Category Archives: Bible

Fleeing From Hell or Running to God?

Today, I had a good, practical question about my sermon on Hell this past Sunday (September 26, 2021). The question boiled down to this: if Hell only means destruction, if the consequence of Hell is not eternal torment, but rather simply that one ceases to exist, what reason is there to turn to God? What follows are short versions of my two best answers.

First, most people want to continue to exist. Sometimes, on hectic days, I think ceasing to exist wouldn’t be so bad—it would really free up my schedule—but most of the time, I fall into the human default position of wanting to continue being. When the early Methodists talked about “fleeing the wrath to come,” they were probably referring to eternal torment. However, for me, annihilation would still fall under the category of “the wrath to come.”

Second, while both fleeing Hell and moving toward God point you in the same general direction, your motivation can make a big difference. For example, would you want to marry someone who only wanted to get out of a bad situation, or would you prefer to marry someone who loved you and wanted to be with you? I think God will take us either way, but I can’t help but think that God would rather we come because God’s love pulls us in than that we come because the fear of Hell is pushing us away. Either way, we will be welcomed home, but our motivation makes a difference in the nature of our journey.

A Hedge of Protection?

Until a few years ago, I had never heard anyone ask God for a “hedge of protection.” I’ve heard it a lot since then, often in reference to Covid-19. The reference would appear to be to the way thorny hedges were used to protect livestock during biblical times. I liked the idea but I have noticed that most of the time it’s invoked, it’s requested by people who have otherwise declined to do their part to look after themselves and those in their care, much less their neighbor at large.

I believe in asking for God’s help, but to ask for God’s help while at the same time refusing to take advantage of other forms of help that God has placed close at hand is something difficult for me to bear. I wanted to write a pastoral blog post advising folks not to do this. The first step was to look up where in the Bible the phrase “hedge of protection” comes from. That first step turned out to be a doozy.

I looked up the phrase in the King James Version. There is no use of the term “hedge of protection,” but the word “hedge” is used nine times. You may disagree, but to me the most likely verse to be a candidate for the origin of the term “hedge of protection” is Job 1:10. There we read “Hast not thou made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land” (KJV). 

My first thought was that the people who started using this phrase apparently did so without reading the rest of the book of Job. Under no circumstances do I want my life story to follow Job’s narrative arc. But there’s more, these words are not spoken by God, or the devout Job, or the narrator, but by Satan. To me that’s more than enough reason to avoid using the phrase.

If someone can find another biblical reference where someone like the author of the Psalms invokes a hedge of protection, I’ll be happy to take the phrase back up, it has a nice ring to it. Until then I’m going to suggest that we stop using it. If you’re looking for a replacement, might I suggest that you ask God to extend God’s wings over you (e.g. Psalms 36:7 and 91:4). As near as I can tell, the Devil never invokes this image, but Jesus does (Matthew 23:27 and Luke 13:34).

Finally, as you invoke God’s protection, take up and use every means God has given you to protect yourself and others.

The Bible as a Model for U.S. History

This past Sunday (July 4, 2021), I talked about the fact that we as a country are blessed by the fact that we can (and do) admit our mistakes, repent, and seek to do better. That involves being truthful about our history and not omitting our mistakes as a nation. Here’s an article by Mark George asserting that to do so is to follow the example found in the Bible.

“As a Bible scholar, I am struck by the ways the Bible tells both the good and bad of ancient Israel’s history – even when the narratives conflict. Instead of only celebrating moments of glory or tragedy, the Bible recounts both together. This approach to history – treating narratives as one rather than cherry-picking the bits that fit a certain point of view – offers an example of how we can reframe the debate about how the U.S. tells its own history.” — Mark K. George

You can read the whole article at https://bit.ly/3yxGr6L.

In The Year That King Uzziah Died

For those (including myself) who are anxious about the election: “In the year that King Uzziah Died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6.1, NRSV). So begins the account of the call of the prophet Isaiah. King Uzziah had been a popular, successful king, and his death provoked anxiety about Judah’s (the southern kingdom of Israel) future. So it was probably not a coincidence that it was at this time of anxiety that Isaiah had his vision of the real King of Israel, the Lord of Hosts. Of course, the Lord of Hosts ruled not only Judah but the whole world and that still holds true today. It’s important for us, as Christians, to remember that presidents come and go, the Lord, the true king, abides.

*Please note that I say this same thing every time there’s a presidential election.

Sunday’s Sermon has Changed

Last week, I warned you all to listen carefully to the Exodus reading because it was going to be part of the sermon this Sunday (September 13, 2020). I was wrong. Things have moved in a different direction, I’m going to be preaching not on Exodus (both the book and the event) but on Matthew 18:21-35. I’m doing this because the passage is about a concern (the need to forgive in order to be forgiven) that has cropped up a lot in pastoral conversations. I will eventually be referencing the Exodus, but not until Easter Sunday 2021. I’ve learned and thought a lot about the Gospel reading, I’m looking forward to sharing some of that work with you.

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

We have a Zoom meeting scheduled for the Wednesday Evening Bible Study at 6:15 p.m. We’ll be looking at the fifth chapter of Luke. Here are the details:

Join Zoom Meeting
https://bit.ly/2BTwgBn
Meeting ID: 931 9116 5788
Password: 67410

One tap mobile
+16699006833,,93191165788#,,,,0#,,67410# US (San Jose)

Dial by your location
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 931 9116 5788
Password: 67410

Please note that I have set up separate meetings for the Communion Service and the Bible Study on the Gospel of Luke.

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

We have a Zoom meeting scheduled for the Wednesday Evening Bible Study at 6:15 p.m. We’ll be looking at the fifth chapter of Luke. Here are the details:

Join Zoom Meeting
https://bit.ly/2BTwgBn
Meeting ID: 931 9116 5788
Password: 67410

One tap mobile
+16699006833,,93191165788#,,,,0#,,67410# US (San Jose)
+12532158782,,93191165788#,,,,0#,,67410# US (Tacoma)

Dial by your location
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York) or
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 931 9116 5788
Password: 67410

Please note that I have set up separate meetings for the Communion Service and the Bible Study on the Gospel of Luke.

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

We have a Zoom meeting scheduled for the Wednesday Evening Bible Study at 6:15 p.m. We’ll be looking at the fifth chapter of Luke. Here are the details:

Join Zoom Meeting
https://bit.ly/2BTwgBn
Meeting ID: 931 9116 5788
Password: 67410

One tap mobile
+16699006833,,93191165788#,,,,0#,,67410# US (San Jose)
+12532158782,,93191165788#,,,,0#,,67410# US (Tacoma)

Dial by your location
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York) or
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 931 9116 5788
Password: 67410

Wednesday Evening Activities

I’m someone who regularly loses the invitation to Zoom meetings, so I’m reposting this information:

We have Wednesday evening Holy Communion tonight at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday evening Bible Study will follow at 6:15 p.m. To keep things simple, I’m just going to use the same Zoom meeting, but you can come and go as you please. Here’s the information to log on, let me know if you need tech support.

Join Zoom Meeting
https://bit.ly/2Wdiguc
Meeting ID: 918 7453 9985
Password: 67410

One tap mobile
+13462487799,,91874539985#,,1#,67410# US (Houston)
+16699006833,,91874539985#,,1#,67410# US (San Jose)

Dial by your location
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 918 7453 9985
Password: 67410

A Devotion from Rev. Rick Saylor

A few days ago in the Great Plains Conference daily email there was a devotion from your former pastor, Rick Saylor. With his permission I’m sharing it here.

Being troubled has taken on a life of its own in these pandemic times. It creates various intense emotions and disturbances. Mental preoccupations and confusion as well as a general sense of unsettledness. Everyone is living with being troubled in one way or another. It’s a new global normal! And we struggle with managing our “troubles” and our inner reactions to them like never before.
 
Our Judeao-Christian Biblical tradition often addresses human troubles, fears and anxieties with realism yet hope. A familiar verse of the Gospels addressing human difficulty records Jesus saying “let not your hearts be troubled.” Note he addresses our hearts not our minds. Troubles will always create stress and conflict in our thinking. It’s the way of things. But Jesus points to our hearts – the core of our being and the essence of who we are. He seems to be saying do not let your God given self, your identity, your spirit be “troubled” – Greek word “tapassestho” – which translated may mean don’t let the essence of who you are (your heart) be “stirred up, disturbed, unsettled or thrown into confusion.”
 
Jesus is appealing to our higher nature – our better angels if you will – to rise above being troubled – by being “trustful.” “Believe in God, believe in me” are the next words of the verse. Jesus says believe in me, believe beyond you, in times of overwhelming difficulties that a power of love and benevolence holds me, holds you, holds the world. Even now in this global COVID-19 pandemic. So, choose trust not troubles as your inner default. A trust that affirms who you are and who’s you are, that is a reality beyond any troubles and any experience of “being troubled.”