Ready or Not, Here I Come!

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S (Scripture): Mark 4:1 Jesus began to teach beside the lake again. Such a large crowd gathered that he climbed into a boat there on the lake. He sat in the boat while the whole crowd was nearby on the shore. He said many things to them in parables. While teaching them, he said, “Listen to this! A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path; and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it scorched the plants; and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked the seeds, and they produced nothing. Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. Upon growing and increasing, the seed produced in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of one hundred to one.”

10 When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. 12 This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.

13 “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14  The farmer scatters the word. 15  This is the meaning of the seed that fell on the path: When the word is scattered and people hear it, right away Satan comes and steals the word that was planted in them. 16  Here’s the meaning of the seed that fell on rocky ground: When people hear the word, they immediately receive it joyfully. 17  Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 18  Others are like the seed scattered among the thorny plants. These are the ones who have heard the word; 19  but the worries of this life, the false appeal of wealth, and the desire for more things break in and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 20  The seed scattered on good soil are those who hear the word and embrace it. They bear fruit, in one case a yield of thirty to one, in another case sixty to one, and in another case one hundred to one.”

O (Observation): A confusing word from Jesus leaves the disciples a bit puzzled. Instead of trying to see this as insider information, Jesus is reminding these disciples that just because one is “on the inside” (that is, one who loves and fears God) does not mean that insiders get an advantage over others. Jesus doesn’t say the disciples are good soil. They might be the soil / ground in any of these 4 situations.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 here, reminding the original hearers that Jesus’ story is not his own, but God’s. After all, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. He is simply helping to usher it in amongst God’s people while in the flesh.

Jesus says that the Kingdom comes, regardless of the state in which it is received. Humans are not in power over the soil / ground in which they find themselves. This is Good News for the oppressed and downtrodden. They just might be the good soil. And this is a word of caution to the haughty and the proud, for they just might be the path, the rocky ground, or the weeds.

A (Application): Why does this have to be so complicated? Can’t we just know? Not according to the Gospel of Mark!

Mark 1:1 – “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” This is how the Gospel of Mark starts. The Good News is coming. Salvation is coming. And no one can tell – not even the disciples – who can receive this Good News. The eyes and ears of the best of us can be covered up. We can all become blind to the Good News, even though we claim it every week.

We have all been surprised at one time or another in whom the Word takes root. We are also surprised – at times – that the Word does NOT take root in others. We just don’t know. So, we hope. We pray. We remain humble and glory in the fact that some who embrace the Word are fruit coming forth 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold.

That kind of growth is beyond our comprehension, but at least we can give thanks when it does happen.

P (Prayer): Lord, you usher in your Kingdom, whether we are ready or not. Bring it! Keep bringing it! May we have ears to hear. Amen.

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In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.  

Overcome Evil with Good

S (Scripture): Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

O (Observation):  Paul so often gives us words as difficult to swallow as the words of Jesus himself.   

In the midst of a violent regime in Rome, rather than fight, Paul calls upon the people of God to stand united in a peaceable front.  Their relationship with the rulers in Rome was tenuous, but peaceable…most of the time.  Rome was violent towards Christians, yet if they kept to themselves, the government would leave God’s people alone, for the most part.     

And so, through acts of random kindness, God’s people would survive and eventually thrive.  Not by their own direct action, but by confusing the people in charge by showing them love…letting God take on the big stuff.  

A (Application):  So hard…with the divisive nature of society these days, how do we move forward united?   Maybe one act of random kindness at a time?   Maybe less talk, and more action…action out of love for our neighbor.  

Perhaps we simply be polite to those who dislike us.  But how?  That can be so damn difficult.  

But ours is to do good.  Ours is not to believe in the falsity of “redemptive violence” (nod to Rob Bell for that phrase in his recent podcast).   Real life is not Hollywood.  The cycle of redemptive violence tries to bring an end – I win, you lose.   But the truth is that cycle never ends.  Instead, we always try to one-up each other.  So…Paul steers us away from this.  

The cycle of redemptive violence drives entertainment (like in tv shows like The a Walking Dead, or movies like The Avengers).   There is no end.  We adapt this violence to our way of thinking, rather than subject ourselves to Paul’s (and really Christ’s) words.   

This is my struggle today.  How is it for you?

P (Prayer): Lord, you call us to bring words of peace and hope, where there is despair.   Help us in this monumental task. Amen.  

Deliver Us From Evil

  S (Scripture): Philemon 1:8
So, although I have quite a lot of confidence in Christ and could command you to do what is proper, 9 I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love – I, Paul, an old man and even now a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus – 10 I am appealing to you concerning my child, whose spiritual father I have become during my imprisonment, that is, Onesimus, 11 who was formerly useless to you, but is now useful to you and me.

O (Observation): Paul, tempted to use earthly authority, chooses instead to make an appeal to Philemon on the basis of love.  He wants Philemon to treat the slave (and fellow believer), Onesimus, with great care.   

As a Phariseee, Paul had lived the life of using Authority to make others submit to a set of beliefs…at this point, Christ has already come to Paul to show him and all people a better way – a way based on love and challenge.  

A (Application):  “…deliver us from evil.”

So often, we make arguments for the sake of winning, or for changing someone’s mind.  I wonder what love can do for these arguments / conversations?  I think evil is present in too many of our confrontations.  Winning is most important.   

I realize it’s a little bit “pie in the sky,” but what can happen when two sides disagree, but appeal to one another based on mutual love?   

When it comes to playing a game, I’m okay with winners and losers…but when a potentially church-dividing issue rears its ugly head, I wonder how Paul’s approach could impact a conversation?

When was the last time you had a divisive issue come up?  How was it handled?  Any regrets?  Did you seek forgiveness, if that was necessary?  How about the other way around?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, you can protect us from evil / the evil one.  Help us to see that you have conquered the devil and all of his temptations.  Help us to look on one another with love…to deliver us from evil. Amen. 

This Just Isn’t Fair…but We Have Hope

 

 S (Scripture): Job 21:7 Job:  “Why do the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power? 21:8 Their children are firmly established in their presence, their offspring before their eyes. 21:9 Their houses are safe and without fear; and no rod of punishment from God is upon them…21:17 How often is the lamp of the wicked extinguished? How often does their misfortune come upon them? How often does God apportion pain to them in his anger?”

O (Observation):  The argument from Job’s friends is that Job MUST HAVE done something wrong…something deserving of punishment.   That is their explanation for the “punishment” he is experiencing. 

Job applies their logic to those in the world that are openly evil, and yet prosper.   Job wonders, if his friends are correct, why good things can happen to bad people. 

A (Application):  Perhaps asking questions like Job’s questions are simply part of the mystery of the world…something beyond our understanding.   If that’s the case, I can go on wondering about other things.  Instead of trying to figure it all out, I can focus on these 2 important questions:

  1. What is God saying to me? And,
  2. What would God have me do about it?

These 2 questions help me discern my next step.   And these questions are best discerned in community, where we can share Scripture-based insights, and not just use pop-psychology to answer question #1 above.  

What issues are you wrestling with today?  Try using these questions above to hear a word of grace from God and to take a good next step in response.  

P (Prayer): Lord, speak to us.  Help us when we fail to understand why things happen as they do.  Give us peace by sharing your grace with us today, and giving us hope through the Spirit’s prompting into a good next step. Amen. 

Start With Love…Repentance Will Come

 

 S (Scripture): Job 9:22 Job continues: “It is all one! That is why I say,
‘He destroys the blameless and the guilty.’
9:23 If a scourge brings sudden death,
he mocks at the despair of the innocent.
9:24 If a land has been given
into the hand of a wicked man,
he covers the faces of its judges;
if it is not he, then who is it?”

O (Observation): “It is all one!” refers to Job’s understanding of the source of justice AND injustice.  Job takes the logic of his friends: God is in control of everything.   Taking that to its logical conclusion, then, when an injustice takes place (such as land being given over to the hand of a wicked man) God must have blinded the judges who oversaw that case/transaction.  

Job cannot believe that God would cause this kind of injustice.   If he is blameless, then God must just be some cruel being, causing harm on the good and the bad.  

A (Application):  Perhaps what lies behind the text is God’s people struggling with good vs evil.  In the early theology of the Jews, there is only one Being with all power and might: God.    God, the One, therefore caused all things. 

In Genesis, a serpent shows up…so we have some foresight into evil being present, but no one really says that God caused the serpent to be, or sent the serpent. It just shows up.  The book of Job seems to be the internal theological struggle of a people beginning to shift their theology of evil towards another being: Satan.

The beginning of Job shows us that God and Satan are in this together.  God has allowed for Satan to take away all but Job’s life…and God is betting on Job’s faith to keep him from condemning God.   

The struggle to understand what God is up to is real…even to the point of changing or challenging long-held beliefs.  

What does the Church say about slavery? People of different races/ nationalities?  People of differing sexual orientation?  Seems that the Church is at times changing its collective mind towards particular social issues.

To bring to a personal level…what do I say about these people?  In a word: Love them…seek forgiveness for my own thoughts and actions…and love my neighbor as I love myself.   And if an injustice is occurring, speak out…but still do so in love.  That takes a shift in theological understanding for some.  

Some think one must repent first.  I say love first.    Repentance will come when the individual and God come to terms.   We are all called to repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ.  But for many, the call to repent is heard as a judgment, rather than a freedom.  I see repentance as a freedom.  Does it sting?  Hell yes it does!   But the forgiveness that comes is sweeter than honey.   And with that freedom comes the ability to fly and soar!    Nothing beats being set free to be what God has created you to be. 

Seek the Lord…and let the Lord renew your heart and mind…even if it means letting The Lord change your belief system…or calls you to action against injustice.  And if The Lord calls you to action, support will be given to you.  

What long-held beliefs are you holding on to?  What needs to die, so that you might allow the Lord to breathe new life into you?

I pray that you bring an open heart to The Lord this day. 

P (Prayer): Lord, soften our hearts and minds to allow love of neighbor to rule the day.  Bring us to faith in you, even if it means changing our theology.  Amen.