August 17, 2017

Leaving every stone unturned to bread

Yesterday my Bible Study group discussed Luke 4 where we read about the temptations Jesus endured in the wilderness. Significantly, those tests of faith came immediately after His baptism in the Jordan River and immediately before His ministry began.

Each of those tests ultimately tempted Jesus to do something to stop the crucifixion – the final sacrifice to undo the works of the devil and remove every trace of sin inherent in every race of people. But the temptations began on a very human level of weakness – hunger.

After fasting for 40 days, Jesus became so close to starvation that Satan tried to take advantage of this weakened state. In the first temptation, he challenged Jesus by saying, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread,” Luke 4:3, English Standard Version (ESV.)

For one thing, if Jesus had done that, He would have been trying to prove Himself – something God doesn’t do throughout scripture. (See Exodus 3:14.)

For another, if Jesus had given in to hunger and temptation, the results would have been magic or sorcery, rather than the power of God.

Later, when the Lord turned water into wine and fed many thousands with a few little fish and a small amount of bread, He used what was there to perform, not magic, but miracles! He took something natural and real and expanded its potential – something we might pray for at every church picnic or potluck when we have less food than people!

Jesus wants us to reach out to others and feed His sheep without holding back in fear or stinginess, but He would never, ever tempt us to turn stones into bread! Why?

It would be a lie.

In the desert terrain where the temptations occurred, an abundance of wind-smoothed, rounded stones actually look like big loaves of bread. But rocks were not meant to be eaten. To make bread from stones means totally changing what something was meant to be into something that’s untrue to itself and to God’s creation.

Bread is what it is. We are who we are.

May we become our most genuine and truest selves in our lives in Christ.

May we become all God created us to be in The Way and Truth of Jesus’ Name.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

August 1, 2017

Write with salt, not sugar

Chemically speaking, various salts can be formed by combining a base with an acid. For example, common table salt (NaCl) consists of sodium chloride with neither element something you’d ever want to eat by itself!

There’s nothing sweet or saccharine about salt.

There’s nothing flowery in its inorganic matter.

Although people and animals must have some salt to survive, too much of this essential mineral tastes like ocean water or brine, which can make us gag!

Cliché though it is, a little salt goes a long way.

In light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13, however, that cliché brings hope. Figuratively speaking, the Lord said we’re to be the “salt of the earth,” a concise way of defining how we're to be, speak, act, and write effectively.

We might not feel as though we’re being effective or making any difference, but as we interact with the world through Christ-centered words, actions, and prayers, even a little saltiness goes a long way.

To get some ideas of how to sprinkle salt into our relationships and writings, let’s consider some of the power salt has:

Salt kills weeds.
The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur with nothing sprouting and no vegetation on it, Deuteronomy 29:23.

Purifies water

Then he (Elisha) went to the spring, threw salt into it, and said, This is what the Lord says: “I’ve healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land barren,” 2 Kings 2:21.

Adds flavor and seasoning
Is tasteless food eaten without salt? Job 6:6.

Salt also has the power to:

Keep food from spoiling.

Draw out infection.

Melt ice.

Those factual aspects and properties of salt gives us a few of its literal meanings, but sometimes we understand more by speaking or writing figuratively. That’s what Jesus did by calling us the “salt of the earth,” and what I aimed for in the following poem from my book, Outside Eden, published by Kelsay Books:

Shaking Salt

We want
We taste
We crave this old

Body cells
Electrical charges

never brackish

Our pores exude
Washers of wounds

Blood pressure
Bread leavening

Too much
Too little
ruins a thing

better tasting
Humor taken
with a grain

Plain speech

Salt of earth salt
of earth
You are the

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

July 10, 2017

Questions from an insomniac

During one of the several times I woke up last night, the idea for a book about sleep (or lack thereof) arose. I’ve since been doing biblical and online research on the topic, but I welcome your input as I want this investigation to include you and your concerns.

If thoughts come to you about any or all of the questions posed, please respond in the Comments section below.

1. What keeps you from going to sleep? (For instance, pain, medication, worry, caffeine, etc.)
2. Does anyone else in your family have sleep problems?
3. Once you’re asleep, do you wake up? How often?
4. What’s most apt to awaken you during the night?
5. How comfy are your bed and pillow?
6. Do you have a quiet space dedicated to sleep?
7. What helps you rest best? (For example, praying a particular prayer or recalling scripture)

Thank you for your responses to the above and anything else that might help those who have trouble sleeping as, reportedly, millions of us do!

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

July 6, 2017

Every Job A Parable

Pastor, author, and seminary teacher John Van Sloten investigates vocations in his insightful book Every Job A Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses & Astronauts Tell Us About God. Published by NavPress, who kindly sent me a copy to review via the Tyndale Blog Network, this book speaks of our Creator God, Who works in and through us in all kinds of work.

As the author of this highly recommended book explains, “The first step may be submitting to the fact that creation really is filled with the thoughts of God, that you are meant to grasp those thoughts, that work is a place where that can happen, and that none of this can happen apart from God’s Spirit illumining your way.”

Equally important, “For this process to play out in an effective way, we need to be very familiar with the God of the Bible. Without a deep knowledge of the God of the Scriptures (the Old Testament and the New) we won’t be able to recognize his signature moves in creation.”

For example, “Sanitation workers image a God who cleans and maintains his creation. Their work points to a central tenet of our Christian faith: that God is a God who cleans up our lives (justifies us through the humble, selfless, servant-like work of Christ) and then keeps them clean (maintains and sanctifies us via the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit).”

In the parables, Jesus used everyday jobs to illustrate deep spiritual truths, for instance, in His stories involving vineyard workers, judges, and farmers, the latter of whom know “they need to submit to and trust an entire ecosystem of outside forces” – all of which remain under God's care-filled management.

Then “the deeper we enter into an awareness of God’s presence at work, the more we will know him as the providential source of all things. As we experience him through our creativity, rationality, sense of timing, physical skills, or entrepreneurialism, we will be reminded that all of these good gifts – just like the sun and the rain – come from (God’s) gracious hand.”

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-writer and reviewer

Every Job A Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses & Astronauts Tell Us About God, paperback


July 1, 2017

What you need to know before quoting Bible verses

God’s Word belongs to everyone! However, copyrights of English translations of the Bible belong to the translators or Bible publishers unless the text is in the public domain. This means we cannot quote more than X number of Bible verses from most of the contemporary translations without requesting permission from the publisher.

Most translations of the Bible will let you know in the front pages exactly how many verses you’re allowed to use in one manuscript. To give you an idea, I opened my New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and saw we can quote up to 500 verses – IF that constitutes LESS than half of what we’re writing. The New Living Translation (NLT) and New International Version (NIV) also allow up to 500 verse, but those quotes must comprise less than one-fourth or 25 percent of the manuscript.

Regardless of the translation used, each must be acknowledged at the end of a quotation.

For example, here’s a quotation taken from The Jerusalem Bible.

“Yes, God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned,” John 3:16-18a, The Jerusalem Bible.

If you need to use more verses than the publisher allows, contact the company, describe your project, and request permission to quote your expected number of verses.

Another option is to find a translation in the public domain. With rare exception, this usually means an English translation published before or by the beginning of the 20th century since, by now, the copyright has most likely expired and not been renewed.

A quick search on the Bible Gateway website provided the following list of Bible translations in the public domain, which you can find in their online library – a real plus if you want to copy/paste large portions of scripture instead of retyping.

Some English Translations of the Bible in the Public Domain:

American Standard Version (ASV)
Darby Translation (DARBY)
Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
King James Version (KJV)
World English Bible (WEB - a contemporary translation)
Young's Literal Translation (YLT)
Reina-Valera Antigua (RVA)
Biblia Sacra Vulgata (VULGATE)

If you’re concerned about quoting scripture in your project, another option is to paraphrase, which is what I often do. Since quotation marks wouldn't be appropriate in such instances, I usually set the text apart with linebreaks and/or italics.

In my search on Bible Gateway for texts to paraphrase, I seldom seek translations in the public domain but am more apt to read at least a half-dozen or more contemporary versions of the many choices they have available on their website. Then I mix, mingle, and paraphrase those scriptures into a text I call “prayer-a-phrased” since I’m prayerfully counting on the Lord to give me discernment and whatever else is needed to be true to the meaning of the verses.

Why do I do this? I love it! I love the Bible in all of its English renditions. And I love translating passages of scripture into a poem, prayer, paragraph, or conversation that seems immediate, placing God’s Word in the now.

This process also helps me (and, hopefully, you as reader and/or writer) to internalize Holy Scripture, making it more “real” as though we’re there in person, experiencing the Bible as it unfolds. If, however, you’re unsure how scripture unfolds from Genesis to Revelation, I urge you to first read, read, read the Bible from cover to cover in several translations to prepare you for a lifetime of Bible-based writings in Jesus’ Name.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, with praise for God’s Word and many thanks to Bible Gateway

For examples of the prayer-a-phrases mentioned, see Bible Prayers and What the Bible Says About Love.

June 30, 2017

Studying God's Word together - Christian poet and writer Mary Harwell Sayler

Studying God's Word together - Christian poet and writer Mary Harwell Sayler:

" After prayer, we take turns reading the scriptures aloud, pausing at logical pauses in the Bible text, thinking about what we've read, embracing the silence, then sharing the insights God has given us and any footnotes the whole group might want to hear. "

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June 15, 2017

What light do we shine?

As children of God, we’re to be light-bearers to the world – not unlike a lighthouse guiding people out of dangerous waters and into safety on shore. But what if our light flickers unreliably? What if it dims or has no more shine than a nightlight on a vast sea?

Isaiah 49:6 says, “I will make you a light to the nations, extending My salvation to the ends of the earth.”

A Light that reaches to the ends of the earth.... That’s one powerful light! And that’s what our writings need. But how do we get solidly connected to its energy, range, and luminosity?

By praying for the Light of Christ and constantly reading God’s Word….

This week a discerning Christian friend reminded me of a group I’d felt uneasy about and meant to check out but just hadn’t until she expressed concerns. A quick Google search uncovered claims of Christ’s return couched in “Christian” language and catch-phrases. If I weren’t familiar with the Bible, I might have been drawn in or fooled.

As Christian poets and writers, we cannot afford to be led away from God’s Word – not only for ourselves but for the countless people whom our writings influence.

Those childhood recollections we have from Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or religious classes in parochial schools gave us wonderful flashlights to illuminate our own Christian walk. But we need stronger light, greater power, and more and more of God’s Word if we’re to spread the Light of Christ with beauty, accuracy, and far-reaching effects throughout the whole world.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-writer and Bible reviewer

June 1, 2017

Branching out in Christ

“I Am the Vine. You are My branches. If you remain in Me, and I in you, you’ll produce much fruit. But apart from Me, you can do nothing,”
John 15:5.

As I read several of the many translations of John 15:5 on Bible Gateway, I noticed that the nouns remained the same: Vine, branches, fruit.

The verbs changed a bit, telling us to either abide or remain and then to produce or bear fruit. But, regardless of the synonyms chosen for a particular translation, the thought remains the same:

Jesus is the Vine.

And, we are not leaves who leave Him, nor are we leaves that turn colors and fall, lifeless, to the ground, leaving a mess for someone else to rake up!

Jesus is the Vine.

We are the branches.

A branch grows, expands, and, well-tended, becomes fruitful, but a broken branch – one that severs itself from the main vine – accomplishes the same thing in every translation:


Without Jesus as the base, the core, the root of our lives, nothing we do will be effective in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is The Vine.

We are The branches – ready to branch out!

May our lives continue to abide in Christ, growing spiritually and remaining ever fruitful for Him.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2017

May 24, 2017

WHO do you say I AM?

Long before the Caesars renamed Paneas to Caesarea Philippi in honor of themselves, the local residents worshipped Baal, Pan, and nature gods.

As Jesus walked through that place of pagan spirits, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?”

According to Mark 8, they told Him, “Some say John the Baptist. Others say you’re Elijah or one of the other prophets.”

Then Jesus said, “But Who do you say I AM?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah!”

How true, true! However, Jesus knew everyone expected that long-awaited liberator to free them from the Romans and other rulers, not offer freedom from sin! And so, He strictly charged His followers to tell no one.

Later, the Transfiguration took place on a mountain in that same pagan territory. This spectacular meeting with Moses and Elijah showed – literally, figuratively, and spiritually – the coming together of the Law and the Prophets in Jesus – The Word in Whom all things will eventually come together and be restored.

Meanwhile, Jesus had work to do. Three times He told His disciples what was about to happen to Him and how they too, as His followers, would suffer. Some of us, though, are slow to learn. For example, James and John responded to Jesus’ explanation of what to expect by asking for top positions on either side of Him!

Who does scripture say Jesus is?

Genealogies in the Gospels say Jesus is a Son of Abraham, David, and Solomon, but also a descendant of Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute in order to seduce Judah, and of Rahab, who actually was a prostitute, and of Ruth a Moabite, and of Bathsheba an adulteress, and, of course, Mary an unwed mother.

The Angel Gabriel said Jesus would be the Child of Mary and the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:23 said Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

At Jesus’ Baptism, God said, “This is My Beloved Son.”

The Gospel writer John said Jesus is The Word that spoke creation into being.

Scriptures also show Jesus as a teacher, a miracle worker, a wine-maker, a stretcher of food, a healer, a calmer of storms, a raiser of the dead, an exorcist, a servant to all, and The One Who suffered, died, and rose from the dead.

But Who does Jesus say He is?

The One Who came to undo All of the works of Satan, beginning with the Fall in the Garden of Eden

The Way to forgiveness and fellowship with God

The Truth about God’s love

The Life eternal

Do any of these words from God’s Word about Jesus Christ The Word speak to your current situation or worries? Do any of them offer hope for you, your loved ones, the church, the world?

Who do you say Jesus IS?

Mary Harwell Sayler
, © 2017

What the Bible Says about Love: Love and honor others

What the Bible Says about Love: Love and honor others:

Do you wish church people would show more love and honor to each other? The Bible wants it to start with you and me.

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May 19, 2017

Drawn in Bible Study: Mary, the Mother of Jesus

When I heard about Mary: Seeing God through the Eyes of a Mother by Eugene H. Peterson, I immediately requested a review copy from Tyndale Blog Network for at least three reasons:

1. The work of Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message (MSG), is consistently worth reading!

2. Positive writings about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, have been too few, except among Catholic book publishers or devotional writers, who annually focus on the Nativity.

3. The idea of a “Drawn in Bible Study” appealed to me greatly for its fresh approach to study and discussions about God’s Word.

Those aspects of this book by NavPress do not disappoint, despite a couple of negative reactions on my part. To get those out of the way, my first “Oh, no!” concerns the tight binding of the paperback cover, which does not lay flat or cooperate well if you want to color pages as the publisher most likely intended.

My other regret for this book concerns a couple of Bible verses chosen to be illustrated: 1.) “The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold,” from Luke 1, MSG. 2.) “They suspected He was getting carried away with Himself,” from Mark 3, MSG.

Perhaps the publisher felt those verses needed to be emphasized. Regardless, the other quotations from scripture edify readers and build faith. Indeed the overall content of the text makes an insightful, innovative, spirit-filled way to invigorate a Bible study and get better acquainted with Jesus’ Mother Mary.

As part of the “Drawn in Bible Study” series, this highly recommended book also includes:

• artwork and spaces in which you can color or draw,

• contemporary verses from The Message,

• questions to help you connect your life with scripture,

• comments from Eugene Peterson,

• leader’s notes to encourage you to involve others in this refreshing study of God’s Word.

Reviewed by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, poet-writer, Bible reviewer, and lover of God’s Word.

Mary: Seeing God through the Eyes of a Mother, Drawn in Bible Study, paperback

May 17, 2017

Mary’s Poetry Books

Mary’s Poetry Books:

What a blessing! Rebekah Lyn Books lists my poetry books, books on writing, and reviews on their website.

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