eat. How can your own abundance become a blessing to someone who is in greater need?

Thursday | Luke 14:1-6

I wonder how the Pharisees could see a man who was hurting and not think it was appropriate to heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus challenges us to see the Sabbath as a rest from pain and suffering, not just a rest from everyday work. What are your Sabbath practices? Do they bring restoration to your own soul or comfort to another?

Friday | John 5:9-18

Jesus told the Pharisees that the reason he healed on the Sabbath was that both he and God were still working. God’s work in creation did not end when God was finished creating, nor did God’s work in the world through Jesus end when Jesus was resurrected. How does the ongoing work of God in creation help you understand what Sabbath time means and how it can be spent?

Saturday | Psalm 10:12-18

Psalms like this that ask God to smite the wicked make me nervous. And yet, for those who are suffering, this is a bold statement of trust that God will protect the innocent and deliver justice for the oppressed. Do you find you would you rather take justice into your own hands instead of waiting on the justice of God? What has been the result when you have left justice to God?

Sunday | Matthew 12:1-14

Once again, we see that Jesus challenges the Pharisees’ understanding of the law regarding Sabbath. He is redefining the purpose of the Sabbath from simply rest from work to the meeting of human need. Why was that lesson so hard for the Pharisees to learn? Why is it so hard for us to learn? Pray for a Sabbath that brings rest from suffering as well as time off from work.

Key Verse: If you had known what this means, I want mercy and not sacrifice, you wouldn’t have condemned the innocent.

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Lesson 1 | June 3

JUSTICE AND SABBATH LAWS Lesson: Matthew 12:1-14 • Background: Matthew 12:1-14

East Texas Methodists have a long tradition of Sabbath-keeping. My mother grew up in East Texas in a small town. The strict Methodist aunt who raised her would not let her do anything on Sunday except go to church, read the Bible, and sit quietly. One Sunday, she decided to rebel in a small way. She collected a jar of what we in Texas call “doodlebugs,” or “roly-polies,” and released them under the doorway of her next-door neighbor. Then she sat back and watched the fun! Of course, Sabbath-keeping doesn’t have to be so grim or inspire such mischief. When my kids were young, we were friends with a Catholic family who tried hard to keep the Sabbath holy. They considered Sundays to be the Christian Sabbath and would not go to stores or out to eat on Sunday. They used these days for worship and for family time. The father of the family did not bring work home. The mom did not do her usual chores, but took time for activities that fed her soul. They were not rigid about it—they did come to my girls’ swimming party at the rec center on a Sunday— but they wanted to honor God to the best of their ability. I particularly appreciated the fact that a big part of not buying or eating out on Sunday was that they didn’t want to contribute to another person having to work on the Sabbath. They knew that not everyone had the luxury of taking off on Sunday. So this was a kind of justice issue for them as well. While I did not practice Sabbath-keeping the same way that they did, I admired and respected their commitment. This passage starts with a seemingly small infraction. The disciples were hungry and were just picking some grain to eat as they walked through the fields on their way to somewhere. They weren’t really harvesting or cooking, just taking some grain from the plant and putting it into their mouths. How much work could that be? In fact, Deuteronomy 23:25 (one of our daily readings) suggests that this is not work at all. But still, the Pharisees objected. Jesus answered them with an example from Scripture that is found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6 (another daily reading). David had come to a shrine and


asked the priest for bread for his men. The priest had only the “bread of the presence,” dedicated to God, but was willing to give that to David once he discovered that David was on a holy mission and that he and his men had observed all the requirements for purification required of holy war. In using this example, Jesus was not only comparing himself to David—who would become King of Israel—but implied that he and his disciples were purified for a holy mission, maybe even a holy war. The second example that Jesus used was that the priests of God “treat the Sabbath as any other day.” In other words, the job of the priest was essentially to “work” on the Sabbath by making the Sabbath sacrifices. This was not forbidden because it was work done in the service of honoring God. Here, Jesus was comparing himself and his disciples with the priests. Just as the priests made sacrifices on the Sabbath and then ate the product of those sacrifices, Jesus seemed to be making the case that he and his disciples were working for God as the priests did, and thus exempt from some of the Sabbath regulations. Not only was Jesus comparing himself to the priests, but he claimed to be even greater than the temple! The temple was the place where God met the people of Israel. It was the place where the sins of the people were atoned for, where people made offerings and received forgiveness. Now Jesus seemed to be saying that what he was doing was more important, more vital to the forgiveness and salvation of the people than what went on in the temple. That makes sense to us today because we understand that Jesus is the “place” where we meet God. Jesus is the one who brought us back together with God and where, in his person and because of his sacrifice, we receive forgiveness and salvation. But the Pharisees would not have understood that and would have heard this as heresy. When Jesus spoke of God wanting mercy instead of sacrifice, he was referencing a whole host of Scriptures. The primary scriptural reference was Hosea 6:6: “I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned

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offerings.” Other Scriptures, such as Isaiah 1:11 and Psalm 51:17, have this same theme of God wanting a sacrifice of the heart and mind more than the animal sacrifice which the sacrifice of heart and mind represents. Every statement Jesus made upped the ante. He had compared himself to King David, the priests, and the temple, and to cap it all off, he made reference to the Human One (or Son of Man, as other versions say) mentioned in Daniel 7:13-14. If Jesus was claiming to be the “Human One” of Daniel, he was claiming to be the representative of God who created the heavens and earth in the first place. The Human One was Lord of the Sabbath because God had given him everlasting dominion over the heavens and earth. These scriptural references that Jesus gave the Pharisees had to have enraged them. He was tearing down all their most sacred symbols and putting himself in the place of those symbols. The Pharisees had followed Jesus out into the wheat field. Now he led them into their own synagogue. They wanted to trap him with their question about healing on the Sabbath, but he trapped them in their own ignorance about the purpose of the Sabbath. While there are no exact scriptural matches for what Jesus says about a sheep falling in a pit on the Sabbath, there are passages such as Deuteronomy 22:1-4 and Exodus 23:4-5 that told the people the importance of rescuing another’s

Maturing in Faith

Typically, instead of celebrating “Sabbath”—the last day of the week—Christians celebrate the first day of the week—Sunday—as a time of Sabbath. Jesus rose on the first day, so every Sunday honors resurrection and the new creation God inaugurated in Jesus. But the notion of a Sabbath time is one we should still strive to keep. Some of us grew up with strict Sabbath rules; others had few, if any, restrictions on our Sunday behavior. Sundays were times for naps and football! How do you keep Sabbath now? Have you considered how Sabbath time might be not only a time of rest and reflection, but a time of healing? How do you think you might contribute to the healing of the world or even just of another person during your Sabbath time? Why not make Sundays a day when you are especially careful to honor God—leave a generous tip at lunch after church or drive courteously on

animal. This is an example of Jesus taking the law and pushing the boundaries. The law calls for compassion, he says. Simply because it’s the Sabbath, would the Pharisees choose compliance to ritual over compassion for others? And, of course, speaking of sheep alluded to the role of the leaders of the Jewish people as shepherds. Even if no one else rescued a sheep, the shepherd should have done so. The people of Israel had metaphorically fallen into a pit, and Jesus was subtly criticizing the Pharisees for not rescuing them. In Exodus, one of the reasons given for keeping Sabbath was that “Sabbath is a sign between me and you in every generation so you will know that I am the Lord who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13). Healing was a sign of the breaking in of the kingdom of God. It was a sign of re-creation and God making creation whole again. Thus, healing was not only an appropriate Sabbath activity, but a sign that God’s original activity on the Sabbath—coming to dwell in the home that God had created for Godself—was at long last happening again.

the way to the game. We can call our kids and grandkids instead of waiting for them to call us, and listen to their stories instead of always telling our own. We can let our spouse nap without complaint or visit our older friends in nursing homes and take them for a walk among the flowers. We can march for justice and write e-mails and letters to our congress people. We won’t all celebrate Sabbath time in the same way. But we can all find ways to be a part of God’s healing, renewing time. Pray: Dear Lord, on this day help me keep Sabbath with joy and compassion, not rote compliance. I pray in the name of the Lord of the Sabbath. Amen.

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Daily Meditations | June 4–10 Monday | Psalm 78:1-8

How do we transmit the faith to younger people and children? This psalm helps me see that my job is not to force my religion on anyone, but to tell about God’s wonderful work in the world. I can do that! I suspect you can too. Let’s tell all we know about how God has been at work in our lives and leave the rest to God.

Tuesday | Ezekiel 17:22-24

The Lord’s planting, though it begins small, will grow strong and mighty, the source of safety for all those who are fragile and vulnerable. These are wonderful words that brought hope to the people who were in exile in Ezekiel’s time. They can still bring us hope because they are still true. Thank you, Lord, that your Word and promises endure!

Wednesday | Matthew 16:13-20

People had differing opinions about Jesus when he walked the earth. We still have those many opinions. Is Jesus a prophet, a great moral teacher, or a revolutionary? Jesus is all these things, but we need to proclaim with Peter the central affirmation that above all, Jesus is the incarnation of God and the representative of God’s rule on earth as in heaven.

Thursday | Matthew 13:54-58

Many of us grew up in communities where being from the “right” family made a difference in your treatment. Jesus’ hometown neighbors couldn’t believe the kid they had watched grow up could be the one sent by God. But God speaks and works through people from all walks of life. We can pray that God will open our eyes to those whom God is sending now, regardless of where they came from.

Friday | Luke 18:1-8

It may seem strange for Jesus to compare God to an unjust judge, but that is exactly the point. If the unjust judge will provide justice for the persistent widow, how much more will a merciful and just God provide justice for those who cry? This Scripture reminds us that crying out is an act of faith in itself because we cry out believing that God will answer.

Saturday | Matthew 13:34-43

The explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds is almost as hard for me to understand as the parable itself! If all the sinners are thrown into the furnace, then we are all in trouble. The parables of good and evil living together can tell us more about our current lives than the fate of either. As disciples, we live among nonbelievers, and should not isolate ourselves from them; rather, we must embrace our relationships and show them the light we have found in God.

Sunday | Matthew 13:24-33

This passage reminds us all that judgment belongs to the Lord, not to those of us who labor in the fields. We might know that “weeds” exist, but any attempt to pull them up might also harm the “wheat” we are trying to cultivate. And the mustard seed and the yeast parables show that the righteous can influence the evil, permeating both with a positive result. Pray for the confidence to trust God for the harvest, knowing that God is the one who can see into the hearts of all.

Key Verse: Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll

say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)


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Lesson 2 | June 10

Daily Meditations Lesson| January 8 | January 14–20 20

PARABLES OF GOD’S JUST KINGDOM Lesson: Matthew 13:24-30 • Background: Matthew 13:24-43

I love gardening, but I have come to this love only very recently. I have always enjoyed playing with plants and digging in the dirt, but I am trying to learn what makes for healthy plants that grow well and strongly. The most reliable way of growing a specific vegetable is to go to the nursery, get a young seedling, and plant it in the prepared bed. That’s what I do most of the time. However, sometimes I plant just the seeds. In this case, I have to be very careful when they sprout because I am not yet experienced enough to tell the vegetables from the weeds! Thus, this first parable makes an enormous amount of sense to me. If I pull up what I think are weeds, I am just as likely to pull up tender young shoots of vegetables that I wanted. Even when it is clear which is which, the roots are sometimes so intertwined that pulling up the weeds will disturb the desirable plants. So, like the landowner in the parable, I have to let everything grow until harvest time, when I can see the difference between weeds and vegetables, and pulling up the weeds is simply prelude to harvesting the vegetables. I have to admit, I find this somewhat frustrating. Having weeds in the bed means that some of the fertilizer and water are going to make healthy weeds instead of healthy veggies. It makes me angry that the weeds are using resources that should go to the good plants. I know that the weeds in my garden are there because the wind blows in the seeds or the dirt carries them already, so they are accidental. I would be much more upset if I thought that someone was deliberately planting weeds in my beloved garden. But this is just the situation that the parable describes. The landowner had planted good seeds, and yet weeds were growing. When the workers questioned the landowner, he told them that the bad seeds were not accidentally a part of the garden, but put there by someone who was intentionally trying to destroy the fruitfulness of the garden. He doesn’t berate them for sleeping on the job, but the darkness and their sleep had hidden the one who had sowed the bad seed.

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While the workers thought that they could uproot the weeds, the landowner was wiser about his garden. He knew that the good seeds would be disturbed as well. But that meant that some of the nourishment that should have gone to the good seed, as well as the hard work of the landowner tending the garden, would now go to support the weeds. We have to be careful with this parable because we can see individual people as “instruments of the devil” or “bad seed.” The churches that I have pastored struggled with these kinds of issues: do we keep the “bad kids” out of our youth group so they won’t negatively influence our “good” kids or do we reach out to those who most need the love and grace of God? Do we allow those who are not Christian to play in our bands for our contemporary services? On the one hand, they are not the model leaders of worship that we might want. On the other hand, what better way to introduce them to the gospel message than asking them to use their gifts in the service of God? One message of this parable is that it is not our job to distinguish the wheat from the weeds. In doing so, we might reject those who are in desperate need of the love and grace that we proclaim. Another way to understand the bad seed is to see the weeds as all of the things that cause us to sin and fall away from God. That would include the jealousy that drives us to want things that are not ours. That would include the fear that causes us to reject those who are different. That would include the anger that turns outward as hate and inward as seclusion. That would also include pain and sickness and death that are the root of suffering. These experiences and feelings will be a part of our lives. But we can let the weeds take over or we can cultivate the wheat, even in the midst of the weeds, letting it bear bountiful fruit in our lives and in the lives of those around us. The parable of the mustard seed initially seems unrelated to the weeds and wheat, except that it is another parable about plants. Yet the mustard seed parable shares more with the weeds and wheat than meets the eye. Upon initial assessment, both

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plants are misleading. The weeds and wheat look alike when they have just sprouted. The mustard seed looks small and unremarkable before planting. But over time, growth reveals the true character of each. The mustard seed becomes a large plant that is beneficial not only for itself, but for the birds who come and nest in its branches. Does that sound familiar? It should! Look back at the reading from Tuesday. This is the same language that Ezekiel used in talking about the small shoot of a cedar tree that God would plant. However, Jesus is playing on the contrast between the mighty cedar tree that the people would expect to grow tall and strong, and the tiny mustard seed that exceeded expectations. Both are examples of expectations that are overturned—a common theme of Jesus’ preaching. The third parable in this passage overturns even more expectations. Yeast is a metaphor for influence that spreads beyond where it first begins. Scripture often refers to yeast as a negative influence, such as in Mark 8:15 and Luke 12:1 where Jesus told his followers to be on the lookout for the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. Yeast was expected to be thoroughly cleaned out of homes before Passover, representing a break with the past life of slavery in Egypt. However, here Jesus uses the example of yeast to indicate that the spreading influence of this small, unseeable organism can be a positive influence on the world. The kingdom of God may be hidden, but its influence spreads and grows over time.

The parable of the weeds and wheat can be disturbing, but taken together with the other parables, the message seems to be this: God is sowing a new thing that will grow into greatness. Sometimes it looks like the enemy has won the battle because the weeds are growing faster than the wheat. But in the end, God’s workers will recognize and collect the good and healthy, and destroy what is unhealthy and unfruitful.

Maturing in Faith

baggage that I am carrying along. This is true both of physical items—books, clothes, memorabilia— and emotional ones. I have to be careful not to take negative feelings about people I have known in the past into the future to new settings. If I take the time to look within, see where I need to forgive, and move on, I can allow the Holy Spirit the opportunity to clear out some of the weeds in my own life, even before the final harvest. Take some time to reflect on your life. Are you holding on to old grudges? Are you still hurt by an old betrayal? Have you needed to apologize for something and just never gotten around to it? Maybe it’s time to go weeding. It’s never too late to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, bringing good seed to harvest.

Let’s face it, folks, we are getting older. Some of us have been Christians a long time, though others— even the more mature in years—might be new to the faith. Jesus has planted good seed in us, but if we are honest with ourselves, there is probably some bad seed that has grown as well. We might have scattered some bad seed ourselves along with the good seed of love, grace, and Kingdom work. When we were younger, it wasn’t always easy to tell how a decision would work out, what the consequences—both intended and unintended—of a particular action might be. With age, however, comes a welcome perspective. It’s not yet the time of the final harvest in cosmic terms, but as I do get older, I think I am better able to weed out the things in my life that are not fruitful. Since I move quite a bit (as a pastor), I am learning to see what things are necessary to my well-being and what things are just excess


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Daily Meditations | June 11–17 Monday | Isaiah 1:12-17

Worship that becomes just another activity does nothing for our holiness. Empty ritual is not the worship that pleases God. Instead, God wants worship in which we come as repentant sinners and leave inspired to help others. Pray: Gracious God, help us to open our lives to be changed and formed by your expectations that we will seek justice and defend the innocent.

Tuesday | Amos 5:18-24

Amos did not mince words about the day of the Lord. The Israelites thought it would be a time of celebration, but he reminded them that being the people of God had responsibilities as well. What are our responsibilities in today’s world as the people of God? How can we help justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream?

Wednesday | Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16

The biblical words for mother and father include more than our biological parents. Think about the women and men who have taught, mentored, nurtured, guided, and encouraged you. These are included in the command to honor our mother and father. Pray: Help me, Lord, to remember and honor those who have formed me into the person I am.

Thursday | 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

What a wonderful thing to be considered a letter from Paul, or even from God! When we are formed by the Spirit, our lives reflect love and hope. What would others read in the letter that your life has become? Would God be made known to others through your words and actions? Pray: Lord, make me a love letter to the world on your behalf.

Friday | Acts 10:23-33

Peter’s world had been divided into Jew and Gentile. But God was teaching him that a person’s birth was not the defining characteristic. Instead, God looked for a life of righteousness and compassionate acts. Uncleanness had to do with the state of one’s heart, not the state of one’s body. Pray: Father, help me to look at the heart and not just at the outside of a person.

Saturday | Mark 7:14-23

It’s not what we touch or what we eat that makes us “unclean.” Only that which comes out—in our words and actions—can make us unfit for God’s presence. Are you judging others by their circumstances or by their heart and actions? Reflect on what might make you clean or unclean in the sight of God. Pray with the psalmist: Create in me a clean heart, oh, God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Sunday | Matthew 15:1-9

Sometimes our words and actions don’t mesh. We can honor God with what we say, but dishonor God by acting in a way that makes our words empty. The Scriptures caution us to make sure that our words and actions line up. What we say doesn’t matter so much as how we act and care for others.

Key Verse: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me.

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Lesson 3 | June 17


Lesson: Matthew 15:1-9 • Background: Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13 Over time, rules tend to increase in both number and complexity. This has happened many times in the life of the church. The indulgences sold by the Roman Catholic Church were an example of rules gone wrong, and Martin Luther helped the church return to the true meaning of repentance and grace. The Roman Catholic Church itself has reformed repeatedly over the years. And in our own branch of the Christian tradition, the book labeled The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Church has increased in size and complexity. The rules that we lay down can be wonderfully helpful in making sure that everyone has a voice and that the life of the church proceeds in an orderly manner toward its purpose. Sometimes we forget the purpose, however, and just focus on the rules. I have been in a number of situations in the church where we were having to vote on issues of land or building, worship times, and church policies. I often have people ask me, “Who is allowed to vote on these matters?” My response is usually this: “If we have to worry about who is voting, we probably still have too many conflicts around this issue to come to a conclusion that will honor God.” My rationale is that while the rules are helpful, too much focus on the rules means that we have forgotten our own purpose in making disciples and have become a rigid institution more concerned about keeping rules and keeping people out than in reaching out into our community to enlarge the Kingdom. This seems to be the situation with the Pharisees and legal experts. They evidently continually followed Jesus around, waiting for him or his disciples to make mistakes that they could pounce on. One complaint they had was about the handwashing practices of the disciples. Why was this important? In Exodus 30:17-21, God instructs the Israelites to provide a basin in which the priests can wash their hands and feet before making an offering. While this originally applied only to the priests, the Pharisees had evidently broadened both the persons who had to ritually wash and the reasons for which they washed. In part, this may have been courtesy since people of the time tended


to eat from a common plate. If an Israelite touched something considered ritually unclean and then touched the food he ate, that uncleanness was transferred to others, which affected their ability to worship. But the Pharisees had elevated this simple courtesy to the level of commandment, part of the oral tradition they followed that had been passed on by the elders. The Pharisees asked why the disciples of Jesus broke the rules of the elders. Jesus turned this back on them by asking why they broke God’s commands by keeping the rules of the elders. He used as an example the commandment about honoring father and mother. As one of the Ten Commandments, this was the most sacred part of the law. The commandment to honor father and mother was strengthened by the further command (Exodus 21:17) that those who speak against their father or mother are to be put to death! While this may seem harsh, it tells us of the seriousness with which this commandment was to be taken. Certainly, in the type of society in which the Israelites lived, a failure to listen to their wise elders could lead to some damaging mistakes. The mothers and fathers carried and passed on the wisdom and knowledge of God that was needed for the people to “live long in the land.” Honoring father and mother did not mean simply saying nice things about them or having warm, fuzzy feelings about them. Honoring fathers and mothers meant listening to and considering carefully their words, and it also meant caring for them in a concrete way. In the time of Jesus, the elders in a family (which would include not only the biological parents, but any single aunts or uncles without children who were attached to the household) should have been able to expect financial support from their children (or nephews) when those elders were too old to provide for themselves. However, in the rules of the Pharisees, they believed they could gain more honor and righteousness by making continual thanksgiving offerings to God. The money spent on these offerings was money that should have been used to support their elders. Thus, by trying to gain more

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honor with public gifts to God, the Pharisees were actually dishonoring God by failing to keep one of the important commandments. They preferred the ostentatious and visible gifts to the quiet and much less visible care of their elders. Jesus pointed out that while the Pharisees might have been obeying the letter of the law and following the traditions of the religious elders in giving the gifts, they were disobeying the law of God. There was nothing wrong with the thanksgiving offerings to God, and they are mentioned in the law. However, one law should not have been used to get out of following another. The thanksgiving offerings in a sense benefited only the Pharisees, who were trying to gain God’s favor. Honoring father and mother benefited the whole family, and really, the whole community. Jesus further commented that Isaiah’s words to Israel could be applied to the Pharisees. He quotes Isaiah 29:13. The complaint is not that the Pharisees follow the rules, but that they follow the rules without understanding of the reason for the rules. The Pharisees are treating the rules as items to be checked off a list in order to be considered righteous. Instead, the laws given by Moses, and presumably even those that were in the expanded oral Torah, had another purpose entirely. The family of Abraham was commissioned to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-4). The law was given as a gift to the people after they had been saved and brought

Maturing in Faith

Think of the last church meeting that you went to. What was it like? Were people rehashing the same old issues for the umpteenth time? Were they concerned that people were at a meeting who didn’t belong? Was the question asked, “How will this decision affect our ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?” Or was the main question, “Can we afford this?” or “Will this make someone in the church unhappy?” We may be in our “mature years,” but hopefully that means we can bring perspective and a longer view to bear on issues. Hopefully that means we see how necessary it is to have concern for everyone— young and old, member and nonmember, committed Christian and those just learning the faith. The point of the law was to form the ragtag group of Israelites into the people of God. The purpose of the Bible is still to form those who call

out of slavery in Egypt. It was supposed to help form the people of God into the image of God. The purpose of the people of God was to reflect God into the world so that the whole world might know and worship God. That was the blessing. Ideally, the law of God would be written on the hearts and wills of the people, so that they would act in accordance with God’s purposes. Unfortunately, the law (or teaching) got sidetracked into a set of rules determining who was a part of the righteous crowd and who was not. To give the Pharisees their due, they believed that righteousness would bring an end to the exile that they were experiencing in their own country under the rule of the Romans. So, initially, the reasons for the rules were to end oppression and suffering and bring the day of the Lord (the kingdom of God) closer. However, they began to focus on the rules and forgot the purpose of the rules. Therefore, Jesus accuses them of only giving lip service to the honoring and worship of God. The Pharisees should have been focusing on whether or not all the people had enough to eat, rather than whether or not everyone had properly washed their hands. They should have asked whether or not all the widows, orphans, and aliens were cared for, instead of whether enough gifts had been given to God. God made it very clear in all of the law that concern for others was a primary way of pleasing God, not making sacrifices that could quickly become meaningless. themselves Christian into the image of God as the body of Christ and the people of God. Jesus did not come to do away with the teachings of the Old Testament, but to bring us back to that deeper purpose. Do you think that you have been more formed by the teachings of the Bible or by the teachings of society? Are you willing to place yourself under the authority of Scripture and be brought back to the heart of the gospel? It’s not enough to say we are believers; we must let the guidance of the Scripture and our worship of God affect the way we interact with the world around us so that we may reflect the image of God into that world. Pray: Lord, lead me in your paths and show me where I may have strayed, so that the world may see you in me.

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Daily Meditations | June 18–24 Monday | Psalm 49:1-4, 16-20

You can’t take it with you! Our society seems to support the notion of “the person with the most stuff wins.” How thankful we can be that we know the real treasure to be had is the knowledge and love of God. We can take that with us from now to eternity. Pray: Thank you, Lord, for the great blessing of your presence.

Tuesday | Proverbs 22:1-2, 7-9, 16

Such a paradox: the more you try to gain wealth by oppressing the poor, the poorer you become in Kingdom terms. The more you share generously, the wealthier in love and grace you become. This is the real prosperity gospel! Are you becoming richer or poorer in the Kingdom? Pray: God, give me the grace to give, and allow me to claim my richness in you.

Wednesday | James 5:1-5

The promise from God is that all will receive justice. Do you see the rich succeeding beyond what seems just, and wonder, How long, oh, Lord? The rich will not always have the upper hand. Can you hear the cries of both the rich and poor? God hears both. Pray: Open my eyes, Lord, and let me see how to live out your justice.

Thursday | Luke 6:20-26

Blessed are the poor—the poor in spirit, yes, but also those who are poor financially. Luke challenges us to take the poor seriously as those in whom God can be found. Do you know anyone who is truly poor? Do you really see the poor in your community? Take a look and allow God to speak through them.

Friday | John 3:16-21

We can respond to the light by running from it or running to it. Those who run from the light don’t want the truth to be known because they have something to hide. Those who seek the truth and live out the truth are already children of the light. Pray: Dear Lord, make me a representative of your light and life in the world.

Saturday | Matthew 19:23-30

It’s all about priorities. The priorities for many people in the world are working hard to increase their income, better their station in life, get ahead in their careers. The kingdom of God dramatically changes our priorities. Take a look at your own set of priorities. Are you more driven by a desire to succeed in the world or to succeed in the Kingdom?

Sunday | Luke 16:19-31

The rich man had no desire to help Lazarus. Lazarus doesn’t even get the chance to help the rich man. How sad that the rich man began to think of his responsibilities toward others only after it was too late and he was suffering the consequences of his actions. In what ways can we fulfill our responsibilities to each other and to the kingdom of God while here on earth?

Key Verse: Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your

good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. (Luke 16:25)


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Lesson 4 | June 24

Daily Meditations Lesson| January 8 | January 14–20 20


Lesson: Luke 16:19-31 • Background: Luke 16:19-31; John 5:24-30 This story would be a lot easier to take if it was a simple matter of the contrast between the evil rich man and the saintly poor one. However, that is not the way this is presented. All we are told about the rich man is that he had a great wardrobe and a well-supplied table. Initially, we don’t know if he is aware of Lazarus at his gate—if he just ignores him or if he actively denies him help. He is not presented as particularly evil or unrighteous, though certainly uncaring. Unlike the rich man, the poor man was given a name in this parable. He was Lazarus, and he was both poor and suffering from a skin disease. He longed for even a small taste from the rich table, but the only comfort he had (if it can be considered such) was from the dogs who came and licked his sores. Once again, the state of his righteousness was not discussed. He was simply poor and miserable and camped on the doorstep of the rich man. In theory, he should have had the right to the leftovers from the table, in keeping with Israelite tradition (commanded by God) to save some of one’s own harvest and bounty for those in need. At their deaths, the contrast continued between the rich man and the poor man, but now their situations were dramatically reversed. Lazarus was carried up to heaven by angels and welcomed into the presence of Abraham. The rich man got a grave and a trip to the place of the dead. While the place of the dead is depicted as a place of torment in this parable, this idea is a late development in Jewish thought. Traditionally, the place of the dead—or Sheol—was simply a place where all those who had died rested. Both the rich and poor, the noble and common, the evil and the righteous were there together. For a good picture of the Israelite view of Sheol, look at Job 3:13-19. Sheol is a place of ultimate impartiality. Here, however, there seems to be two outcomes to death. Lazarus, who had suffered greatly in life, was in death able to rest and be comforted. The rich man, who had been very comfortable in life, was the one suffering in death. At this point, we realize that he must have recognized Lazarus, as he named the poor man and made the request that he provide

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relief. This does tell us that, in the world of the parable, the rich man was either purposely ignoring Lazarus or directly refusing him help while they were both alive. Unfortunately for the rich man, the chasm between himself and Lazarus that he took pains to enforce in life had become an insurmountable barrier in death. The rich man refused to cross the crevasse and provide succor for the poor man while he was able to do so. Now the crevasse was not able to be crossed in either direction—presumably, even if Lazarus was willing. Though he had no concern for Lazarus, the rich man did show concern for the rest of his family. He begged Father Abraham to allow Lazarus to go and visit his brothers to let them know what would await them if they did not mend their ways. It sounds as if the brothers had the same uncaring attitude toward the poor as their dead brother. However, that, too, was turned down by Abraham who reminded the rich man that they had plenty of opportunity to know what God wanted. All they had to do was to read the Torah and the Prophets. The command to help the poor was repeated constantly in the Hebrew Scriptures. There was really no excuse for not knowing that God’s desire was for the community to provide for those who could not provide for themselves. Then the rich man makes a highly ironic statement that his brothers would believe someone who came back from the dead. Abraham’s reply becomes prophetic, foreshadowing the rejection of Jesus by many of the Jewish leaders. A few years ago, my son (in his early twenties) visited with his sister in Seattle. During that trip, he took the bus downtown and went on a walking tour. He was shocked at the number of homeless on the streets. He was even more disconcerted by how apparently invisible the homeless were to the rest of the population. He described how people would walk by those lying on the streets without seeming to see or care. This is a problem that is not restricted to Seattle, or even big cities. In Dallas, when I am on my way to church, there is a particular intersection where people stand

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with signs that say things like: “Vietnam Vet. Need food. God bless.” Or “3 kids at home, need work.” It is easy to drive on by on my way to church and simply ignore the appeals. My brain knows that some of these people are gaming the system and playing on people’s sympathy to get handouts that will be used for alcohol or drugs. They might even be working for someone who drops them at likely intersections and picks them up at the end of the day. However, if I have money in my purse, I generally give them something. Not necessarily because they need it, but because I have the need to give. You see, every time I pass a beggar or a homeless person, I hear this parable replaying in my head. At some point in my Christian walk, “I was blind, but now I see” became a reality. I began to see the pain and suffering of people around me in a new way. At first, it was actually rather overwhelming. I had always been sensitive to the feelings of those around me, but I became aware of the hurting of people who were simply walking down the street or shopping in the grocery store or riding on the bus with me. In other words, I began to see with God’s eyes. But at the same time, I began to see that everyone, both those I liked and those I strongly disliked, were made in the image of God. Sometimes that image was very distorted, but it was there. That’s when I saw deeper into this parable. God’s Holy Spirit began to teach me (it’s still a process!) that God’s love, justice, and

mercy are available to all. God began to show me that God knows the name of every beggar on the street, as well as the powerful at city hall. And God convicted me that I was a lot more like the rich man than I was like Lazarus. This is a powerful parable. It reminds us that we are the ones who build the crevasses between ourselves and God when we fail to see those who are created in God’s image. When we fail to heed the warnings of the prophets and our Christ, we are denying the God that we claim to serve.

Maturing in Faith

I referenced the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” previously. I suspect you know it! Use it as a daily prayer this week as you seek to see with God’s eyes both the suffering of others and the image of God within them. Know that God has saved you from the rich man’s fate through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the triumph of the Resurrection, and the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit. You do not have to be bound by your actions of the past, but can wake up every morning and open yourself to loving others with God’s love. And if you are suffering now, you can be comforted by knowing that God suffered for you and with you, and has conquered sin and death.

Where do you find yourself in this parable? Which character do you most closely identify with? If you have been victimized in your life or if you are struggling to live on a very limited fixed income, you might be tempted to see yourself as a Lazarus. If you are well-off or even just reasonably comfortable, you might be nervously wondering if you are the “rich man.” However, the reality is that we are probably all in the situation of the brothers. And in our case, someone has come back from the dead to let us know of God’s will. Our Lord and King, Jesus, has come to tell us that the order of things in the world will be overturned in God’s kingdom. So, what will that mean for you? Will you gain or lose when the world is turned upside down? Will there be a divide of your own creation between you and God? Or will you be able to humbly turn to Christ as the one who can bridge that divide?


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Daily Meditations | June 25–July 1 Monday | Genesis 50:15-21

Forgiveness can overcome fear. It can soften hearts, bringing reconciliation to warring parties. It can allow God to work good out of evil. All of these things happened when Joseph’s brothers asked for and received forgiveness. Sadly, families can be the hardest places to forgive. Is there a family member you need to forgive and reconcile with? Or one you need to ask for forgiveness?

Tuesday | 2 Chronicles 7:12-16

God gave the people of Israel a place to come where their prayers would always be heard. The temple was “always open” for a repentant heart. The physical temple was destroyed, but the good news is that our temple is Jesus Christ. Whatever our sin or failing, Jesus is always open to our repentant heart. Pray: Thank you, Lord, for providing a way back to you.

Wednesday | 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive the one who has caused him, and them, pain. Only by forgiving can the community heal both themselves and the one who caused the suffering. This is a good reminder in a time when forgiveness in our communities and congregations seems so difficult. Pray: Lord, help me lead my community in forgiving those who cause us sorrow.

Thursday | Colossians 3:12-17

How can we learn to forgive? Only by letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Only by drenching ourselves in the love of God will the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience necessary to forgive be able to take root in our hearts. What a wonderful vision of life this is! Pray: Lord, help me live this life of grace and forgiveness.

Friday | Luke 17:1-4

Some people seem to need a lot of forgiveness. They might repent one day and go back to old habits the next. This can be frustrating, especially when those who are causing trouble are part of our community of faith. Are you able to call others to repentance? Can you then forgive them through the power of Christ?

Saturday | Matthew 6:9-15

Have you ever thought about the power and the danger of asking God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others? That is fine if you are a genuinely forgiving person and able to always forgive. But this is a high standard. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, and focus on the line that asks God to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Sunday | Matthew 18:21-35

Do you find it difficult to believe God can forgive you for something you have done? Or do you find it hard to forgive others for what they have done to you? This passage helps us in considering how our forgiveness of others relates to God’s forgiveness of us. Reflect on how forgiving others increases your ability to believe that God has forgiven you.

Key Verse: Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?

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Lesson 5 | July 1

PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT Lesson: Matthew 18:21-35 • Background: Matthew 18:21-35

I am always amazed at the stories of forgiveness that I hear on the news—the Amish community that forgave the man who shot their children, and the forgiving relatives of those killed by Dylann Roof in the church shooting in South Carolina are two cases that stick in my mind. That kind of forgiveness is hard to understand, especially for those who are not of the Christian faith. Most of us do not have to offer forgiveness on that scale or for that horrific an action. But most of us struggle with forgiveness even for actions that are much less serious. This passage presents us with a difficult Kingdom parable that challenges us to our limit. As we saw in yesterday’s reading, Jesus had already presented to the disciples the idea that they must forgive as they had been forgiven. The question that Peter asked was about forgiving those in the community. He picked what would be a generous amount of forgiveness—seven times. He might have seen that as the “perfect” amount of forgiveness. However, Jesus, as he usually does, expands the grace that needs to be offered. In an echo and reversal of Lamech’s boast that he would be avenged seventy-seven-fold in contrast to Cain’s sevenfold vengeance, Jesus insists that forgiveness should be seventy times seven—in other words, essentially endless and infinite. In order to make his point, Jesus told a Kingdom parable. The amount owed by the servant was more than could be paid in several lifetimes of a servant. Thus, all of his possessions would be sold and his whole family would be sold into slavery. (The debt, of course, is a way of talking about sin. The Israelites of Jesus’ day thought of sin in terms of a debt that needed to be paid to God.) The servant begged the king for mercy and received not more time to pay, but a total forgiveness of the debt. The debt was huge, and the forgiveness correspondingly huge. There seemed to be a happy ending to the story—the gracious and compassionate king (clearly a stand-in for God) had forgiven the sinful (and presumably grateful) servant. But, surprise! The story didn’t end there. In fact, the story was repeated, with the servant now taking the role of


the one owed and a fellow servant the role of the debtor. This time, the status of the two parties is equal and the amount owed, while substantial, is miniscule compared to the first debt. This second servant responds in almost exactly the same way as the first—with prostrating himself and begging for mercy and more time. However, the forgiven servant does not mimic the king. He has received mercy, but he gives none. Instead, he has his fellow servant thrown into debtors prison until the debt is worked off. The forgiven servant may have been blind to both the irony of his actions and their injustice, but his fellow servants were not. When they told the once gracious king, he was understandably enraged. Admonishing the servant for not forgiving his own debtor as he had been forgiven, the king had him thrown into prison for a life of punishment. Jesus ended his parable with a direct statement about the parallels between the king and God, just in case the disciples missed it. The king was able to forgive any size debt. What could not be forgiven was a failure to be formed into the king’s image. What could not be forgiven was a failure to live out the covenant by being a blessing to others. What could not be forgiven was unforgiveness. This parable raises some troubling questions. If grace is free, then how can it be rescinded? Why does the servant end up in prison? Does that mean we always have to be looking over our shoulder, wondering if God is going to punish us for not being perfect? Let’s come back to that question in a moment. I think that the anger of the king is an indication of just how important the message of forgiveness is. The point of the king forgiving the debt was to change the status of the debtor, and the expectation was that would change his heart and his way of acting toward others. By putting the servant in a new relationship with himself, the king intended and expected that the servant would be in a new relationship with others. In fact, it probably seemed obvious to those who first heard the parable that the king would be unhappy with the servant. What may not have been obvious

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was how this revealed something about the kingdom of God. Only after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, when Jesus opened the Scriptures to the disciples and when they reflected back on his teachings, would they have realized the point of the parable. Especially once the early church started having disagreements, the need to forgive one another continuously was a lesson they would have needed to take to heart. The massive difference in the debt of the first servant and that of the second, and thus the massive difference in how much was forgiven, would have made much more sense post-Crucifixion. So, what do we do with the punishment? We have to recognize that the grace was offered freely to the servant. But accepting grace means accepting all that goes with it, including the need to offer the same grace that one receives. In the Methodist tradition, we would not say that the Christian life consists of saying the right formula, “getting saved,” and then going on to live the same life and doing whatever one wishes. In the Methodist tradition, we would think of the moment of the forgiveness of debt as the point of justifying grace. But we also insist on the importance of sanctifying grace—the work of the Holy Spirit within us to form and shape us into the image of God. We are not worthy of the forgiveness that we receive when we receive it, but we are able to grow into the status of being in right relationship with God.

Maturing in Faith

Knowing that growing in our faith and our holiness was a difficult journey, John Wesley set up societies and class meetings so that members of the Methodist movement could encourage one another and hold each other accountable to that journey. Do you have a group—either a Sunday school, a Bible-study group, or maybe an Emmaus group— where you know you will be held accountable? We have lost the practice of confessing our sins to one another, but that means we have also lost the practice of offering one another forgiveness in the name of God. Sometimes it helps to hear from someone other than the pastor on Sunday morning that you are forgiven and loved. Only if we truly understand and experience God’s forgiveness of ourselves are we able to offer that forgiveness to others.

I started this lesson with examples of forgiveness that were extreme. But for most, the need is not so much forgiveness that is extreme but forgiveness that is constant. Wherever people are in relationship with one another, forgiveness will be essential for continung and growing relationships. We learn forgiveness by practicing it. In one church I served as a young pastor, an older woman with whom I had a close relationship became angry with me over the direction of the church, in part because she was listening to some people who simply wanted to make trouble. She stood up in charge conference and accused me of lying and forcing everyone to agree with me. I was absolutely devastated. I did move churches at the next annual conference. With the help of a counselor, I tried to look dispassionately at what she had said to see what truth there was and how my own behavior might have contributed to the outburst. Several years later, after several other pastors had said much the same things that I had said and the same church members had caused the same trouble for different pastors, she called me and apologized for her actions. She realized that the problem hadn’t just been me, but had included some dysfunction in the church body. I, in turn, apologized for being heavy-handed. We became closer as a result, and I thank God that we were both able to draw closer to God and closer to one another through mutual accountability and forgiveness. Take an opportunity this week to reflect on whether or not you have truly believed that God forgives you. Then reflect on the people in your life whom you have failed to forgive. Sometimes we offer forgiveness with our lips and not with our hearts. We continue to hold grudges that shape our attitude toward those we have supposedly forgiven. While completely forgetting is not always possible (and in cases of abuse, not a good idea), forgiving is a spiritual practice that brings us closer to God, as well as to the one forgiven. Even if the person who has sinned against us has not repented, the forgiveness comes out of our relationship with God. We are able to feel the joy of forgiveness, even if the one we are forgiving isn’t able. Pray: Dearest Lord Jesus, you have forgiven me and lifted a great burden from my life. Help me to share that joy with others as I forgive them.

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Daily Meditations | July 2–8 Monday | Numbers 15:37-41

God knows that humans need physical representations of spiritual realities, so God gave us Communion (a meal) and baptism (a bath). What signs and symbols, maybe in the stained glass at your church or the items on the altar, help you to remember God’s commandments? What items at home—maybe a Bible, prayer beads, or even a special chair—help you to reflect daily on God’s Word?

Tuesday | Matthew 5:17-20

Some Christians have downplayed the importance of the Old Testament and see Jesus’ offer of grace as opposing the “law.” But Jesus insisted that he came to fulfill the law. Perhaps what Jesus came to do was to show us what the inner purpose of the law had been from the beginning. Pray: Lord, let me understand how the law comes to completion and fulfillment in you.

Wednesday | Luke 20:45-47

We have all seen people who pretend to be upright, and yet who make their money or gain their status from pushing down others. Jesus warns us not to be one of those people. This Scripture challenges all of us to look at our motivations and actions in the light of the kingdom of God. How does your life look in the illuminating light of Christ?

Thursday | Matthew 23:5-12

Names on pews, plaques on walls, mentions in the bulletin—these are all ways that we honor those among us who give. This isn’t wrong, and yet it can become a problem when the honoring of the person is more important than the honoring of God. When you give a special gift to the church, which is more important to you—being recognized for the gift or honoring God with it?

Friday | Matthew 23:13-15

This passage almost makes me want to quit teaching! Jesus warns those who teach and lead others to make sure they are on the right path so they will not lead people away from the Kingdom. Pray: Gracious God, lead me in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake so that I may lead others toward your Kingdom and not away from it.

Saturday | Matthew 23:16-22

Several times I have pastored churches with beautiful stained glass windows. These windows helped people worship with their eyes, and enabled even those who couldn’t yet read to see the beauty and glory of God. In this passage, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees and scribes, claiming they put a higher importance on the gold in the temple than the temple itself. How do you approach the objects we use in worship—as beautiful idols or as means of grace?

Sunday | Matthew 23:1-4, 23-26

We can read this passage as a critique of religious leaders, but we need to remember that those on the outside of the church often see all of us in the church as hypocrites. We each need to ask ourselves daily, Do my actions reveal Christ to the world? Or am I simply interested in people thinking I am a good person?

Key Verse: The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do.


(Matthew 23:2-3)

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Lesson 6 | July 8

Daily Meditations Lesson| January 8 | January 14–20 20

JESUS CRITICIZES UNJUST LEADERS Lesson: Matthew 23:1-4, 23-26 • Background: Matthew 23

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Typically, if someone says that, we think of them as a hypocrite. But here, the Pharisees were not the ones saying this to the people. Instead, Jesus was telling the people how to react to the teaching of the Pharisees. The teaching was fine, he said. After all, the teaching came from Moses. The problem was that the Pharisees didn’t follow their own teaching. They were not only teaching the law of Moses found in the Torah, but were interpreting it to the people and adding requirements. To some extent, this was a good thing. The rabbinic tradition came from the Pharisees. As the Jewish people in the dispersion encountered new places and situations not covered in the Torah, the rabbis helped them interpret the laws to meet those new situations. The same thing happens today when rabbis make declarations about what constitutes work in an electronic world, for instance. However, the problem with the Pharisees in Jesus’ time was that they had forgotten the point of the law. The Pharisees believed that the Jewish people were essentially in exile in their own land because it was occupied and controlled by the Romans. Exile was the result of the sin of the people, so they also believed that if they could be righteous enough by following the law precisely, they could hasten the “day of the Lord,” when God would send God’s servant to lead them in throwing off the yoke of Roman oppression. At that point, the Jewish people would take their rightful place as rulers under the sovereign rule of God. The desire of the Pharisees to encourage righteousness among the people thus had its beginning in the hope of God’s favor. Though the Pharisees may have begun with good intent, they eventually became interested in righteousness as a way of showing off to others and gaining status. They imposed additional requirements on the people, but did not teach them that the purpose of the law was to mold them into the people of God in order for them to reveal the knowledge and love of God to the whole world. Thus, the requirements became burdens instead of ways to encourage others in their faith.

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In addition, the Pharisees dressed in ways that were ostentatiously religious. The prayer bands and tassels would be the equivalent of wearing a gold and diamond cross to go feed the homeless at a shelter. Or having the church’s logo embroidered on silk jackets instead of just printed on cotton T-shirts. The covenant community of Israel was meant to be one of radical equality among all participants, but the Pharisees began to see themselves as more important, and therefore worthy of more honor. They were typically a part of the wealthier and more educated class, so class structure played into their actions. Because of their teaching functions, they expected others to address them as “Rabbi” (literally “teacher”), and defer to them in all social situations. Jesus reminded them of their basic equality with all others in the covenant community and insisted that they only needed one teacher. The Pharisees might have initially thought that the reprimand was referring to the teaching of Moses, but Jesus makes it clear that he is the one who is the only appropriate teacher, the only one who could interpret God’s Word and the Torah to the people. This would surely have infuriated the Pharisees. As Jesus continued speaking to the Pharisees and legal experts (scribes), he pointed out a number of ways in which their teaching was inconsistent with the teaching of Moses and the Word of God. In the part of the passage that we are studying, he points out that the Pharisees tithe meticulously and publicly, even of every sort of spice, but the point of the tithe was to provide for those in the community who could not provide for themselves. Read Deuteronomy 14:22-29 where it describes how the tithe was meant to bring the community together and provide for the Levites who served at the temple, as well as for the widows, the orphans, and the strangers in the land. The justice, peace, and faithfulness that the tithe was supposed to bring about was totally forgotten by the Pharisees in their efforts to prove their own righteousness. Jesus’ words echoed Micah 6:8: “He has told you, human one, what is good and what

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the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” Jesus didn’t tell them not to tithe—in fact, he encouraged them to continue tithing. But he reminded them that the tithing had a purpose they were completely ignoring. Jesus uses harsh language to speak to the Pharisees, calling them blind guides. Far from bringing forth the day of the Lord through their righteousness, the Pharisees were continuing the sin of the people that Isaiah had spoken of: “Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so they can’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their minds, and turn, and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10). Worse than simply being blind themselves, the sin of the Pharisees was compounded by the fact that they were teaching others to follow their blindness. Thus, Jesus showed clearly how the Pharisees were only presenting the outward form of righteousness without the inward spirit that made for true holiness. The image of a cup washed on the outside but dirty on the inside resonates with me in many ways. Sometimes I go to the dishwasher and wonder if the dishes are clean or dirty. The upsidedown cups all look clean since I rinse everything before putting them in. I have to take one out and check the inside to see if it is really clean. But another example always comes to me when I read this passage of Scripture. Back in the day when I was taking my kids to swim meets in the summer,

we would load up the cooler with ice, sandwiches, fruit, water, and brownies to keep us all going during the long, hot days. When we would get home, one of the chores was to clean out the cooler so that it would be ready for the next week. This was not a particularly fun chore—we didn’t have a fancy cooler that had a spigot, so the melted ice just had to be dumped out and the inside thoroughly wiped. After the last swim meet of the season one year, we must have been too tired to finish all the chores. The water got dumped from the cooler, but no one took the time to wash down the inside or dry it, though the outside was given a squirt with the hose. The next summer, we went to get out all the swim-meet paraphernalia, including the cooler, and I bet you can guess what happened. The cooler looked fine from the outside, but inside it was furry and black and smelled atrocious. Needless to say, we took a trip to the store for a new cooler. I think of that cooler and how our failure to wash it thoroughly at the end of one summer led to a foul mess at the beginning of the next, and recognize that the uncleanness in my own life can build up and grow in secret if I do not take the time to cleanse my thoughts, desires, and motivations. A tiny amount of mold can quickly grow, and a small disobedience can multiply into major sin. Jesus may have been talking to the Pharisees and legal experts, but his words ring as a warning in our ears today.

Maturing in Faith

How do you present yourself in your community of faith? Are you determined never to let weaknesses show? Or do you understand that acknowledging your own weakness allows the strength of God to be made visible? Reflect on the stories of people who are sometimes called the “great heroes” of the Bible—Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rachel, Jacob, Joseph, and on to Moses and his brother and sister. They were woefully imperfect people whom God used despite their flaws. I still remember first reading these stories for myself and realizing that God could use me even though I was definitely no biblical hero. We are not called to be perfect now, nor to try to convince others that we are perfect in our actions and our faith. Rather, we are called to be honest in our attempts to follow Jesus, and to pray along with David in Psalm 51:10: “Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!”

As I said above, it is tempting to read this passage as a condemnation of religious leaders and not hear the word to the whole church. But one reason people (especially young people) give for not attending church is hypocrisy. This may not always be a fair assessment—we are not perfect. But we have a problem when we try to make others think that we are holy, condemn others for not being holy, and then act in ways ourselves that are far less than holy. The solution for this problem is really quite simple. Instead of coming to church to display our goodness, we need to come and be open about our brokenness. This is scary because it means being vulnerable and open to criticism by the very people we are trusting to love us. But a culture of vulnerability and transparency can become a great gift to a congregation and the community they serve.


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Daily Meditations | July 9–15 Monday | Luke 11:5-13

Do we fail to receive what we need from God because we simply don’t ask? Do we not ask because we have no idea what we truly need? Perhaps we don’t recognize what we receive as being the answer we have sought. In any case, the message is to continue to ask, because even though God knows our needs before we ask, God chooses to listen.

Tuesday | Romans 1:7-15

Even before meeting them, Paul prayed for those in the Roman Church. Praying for someone doesn’t require knowing them, only a willing and loving heart. Take a walk today, praying as you walk for each family in each house on your street or each person in each business you pass. You may meet them one day and find that your prayers have gone before you.

Wednesday | 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

The work of the church requires many things and many gifts. But the one thing that is absolutely essential is a robust prayer life. Find out about your church’s prayer ministry. Or start one! Don’t let another week go by without covering the work of your congregation in prayer. Then watch how God works!

Thursday | Deuteronomy 10:17-21

This is only one of the many texts that remind us of God’s concern for the widows, the orphans, and the immigrants. As I write this, Congress is struggling with how we, as a country, will respond to those in need and those who are immigrants. What will inform your own view of the proper path to take? Pray for clarity and guidance for our elected officials.

Friday | Acts 6:1-6

Often, church members believe the job of the pastor is to care for every need in the congregation. This passage suggests that the congregation needs to raise up and appoint compassionate persons to help in the task of caring. Might you offer yourself in this service? Pray: Loving God, use me any way you see fit for the building up of the body of Christ.

Saturday | Psalm 33:18-22

The psalm reminds us that God continually watches over God’s people. Regardless of the circumstance, we can trust that God is with us, never leaving us alone. Even in the darkest times, the presence of God can bring us hope. Pray: I wait for you, oh, Lord. I wait for the comfort of your love and the glory of your presence.

Sunday | Luke 18:1-8

We are called as the people of God to plead for justice and mercy. Unlike the unjust judge, God hears and acts out of God’s own nature and God’s care for God’s people. If you do not already have the habit, consider making the plea for justice for the oppressed and mercy for the sinner a part of your everyday prayers.

Key Verse: Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night?

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Lesson 7 | July 15

THE WIDOW AND THE UNJUST JUDGE Lesson: Luke 18:1-8 • Background: Luke 18:1-8

If your church is anything like those I have served, you have a list of prayer requests listed somewhere every week—either in the bulletin, in a newsletter, or in an e-mail loop. One problem we kept having was that the list of requests kept growing, and we never knew how long to continue the prayers. So we reorganized the list. We let people know that unless we heard differently, we would keep people on the list for a month and then take them off. We also requested that people share with us the outcomes of the prayers that we lifted. We found it easier to keep praying if we got regular updates and shared the stories of answered prayers. There have been times in my prayer life when I have prayed desperately and constantly for someone or something, and the prayers seemed to be floating up into thin air. I have prayed for parishioners who died anyway, marriages that broke anyway, and people I love who have not yet turned their lives over to Jesus. Sometimes I feel guilty praying the same thing over and over. But this parable helps me understand more about prayer. There is no particular setting for this parable. No one had asked Jesus a question. It is preceded and followed by other parables that don’t seem to relate. So we just have to take this one at face value and learn what we can. While this parable is about prayer, it has another focus as well. The two main characters are the “unjust” judge and the widow who sought justice. The judge freely and perhaps rather boastfully acknowledges that he has no fear of God and no respect for other persons. He seems like the last person the widow would go to in order to receive justice. However, she has a secret weapon—her persistence. She would not allow the judge to ignore her. She knew that such a selfcentered man would surely give in eventually, even if only out of self-interest. As expected, the judge finally not only answers the woman, but answers her in a way that gives her justice. Jesus compares this unjust judge to God. While this seems an odd comparison, I don’t think Jesus meant to say that God is an unjust judge! Instead, it makes the point


that if even an unjust judge will sooner or later see that justice is done, certainly God, who is the definition of a just judge, will provide justice for those who cry out. On one level, this parable is about persistence in prayer. The widow simply continues asking until the judge is fed up with her. I experienced persistence this past summer. I took a trip with my daughter and son-in-law to help with their two young children while they went to the wedding of a friend. They were gone about eight hours, longer than my younger grandchild was used to being without his mom. As it came close to bedtime (and thankfully, closer to the time when their mom would be home), the little one and I had this conversation: Child (in a sad voice): I want mom. (in an even sadder voice) I want milk. Me: Mom will be home very soon, and then she will give you some milk and put you to bed. Child (little sniff and nod): Okay. One minute goes by. Child: I want mom. I want milk. Me: Mom will be home very soon, and then she will give you some milk and put you to bed. Child: Okay. Now, repeat this about two hundred times, and you get the gist of the evening. My sweet grandson never actually cried, but he was teary-eyed the whole time and incredibly persistent in asking for his mom. If I could have produced his mom sooner, I would have done so, but all I could do was keep answering calmly. I had this Scripture running through my head and gained a whole new appreciation of this parable and the quandary of the judge. Sometimes you give in just because you are tired of hearing the same old thing. Of course, my kids sometimes exploited this by persistently asking for something they wanted. It never particularly worked because I could control whether or not they kept asking (whining was frowned upon in our household), but the judge had no way to stop the woman other than give in to her requests.

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The story of persistence encourages us to keep going to God in prayer, even when it seems as if our prayers are falling on deaf ears. Jesus assures us that, if an unjust judge can hear and provide justice, we can be certain that God will do so as well. We often say to others, “I’ll be praying for you,” when we feel helpless to provide them with any concrete aid. But this parable gives us hope that “praying for you” is itself a concrete and important action. We aren’t being passive and uncaring when “all we do” is pray. In fact, our persistent prayers for someone are a kind of action in the logic of the kingdom of God. But this parable has another dimension that we shouldn’t miss. The widow is asking for justice. This is not a random request, but a request for the judge to do what judges do: administer justice. We pray for all sorts of things, but the prayer for justice is one which God will always answer. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to see and experience the justice that God will bring, but we can be certain that, in the end, justice will prevail. Why? Because, unlike the judge of the story, our God is a God of justice—justice is a part of God’s very nature. Do you remember the story of Abraham arguing with God in Genesis 18? God had come to Abraham and shared with him that God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham argues God down to promising that if only ten righteous people were found in the cities, God would spare them. Abraham does not fear

Maturing in Faith

What does your own prayer life look like? Do you have a regular time for prayer? a prayer journal? maybe a prayer partner? Praying regularly for others and for the concerns of the world can be a wonderful thing and can bring a great sense of peace. Have you ever felt like giving up on praying? Do you wonder if God is hearing your prayers? Each week, we hear of another injustice on the news. It can seem like our prayers for justice are falling on deaf ears. Just like those before us, we cry out, “How long, oh, Lord?” One thing I have learned through the years is the danger and power of the Lord’s Prayer. Every time I say to God, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” I get a little nervous, realizing that as I ask for God’s will to be done on earth, I am asking to be a part of that Kingdom work. That means I must be ready to stand against injustice if

to argue the point with God because, as he says, “Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?” (verse 25). The Scriptures are full of stories of God hearing the cries of God’s people. When the people of Israel were in Egypt, oppressed by Pharaoh, they cried out. God heard their groaning and, because God remembered the covenant which God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God rescued the people from their oppression. The crying out to God continues in the Book of Judges and, each time, God raises up leaders to bring the people out of oppression. The story of the Exodus is at the heart of the Jewish understanding of God’s faithfulness to God’s promises. The account of the Crucifixion and Resurrection proclaim even more strongly God’s triumph over injustice. This parable of the widow and the unjust judge is not solely a story about the power of constant prayer, but one that emphasizes God will always answer injustice.

God chooses to use me to do God’s will on earth in a concrete way. If I am going to pray for justice, I must be prepared to work for justice. When you pray this prayer, are you ready for God to use you to do God’s will on earth? Who do you know that is asking for justice? Sometimes discerning which is the path of justice is not as easy as we would wish. There are competing claims about what a just outcome would be for those involved in a dispute. Our persistent prayer needs to be both for justice and for the ability to discern where the cause of justice lies. And we must trust that eventually, “justice [will] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

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Daily Meditations | July 16–22 Monday | Matthew 7:13-14

A sad truth is that going the wrong way is easier than going the right way, in part because there are often many ways to go wrong and only one way to go right. Jesus warns us to stay on the path toward him so that we may enter the Kingdom. Pray: Lord, keep me on the right path and open to me the narrow gate.

Tuesday | John 10:1-10

Jesus uses a number of metaphors to help his disciples understand him: the light of the world, the bread of life, the living water. Here, Jesus is not only the good shepherd who cares for the sheep, but also the one who protects them as the gate, not letting in those who would frighten and harm them. Give thanks for the protection of the gatekeeper.

Wednesday | John 15:1-11

In another familiar image, Jesus speaks of himself as the vine to which we must be connected. Only by connection to the vine will we be able to bear good fruit. How do you stay connected to Jesus? How does that connection play itself out in your life? Reflect on your own need for Jesus and how to stay linked to the life-giving power of Christ.

Thursday | Matthew 7:15-23

We are often called to make decisions about who to follow and who to believe. While it is easy for someone to talk a good game, Jesus reminds us that we have another way to determine the truth about those we wish to let guide us: we can look at the fruit of a person’s life and actions. Similarly, our own lives will bear fruit when connected to Jesus.

Friday | Matthew 7:24-29

The Word of God provides a solid foundation for our lives. We will need that foundation when the storms come. What is the foundation of your life? How are you able to stand firm when all around you is chaos? Pray: Lord, keep me strong in your Word so that I might stand firm in the world.

Saturday | Mark 10:28-31

Despite what the TV preachers say, we are not promised financial prosperity as the result of our faith. We are promised something much more important—an opportunity to live as Kingdom people who know the living God! We are gifted with love and mercy in abundance, and with the assurance of salvation. Riches indeed! Pray: Thank you, God, for the treasures of your Kingdom.

Sunday | Luke 13:22-30

With so many choices around us of who to follow and what path to take, we have to spend some time discerning the right choices. How do you discern the narrow path that leads to Jesus and the Kingdom? Are you able to see the outcomes and consequences of the choices you make? Pray: Lead me, Lord, in your paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.

Key Verse: Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate.

(Luke 13:24a)


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Lesson 8 | July 22

Daily Meditations Lesson| January 8 | January 14–20 20


Lesson: Luke 13:22-30 • Background: Matthew 7:15-23; Luke 13:22-30 Warning: Scary Scripture ahead! I sometimes think some of the passages in the Bible should carry some sort of warning. We are experiencing several of those in this quarter. Not every passage in the New Testament is full of comfort. Some, like this, challenge us to understand. This scene took place while Jesus was on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. His Jerusalem journey was an extended journey toward the cross—which Jesus knew and his disciples eventually discovered. Wherever Jesus went, he taught in the cities and villages. He was an itinerate rabbi, traveling with his entourage of disciples. The question that prompted this discussion was one about who would be saved. Though we tend to think of this as a question about who will go to heaven, both the questioner and Jesus probably understood it in a different way. The Jewish people believed that one day, God would enter history to save them from the Roman oppression and that, at that time, they would take their place as the rightful governors of God’s creation under the sovereign rule of God. The “day of the Lord” or the “coming of the kingdom of God” represented two aspects of the same idea. So, this was really a question about who would be saved from exile and allowed to be a part of God’s kingdom rule. The holy city of Jerusalem, with the temple on the hill, was a representation and a foretaste of God’s kingdom. When Jesus told them they had to enter through the narrow gate, he was speaking symbolically of coming into God’s kingdom. He let them know that not everyone would, in fact, get through the gate. Only those who knew the gatekeeper (Jesus himself) would be welcomed in. And he indicated that there was a limited time in which to recognize and get to know the gatekeeper (or the owner of the house). They would remind him that they were sometimes at the same dinner table and that they recognized him from his preaching in their streets. But that was not enough to claim relationship. And without that relationship, when the door closed, those on the outside would stay outside. Jesus would not recognize them and, in fact, would call them evildoers.

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The problem that Jesus was addressing was the failure of some of the people (in particular, the religious leaders) to see who he really was and why he had come. Jesus claimed that he had come to fulfill the Scriptures. The assumption was that by reading the Torah stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and by listening to the words of the prophets, the people should have been able to know that Jesus was the representative whom God had sent into the world. Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures by preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, and recovering sight to the blind. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, cast out demons, and forgave sins. In other words, Jesus did all the things that had been foretold as characteristic of the representative of God. And yet, many people failed to truly see him because they were looking for something else entirely. Jesus predicted that when the people began to see that God’s kingdom really had come in Jesus and that they were left out, they would be sorrowful. They would see him in the company of the fathers and the prophets, and bewail their foolishness. This passage was a warning to those who rejected Jesus as the Son of God. But it was also a promise and a sign of hope. Jesus said that people would come from all over—north, south, east, and west—to feast at his Table in the Kingdom. Those who had been left out would be replaced by many who had listened and who had heard the message of the good news. And those who would come in would include some who were in the lowest level in the current society, those who were looked down upon, and those who were not even Jewish. God would overturn the social order in the Kingdom, making places for those who had never had a place before. The early church was composed of people from all walks of life, and all economic and social circumstances. They had to work to learn to live together as one community. We still have to work at that today. I know churches, and I bet you do as well, that are little more than country clubs, where

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the right clothes, the right car, and the right social status are more important than a relationship with Jesus. In these churches, people come to be seen with the right people and to make connections that will serve them in good stead in their business lives. They come so that their children will have the benefit of excellent music programs and meet other children who are their social peers. There are also churches that may not have the wealth of the country club churches, but are just as exclusive nonetheless. These are the town and country churches, where one is an outsider until one is at least a second- or third-generation resident of the town. The members at these kinds of churches are more interested in recruiting younger people who are “like us” and who will fall in line with their elders’ way of doing things than they are in meeting the needs of a hurting world. Thankfully, there are other churches where those who have just gotten out of prison come and worship side-by-side with CEOs of big companies. Where young and old, rich and poor not only worship together, but learn from one another and serve their community together. These are the churches that know they are not in ministry to the poor, but in ministry with the poor. These are the churches where ethnic differences make for vibrant and creative worship instead of causing “worship wars.”

The questions for each of us are these: Do we know who Jesus is and why he came? Are we able to honor those who lead us in holiness, regardless of economic or social circumstance? Are we able to humbly submit to the teaching of those who are closer to God than we are, even if they are janitors and we are president of the company? Let’s face it, friends: Jesus did not come to make us comfortable, but to form us into people who would shine God’s light into the world. Sometimes that involves rubbing off the areas that reduce our shine, and sometimes that hurts. But the reward is that we are able to participate fully in the coming Kingdom and see God’s kingdom work in the world right now, without having to wait for “heaven, by and by.”

Maturing in Faith

When we look at our fellow believers, what do we think about them? How do we treat them? Are we willing to let those who are not a part of our “club” take leadership roles? Take a look at your congregation or your Sunday school class or small fellowship group. Is everyone just like you or are there significant differences that enable your church to look like the diverse and beautiful kingdom of God? Finally, are you trying to be first in the Kingdom or are you willing to be last? Be assured that if you struggle with these questions, you are not alone. I didn’t want to write most of this lesson, but eventually felt compelled. As we come together in community, we are refined by the fire of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t comfortable, but it is necessary.

Does this passage trouble you? If so, take a moment to reflect on why that might be. If you are anything like me, you might be troubled because this Scripture holds up a mirror in which you see yourself reflected. I, personally, am not too fond of mirrors! I am certainly averse to mirrors into my soul. But like it or not, I have to take a look. One of my seminary professors was fond of saying that the Bible acted like any good mirror—one look and you wanted to change! So, let’s take a look together, spiritually holding hands and exploring our lives. We have to decide who we are really following in this life. Have we given our entire lives to Jesus? What areas are we holding back, thinking that Jesus doesn’t need to know about that part?


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Daily Meditations | July 23–29 Monday | Deuteronomy 20:5-8

The ancient Israelites fought their share of wars. However, it was thought to be a curse to begin something and not complete it, so those who had just made significant changes were allowed to stay home. Even those who were simply afraid could opt out, likely to ensure courageous troops. What does it say about the Israelites that they had these exemptions? How do these relate to our own understanding of military service? What sacrifices need to be made in order to serve?

Tuesday | Luke 18:18-25

The rich ruler had everything he could want and had kept every commandment. Yet all his riches and all his righteousness did not seem to him to be enough. He felt a lack, causing him to come to Jesus. When Jesus offered him the riches of the Kingdom, however, he turned them down. Pray: Lord, help me to recognize the difference between the riches of the world and the riches of your Kingdom.

Wednesday | Matthew 16:24-28

The disciples had a choice to make: live their own lives as they wanted or take up their crosses and follow Jesus. How hard it must have been to hear that choice and have to make it. We, too, have to make a choice to follow Jesus. What things must we leave behind? Pray: Lord, help me to choose you.

Thursday | Mark 3:31-35

We talk about our church being our “family,” but Jesus made it clear that this is not just a friendly way to speak. All those who do the will of the Father are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how far away in time and space. Pray: Thank you, Lord, that I am a part of a universal family.

Friday | Acts 28:23-28

When we share the gospel or the love of God in any fashion, we don’t get to determine who will respond and who will not. Paul tried until the end of his ministry to speak of Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles, but it was primarily Gentiles who listened. Who have you shared the gospel with recently? Have they listened?

Saturday | Luke 14:25-33

Jesus does not ask his disciples to follow him blindly. Instead, he tells them to count the cost and understand what they are getting into, committing fully. We sometimes make the Christian life sound easy and effortless, forgetting that when difficulties come, those who do not expect them might fall away. How have you counted the cost in following Jesus?

Sunday | Luke 14:15-24

Jesus challenges us to pay attention to who is willing to come to the Table. Who gets invited to the feast at your church? Are you willing to be in fellowship with those who are from the “highways and byways”? Or have you used time and busyness as an excuse to stay away yourself? Reach out in fellowship today to someone in your congregation whom you don’t know.

Key Verse: Go quickly to the city’s streets, the busy ones and the

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Lesson 9 | July 29

PARABLE OF THE GREAT DINNER Lesson: Luke 14:15-24 • Background: Luke 14:15-24

Every time I throw a party, I worry that no one will come. It’s silly, because I have never had people not show up, but the fear is there nonetheless. What I should be more worried about is what would happen if God threw a party and I missed it! In this parable, Jesus was commenting on the remark of one of the dinner guests. The dinner was a Sabbath meal at the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees. We may find it surprising that Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee, but it shows us that they were not constantly at war. Almost immediately, Jesus started challenging those he was eating with. At the beginning of the party, he healed a man of an abnormal swelling, even though it was the Sabbath. Then, he told a parable about trying to get the best seats at the table. From there, he instructed them to invite to their dinners or parties those who were the poor, the crippled, and the lame—in other words, those who could not reciprocate and invite you over in turn. At this point, we have the remark by another guest who sounds as if he was trying to diffuse a tense situation by making a positive statement about the joy of those who will feast at God’s banquet in God’s kingdom. Instead of taking the hint, Jesus went on to be even more challenging to his host and the other Pharisees. He told a variation of a parable that he told often, which would illustrate some of the instructions that he had been giving. The dinner party in this case was a metaphor for the kingdom of God. The Pharisees and legal experts would be expected to be invited to this party and to have prepared for it extensively. They were the ones the dinner guest was thinking about when he commented about the happiness of those who would feast in God’s kingdom. However, Jesus was not so sure. He told of invited guests who had a lot of excuses for not coming to the banquet. If you remember the exemptions for military service that we read about in Deuteronomy on Monday, you will see that these excuses sounded very much like those exemptions. They were each starting something new that prevented them from sharing dinner with their host.


In the parable, the host became angry at those who failed to show up. However, he was determined that the dinner would not go to waste, so he instructed his servant to invite just those people that Jesus had mentioned previously: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. The host was not concerned about whether his hospitality would be reciprocated; he was only concerned that the feast take place and that there was someone to enjoy it. His own enjoyment lay not in having the other important people at the feast, but in sharing the feast. When told that even including those off the streets did not fill the table, the host then told his servants to go even farther afield. The highways and the back alleys were where one might find the traveler, the stranger, and those who were somewhat shady in character. He showed a remarkable lack of concern about what kind of people would wind up at his table. Jesus ended the parable with the statement that those who had been invited would never feast at the table. While this was the statement of the host of the dinner party, it was also clearly directed at the Pharisees who thought they would be in the places of honor at God’s kingdom feast. Instead, said Jesus, you will miss it because you will have many excuses not to come. But the feast would not wait for the guests. The timing of the dinner was solely at the discretion of the host. Pastors like to share lists of excuses for not coming to church on a Sunday morning. One such list is offered by a man speaking to his wife about how church is boring, the people don’t like him, he could get closer to God in the forest, and so forth. The wife responds, “But you have to go! You’re the pastor!” I’m not sure it’s really that funny of a joke. After all, if the pastor isn’t excited about coming on a Sunday morning to share the good news, why should anyone else want to be there? It does make the point that we are all people of excuses. From the very first couple in the Bible, we have been making excuses to God. I’m a bit of a procrastinator myself, so to some extent I can understand giving excuses to get out of a duty that might not be pleasant (as in the

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military service required in Deuteronomy). But giving excuses to get out of a dinner party? Who does that? Upon reflection, I can think of several reasons the friends might have bowed out. First of all, they were most likely peers of the host who had fine tables of their own. They didn’t feel the need to go feast with someone else when they could feast all they wanted at home. Second, accepting the host’s invitation meant that they would feel obligated to return it at some point. Perhaps they didn’t want the trouble or expense of a return dinner party. Those who were invited in from the streets, the highways, and the alleyways, on the other hand, did not have better options. They were not used to feasting and couldn’t return the favor. The invitation to dinner must have seemed like a gift from heaven for them (double meaning intended!). After a lifetime of need, they were being invited to a banquet—more than they could eat. What does the “table” look like at your church? Usually the table at my congregations has been fairly homogeneous. It would be a joy to see people who have economic, social, ethnic, theological, or other differences come to the Communion table and kneel together. But overall, there has not been a huge diversity. One Communion service I was able to be a part of, though, stands out for me. I was at a Cub Scout family camping outing, and on Sunday morning I held a Communion service by the lake. Only

Maturing in Faith

We know there are those who see no need of God and thus no particular desire to come to God’s Table. Does your congregation respond by trying to make itself more relevant or fun for people? If so, may I suggest you help them rethink that?! With all the other options competing for time on a Sunday morning, those not drawn by need will never be drawn by fun. You might also reflect on whether or not you have used excuses to avoid attendance or service. Those of us who do come to the feast are, at some point, expected to help host the Table. I tell those interested in membership in my congregations that they can enjoy the benefits of being a guest as long as they want, but when they become members, they will be expected to act as hosts. Do you see yourself as a host at the Table or as a perpetual guest?

about one-quarter of the families were from our church, so I didn’t expect everyone to participate. I knew that some were Catholic, some were from churches that didn’t believe in women pastors, others were not people of faith and did not attend anywhere. As I proceeded with the service in the early morning light, I read some Scriptures and gave a brief meditation on the Word. We sang some hymns, and then I began the Communion service. Since time was not a factor, I went through the entire eucharistic prayer which tells of God’s mighty acts of salvation from Creation to Resurrection. I offered the invitation, and the people started coming forward to get their bit of Hawaiian bread and dip it in the grape juice. I still remember the power of the Holy Spirit at work that morning. That bread and juice truly became the body and blood of Christ. Every single person at the camp came forward to participate. The first-grade boys, who took nothing seriously, were thoughtful and respectful as they came forward. Some who came had never taken Communion before. Parents who hadn’t been to church in years came forward with tears in their eyes and longing on their faces. The same folks who had been squabbling about campsites and what to cook the night before had become, for a holy moment, a community of faith. It was a kingdom of God event that I will never forget. Finally, this parable also gives us a mandate to invite all to our Table, both those who expect and deserve it and those who would not have even considered it. There are no requirements for being a part of the fellowship except a willingness to accept the invitation. Next week, your church will probably celebrate Holy Communion (the first Sunday of the month). Sit at the back, if possible, and reflect on who is there. If someone is missing who you know is in need of the fellowship of the body of Christ, why not give them a call—not to see why they are missing church, but to say, “I haven’t seen you lately and want you to know that you are loved and missed.” Pray: Savior, send me out to bring in those in the streets and highways who need your feast.

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Daily Meditations | July 30–August 5 Monday | Romans 1:16-17

This is the heart of the gospel and of Romans. The gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all wouldn’t be a bad theme for an individual life as well. Reflect on the power of the gospel in your own life and how God’s righteousness has been revealed to you. Pray: Give me your righteousness, that I may live by faithfulness.

Tuesday | Luke 3:7-14

John Wesley told the Methodists that they were to warn people to “flee from the wrath to come.” But he also shared with them how to encourage people in the faith and guide them lovingly week by week. How can you help someone else this week to turn away from sin and toward God so that fruit may be born in their life?

Wednesday | Romans 12:14-21

The early Christians loved God, but didn’t always know how to express that love. So, Paul gives advice on how to behave like a Christian. What a beautiful world it would be if just those of us who claim the name “Christian” could take these words to heart. Go through this phrase by phrase and ask God to help make these behaviors a reality in your life.

Thursday | Acts 11:15-18

Sometimes it’s hard for us to believe, but all who repent and turn toward God can be filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Where do you see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in surprising ways in your congregation or community? Are you open to seeing the Spirit in places that and in people whom you don’t expect?

Friday | 2 Corinthians 7:9-11

How often we forget that the ability to mourn for our faults and the faults of the world is what gives us the ability to be comforted. Spend time meditating today on the benefits of godly sadness in bringing new life and new hope to your own life. Pray for someone else, that their sadness will be made godly by encouraging them to turn their life around.

Saturday | Romans 2:12-16

In case anyone missed it, God cares about our actions, not simply about our words. Walking the walk, not just talking the talk, really does make a difference. How closely are your actions aligned with your thoughts and words? Pray: Dear God, let me be consistent in my words, thoughts, and actions as I seek to serve you.

Sunday | Romans 2:1-12

Unlike our human justice and judgment, God is always impartial. That might seem problematic to those who want special treatment from God. But those who understand their need for mercy give thanks that God’s mercy and grace are just as impartial. How can we learn to treat others equally as God does? Pray: Thank you, God, for both your impartial justice and your impartial mercy.

Key Verse: But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does

what is good, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. God does not have favorites. (Romans 2:10-11)


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Lesson 10 | August 5

Daily Meditations Lesson| January 8 | January 14–20 20


Lesson: Romans 2:1-12 • Background: Romans 2:1-16 As I am writing this lesson, I am preparing to move across country to a new city, state, and church. I have briefly met a few of the members, but mostly the church is a total unknown. When I read Paul’s letter to the Romans, I am amazed that he would write such a letter to those he had not even met. It certainly introduced Paul to the Roman Church, but he assumed that he had the authority to admonish them, even before he knew them. I would never be so bold in writing to a new church! (Of course, I am not Paul.) The Scripture we read on Monday is what might be called the thesis statement for the whole of Romans: “It is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). But this thesis must have raised some questions for those in the Roman Church. Though there were Jewish Christians in Rome, most in the church were probably of Gentile origin. To both Jew and Gentile, Paul had to answer questions about how the two parts of God’s people would relate. This chapter is the beginning of his explanation. Paul didn’t know the individuals in the church at Rome, but he did know people. Through the years of his ministry, he knew that the issue of Jews versus Gentiles—which he had dealt with many times—would continue to arise. Thus, he deals with it up front with the Romans. Paul starts with the need for both groups not to judge the other, but he makes it personal, using the singular “you” and not the plural. He is speaking to each person in the church, exhorting each not to judge anyone else. The issues that could produce judgment were certain behaviors that Paul would go on to elaborate. But the caution was that in judging others, a person was bringing judgment on themselves. If one person condemned another because of moral failure, the only way not to be condemned themselves was to never fail morally themselves. If a person condemned another because of deceit, they were condemned out of

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their own mouths unless they were perfectly free from deceit. Paul was not saying that God did not judge what was righteous or unrighteous, but he was saying that anger at unrighteousness belonged to God. Wrath and judgment belonged to God, but so did mercy. Paul also warned the Romans not to be upset at God’s mercy and grace. He reminded them that God’s kindness was intended to draw people to God, to help them see that they needed to change their lives. A failure to change, when one had experienced the mercy and kindness of God, was a refusal of God’s grace and left little room for anything but wrath. While this may seem harsh, it really is just common sense. If God offered grace and they refused it, what else could God do? Likewise, if God offered grace to someone outside of the people of God, who were they to refuse to acknowledge it? Like it or not, Paul seems to be saying God will honor those who honor God with their righteous behavior, and God will condemn those who condemn themselves through unrighteous behavior. And this was true for both Jews and Gentiles. God made no distinction and played no favorites. We are so conditioned to believe that we are saved by our faith alone and not our works that we sometimes forget that God does indeed care about behavior! And some have bought into the idea that reciting a formula or praying a particular prayer means that you get a ticket to heaven regardless. The flip side of that is that no matter how good and righteous a person is, if they haven’t recited the formula or prayed the prayer, we think they can’t be “saved,” by which we typically mean that they won’t “go to heaven.” In the light of this brand of theological thinking, Paul’s words here make no sense. So perhaps we need to readjust our thinking. Paul (like James in his writings) knows that actions betray the heart of a person. Thus, those who through the faithfulness of Christ have come to trust in God will have their lives and behaviors changed. And conversely, those who seem to know what is righteous—even if they have not officially accepted Christ—can be adopted by a

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gracious God. We should be neither surprised by this, nor upset by it. Note that I am decidedly not saying that “all roads lead to God” or anything like that. But I am saying—because I think Paul is teaching—that a sovereign God may choose to be gracious to those who don’t meet my definition of Christian, but who meet God’s definition of righteous. To some extent, this remains a mystery, but allowing for the gracious action of God means recognizing that God is free to do as God desires. Otherwise, we find ourselves in a situation where Christians can be as mean and nasty as they want, and still be “saved,” while those outside the faith can seek truth and seek to lead a life of holiness and still be condemned. And we leave no options for God to act in ways that we might not understand. This attitude of Paul’s flies in the face of those Jews who had believed that, because they were the chosen people, they would get special treatment by God. Paul insisted on God’s impartiality. Paul was clear that God was an impartial judge and would not be any easier on God’s people than on those who were outside the covenant. If anything, God expected more of those who were children of the covenant. This attitude of Paul’s also conflicts with the notion that Christians are somehow more loved by God than other people. Christians aren’t those who are more loved; Christians are those who know they are loved and rejoice in the love and saving grace of God. Christians are also those who are

tasked with revealing the love of God to the rest of the world. Seen in this light, the words of Paul make perfect sense. It is so tempting to think that we are God’s favorites. We want God to play favorites. In some ways, it doesn’t seem fair that God would be merciful to those who are not a part of the Christian faith. But we don’t get to make that call. We must continually be aware of whether or not our own behaviors are God-honoring, and we must leave any and all condemnation to our righteous and impartial judge.

Maturing in Faith

God’s impartiality may be one of the harder divine characteristics to grasp. At first, impartiality seems at odds with God’s justice. But perfect justice, as well as perfect mercy, requires impartiality. Do you think that it is possible for us—for you—to learn to see people with God’s impartiality? Is it possible to truly offer forgiveness and love to everyone, regardless of whether they deserve it or even whether they accept it? Can we— can you—honor those who act with righteousness, even if we don’t agree with the theology (or lack of theology) behind their actions? These are questions that I struggle with. But they are important questions to struggle with in a world where we are constantly in contact with those of many different belief and value systems. Pray: Jesus, you are the only door to God, but let me accept that you might choose to open it to those I don’t think worthy.

If I am completely honest, there are times when there are people who I would like God to condemn to the fiery pits of hell. Thankfully, I am not in charge of the universe. I cannot know someone’s heart, nor can I know if they will come to repentance. Most of the time, I am exceedingly grateful that God’s mercy, forgiveness, and gracious love are so far beyond mine that there is really no comparison. I am telling you this because I suspect that you, too, have had moments when you have just wished that God would blast someone with wrath. We don’t like to admit it to ourselves, but sometimes we get a little angry with God for loving those whom we don’t think are worthy. We find ourselves in a similar situation to the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.


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Daily Meditations | August 6–12 Monday | Exodus 16:13-17

Regardless of how much manna the people gathered, each had just what they needed—no more, no less. And they still disobeyed the command not to gather on the Sabbath! Why is it so hard for the people of God to believe that God will provide? Do you believe that God will provide what you need—maybe not what you want—but what you need?

Tuesday | Mark 12:38-44

I can almost hear the grumbling now: “She put everything she had in the collection plate and probably expects me to pay for lunch.” For some, giving was a duty. For the widow, giving was a joy. Which attitude is closer to yours? Pray: Lord, help me to give generously and not begrudge others the joy of their giving.

Wednesday | Philippians 2:5-11

God has a peculiar way of understanding power to our way of thinking. God chose to give up power in order that we might know the power of God’s love. Let the incredible generosity of Jesus’ self-giving love guide you in your own understanding of what makes a person truly powerful.

Thursday | 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

The churches in Macedon knew what the widow knew—that giving is a source of joy. We are so used to thinking of sacrificial giving as painful that we forget what spiritual blessings it brings. How do you think about giving? Is it painful or a source of joy? Pray: Lord, let my giving bring blessing to others and joy to me.

Friday | 2 Corinthians 9:11-15

Paul describes the blessings that come with supporting the ministries of the church. This is no “prosperity gospel,” but a call to be involved in the work of the Kingdom and receive the blessings of righteousness. How has your own giving helped the ministry of your own congregation? Are you able to experience the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you are supporting God’s work?

Saturday | 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Paul speaks both of the importance of giving and of being a good steward of the funds that the church has entrusted to him. He assures the church they can trust the one he has put in charge of caring for the large sums of money. Does your church take seriously its stewardship of money and see its financial people as having a holy mission?

Sunday | 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

We give because God gave to us the greatest gift of all. Reflect on what it means that the God who created the whole universe decided to come as a human and live among us, sharing our sorrows and dying our death. Give thanks that we can share the riches of God’s kingdom and the promise of new life as we share in Christ’s resurrection.

Key Verse: You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although

he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty. (2 Corinthians 8:9) SUMMER 2018

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Lesson 11 | August 12

GLOBAL ECONOMIC JUSTICE Lesson: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 • Background: 2 Corinthians 8; 9

One of the seasons of the church almost universally disliked by both pastors and congregations is stewardship season. Pastors try to figure out how to get their members to be more generous in their giving, and members try to figure out which Sundays they need to be gone to miss “commitment Sunday”! I learned a long time ago that the key to stewardship was twofold: making sure everyone knew how our money was being used, and making sure that as many as possible had input on our budget for spending. I have even gone so far as to post the current budget in the sanctuary and ask people to add notes that indicate where they think more or less money should be spent. When people understand that they are not supporting “the church’s” ministry, but are supporting their own ministry through the avenue of the church, they seem to have a different attitude about giving. In chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians, Paul was talking to the church about money. Resources varied widely among the congregations of the early church. In some places, wealthy Christians were able to support house churches and provide money for the missionaries like Paul who came to them. In other cases, churches were composed mainly of the poor and had difficultly providing for the needs of their community of faith. The offerings that Paul was referring to were ways for the churches to share in the burden of paying for the traveling teachers and preachers, and providing for the needs of Christians who were in difficulty in other places. Paul lifted up the example of the Macedonian church as one that had both a number of problems and was quite poor, but whose greatest blessing was giving to others. Their desire to give in the midst of their poverty showed how the power of the Spirit was at work among them. Paul even says that they begged to be able to give! They knew that giving meant the privilege of sharing in the work that Paul and others were doing. Paul not only mentioned the Macedonian church as an example, but reminded the Corinthians that the ultimate example of sacrificial and yet willing giving was the giving of Christ. Not only did Christ give up the power of God to become


limited and human, but he offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all in order to reconcile the world to God. Though the Macedonian church was a source of inspiration for all the churches, Paul didn’t ask others to give more than they could. He was very clear that a smaller gift from someone who had very little might be greater than a larger gift from one who had a lot. The important thing to Paul was that the gift be given willingly and out of a sense of service. Paul was also clear about the reason for the gifts. As situations changed, those who were in need at one time might be able to provide for someone else at another. Likewise, those who were helping to provide might find themselves in need. The generosity encouraged by Paul helped to equalize the needs of all, and allowed all to share both in the burdens and the joys and successes of others. In everything, Paul reminded the church that God was the ultimate provider and that they should trust in the Lord’s provision for them, just as the Israelites were called to do when they were wandering in the wilderness. As I said before, asking for money is not a favorite activity for most pastors. However, we should probably repent of that attitude. Others around us are constantly asking for money; charities, United Way, disaster relief, and GoFundMe campaigns raise money for all kinds of causes. And, honestly, I love being able to give. It gives me a thrill when I can contribute to someone else’s success or know that I have lessened someone’s pain. So, why am I so reluctant to ask for money for ministry I believe in passionately? I suspect it has to do with both pride and with not wanting to depend on others. But if I listen to Paul, I have to remember that depending on others for help with ministry is, in the end, placing our trust in God. So, my reluctance is, in some ways, a reluctance to trust God! Definitely something of which I need to repent.

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When I was a brand-new pastor, freshly licensed and appointed to a charge with four very small churches, I experienced the power of being the recipient of selfless giving. One of my congregations—one that worshipped about twelve to fifteen elderly people—decided to give me a “pounding.” For those of you not familiar with this practice, it is not the violent affair that it sounds like. The idea is for everyone to bring a pound of some kitchen item to the family being honored—a pound of butter or sugar or flour or whatever. It used to be the custom to hold a pounding for anyone who was setting up a new household, whether because of a marriage or a move. I was not going to live full time in the parsonage that the largest church had available, but still, this small church in Dodd City, Texas, wanted to do their part for their new pastor. As I said, almost all the members of this church were elderly, and most were on some kind of government assistance. What I got at the pounding included items that had clearly come from the assistance program (they were labeled as such). I got generic peanut butter, cans of vegetables, cheese, and other items that could barely be spared by the generous souls at this church. My husband and I were fairly poor, but at least he had a full-time job and I a part-time one, and we were not on a fixed income as they were. I was awed and humbled by their generosity at the pounding. They gave more than they could

Maturing in Faith

This is not stewardship season. Nor is it tax time. It is just the middle of summer. So, this might be a good time to examine your own thoughts about money and giving. Take a look at your check register or list of account transactions online. What do you spend your money on? If you are one of those on a fixed income, you may not have a lot of choice when it comes to discretionary funds. My mother got her social security check direct-deposited to her account, then bills like the mortgage, the electric bill, and the phone bill were automatically withdrawn. She never even saw most of the funds that went in and out of her account. So, she really had no control over how to spend that money. However, in her younger years, she and my father were wonderful about sharing what they had. Their house, when we were growing up, was large and beautiful, and they were always opening it to the church and other organizations for lunches,

as a sign of their support for the ministry of their church. When I read the words of Paul, when I think about how I love to give to others, and when I remember how much I have been blessed by the generosity of others, I do repent of my reluctance to talk about money. My new congregation may hear more than they wish, but I pray that they will know the blessings that come from sharing in ministry.

dinners, wedding receptions, you name it. They had a lot, but they gave a lot. In her later years, my mother was not able to give financially, but she did what she could to encourage and pray for others. Even if you do not have control of money, you have control of your time and prayer life, and those can be a great gift to others. If you are one who has been blessed with financial security, you have the opportunity to bless others. Don’t wait for people to just come calling, asking for money. Take stock and decide how you want to give to best empower the people of God and further God’s kingdom. Don’t deny yourself the joy of sharing in the ministry and mission of others.

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Daily Meditations | August 13–19 Monday | 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

The church as the body of Christ reminds us we are all part of the mystery of an incarnational faith. All are necessary and have a place. Reflect on your place in the body of Christ. Do you truly believe you have as much to offer as anyone? Pray: Dear Lord, help me see that all are needed in the body of Christ, including myself.

Tuesday | Galatians 5:16-26

The Christian life isn’t about “being good” under our own power. It is about being guided by the Spirit of God to holy and joyous living. We don’t have to use our own power because we have the Spirit’s power. In Methodist terms, we call this sanctifying grace. Pray: Holy Spirit, fall upon me and work within me to make me yours.

Wednesday | 1 Peter 3:8-12

We are not promised that we will never be abused for our faith. But we are promised that if we return love for hate and good for evil, we will receive as much blessing as we give. How have you been able to do this in your life? How have you experienced blessing in the midst of facing evil?

Thursday | Luke 6:27-36

Love your enemies. Jesus says it’s easy to love your friends, those who love you. But our love can’t stop there. No matter what our circumstance, we are called to respond with love and grace. That is true power and triumph. The blessing we receive is not material riches or status, but the incomparable riches of closer fellowship with God. Pray: Give me the courage to face down evil with love.

Friday | 2 Corinthians 10:1-5

Paul gently reminds the church that we do not live by human standards or compete with the world using human methods. It is so easy to get caught up in the arguments and ways around us. But we have different ways to fight our battles, and we have one who fights for us. Where have you needed to remember that God fights for you?

Saturday | Romans 12:1-8

Our pattern for living is renewed and shaped by the life of Christ. But we do not have to be good at every aspect of life. We are each given gifts to use for the building up of the body of Christ. What are your gifts? Have you used them lately? Pray: Lord, lead me to humbly offer my gifts in service to your church.

Sunday | Romans 12:9-21

How does Scripture shape your behavior? Do you segment your Scripture reading into a boxed-in time of your day or do you let it inform your actions and choices throughout the day? Keeping the words of Paul about genuine love, hating evil, and holding on to the good are an excellent way to let those words sink into your soul and become a part of who you are and how you act.

Key Verse: Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good.


(Romans 12:9)

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Lesson 12 | August 19

Daily Meditations Lesson| January 8 | January 14–20 20

LOVING AND JUST BEHAVIOR Lesson: Romans 12:9-21 • Background: Romans 12:9-21

Lots of people talk about love these days. It’s a popular topic on TV shows, commercials, and tons of other avenues. But society’s definition of love is not exactly the kind of love Paul had in mind. He began with the premise that love had to be authentic to be love. In other words, you couldn’t really fake love. Either you showed it or you didn’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you would feel warm and friendly and loving toward someone— there was no need to fake emotion. But it did mean that Paul believed it was possible to choose to act in a loving way toward people. Paul began by saying that they should hate evil and hold on to the good. This implied that turning away from evil and toward the good is an essential component of love. He continued that one should love like others were members of the family. This makes sense, particularly for the covenant community where all the members were considered as part of the family. But this was not a “come home and yell at the family because they have to put up with you” type of relationship. It was a relationship where each member honored the other. Paul included several characteristics of one who showed love. He encouraged enthusiasm as a mark of the Holy Spirit. He recommended happiness and hope. And he suggested that love enabled one to stand firm, all the while devoting oneself to prayer. Paul then gave a list of actions that indicated love—giving to others, welcoming strangers, blessing even those who curse you. These were not actions that depended on emotion or warm feeling, but on the conscious decision to love as God loved. Paul also exhorted the Corinthians to share in both the sorrows and joys of others, and to be blind to the status of the members of the community. He urged his readers to be sure to respect everyone and live at peace with all, if possible. Paul warned them that revenge belonged to God, and not to seek revenge. Finally, Paul reminded the people of Corinth that God’s love demanded that the hungry be fed and the thirsty be given water, even if the hungry and thirsty were your enemies. Once again, this was not about emotion, but about living one’s life

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under the lordship of Christ. All of these actions would lead to the defeat of evil, just as Christ had defeated evil by dying on the cross and rising to new life. There are a lot of books on the market that purport to tell us how to be loving. They speak of different love “languages” or they suggest particular responses that they consider loving. There are books for couples to use together that contain compatibility surveys for use in premarital or relationship counseling. Then there are books that tell us how to love our food, our pets, our world, and ourselves. Lots of information on loving is out there if you want to look it up! There are also whole industries devoted to helping people give others the signs of their love with flowers, candy, jewelry, golf clubs, power tools, days at the spa, weekends in Las Vegas, and so forth. None of this, however, seems to give us a more loving world or a more loving and compassionate society. In part, this is because we think of love just as an emotion. But we also think that love is somehow coincidental. Some of us “find love,” and some don’t. For the Christian, however, love is an essential quality, and being loving is, as I repeatedly say, a choice one makes. We are not left on our own to do this, thankfully. Embedded in his message about how to act in loving ways, Paul tells us how we can manage to be loving people, even when people are not lovable. The Holy Spirit empowers us with love as we serve the Lord. The avenue of prayer keeps us connected to the source of love. When I was in children’s ministry at a church during my seminary years, I had the dubious pleasure of teaching the young elementary class of children. It wasn’t a large class—maybe four or five children—but several of them were “whip smart,” as we say in East Texas. The lesson was about loving our enemies, and the curriculum basically said to do so because God says so. One bright young lady challenged that, “I don’t want to love my enemies; that’s silly! They’re my enemies!” She really could not see the point and why God would command such a thing. And I had to admit that she had a point. That particular congregation

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was in the middle of a raging conflict over direction and pastor. The adults of the church frequently had unfriendly things to say about those on the other side of the controversy, and almost no one paid attention to the fact that our children were all listening to the angry words. No wonder this child couldn’t believe that loving her enemies made sense; she certainly wasn’t seeing it from those of us who should have been modeling Christian behavior. That comment both woke me up to the fact that we needed to pay more attention to our words and attitudes, and that the curriculum for our children needed to be something that made sense to them. We eventually wound up with a way of teaching that introduced them to the source of love, instead of just talking about him. As I have counseled couples through the years, I have had ample opportunity to see both honest ways of loving and examples of love gone wrong. I have watched as couples dealt with the death of a beloved child and blamed themselves. I have seen partners grapple with the unfaithfulness of one of them. I have sat with people who treat with kindness and respect a spouse who no longer recognizes them after fifty-plus years of marriage, and I have dealt with those whose spouses have essentially abandoned them because of their mental status. I have counseled with those who had to make decisions whether removing or continuing life support was the more loving thing

to do. And I have had to find safe shelter for those whose partners spoke of love, but acted as abusers. While not everyone who loves well is a deeply faithful Christian (I have several atheist friends who act in very loving ways), everyone who is truly a deeply faithful Christian has been able to love well. The couples that I have married who are able to put Christ at the center of their marriage have a distinct advantage over those who put themselves or their children or even their relationship at the center. And those church members who are able to invoke the Holy Spirit, keep a sense of humility, and pray fervently seem much better able to deal with the inevitable crises in the church’s life. Along with 1 Corinthians 13, this passage helps us get a sense of the content of a loving heart and relationship. It helps us understand that we are not on our own in seeking to love, but can rely on the power of the Spirit and Christ at work in our lives.

Maturing in Faith

graciously, they can come back into relationship with us without feeling shame. However mature you are in your faith, you may still struggle with loving those who are your enemies or who are just flat unlovable. Or you might struggle with respecting those who are disrespectful to you. Remember that the capacity to act with love is a gift from God. You don’t have to do it alone. You can trust God to give you the patience and understanding to overcome evil with good. Pray: Gracious and Loving God, I don’t always want to love those who are my enemies. I am sometimes selfish toward those who are closest to me. Turn my heart toward you, filling me with your Holy Spirit, that I may turn my heart and actions in love toward others.

Think about people who you consider to be the most loving, whether in your church, workplace, or family. What is the basis of their loving actions? If you feel comfortable and have the ability to speak with them, you might ask them their secret. Even if they don’t name God, they will probably tell you that they have great respect for all people, that they try to treat everyone with equal fairness, and that they try to see others’ points of view. They probably don’t try to get revenge on others or hold grudges. They are likely the ones who, in every situation, will try to be a voice of calm, reason, and understanding. In Paul’s words, they defeat evil with good. Now think about your own ability to love. One benefit of being a person of “mature” years is that we can see the big picture and take the long view. If someone is being nasty to us today, they might just be having a bad day. And if we forgive them


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Daily Meditations | August 20–26 Monday | Colossians 2:6-12

In baptism, we are “buried with Christ,” which sounds rather grim. However, we are then “raised with Christ,” which is a joyful triumph. You were probably baptized long ago, maybe even as a baby. But baptism, while not repeatable, can be renewed. What parts of you need to be buried with Christ so that the transformed person can be raised with Christ?

Tuesday | Matthew 5:43-48

I talked about the difficulty in loving our enemies last week. Have you made any progress? A suggestion: make a list of those you dislike, are treating you badly, or have sinned against you. Every day, pray for each of those persons that the love of God might fill their lives and the Spirit of God direct their steps. See what happens to your own spirit!

Wednesday | John 17:14-19

This is part of the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples right before he was taken away to be crucified. Read it as a prayer, not just for the Twelve, but for all who seek to be disciples, including yourself. How does that change your understanding of Jesus’ words? How do you understand being “in the world, but not of the world”?

Thursday | Romans 8:1-11

If possible, read this passage in the CEB translation. It uses “selfishness” instead of “flesh,” clarifying that the desire to put oneself and one’s needs at the center of one’s life is our problem. Instead, those who focus on the Spirit are blessed to have an abundance of life. Pray: Help me, Lord, to live by the Spirit and not by my own selfishness.

Friday | Ephesians 4:25-30

Speaking truthfully is not always difficult. Speaking the truth with a loving heart and the intent to build up the body of Christ can be more challenging. What words of truth are you called to speak? How can you say these words in a way that helps others draw closer to Christ? Pray: Give me your words, oh, Lord, that I may speak loving truth.

Saturday | Ephesians 4:31–5:2

Putting aside bitterness may seem impossible. Giving up anger may feel undoable. And who doesn’t love to shout sometimes? How can we become the loving, compassionate people that we are commanded and compelled to be? Only by keeping our eyes on the one who gives us the highest example of love—Jesus Christ; only by embracing the forgiveness he offers.

Sunday | Colossians 3:1-17

The bond of love keeps us together in the new life in Christ. We don’t love because we have unity; we have unity because we love. But love means having the peace of Christ controlling our hearts and the Word of Christ living within us. In a time of increasing conflict in the church, pray for love that will bring unity and peace that will guide us to new life.

Key Verse: Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on

compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12) SUMMER 2018

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Lesson 13 | August 26


Lesson: Colossians 3:15-17 • Background: Ephesians 4:25–5:2; Colossians 3:1-17 One question I ask and get asked is this: What is the difference between a Christian and a nonChristian? Is it really possible to “know they are Christians by their love,” as the song says? Just as we did last week, this week we are thinking again about the Christian life. What does it mean to be Christian? How do we know what honors God? How do we gain the strength to live a Kingdom life? Paul used at least three metaphors, and possibly four, in this passage to help us understand. The first and perhaps most jarring of these metaphors is death. We are to put to death the parts of us that can’t live in God’s divine realm. As people of the covenant and citizens of the kingdom of God, we play by different rules than the rest of the world. We, in a sense, live in a different world. In a world where the things of heaven and earth are brought back together, those things which are only of earth must die in us. Note that this is not a physical death because our physical bodies are not the problem. Jesus lived in a fully human body and lived a life of complete obedience to God. So, the death that is referenced here is the death of all the things that focus our attention somewhere other than God. Our bodies in themselves are not evil, but when the desires of our bodies become more important than our desire for God, we are practicing idolatry. Notice also that it is not just desires of the flesh that are a problem, but the desire to push others down to make ourselves more important. That desire is the heart of anger, malice, and slander. Paul also warns against deceit because we serve the one who is the Truth. The second metaphor that Paul used was that of putting on clothing. Our clothing tells the world who we are; this was especially true in the first century. There were rules about who could wear certain types and colors of clothing, because one’s dress indicated one’s status. Even today, our clothing can say a lot about us. If you ride the bus on a regular basis or go to the mall, spend some time reflecting on what people’s clothing says about them. Gangs know that dressing in


certain clothes is a way to declare to the world their allegiances. Schools have to ban certain items of clothing because of the association with gangs. And, of course, groups such as the Scouts and sports teams understand the importance of dressing to help people know who is a part of the group and who isn’t. Can you imagine a game of soccer where everyone was wearing their own clothes and had nothing to distinguish the teams? The teams themselves might know who their mates were, but those watching the game would be greatly confused. Paul told the church to change how the world saw them by dressing differently than before. They were to take off the old ways of doing things and the old identities, and dress as those who belonged to the family of God. “Dressing” like God—living as one made in the image of God—was a sign to the world of the change that had taken place within. In God’s household, all the other differences of station, sex, class, nation, and so forth disappeared. All became brothers and sisters in Christ, equal in God’s eyes. Thus, they must treat each other in ways that made this equality a concrete reality in their communities. The outer garment worn over all is the bond of love. Every action needed to be cloaked with love and expressed through love. The tolerance that Paul spoke of was not what we think of as tolerance—passively putting up with someone you disagree with and letting everybody “do their own thing.” Instead, it meant actively seeking to resolve disputes and forgiving one another as the first step in the process. The final metaphor that Paul used was having the Word of Christ living within. This is such common language for us that we might even forget that it is a metaphor! It comes from passages such as Jeremiah 31:33 where God says, “I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts.” Instead of the Word of God being something on the outside—engraved on tablets in the temple—that was sometimes followed and sometimes ignored, the Word of God would become such a part of the people of God that the

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will of God was integrated into the lives of the people. Having God’s Word written on your heart means it is part of who you are; it is an integral part of your life, not something external that you can separate yourself from. As a musician, I love the fact that Paul recommended singing as a spiritual discipline that could share wisdom, teaching, and correction, and was instrumental (so to speak) in God’s Word living within. When my children were young, they participated in the children’s musicals at church. Every year they would learn a different Bible story by acting it out and learning songs that told the story. That is how they learned Old Testament tales of Daniel, the stories of Noah and Joseph, and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem told in Nehemiah and Ezra. They learned the New Testament stories of Jesus healing the man who friends lowered through the roof and, of course, the Christmas and Easter stories that shape our understanding of Jesus. But this way of learning is not just for children. For anyone who has ever sung Handel’s Messiah, or one of Bach’s Passions, or the Brahms’ Requiem, you know that many of the great musicians put to music the great stories of the Bible, and you can probably sing the words of Scripture easier than you can recite them. Charles Wesley wrote hymns for the same reason—to make the words of the Bible accessible to those who might not have had a Bible or weren’t even able to read. At least for

Maturing in Faith

You have been chosen by God. Let that sink in for a moment. No matter what your past or how bright or dim your future, you have been chosen by God for this time and place. Everyone you meet could potentially meet God through you. You are holy and beloved by God. Reflect on what that means for you. Are you able to accept that you are the beloved of God or do you still have trouble believing it? When my mom was in the hospital, suffering after a terrible car accident that was her fault, she sometimes needed my assurance that she was not being punished for something in her life. Maybe you have no difficulty believing you are loved, but know someone else in the congregation who needs reassurance. If you feel called to do so, express God’s love to someone who you are led to encourage.

some of us, music buries the Word of God deep within our hearts and souls in a way that mere words cannot. Finally, Paul reminded the Colossians that everything should be done in the name of Jesus. This may be a fourth metaphor, one we might have trouble recognizing. To say that we do things “in the name of Jesus” implies that we are acting on Jesus’ behalf—he as our Lord, and we as his servants. Just as Caesar had official spokesmen, Paul was telling the people that they were the spokespeople for God. Their speech and actions became critically important because they were the representatives of Christ in the world. What others knew of Christ depended on them. The people of God are the public messengers of God still today, bringing the good news of Jesus’ imminent arrival as King. Our speech and our actions today tell the world about Christ, just as much as those in the early church did then.

Finally, how do others know that you are a Christian, a servant of the Living God? Do you wear a cross? Do your words and actions shine the love of God into the world? We are at the end of this quarter’s study, so this is a good time to consider all that you have learned about the Christian life. How have the Scriptures that we have read and studied made an impact on your life? How have they formed and shaped you more closely into the image of God? What are you called to do that will let the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven? Pray: Gracious and Loving God, let me be a worthy example of your love and grace. Use me to work in the world on your behalf, so that all might know you. In the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray.

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I Merry-go-round Brain Teaser Question: You are a cyclist in a crosscountry race. Just before crossing the finish line, you overtake the person in second place! What place did you finish in? Answer: Second place. If you pass the person in second, you take second place, and they become third. Provided by Brain Teasers

One day the teacher asked the class for a sentence with the word “aftermath.” Without pause, my then seven-year-old granddaughter Elizabeth replied happily, “I can! After math, we had English.” Suzan L. Wiener


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Coming up in the Fall issue of

Christian Living in the Mature Years

* We step onto the red carpet at the Dove Awards with Jack Radcliffe.



Each quarter:

us what it’s like to run for public office in “From Governed to Governing.”

* We explore “God’s World and God’s People” in Larry Beman’s Bible lessons.

Each week a host will provide biblical context, then tie that to personal stories and daily living.

Fall hosts:

Brian Sigmon Samantha McGlothlin Stephen Handy

COMING THIS FALL! Don’t miss next Quarter’s

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Discipleship from a distinctly Wesleyan perspective


rayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness… this is what we commit to when we become members of The United Methodist Church, and it’s a big step. But A Disciple’s Path helps us look beyond membership, presenting an engaging approach to discipleship from a distinctly Wesleyan perspective. Discipleship is ongoing, so the 6-week study is perfect for new-member groups, but also works well in small groups of long-time members. It helps you develop spiritual practices, discover your unique gifts, and engage in ministry that brings transformation to your own life and to the lives of others and the world.

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“A Disciple’s Path resonates with the spirit of John Wesley, whose guidance applies to fledgling twenty-first century disciples.” —David Brownlee, Lead Pastor, Christ United Methodist Church, Jackson, Mississippi

James A. Harnish is the author of numerous books and Bible studies, including A Disciple’s Path, Strength for the Broken Places, Make a Difference, Simple Rules for Money, and You Only Have to Die. He is an acclaimed pastor and ordained elder in The United Methodist Church who has led congregations throughout Florida, most recently Hyde Park in Tampa where he served for twenty-two years.

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Profile for Christian Living in the Mature Years

Christian Living, Summer 2018  

This unique and interesting resource tailored for older adults is both a leisure-reading magazine and a personal Bible study. In this issue...

Christian Living, Summer 2018  

This unique and interesting resource tailored for older adults is both a leisure-reading magazine and a personal Bible study. In this issue...