Bible Marathon: Seven Things I Learned In Reading the Entire Bible in (Roughly) One Year

Here’s a reflection I wrote for Easter Praise! blog:

God is Calling

Cover of The NRSV Daily BibleIn the summer of 2014, I began hearing about a program at Easter Lutheran Church called “Bible in a Year.” The challenge was to read the bible, cover-to-cover, over the course of a year, beginning on Oct. 1, 2014. Outside of the obvious biblical stories, history, and facts I learned, there are a few things I would like to share from the experience:

1. The Old Testament is a lot longer than I realized. Have you ever counted the pages in the bible–with all that fine print? Tried to read the Old Testament straight through?  After the first month or two I found myself positively hungering for Jesus (as did many of us!). The benefits of reading the Old Testament, however, are many. For one thing, I came to understand ancient Middle-Eastern history/culture a little bit better—and that also helped me understand the situations surrounding the life and times of…

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Light the Night Walk

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.  –Matthew 25:40 (NAB)

Many of you have been praying for my dad, who lives in Arizona and is struggling with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood. I am so grateful for your prayers!

"Bobski" (my dad earlier this year)

Since May, Dad (called “Bobski” by his friends) has been doing an intense regimen of chemo that involves long stays in the hospital in Arizona, where he lives.

This past week, my husband and I spent time visiting Dad and other family members. It felt so good to put my hand in his and think back to the days when I was his “little girl.”

I firmly believe that God does not target people for suffering, but rather hopes that seeing others suffer, we will do something to show our love for others and make the world a better place. My dad certainly does not deserve this suffering of Burkitt’s lymphoma any more than anyone else does. If I could, I would remove Dad’s current pains, just as he would have removed my illnesses as I was growing up, if it had been in his power.

But God can bring about something good out of our suffering. In this situation, my family has created a team to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night Walk” on this coming Saturday. Light the Night Walk is a walkathon to raise money to provide free information and family support groups to those affected by these diseases, life saving research to end blood cancers, and other similar services to families affected by leukemia and lymphoma. We are not able to prevent my dad’s condition, but we can work together with the hope of helping others or maybe even one day preventing these diseases.

If you would like to make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Dad’s honor, you can support “Bobski’s Team” by clicking here.  (You should see the same picture of Dad as in this blog post.)

Until next time, thank you for your prayers and support–and Amen! 

Thanks for the prayers

Meditation Garden at Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona--photo by Julie McCarty

A big thank you to all of you who have been praying for my dad and our family. Your continued prayers are appreciated. (Dad said it was okay to put this on my blog.)

For those of you who don’t know, my dad has been in and out of the hospital lately with the sudden onset of an aggressive form of lymphoma. The doctors are doing their best to treat it, but the situation is rather complex. Dad spent this past weekend at home, but this afternoon he was put back in the hospital.

My dad and all the family is grateful for all the prayers & good thoughts/positive energy being sent our way.  —Julie 

 

A Personal Focus for Lent

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there. . . . Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.  (Exodus 24:12, 18)

 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights. . .     (Matthew 4:1-2)

Ash Wednesday is just around the corner, and I’m wondering what spiritual practice I might do for Lent. If you are like me, you have experienced various Lenten penances related to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving over the course of your life. Some of my experiences produced quality spiritual growth. Other times I failed to follow through or had results that were, um, a little “silly” (such as the time I gave up potato chips and ate so many chocolate chip cookies that I actually gained weight during Lent).

Waiting for Spring -- Photo by Julie McCarty 2011

One spiritual practice that has been meaningful for me is reflecting on a single word, phrase, or bible verse for the whole 40 days. For example, one year I focused on the virtue of patience. I read about patience and pondered what patience is and what patience is not (laziness or procrastination). I asked God in prayer to help me be patient. When life brought me annoying moments, I tried to be patient.

One possible pitfall of this theme approach is that I might forget to follow through for the entire 40 days, but I have found ways around that. I can post my theme in places I’ll see it, such as the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, computer screen saver or cell phone banner. I can find a book on the topic and spend a few minutes each day reading about it. I can make it a point to weave my theme into prayer time and the routine of daily living. On occasion, I’ve asked spiritual people what they think about the topic.

When making plans for Lent, it’s important—as always—to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your choices. (Why do I always think of this tip last? It should be first!) The “theme approach” may not be for everyone.   Think about what will build your relationship with God, and what will deeper your love for others.      

May all we do glorify God and build bonds of love throughout the earth. Until next time, Amen!

Spiritual Aerobics for Lent

   If focusing on a theme doesn’t appeal to you, here are 13 other ideas:                 

  • Volunteer at a food pantry, homeless shelter, or other charitable organization.
  • Plan quality time with your children: eat together, use discussion starters, read together.
  • Organize recycling in your home in order to take care of God’s creation.
  • Visit a lonely or homebound person.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent with television, social networking, internet surfing, or video gaming.
  • Listen to inspiring, spiritual music while commuting to work.
  • Care for the body God gave you by increasing your sleep or exercise.
  • Read one book of the bible or other spiritual book slowly and reflectively. 
  • Sort out closets and donate clothing to those who need it. 
  • Teach your children a new prayer and pray it together when you gather for meals.
  • Be kind to someone you often ignore. Pray each day for him or her. Smile genuinely and listen respectfully to this person.
  • Fast from shopping for clothes (or books, electronic gadgets, makeup, etc.)
  • Visit a retreat center. If you cannot go away on a retreat just now, make arrangements to go on retreat later this year.

Spiritual Aerobics–Making Choices

Spiritual Aerobics
Spiritual Aerobics:
To go with the “Making Choices” reflection just posted moments ago

  1. Consider something in your life that feels “stuck” or undecided. What is one, small positive step you could take to move the process along? (Example: Making one phone call to gather info about the matter.) 

 2. Journaling: Think of a time in your past when you made a good decision. What helped you through the process of decision-making at that time?

(Photo credit: “Yoga” by Zdenka Darula–Dreamstime)

Dealing with Fear

“And you kill what you fear
And you fear what you  don’t understand”
                        –Lyrics from “Duke’s Travels” by Genesis
 
Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
                        –Words of Jesus in Mark 6:50

Sparrow photo by Marek Kosmal –Dreamstime.com

Have you ever noticed how fear permeates our society like a kind of illness? Although it is part of the human condition to have to deal with a certain amount of tension, it seems to me that the overall anxiety level of our culture has escalated in the past decade.

 While humans have always had to deal with fear, Americans are bombarded with negative, anxiety-producing messages every day, thanks to the many forms of modern communication. Advertisers play on our underlying nervousness about becoming old, infirm, weak, or ugly. Politicians stoke our fears in order to gain votes. Religious preachers speak of a terrifying time they call Armageddon (Is this supposed to make me want to join their church?), while environmentalists warn about catastrophe caused by global warming.

It’s not that we shouldn’t be concerned about issues of our day or things that touch our lives in big and small ways. However, I am concerned that too many decisions are made out of raw fear and too many of us are stuck in a fear-based lifestyle. 

I’m not immune to the effects of all the negative messages that surround us and infect us with anxiety. In fact, it is because of my own fears that I am exploring this problem here on the Spiritual Drawing Board. 

As part of the human condition, fear has its place. When you see a runaway semi-trailer headed your way, fear can make you swerve to avoid collision. “Fear of God” (healthy respect) can motivate a person to change his or her life for the better. Feeling an intuitive fear in an unusual situation sometimes warns us of real danger.  

But—and here’s the big question—how does one reconcile all this anxiety, fear-centeredness, and fear-mongering with the words Jesus said repeatedly, “Be not afraid”? So many people in our country say they believe in Christ, claim to follow his teachings, and even want to call America a “Christian nation” (something that makes me uncomfortable), while at the same time acting fearful about all sorts of dangers, real and imagined, creating scary scenarios, and spreading ideas that only serve to increase fear.  

However, is this how the real Jesus of Nazareth would want us to live? As slaves to fear? Jesus himself experienced a kind of fear or agony in the garden just prior to his arrest and death on the cross, but he did not let that anxiety stop him from accomplishing God’s plan for his life. Jesus trusted God, his Abba (Father/Daddy) completely. This trust was not the belief that nothing bad would ever happen, but rather that God was always with him, through both the good times and the bad times. 

In the gospels, Jesus tells people again and again not to be afraid—and these people he spoke with had a good deal more to be afraid of than the average American of today. Most of his listeners did not have the abundance of possessions that most of us have, they did not have credit cards, life insurance, or the advanced health care we have today. Most of Jesus’ friends would not have been considered full-fledged citizens (his early followers were Middle Eastern Jews living under Roman rule). In fact, in the years that followed Jesus’ death, some of them would give their own lives for following Christ—and yet, Jesus told them don’t be afraid. 

As the year 2011 continues to unfold, there are many challenges ahead. Jesus did not promise us we would never suffer, but rather that he would be with us in our suffering. The Divine Spirit is with us in the depths of our hearts. Christ is with us when we gather together for worship, Word, and Sacrament. When we are attentive to God’s presence, we hear not the voice of fear and darkness, but rather the still, tender voice of the Holy Spirit. 

Sparrow--by Marek Kosmal --Dreamstime

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”     –Jesus in Matthew 10:28-31.

Note: The sparrow images in this post are segments of an image by photographer Marek Kosmal (Pixelman) from Knurów, Poland and obtained through a free-use agreement with Dreamstime. To view the original photo, follow this link: http://www.dreamstime.com/free-stock-photo-sparrows-rimagefree1279766-resi1238037    .  Many thanks, Pixelman!