March 13, 2019 – Sowing Seed, Faith and Good Soil- Mark 4:1-9, 1 Peter 3:14-16

Jesus teaching by the sea

Again he (Jesus) began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:  “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.  Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:1-9 (ESV)

The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. This is the reason why churches do VBS and Sunday School or Kids’ Worship.  This is why we do adult Bible studies and have Catechism for middle schoolers and teens.  How can we have faith in Someone we have never learned about?  Ideally parents will bring their children to the baptismal font as early as possible, for baptism is a means of grace and a tangible proof that God names, claims and chooses us.  In baptism we are given the hunger and thirst to hear and receive God’s word- but we are still in need of someone to teach it, and we need to be brought to hear it.

Not everyone has the advantage of being born to Christian parents or of being brought to the font as an infant. Even so, grace and faith also comes from hearing God’s Word. The only problem for us is we have no way of knowing if the seed we sow in preaching and teaching will fall on good soil or not.  It’s discouraging for parents and teachers when we teach God’s Word and it seems as if we are being ignored or outwardly mocked for teaching what we know is true.  However, Jesus warns us that not every seed we sow will fall on good soil, and that’s to be expected.  Sometimes we will get discouraged by the indifferent or hostile responses of others to the Word of God.

The fact that the seed of good teaching doesn’t always fall on fertile soil does not mean we should be silent, or that we should cherry-pick our audience as if we could know who will hear and believe and who will hear and scoff or ignore. How do we know if the Holy Spirit would use our words and witness to bring another person to saving faith in Jesus?  How do we know if He would work faith in a person by them remembering something we said many years prior?  People are still coming to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit-inspired words of the apostles and other human writers of Scripture, thousands of years after they died.  So how can we stay silent even if we know some people aren’t going to be “good soil?” Especially when we know that faith comes by hearing?

There will be people who will openly dispute or mock us when we share God’s Word with them. The apostle Peter tells us what to do when we are confronted or mocked:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV)

Some of the seed of good teaching will be snatched away before it hits the ground. Some will fall on rocky soil. Some of it will start to grow and then wither away.  But the seed that catches in good soil is worth all the sowing and then some. God promises us that there will be seed that falls on good soil even when most of it might not, and that he will make that harvest very, very good.  In faith, we teach, we explain, we live as best we can, and in faith we trust the Holy Spirit works in and through our lives and witness.

August 9, 2018- The Strength of Jesus for the “Three Score and Ten”-Psalm 34:1-8, Romans 15:1-6, Psalm 139:16

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I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:1-8 (ESV)

(The apostle Paul writes:) We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 15:1-6 (ESV)

There is a distinct irony in the apostle Paul’s teaching here, especially in referring to the persecuted church as, “We who are strong.” Who is Paul kidding here?

He is speaking of the strength that we who believe have in Christ. In  2 Corinthians 12:1-10 we learn of the struggle that Paul endured with the thorn in his flesh.  He doesn’t come right out and say exactly what that thorn was, but we can infer that it was some sort of painful physical infirmity.  Those of us who live with chronic pain can certainly identify with Paul’s struggle.

(The apostle Paul writes:) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

Human beings are vulnerable in many ways. Even the most robust and physically sturdy among us are only a slight electrical charge- the one that tells our hearts to beat- away from sudden death.  Our physical bodies are vulnerable to disease and injury.  Our mental and spiritual states are tenuous as well.  In this life all of us are only a missed heartbeat or a rogue driver away from the end of worldly existence, and no amount of money, influence or anything else can change the reality of our physical mortality. We might think we can delay the inevitable, but we learn from Scripture: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV.)

Human strength and the promises of health or longevity via modern science are fleeting at best. Try as we might, we don’t see too many people who live beyond the “three score and ten” of Psalm 90:10.

The omniscient God of the universe knows exactly how long each of us is set to live on this earth. He has equipped each of us to meet the challenges that we will face, and He gives us what we need to endure this life.

When we realize that we have no real strength or power in and of ourselves, we are free to abide in and trust the mercy and the strength of God. We look to God knowing our own fragility and powerlessness. We can trust Him to meet our own needs and also to provide for the needs of others.

In Jesus’ strength– not our own- we can lift each other up. In Jesus’ strength we can endure the unendurable for ourselves and we can help bear the burden for others. In Jesus’ strength we have hope, renewal and peace now, even in this wretched, paradoxical place of “not yet.”

 

 

 

May 10, 2018 – Jesus Ascended to Heaven, and So Will We! Luke 24:44-53, John 14:25-27, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:44-53 (ESV)

We almost have to wonder why Jesus, after His resurrection, didn’t just stick around. After all, he did rise from the dead. If he just stuck around we wouldn’t have to have faith, we could just look at Him and see.  Imagine if Jesus were bodily present with us today- if we could invite Him to dinner, or see Him on TV, or subscribe to His podcast.  Hanging out with Jesus, asking Him direct questions, getting the facts straight from Him, would be amazing.  But it was necessary, for Him to prepare a place for us in eternity, for Jesus to return to His Father. His bodily presence on this earth couldn’t last forever.

The death and resurrection of Jesus, we get. The ascension, when Jesus returns to God the Father, we don’t understand so easily, even though Jesus’ bodily ascension to heaven is part of the declaration of faith we affirm in the Apostle’s Creed: He (Jesus) ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

 We can’t escape speaking of the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) when we discuss the ascension of Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the more difficult concepts within Christianity. We really find it difficult to understand that God is One, (the I AM God) but is three Persons in One.

It may be helpful to think of the Persons of the Trinity as how God comes to us, even though this is not a complete and full understanding. God, the Father, creator, the eternal, beyond time and space- comes to us physically in the person of Jesus Christ.  God the Holy Spirit is the breath of God who is part of, in through and with creation.  Of course all three are One, and this is really hard to wrap our heads around.

John 14 in its entirety is Jesus’ full explanation of why He has to return to God the Father.

(Jesus said): “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  John 14:25-27.

Jesus ascending to the Father is a wonderful point of hope for us. By faith we know that we too will ascend to heaven on the last day, as the apostle Paul explains:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)

It is encouraging to know these two things as we live in this paradox of now, but not yet: Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us. Until that day when the trumpet sounds, we have been given the gift of God the Holy Spirit available and interceding for us as our Helper.  The ascension of Jesus points us to the place He is preparing for us.  This is a great encouragement and hope indeed!

August 8, 2017 – Iron Sharpens Iron- Acts 18:24-28, Proverbs 27:17

iron sharpens iron.jpg

Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus. Acts 18:24-28 (NRSV)

It is refreshing to meet people who have first come to faith in Jesus. Even though they may (or may not) be armed with a few Bible verses, their enthusiasm is infectious.  Sometimes their theology is iffy, but their vivaciousness almost makes up for that lack.

As a person who tends to be rational versus emotional, I envy those who can look up at the sky with a blissful smile and say, “Just give me Jesus!,” and don’t give a whole lot of thought to theology or to necessarily nit picking on all the “right” things. Unfortunately for me and other fellow rational types, nothing gets close to my heart without going through my brain first.  Some people, like me, challenge what we are taught and have to do the research and study to back up what we are taught, and even then we still struggle with belief.  We have to learn all of the “right things” and even then we have to see faith in action, and almost get hit by lightning to even have a chance at getting it.  This is why I always insist we give poor “doubting Thomas” a break!

Apollos was said to be an eloquent man and well versed in the Scriptures, but even he needed other people’s input for his knowledge to be more complete and for his teaching to be more effective.

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. Proverbs 27:17 (NRSV)

Priscilla and Aquila provided Apollos with the knowledge he needed to be a more effective witness. The Berean believers searched the Scriptures to back up what the apostle Paul was teaching.  To be strong and valid, our faith must be an informed faith, built upon the Foundation, who is Jesus.

Some of us have that beautiful quality of “falling into” faith. Others of us have to “work out our own salvation in fear and trembling” as the apostle Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:12.  Either way, we need each other’s input. We need each other’s enthusiasm and encouragement.  God created us to live out our faith in community.

We are all stronger when we share our gifts and encourage each other.

How can we share our faith and encourage each other today?

July 13, 2017 Our Work for God’s Kingdom is Not in Vain- Isaiah 55:10-12, Luke 6:32-36

Jesus compassion 2For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 For you shall go out in joy,and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. – Isaiah 55:10-12 (NRSV)

The journey of life is often tiring. Sometimes we look around and wonder if living as a Jesus follower really makes a difference.  Sometimes we pray and we don’t get answers.  Sometimes we reach out to others only to receive a cold shoulder or overt hostility.  Sometimes it seems as if life is just a series of setbacks, challenges and sucker punches.  We are instructed to wait on the Lord, but often we wonder, when is He going to show up?

Does the little bit of good we can do really matter?

Should we plant the seeds even if we never get to see the full grown tree?

It is rewarding when we can see the fruit of our labor. We all need encouragement and positive reinforcement, but there are times when we don’t always get those.  We get discouraged.

Along with the theme of God’s rest is trust – trusting that He is faithful, trusting that He does hear our prayers, and that living faithfully to Him does make a difference, even when we don’t see results.

God’s word will not return empty. That is a powerful affirmation that we see throughout Scripture.  When God says something He means it, and He will make it happen. We might not understand His timing or His mechanics, or what our role in His plans may be, but God is always faithful.

Elijah promised the widow that she would not run out of flour or oil (1 Kings 17:8-16) as long as the drought lasted, and she was rewarded for her faithfulness.  Jesus promised us as well that our faithfulness to Him will be rewarded, even if it’s not in a way we might expect:

(Jesus said): If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”- Luke 6:32-36 (NRSV)

Love isn’t an easy proposition. Many times love is a choice- to choose the path of love versus vengeance, and to seek involvement in the messy things of this world versus detachment from the needs of others.  It can be frustrating, tiring and overwhelming to be as Christ to others, especially when we don’t see results.  But Jesus tells us to be like Him, and to let Him handle both the results and the rewards.