Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

God Sent Me

September 18, 2019

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and in all manner of unexpected timings.

The woman who slipped into the door of our Bible study classroom this evening, for example.  She must have just come from some sort of exercise class, wearing leggings and a tight sort of spandex workout top thingy.  I’m not a fashion expert so I don’t know the terms for these things.  Age is difficult (and dangerous) to surmise with a woman, but I’d put her anywhere from 40-ish to her early 50’s.  A thick Russian accent but good English.

Wednesday night Bible studies are mostly for a small group of ladies in an addiction recovery program.  Others have come and gone but don’t last very long.  These ladies have time on their hands and a mandatory weekly Bible study requirement to fulfill.  We have another woman who has been coming recently, a nonagenarian living in the retirement housing next door to our church.

So to have a complete stranger show up saying God had sent her to my Bible study was unexpected.  She stayed, she participated.  We talked after.

From Moscow originally but I get the impression there have been more than a few stops since there.  In our local area for over a dozen years.  Christian, but dissatisfied with the Bible studies she attended in any given place.  She worships at the Mission but says she hasn’t really connected with anyone there, a situation no doubt accented by her admitted shyness.

I gave her my card and wrote down our worship time and the other weekly Bible study opportunities.  She was pleased and surprised to learn there are three separate, different Bible studies each week.  I hope she’ll come back.  She elaborated that a friend told her while she was lamenting the lack of a good Bible study in town that this church was where to go for Bible study.  I’m wondering who that friend is and how they know about us.

She exited the building about 10 seconds before me.  As I locked the door, I glanced to see where her car was.  I didn’t see either her or her car.  I peered around, up and down the long parking lot towards the sidewalk.  Maybe she walked, lived in the area close by.  Curious, and she couldn’t have gotten out of sight so quickly.

Maybe….

The idea flitted through my head briefly.  Would it be beneath God’s dignity, during a time of professional weariness, to send an outsider with a word of encouragement?  Certainly not, but to speculate on angelic visitations seemed a bit premature.  But still, where did she go?

A second later I heard a car door.  As I peered further I saw a car parked on the other side of our church van, all but invisible behind the larger vehicle.  I’d be lying if I said that a small part of me wasn’t disappointed.  But the larger part of me was grateful.  A real flesh-and-blood visitor might come back.  Might tell others.  Might…might…might.

The near future is never very certain, but the recent past of this evening was a nice reminder that miracles come in different forms and accents.

Dangerous Grace

September 16, 2019

Here’s a good (thought-provoking) article challenging the latent notion in most Christians that the faith is primarily about them doing good things and not doing bad things, rather than about the perfect and final act of Jesus Christ on their behalf.

Definitions

September 10, 2019

An interesting little piece on real estate and ministers.

I certainly admit to thinking ministers of Christ should think carefully about the decisions they make in regards to where they live – as well as most other areas of their lives as well.  This article raises some interesting questions that are not often asked (or reported on).

At some  point there was apparently an acceptable rationale justifying a 9000 square foot house for the residence of an archibishop.  Many people think that’s funny or unseemly now, but I’m curious as to the original rationale.  Was it an emphasis on the archbishop’s position and authority/influence/prestige?  And here I mean the office of archbishop, not the person who might happen to hold that office at a particular point in time.  Does real estate have a valid role to play in such a commentary?  I imagine a lot of those answers have to do with aspects of Roman Catholic theology I’m not familiar with, but I presume they exist.

It’s easy to point fingers and say that’s too ostentatious, that’s too big.  Except that those notions are acculturated in and of themselves and therefore not necessarily any better than the original assumptions behind building/buying the house.  I applaud the new archbishop’s commitment to “examine everything – including the home that I live in that the people of God provide me” in terms of Christian witness.  But I question a too-hasty, knee-jerk reaction that says any domicile over a certain size or monetary value is automatically inappropriate.

It all depends on how it is used.

There is a nod-wink later in the article to the parties hosted there.  That quote clearly seems condemning of the place and it’s at least occasional use, though the new archbishop specifically says his refusal to live there is not a condemnation of his predecessors.  Were the parties entertainment, as one might think of a wealthy person providing for amusement, or did they serve other purposes?  Does the Church necessarily need to hold meetings in a Denny’s?

Does the archbishop have a staff that supports him in his work?  Cleaners?  Secretaries?  Administrative assistants?  Do they live in the house as well?  Could the house be utilized for multiple purposes, or more appropriately perhaps, could more people live there than just the archbishop?

In other words, it’s easy to look at a price tag or a size or a zip code and pass judgment.  But judgment should take all aspects of the situation into account, both historically, for the present moment, and with an eye towards the future.  It could turn out that renting or purchasing another smaller place might in the long run by more costly than just living in the current building, especially if the current building could be thought of in terms beyond just one person’s abode.

To be certain, there are abuses of the collar and some of the other examples in the article seem to be good examples of this.  But size or cost is only one aspect of considering the appropriateness of a house – or a car, or clothing, or food – utilized by a minister of the Gospel.  Having a large space can provide other options if people are willing to explore and consider those sorts of things.  And I’d have to say if anyone is capable of doing a good job in thinking through sacred space or the use of space for the people of God, it’s probably the Roman Catholics.  I pray they have some good folks working on this situation, and that the resolution is definitely a reflection of the Church’s mandate to equip people (including clergy) to daily think through how to love God and love their neighbor.

Honesty

September 6, 2019

I like honesty.

I say that fully admitting that I am incapable of it.  That in the entire history of the human race there have only been three people perfectly capable of it and two of them threw that ability away pretty much right out of the starting gate.  None of the rest of us can be perfectly, absolutely honest all of the time.  But we can try, and trying makes all the difference sometimes.

And for me the hallmark of honesty is the willingness, the humility to admit that you might be wrong.  That you might be deceived yourself or trying to deceive others.  If there is that humility there is room for discussion.  Room to really hear other people and really be heard by others.  If there isn’t that humility, there is no discussion and ultimately there can’t be growth.

I like intellectual honesty, grappling with reality as we know it and experience it and trying to make sense of it.  I’m reading Justin Martyr’s First Apology, and I love his willingness to tackle the prejudices and ideas of his day head on with the assumption that truth can be found and honesty will lead to that truth.  He wasn’t afraid to present a demand for honesty to the Roman Emperor himself and all those who claimed or desired to be purveyors of intellectual honesty.  Justin was convinced that Christianity and the Bible could fare well in that sort of encounter.

But we have to recognize that in these confrontations Christianity is a threat to other people.  It threatens what they know or believe, or what they prefer to know or believe.  It threatens these things by insisting that there is an objective truth and reality that can be known and that knowing is life-changing.  Not simply an intellectual assent to a propositional statement but something that penetrates to the very heart and spirit of us to transform us.  To bring life from death.  So it’s a threat.

This morning I met with a young man in an addiction recovery program.  We’ve been meeting for three weeks  or so now, each week, as part of the program’s option to provide clients with a spiritual mentor.  While I don’t like the title, I’m willing to spend time with guys who want to search out the spiritual aspect of their recovery and lives further.  More honestly.

After several weeks of running around in philosophical circles about what can or can’t be known, as he was preparing to get out of my car today he said I think I want Christianity to be untrue, or I want to convince myself it isn’t a reasonable option because it would challenge my identity, and I don’t know what I’ll have to give up if I accept it as true.

Honesty.

A recognition that  the call to follow Christ is a call to self-denial.  A call to transformation.  A call to allow God to use us as He chooses rather than as we prefer.  A call to fully acknowledge the depth of our depravity and brokenness, that we might better praise and exalt the God who delivers us up and out of these things.

The Gospel reading for Sunday is Luke 14:25-35.

Jesus clearly does not understand our influencer social media culture.  Here he is with thousands of people following him and hanging on his every word.  Imagine how rich he could have become with a few well-placed product placements!  But instead, Jesus’ response is to turn around and challenge those people.  Do you really want to follow me?  Because following me is going to cost you everything.  Are you willing to give it all up?  Are you willing – more accurately – to live as though it isn’t yours in the first place? 

I think many Christians think this sacrifice comes when they enter the faith, which for many means as an infant.  I think many Christians presume there won’t be any further sacrifices demanded of them.  That they are entitled to live the rest of their lives more or less like the larger culture.

But Jesus’ words directly contradict this.  Because if we’re going to be honest about who we are as fallen and sinful creatures, we have to embrace a humility, a recognition that we might be wrong on any given matter and therefore open to being guided.  Open to growth and learning.  Conviction is fine – I’m convinced of the truth of the Bible and the real identity of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Son of God who defeated the powers of sin, death, and Satan on my behalf through his death and resurrection.  Being humble and listening doesn’t mean everything is up for grabs.  But it should mean I’m listening.  That I’m willing to engage in the discussion like Justin Martyr or Josh this morning.  And that I’m understanding that this may lead to changes in me personal.  How I like to think of myself.  The things I enjoy.  Even some of my convictions.

It may, in fact, lead not to the general approval of the people around me but to my death.  Don’t think Jesus’ use of the cross is metaphorical or symbolic.  His hearers knew all too well what the cross meant, as did Jesus.  And we are called to that level of humility, if necessary.  To being branded a criminal when we are not, as Justin Martyr insisted.  On being convicted by an unfair double-standard, as Justin pointed out.  To suffering and dying in acceptance not of the truth as stated by our world, but as defined by God, as Justin ultimately was willing to do.

Sometimes I think Christians are more willing to embrace and affirm the idea of martyrdom rather than be open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit changing their opinions about things here and now, in the safety of their own routines and lives.  Then again, theoretical martyrdom is far more romantic and exotic than the unpleasant business of dealing with other people.

I pray for honesty.  For the blinders to be revealed and removed whenever and wherever necessary from my eyes.  I pray that knowing full well it might be highly uncomfortable.  And so when I pray for that kind of honesty and engagement for and from others, it hopefully isn’t under the assumption that I’ll get what I want that way.  But Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

Book Review: Environment & Arts in Catholic Worship

September 3, 2019

Environment & Art in Catholic Worship from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy

The second of my (current) forays into Roman Catholic theological materials.  This is a short statement on art and environment in Catholic worship released in 1977.  In the wake of Vatican II, it became necessary to clarify and guide the increased freedoms available to congregations and worship leaders & planners.   What does it mean – in terms of worship environment and art – to interact as Roman Catholics with the modern world?

This is a very brief (under 50 pages, not including photos) introductory guide to considerations for  worship space and the use of art.  This includes the design of a worship space, the kinds of objects within it, artistic embellishments, etc.  As might be expected from a statement on the topic to a worldwide organization, the guide is rather thin, you might say.  It doesn’t make proclamations about what can and can’t be done, as planning a worship space in Africa is probably a lot different than planning one in Finland, as  far as aesthetics  go.  But there are underlying principles applicable to both environments.

There is a strong emphasis on the use of qualified professionals, whether in terms of planning a worship space (architects, etc.) to obtaining or creating the items that will fill that worship space (artists, design experts, etc.).  This guide attempts to reiterate the importance of doing things well, as opposed to doing things quickly or inexpensively.  Worship is a fundamentally different act than any other human act.  It is both individual and corporate, human and divine.  Holding together these various tensions requires careful thought (and prayer), and shouldn’t be plunged into without appropriate forethought.

Again, there is an emphasis on quality and authenticity,  ensuring that those items which fill a worship space are appropriate for such a space and of such a quality to bear their symbolic purposes.  If you’re in the process of designing or redesigning a worship space, or just updating artistic or liturgical elements within that  space, this is a helpful read-through.  It provides good theological reminders of both the gravitas and joy that worship embodies, and the unique attentions necessary to physical objects  in order to facilitate those things.

 

 

Book Review – Liturgy Made Simple

September 2, 2019

Liturgy Made Simple by Mark Searle

 

I recently inherited a small trove of Catholic theological books.  I was able to winnow the boxes down to about a dozen or  so books I thought might be helpful or interesting to look through, and this was the first.

If you’ve never really given much thought to why you do the things you do in worship, this is a great introductory resource to stimulate thought.  It presents the liturgy from the Roman Catholic perspective, which is not too terribly different from my own Protestant denomination’s understanding of it.  There are a few differences that someone with an alternative theological background to Roman Catholicism will pick up on.  And of course, if you aren’t already somewhat familiar with or sympathetic to the centuries-old pattern of worship and liturgical elements, this may be  confusing to you.  But it should provide a good means of thinking through certain things.

I particularly like his emphasis on the importance of authenticity.  This is a word that is getting more traction these days, particularly among younger generations.  Searle questions the propriety of changes made in the  liturgy or Sacraments in the name of convenience.  The one which particularly stood out to me was his criticism of mass-produced Holy Communion wafers.  Those terribly thin and terribly tasteless things that are, technically, a form of bread, but which bear more resemblance in all sensory forms to styrofoam than bread.

Yes, it takes time and effort to bake bread for Communion.   But I argue (having re-instituted actual baked, unleavened bread for our congregation’s Eucharist) that  it is an investment of time and energy more than worth the effort.  For the central celebration of the Christian community, how can we accept mass-produced products as somehow appropriately representative of the Body of Christ?

This is a short (under 100 pages) and easy read with questions for reflection and discussion afterwards.  It was likely used as a classroom resource for a seminary or pre-seminary program and would be ideal in that setting.  Some terms are taken for granted and not defined, but with a minimal amount of Googling, even the most contemporary-oriented, hipster pastor or worship team should be able to make use of this resource.

Book Review: A Lutheran Primer for Preaching

August 30, 2019

A Lutheran Primer for Preaching: A Theological and Practical Approach to Sermon Writing

by Edward O. Grimenstein

 

Over the past several years I had the honor of supervising a deacon in our area who was responsible for the majority of preaching and teaching at his small parish about 30 miles from ours.  The irony is that despite him being much older than myself, I was supervising him since I am an ordained pastor and he was a trained deacon – two different roles in our polity.  As part of a process to allow him to be ordained and continue serving his small congregation, he was assigned a rigorous reading and study schedule and I assisted him in that.  One of the books he mentioned he was reading is this one, so I decided maybe I should read it as well.  Belatedly, I have.

I expected it to be a 50-60 year old book, but was pleasantly surprised it was published in 2015.  It is intended for a small group or classroom use, with questions for both in-class and out of class discussion.  Each chapter is very short (3-4 pages) and focused on one particular topic, beginning with the more abstract, theological topics and moving to more practical ones.  Grimenstein’s writing style is very accessible and easy to understand.  His theology is thoroughly Biblical.  His purpose is to guide potential (or current) preachers into doing what preaching should be – allowing people the opportunity to believe Jesus is the Christ and, by believing, have eternal life (p.49).  Considering the many other things that preaching can easily devolve into, this is a worthy goal!  At just over 100 pages this is an easy introduction or brush-up on some of the basics of preaching as Biblical Lutherans approach this sacred task.

Overall  the book is helpful, particularly if you’ve had little to no homiletical training.  There are places where Grimenstein strives to forge theological supports for the homiletical task and falls short, such as Chapter Six as he struggles to relate tangibly the Holy Spirit’s role in homiletical work.  Of course, this is difficult! I also question his assertion on page 74 that sermon preparation should “not be work” for the preacher.  I don’t know many preachers who would agree with this statement.  There are times when things come together easily and nicely and times when they don’t.  Good preparation is of course helpful but no guarantee that when it comes down to writing the sermon it will come together easily.

This is a good resource.  He takes issue (rightly so) with the move in the last 50 years of homiletics to shy away from the Bible as the primary text for sermon writing.  Whether this is a novel concept or not for you will likely depend on your theological training as well as your view of Scripture.  If it’s the authoritative, inspired Word of God there can be no other appropriate book to base Scripture on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clashing Worlds

August 15, 2019

She is very young.

In the language of today, which must constantly judge and categorize, she would undoubtedly be called privileged.  Sheltered.  But that is to some extent the condition of the young.  And here she is on the other side of the ocean from her home, interning in the court system in our town for a few weeks as part of her course of study in law in her home country.

She arrived home harried, which is not uncommon, but also agitated.  Today I went someplace I never want to go again.  I guessed where she had been before she revealed it – the jail.

Not as an inmate, but as an observer.  Her first time in a jail, and the first time is always overwhelming in one fashion or another.  It was terrible, she said.  It’s easy to know what the law says and know that if I break the law I could go to jail.  But people think they won’t get caught, won’t go to jail, and if they do, it won’t be that bad.  But it’s bad.  It’s terrible.  

I think back over my many years ministering in jails.   Yes, it’s bad.  But what you learn over time is that there are worse places.  That for some, three squares a day and a bed and a shower and a lot of regiment are just what they need.  Far better than the uncertainty of addiction or crime.  But that first time, well, the first time you simply know it’s terrible.

And by extension, you know the people there are terrible.

Why else would they be there, right?  For all the media talk about misjustice and injustice and all manner of very serious and very real issues, the vast majority of the people behind bars are there for very sound, real, good reasons.  Most of them will admit this to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s easy to see only the crime and not the person.  Probably as easy as seeing the person without seeing the crime.  And of course there is a tension between the two, a relationship to be acknowledged, a dance that must be completed and hopefully not repeated.

She gathers her dinner plate.  Mostaccioli and salad and toasted garlic cheese bread.  We’re eating out back on the patio tonight.  It’s cooler than inside and we have three extra guests tonight.  Three women, at least one if not all three who were at some point or other – perhaps very recently – in jail.

Repeatedly.

Addiction does that.

But they are gathered for dinner at our house tonight because for the time being they are working very hard to beat the odds and their addictions in hopes of a life free from jail in the future.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.  A statuesque blonde.  A young Hispanic woman with beautiful long straight hair, though she looks with admiration at the naturally curly hair of my wife and daughter.  All three of them laughing and carrying on together like girls and women do together, enjoying food and the cool evening air.

I wonder what she would say if she knew.  Knew that but for a glitch of timing she might have met these ladies in jail, in that terrible place with terrible people who have done terrible things to themselves and others.  Her  disgust and disdain are palpable, but she’s happily engaged speaking in another language with one of our resident guests.  She doesn’t know.

I pray that as she enters the field of law she will be able to walk the difficult tightrope of never forgetting the law but also never forgetting the people.  That she will remember that ultimately our hope is not merely punitive but restorative, and that her faith – however perfunctory it may or may not be – will guide her to give  both thanks and praise to the Creator.  The God who created her in her youthful inexperience, as well as the people in the jails and prisons of our world.  People who perhaps need to be there, but hopefully don’t have to be there forever.  I pray that she never loses hope that lessons can be learned, debts to society can be repaid, lives restored, and glory given not to the magistrates or parole boards or wardens but to the God who alone has the power and will to restore life from death, hope from ashes.

And I pray that if she can be sustained on that tightrope, she won’t be adverse to sitting down with people she may have been required to put in jail at one point or another, in anticipation of an eternal feast where our places are guaranteed not by the purity of our lives but by the grace of our Creator through his Incarnate Son, who pays the penalty for our sin that we might be set free.

Authority

July 29, 2019

We sit chatting at our Sunday night happy hour open house.  She’s  leaving this week for grad studies out of state and this will perhaps be the last time I see her.  She has an impossibly beautiful smile and a keen mind overlaying troubles and doubts and fears that walk with her through the rooms  of her life.  A friend has come along tonight.  He’s visited once or twice before, roommates with her boyfriend.  He asks me a curious question – what is a change you can think of in your theology?

The question strikes me as curious immediately.  What changes in my theology?  Is theology mine?  Am I free to change it?  Or is theology something I have received, that I can build upon and expand and grow in my depth of understanding and appreciation, but which I am not free to change outside of discarding error as I uncover it in myself?  A million thoughts flash through my mind.  What is he really getting at?  What changes has his theology undergone?  And what do you want to learn or know by asking a pastor about how his theology changes?

I bring up a theological doctrine of sorts  I was introduced to in Seminary that I have grown in my fondness for, even if I can’t substantiate it in this lifetime and may never even in eternity, touching as it does on the inner workings and relationships of the Trinity.  I talked about how amazed I was the first time it was suggested that Jesus did not perform signs and wonders within his own power and authority as the Second Person of the Trinity, but rather God the Holy Spirit performed signs and wonders through him by the directing of God the Father.  Essentially similar to how the apostles and other followers of Christ have performed miracles – not on their own power or authority but through the  power and authority of the Holy Spirit.  Though of course Jesus was the perfect conduit for such power in his perfect obedience to the will of God.

She brings up almost immediately how she still struggles with the role of women in the church.  It’s not relevant, but it’s on her mind.  She flashes her smile as I respond that her issue isn’t so much with the Church perhaps as it is with Scripture.  Heretic here, remember?  I’m the heretic.  She smiles again.  I know a bit of her story, raised Christian but with experiences and doubts that haven’t been addressed or remedied.  And now recently graduated from a local Christian university where, she admits next, she was taught to be a feminist.  The smile and the heresy comment are  meant to defuse and deflect.  No need to really grapple with what might be truth in this regard because we can just dance around the heretic term as though it doesn’t really mean anything.

I believe her assessment is accurate – she arrived at this Christian university with one set of ideas and understandings, and those were altered or added to during her four years there.  In part a good university should do this.  But in the realm of theology this becomes tricky, as I suppose it is in any realm.  But the ramifications of changes or additions in the realm of theology have potentially eternal consequences – something very unique to this realm.

I ponder as the conversation eventually trails off.  Raised for the first eighteen years of her life with one set of beliefs, she has now set those aside because of things she was presented with in four years of undergraduate schooling.  Because these things were presented as the intellectual, educated position, no doubt.  Because she was challenged I’m sure, to adopt these not just for herself but for her entire gender.

And so a person’s theology changes.  But doesn’t just change, in this instance.  Changes so that the source and foundation of that theology ceases to be the revealed, sacred text it derives from and becomes something else.  Something personally dictated.  Authority switches from the Word of God expressed in human language to the personal beliefs or preferences of an individual or a larger but transitory culture.

So perhaps her response was more on topic than I first assumed.

This has over and over and over again been the point of conflict and disagreement in theological discussions on Sunday night.  What or who is your authority?  And over and over and over again it has become very clear that even for professing Christians, the Word of God is not their authority.  It is their personal emotional concerns or worries.  It is the cultural expectations they are inculcated with, expectations of how you define things like equality.  And that if the Word of God doesn’t back their definitions or ideas or even directly contradicts them, they’re more apt to discard the Word of God – or at least that particular part of it – and hold on to their own feelings and ideas.

Now, to be sure we all do this in small ways, most likely.  There are aspects of God’s Word that confuse or frighten us, that we avoid thinking about and reading.  This is sinful, of course, but it is different than outright confronting these issues and seeking to faithfully adhere to God’s Word even if it means discarding our own ideas and preferences.  This trend that I see and hear so often now is very dangerous indeed.

And others recognize this as well.

The role of the Church is to teach and reinforce the faith, as conveyed to us through the Word of God, and as made sense of in both doctrine and practice.   The Church should equip men and women with these abilities so they in turn can instill them in their children, not simply as rote memorization but in an active and alive sense so that their children grow to be men and women who, assisted and strengthened by the Church, are able and willing to pass these things down to their children.

But this process has been disrupted  in our American Christian culture – or at least parts of it.  Christians are increasingly unfamiliar with the Word of God, resistant to doctrines and practices grounded in it, and increasingly willing to discard all of this in order to cobble together a set of beliefs and practices that better support their authority – themselves.

Here is just one recent example of another article saying exactly the same thing.

Note several paragraphs down how younger people are discarding organized orthodox religion (doctrine and practice) for a smorgasbord of other  concepts and practices, often drawn together from diverse and contradictory traditions.  Not that they necessarily believe any of this, it’s a matter of convenience, of serving the purpose of reinforcing their own authority.  If they find that it no longer does that, they can discard it without any feelings of guilt or any concerns about eternal ramifications.  None of that is real, anyways, right? is the basic gist here.  If there is anything greater than us out there, it probably likes us and isn’t very interested in what we do beyond wanting us to be nice and happy.  And if there’s nothing greater than us out there, well, might as well be the me I’d like to be, right?

She  leaves this week for graduate school and starting life in a new place.  She’s bright and beautiful and has a wonderful boyfriend and likely a future together with him.  I’ll pray for her and him and them.  Not simply for their relationship but for their authority, that it would be not  simply the faith of their fathers, so to speak, but the faith as revealed in the Word of God.  Even when they don’t like it or it feels restrictive or when it clashes with societal notions.  Even when their professors (at a Christian university) won’t back it or support it but put out their own ideas and their culturally formed notions instead.

Authority matters a great deal, and you can’t claim to be Christian if you reject the authority of the Word of God, just as you can’t claim to be a good Muslim if you reject the Quran.  We can have theological discussions or debates about interpretation to some level, and this is good and helpful.  But to skip that quest and grappling for truth  in favor of just ignoring the bits we don’t like so we can do and think and be the things we prefer, that is a big problem.  For the Church, for families, for the world, and possibly for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Forget the Seed

May 30, 2019

Last night’s Bible study was very instructive.  We were working our way through the parable of the sower in Mark 4.  Before we continued on to Jesus’ explanation, I had the class flesh out what they thought the various aspects of the story represented:  sower, seed, path, rocky soil, weeds, good soil, etc.  Good conversation and some good insightful answers that often paralleled Jesus’ own explanation.

When Jesus’ disciples ask him to explain the parable to them, he defines the seed as the word.  What did the disciples make of this explanation?  If we assume Mark’s gospel is more or less chronological, this comes pretty early in Jesus’ ministry and the disciples would likely presume the word to mean what Jesus was proclaiming himself in his ministry – the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.

At which point the hearers might have wondered what the gospel, the good news, really was.

I asked the class what they thought Jesus meant by the word in his explanation of the parable in Mark 4.  One said the commandments – this is how you ought to live your life.  Another thought love was the word.  It was clear there was a struggle.

These are answers we like – that the word is basically instructions, insights, secret tips on how to live our best lives now.  Variations on familiar themes.  Encouragements, exhortations, pleadings, even threats – do what you know to be right or else!  Those are things we can deal with.  We can’t fulfill them, of course, but we can allow ourselves to be whipped into a frenzy for short periods of time, believing we can and must and will fulfill them.

But that places the word in ourselves.  We are the answer, the solution, the key to a bountiful harvest in our own life.  We would essentially be Buddhists.  Or Hindus.  Or Muslims.  Or secular humanists.  Or pretty much any other belief system on earth, all of which ultimately place the responsibility for change and accomplishment, for enlightenment or obedience squarely on our shoulders.  Do it.  Discern it.  If you do, you can be proud of your accomplishment (though this is a relative accomplishment, in relation to other people but almost never our own metrics, let alone  God’s!).  If you fail to do it, it’s your own fault and you deserve what you have coming to you.

Only the Bible gives us a word that is outside of ourselves.  Completely, totally, forever outside of ourselves.  And that Word is the Word made flesh, the Son of God, Jesus.

So I wrote out John 3:16 on the board for the class, suggesting that this is a good encapsulation of the good news, the gospel, the word, the seed.  Then, substituting whoever or whosoever with an actual name, I repeated this verse to every single person using their name.  I gave them the seed.

How easy is it to talk about the seed, to reference the word but never define it, never spell it out?  How easy it is to presume that everybody understands what Jesus means by the word, when even his own disciples probably didn’t get it.

This is my job, and I need to remember it and break it down as simply as possible as often as possible.  I’m scattering seed.  It’s not my seed.  It’s not my job to make the seed grow – I can’t do that.  I can simply scatter the seed.  Explicitly.  Spelling it out, as it were, to make sure people actually get the seed.  Are they a well-worn path or rocky soil or full of weeds?  I can’t know that for sure, and I may not be the one to discern that.  But I cast the seed.  If that person is a hardened path with no crack for the seed to fall into, I pray someone else, at another point in time  will cast the same seed again, when perhaps the ground will be more receptive.  That someone else will scatter the word again, when the soil is less rocky, or when more of the weeds have been pulled.

But for the love of God, make sure to preach the Word!  Clearly.  Without assumptions.  Spell it out.  Make it personal and specific.  Make sure you don’t pass over good soil and toss out lint or chaff or anything other than the seed of God, the Word of God!