Surprised by an Angel… and the Call to Tell the Story!

Nearly everyone loves to hear a good story. Movies, novels, poems, and digital versions of it all, invite us to become a part of the action or the suspense, or the romance, or the journey. Most stories we read or watch or listen to come and go. They may touch us or speak a bit; but they are easily filed away somewhere dusty and hard to find. Some stories are grab our hearts and our imagination. We identify with the people or the crisis they face and how they survive.

Then, there is the story that comes along once in a lifetime. Not only does it capture our imagination – it changes our lives. We look back on this rare story, the characters and what they experienced, and we realize that what happened meets us right where we live, it changes how we see life, and that story redefines who and, more importantly, why we are.

That’s the story the sheepherders found themselves a part of over 2000 years ago on the hillside overlooking the town of Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-20 are the verses that, surprisingly, make up an assignment my high school teacher at NMBHS way back when had me memorize and recite (yes, that was another day.)

It’s the story of Joseph and his betrothed wife Mary, their trek to Bethlehem, the birth of God’s one and only son, Jesus, and a bunch of unwary sheepherders who became a part of the Story of stories.

1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

This baby, who is both King and Savior, was born in perhaps the most available and approachable place in the town – in a stable around the corner from a hostel, just shouting distance from the streets of the town. God chose to send His Son, fully human and fully God, to be born where word would get out. And this prepared the town for what happened next. And, this is when the sheepherders are invited into the story.

8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. 

The Good New story met the sheepherders right where they lived. And it began with the herders who drew the night watch. While their partners caught up on sleep, an angel appeared right in the middle of their conversations. And this angel had just come from the presence of the Father to bring the news about the Son. And the glory of God remained.

And they were terrified. They were used to fighting off wild animals or climbing down the cliffs to rescue a lamb. But, an angel! How many times in the Bible did God show up through His presence, through a vision, or through an angel’s visit – They were scared beyond words. And the answer: Don’t be scared! God met these sheepherders right where they lived.

  11 “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

If the angel’s visit was at first terrifying, the message that he brought was liberating. As good Jewish sheepherders, they heard this message through all they knew about Lord God of Israel.

  • Good news means freedom.
  • Messiah and Lord means salvation.
  • And if you throw in King David, they understood they would be God’s people again, under the rule of His King.

The message from the throne room of God through this single angel literally changed who they were. Sure, they remained sheepherders. But this Good News brought the promise of…

  • Peace that comes with freedom from the oppression of the enemy.
  • Hope that comes with the promised Messiah.
  • Celebrative Joy that comes with being together as God’s people ruled by His King.

And whether in response to the Good News being proclaimed on the hillside or in response to the faith and joy of the shepherds, the worship of the heavens broke through into the physical realm, and…

13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

This was more than the sheepherders could contain and, by now they were all together on the hillside echoing the same rejoicing. They had to see it for themselves.

15When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

There in a stable for animals, the greatest expression of God’s love slept. The message propelled the shepherds to check it out for themselves and discover if the Good News was really the Good News. And it was. And it changed both who and why they were. They had to tell others and fanned out through the streets of the town telling anyone they saw that Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord and King was born – in a stable, just around the corner, right where anyone could find Him.

The Good News met the shepherd right where they lived, and the truth of the message of Christmas transformed who they were and became the reason for why they lived. God’s great Story intersected their story and surprised them and transformed them.

  • This Christmas – surprise you with His peace, His love, His joy, His hope. He is God near to us.
  • His Good news meets us where we do life.
  • He invites you to approach Him, come to him – with fears, with broken plans and promised, with empty and dead spots in our lives.
  • And he speaks to you right now – no fear except the awe of a Savior with unchangeable love, no loneliness or emptiness because he fills us and comes close, no dead spots because he brings life and mercy.

Welcome again to the Story. Praying it intersects your story frequently in 2020!

Living Successfully in Life’s Valleys

Come to the Party…

Come to the Party (2 Chronicles 29-30)

Introduction: Let me add one more promotional for our Tuesday nights. I love spending time with our Gathering each Tuesday. The dinner is always good. The study time is a chance to learn and to talk about life and Scripture. And the diversity of students and young professionals gives rise to a lot of interesting questions and spiritual conversations. For instance, two week ago I spoke with a student who is studying neuropsychology – that’s about how the brain works. And we talked about none of us needs to be stuck in bad habits. The brain can be our ally, our best friend in breaking destructive patterns. We’ve got some smart people here at ICF. If you don’t believe me, Look beside you to your right, now your left. Doesn’t it look like we have smart people here? And you’ve given us proof by being here today with us.

Let’s get started with our message. Our study today began in my personal devotions. Do you know what it’s like to read your Bible and you come across a passage, and it seems that God makes these verses powerful and special and important. I experienced an intense awareness of God’s goodness and presence as I was reading – and that led to further study; I would like to try to convey some of what I discovered and I believe it will encourage you and draw you further into His grace toward you.

So, let’s pray and invite the Spirit of God to teach us today and reveal the love of the Father to us.

Earlier this year, I had the honor to teach at a local Bible College near here. My course for that semester last year was on Apologetics – it’s the study of how to answer questions about Christianity. And we invested a number of hours comparing the claims of Christianity with other world religions. We studies Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, and more looking at the basics of their beliefs compared with Christianity.

As I was teaching these 18 university students, our conversation led to just how lost and misguided other faith systems are. I’m a firm believer in freedom to worship and express one’s self as I believe this opens many doors for ministry and sharing the Gospel. And While I respect people for their choices and where they stand in politics and religion, it is clear that the values and claims of Christianity – and how the Christian faith has invited us to relate to God and to others – is radically different from other systems of faith.

And at the core of this radical difference is the person of Jesus Christ. His pure and unstained holiness in life, his miracles and teachings, and most importantly his revolutionary love and invitation to relationship to all who would choose Him. This sets Jesus apart from every other religious leader and makes Christianity unique.

When Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, he invited his disciples and others into a radical relationship of grace with Himself, and a revolutionary approach to a life of love toward others.

He invited everyone, regardless of past sins, political stance, gender, economic standing, race or national origin, to trust Him. Everyone was invited to His party!

He lived and demonstrated the lavish grace and forgiveness of His Father. And it was this revolutionary love that led Him to the Cross. More of this at the end, because I want you to join me in 2 Chronicles 29 for our message today. And as you find 2 Chronicles in your Bibles or on your Bible applications on your device, I want to frame our passage with some background.

Transition: The prophet Samuel from the Old Testament served the people of Israel as one of their judges; in fact, he ended up being their last judge. And in his old age, the leaders of Israel came to him and said this:

“Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” And they got Saul, then King David, followed by Solomon in the United Kingdom of Israel. And things went downhill from there. And for the next three centuries the people of God in the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel lived under the rule of one king after another – an occasional good and a lot of bad kings.

Our passage today is about a good king. Hezekiah was a ruler in Jerusalem who chose to be God’s leader. He was a good king among the many who did evil by leading the nation toward other gods. From his very first month as king, he determined to reclaim the Temple for worship of the Lord God and decreed that Jerusalem was to be a place to worship the living God and only Him.

I wanted to give you this background because during the first few months of Hezekiah’s reign, three things happen that show the wisdom of this king, and the favor that God showed His people because of him.

Read 2 Chronicles 29:1-12

The first thing he did was to reclaim the Temple so the people of God could worship Him. Can you imagine going away for a few years, and then returning to our church building here, and stuff was stacked up and stored, and there was rubbish everywhere, and you couldn’t even see the stage or the cross on the wall to your left? I can’t imagine, and you know that your pastor would never let this happen.

But, after years of evil leaders, the Temple had become exactly that, and more. In fact, the previous king had practiced the most evil of religious practices in the Temple and in Jerusalem. The Temple was in a bad way. And he is how the godly King Hezekiah began.

  1. He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome. When he started, he had a team of 14 from the Levitical tribe of Temple leaders. It seemed an impossible situation. Too few people. Too big a task. Have you ever read through the genealogies and lists in the Old Testament? There are pages and pages, just of Levites and priests! He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome. And the King gave them this job: recruit more priests and clean the Temple.

Here’s how bad the Temple was in disrepair. It took them seven days just to clean out the courtyard so they could open the door. Additionally, the number of workers in the Temple had shrunk. And Hezekiah ignored the obstacles of a mountainous task and a small workforce. He began with what he had and trusted God with the outcome!

Can you think of another small group of people that become a movement? Absolutely. Jesus chose how many? Twelve. He walked around the fishing district and said – you, you, and you two also. He walked through the streets of Bethsaida and looked into the fig groves and picked two more disciples. He saw a political zealot in the crowds in Jerusalem and chose another. He walked through the Tax district (the Agenzia delle Entrate – can you believe a disciple could be there?), and he called another. And He gathered the Twelve He called from all areas of the culture minus one traitor, taught them about life in the Kingdom, trained them to pray, heal the sick, cast out the enemy, empowered them, and they turn the world right side up.

Could it be that we need to do the same with what we face today? We may have too little income, or too small influence, or we may feel we have too little education, or limited skills in speaking, relationship, or time.  Bring it to Him. Bring who you are and what you have and ask Him for the best outcome. I believe God’s glory and grace shine best in impossible situations.

For Hezekiah, with the beginnings of a new group of priests to lead the worship in the Temple, Hezekiah tasked this small group with making the courtyards and the Temple ready for worship. As this fourteen recruited and involve more of what the passage calls “their brothers,” they moved one step at a time to make this place one of worship and prayer.

Let’s read our next verses in this story for our next 2 Chronicles 29:16-17, 28-30

  1. They Cleaned the Outside and the Inside – step by step, one step at a time. The King’s team started at the courtyard – the most obvious – and move inward to the holiest places – the most intimate. And they hauled away the rubbish and the idols that cluttered the place. They swept, cleaned, and shined all the elements of worship that had been ignored or dirtied.

Restoration is hard work. Take a look at this picture of the last home my wife lived in during college. We learned that a piece of property in Susan’s family in Georgia is without owners – her parents have passed away, and two houses and land are sitting there – for ten years. It needs restoration.

When we restore a place, the obvious stuff, the big stuff goes first. But, when that’s done, the real work begins and we can see all the little things that need cleaning and repairing. We turn on the lights, and we see even more that needs restoring.

Restoration of our lives is hard work, too. Jesus has promised to make us new and renovate our lives. The hard work of restoration has already happened – he already sees the finished product! He sees you as a new creation. But then Jesus asks us to allow Him into the different areas of our lives, to remove the big stuff that keeps us down, to fix the places that we’ve not allowed the Spirit of God to touch. And He turns on the light in places that need His presence. And he changes us.

Here’s the Principle – whether it’s restoring a home or restoring a heart. It’s this: the rooms inside are more important to God than the outside. What’s outside matters. The big stuff matters. But God wants to get us to the holy places deep inside our hearts. This is the place of worship and intimacy.

Illust. My Heart Christ Home The story of My Heart, Christ’s Home illustrates this. The author compares our lives to a house -with kitchen, workshop, living room, bedroom. It’s the story of an invitation to Jesus to make himself comfortable in each room that makes up our lives.

Let me take you to the third action Hezekiah took that changed the nation. After the first sacrifices and worship in the Temple, Hezekiah looked to the nation and determined that, as a people of God, worship would bring the tribes and people together.

Everybody was invited to the Party.

Let’s read 2 Chronicles 30:15-20

  • The nation was divided. Judah and the Southern Kingdom was still together, but the rebellious Northern Kingdom of Manasseh and Ephraim and who claimed the name Israel had been conquered by the enemy. And they all needed the call to worship.
  • The people were not ready. And while many refused and laughed at this call to an “out-dated” religion, many came.
  • The leaders were too few. Even many of the priests and Levitical leaders had ignored the call to worship. And were shamed to miss out on the party.
  • The day for Passover was past. Imagine trying to get the word out by runners from one end to the other, city after city; then prepare the city for the crowds; then everyone had to travel to Jerusalem. And even though the day of Passover was past, they worshiped and celebrated anyway.

From one end of Israel to the other – from north, south, east and west, he sent runners to every city and he invited everyone to come and seek God and worship him.

What can you do when you throw a party and things go wrong? You throw the party anyway! Invite everyone you can, get the house ready, and work with what you have! Do you know what happened when everyone showed up for worship? They might not have brought their best, but they showed up. God heard their prayers and healed the nation. And their worship party lasted two week!

Conclusion: So, what does this mean to us. Today. You and me. This morning.

Would the worship team come up, please.

What speaks to me in this invitation – whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been. You are invited. If you are hurt, forgotten, sick, broken. You are invited. If you have ignored God until now, you are invited. If you have been hiding out and not using what God has given you. You are invited.

So, let’s worship a few minutes and wait and see what God might want to do here at the end of our time together. Pray.

(We are called to come to the party and becoming worshipers. Making our lives the place Jesus feels at home. We are called to bring others with us. The nations need to discover the power of worshiping Jesus.

Illust. Marriage Feast of the Lamb

God heal me. God heal my church. God heal our city and our nation.)

Doing Less to do more

Our men’s group is studying Exodus 18 tonight. The story is a classic case in problem-solving. It opens with the back-story; how God had developed Moses’ the Leader. Then it moves to the crisis; the kind of crisis that most see, but nobody calls out. The final act is the resolution; it comes through a visit from the past that alters the future.

Act One:

Moses and the Israelites are out of reach of Egypt, free, and at the rendezvous point God pointed them toward earlier. The Hebrew count is at 600,000 men plus the women and children. It’s a crowd.

While they camp in the desert near the Mountain of God, Moses gets a visit from someone out of his past – Jethro, his father-in-law, the man whose sheep he watched for close to forty years. He comes for one purpose – the bring Moses’ family back now that they were free – but is surprised and used for another.

They throw a party and Moses tells the whole story, perhaps for the first time to one “outside the camp.” Moses the Leader had been God’s instrument to deliver the people. The Egyptian oppression was over; the people were alive and free.

Act Two:

Jethro gets an inside look into Moses the Leader and how his day-to-day work progressed, now that he (and 600,000 of his closest friends) were free. He sits down before all those with problems or disputes and hears them one-by-one, to infinity and beyond. All day and into the evening.

Three issues he faced that I see:

First, Moses created the mess he was in. He assumed the leadership God had given him was for him alone. That left him with long lines of complaints and issues, and little time to settle it all.

Second, Moses solved problems for others because that’s the way he’d always done it (remember the murdered Egyptian?) He kept doing it the same way because it had worked for him so far. At least, from where he sat.

Third, Moses led by himself. And leaders who lead alone lead blind. They don’t see what others see. Sure, he listened to the problems and bickering for hours on end; but he must have missed what the people had to endure, standing around, reliving everyone’s problems. And waiting.

Act Three:

Jethro reveals what Moses hadn’t seen before. The conversation seems a bit heated, or at least very honest. He presents the resolution – put leaders in place over 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s and let them listen, negotiate, judge, and lead – and like a good problem-solver, leaves it in the hands of the leader; in this case, Moses. The timing was right and, after the sting of Jethro’s rebuke lessened, he began the process of raising up judges, and letting leaders lead. He no longer had to listen to every dispute – he just got the big ones; and the people had leaders they could turn to.

I have heard or read a bunch of teaching on this chapter. It’s a discipleship strategy. It’s a business model. It’s an organizational plan. But, mainly it was a rescue operation. Moses was in a fix. He was heading toward burn-out; so were the people.

Here are some applications:

1) Leading alone can be dangerous, no matter your organization. Jethro’s warning was four-fold:

  • It’s not good (as in, the plan won’t work in the long run.)
  • It will wear you and everyone else out (each hour will make you more and more tired.)
  • It is to heavy for you (the burden of everyone’s problems is too much for one set of shoulders.)
  • You can’t do it alone (you need some new levels of problem-solving to ease the burden.)

So, if you are leading alone, begin with one or two who are godly and honest, and train them up (how to live, how to behave, and how to wisely make decisions.)

2) Don’t fear the new voice. Someone with wisdom, humility and seeing things differently than “from where you sit” can take things to a new place. A new set of eyes can see the big picture and help pull the threads of a resolution together. In fact, though the visit was brief, Jethro changed the future for God’s people.

3) Raise the bar high, but not beyond reach. Let leaders lead. But don’t put a “50’s” leader over “1000.” Give them room to exercise their gifts, develop their leadership voice, and even make mistakes. But, give them a safety net. Be nearby, but don’t hover. They don’t need a daddy or mommy; they need a mentor.

The best part of the story, though, often gets lost. Jethro, already a priest from Midian, took the God of the Hebrews as Lord. He heard the good news of the deliverance, and declared with his voice and sacrifice, that the Lord is God above all gods. That should be the outcome of our own leadership.

The Apostle and the Congressman

The Apostle:

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Philippians chapter 4:4-9. When the Apostle Paul wrote this to the church that gathered in the city of Philippi, he was in prison for preaching the Good News about Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What a great way to approach life –1) Focus on good things of life – noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. 2) Practice the right things we learn from Scripture and pass it along to others. 3) Don’t worry; but pray and trust God. And Paul includes, as he writes from his cell, do this with thanksgiving.

He certainly was learning how to do this in prison. But, he knew that it’s only when our faith is tested that we really get to put this into practice.

The verses before this passage tell us what the Philippians were facing. Two of the ladies in the church were having problems with each other. And not just two ladies; but two who had worked diligently right alongside Paul and other leaders in their church.

Euodia, whose name means “good journey” and Syntyche, whose name means “pleasant friend” – were absolutely not being pleasant and good. They were not getting along – and it was causing problems.

Paul encouraged them: to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and to work things out with the help of God. And directly after this – to change what you think about, change who your examples are, and change how you pray.

From the first settlers, when the Pilgrims survived their first winter in the new land, America was where people came who were oppressed for their faith. And for a century, Congregationalists, Baptists, Puritans, Presbyterians, and others settled in different colonies.

The Congressman:

A hundred years later, after the end of the Revolutionary War and during the establishing of the United States, the new President of this new nation named George Washington faced his own set of problems. America’s new Bill of Rights was barely three days old. It was the same Bill of Rights that guaranteed “free exercise of religion.”

And Washington knew he had thirteen states, with different dialects, different economics, different expectations, and different styles of worship. They didn’t get along and they weren’t sure this new government would work.

Washington’s good friend, Elias Boudinot, stood before Congress with a proposal he thought would unite the States in a stronger way. Boudinot, barely remembered today, was famous in his day for his strong faith, his belief that all people were created equal, his passion for everyone to hear the Good News, and even later for his outspoken defense for the rights of blacks and for Native Americans.

He proposed the first National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving under the new government of the United States of America – “ a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

The House of Representative, the Senate, and the President agree to call the whole nation to prayer on the final Thursday of the following month of November. It was to be a day of repentance and a plea that the new nation would be “a blessing to all the people” – that the leaders of this new nation would “faithfully execute…the wise, just and constitutional laws” of the new land. And, it would be a day to “promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.”

In other words, this Day of Thanksgiving was to encourage this new nation to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and works things out with the powerful help of God.

And just like Paul reminded the church in Philippi, and the two ladies in the church, this Day of Thanksgiving was a day to focus on the good things of life, practice the right things we have learned from God’s Word, and pray with faith and with Thanksgiving.

Remembering —

 

 

Now that I’m 60 – what am I committed to:

There is something about entering a “new decade of years” that calls me to reconcile my experience with my values. As a reminder to myself more than anyone else, I am committed more than ever…

…to worshiping and serving Christ Jesus increasingly with my gifts, skills, time, and resources.

…to loving and honoring my wife till death separates us.

…to encouraging and influencing my son and daughters (and grandkids, when they show up for God’s purposes) toward loving and serving God with their lives.

…to loving what God says He is in love with: the lost, the broken, the lonely, the refugee, the hurting, the confused, the poor, the homeless, the enslaved, the imprisoned.

… to loving and lifting up the church local and global through my prayer, encouragement, time, presence and resources.

…to doing life with a small group of men and women for mutual encouragement, personal growth, and lifestyle ministry.

…to meeting with 2-3 men for discipleship on a regular basis to stay pure, live on target with my promises, and encourage each other toward a fruitful Christian life.

…to living a richer and riskier life in my finishing years by saying yes to each opportunity to give myself away, pour into others, explore new relationships, and influence my world toward Christ.

Tough Crowd

Preachers and worship leaders can read a room, so I’m informed. We stand before the crowd and can tell if they are tracking with us, indifferent, or just don’t like us (not that the third option ever happens in church!) Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house (read Luke 14) and the place was filled with an audience not-so-favorable toward him or the message of the Kingdom. My guess would be to not expect much from a dinner party crowd like this (maybe like going to a Hillary rally wearing a Feel the Bern tee.)

Jesus turned the Sunday dinner soiree into a masterful time of teaching – about not living for crowd approval (he was experienced with this,) about humility and the urge to seek honor from others (don’t take the box seat unless it’s offered), and about lifting up those who can’t improve one’s status or power (toss to pre-approved invitation list and bring in the hurting, blind and invisible.)

And, he healed a man with a visible case of renal failure (his arms and legs were swollen with fluid.) Jesus noted the man’s illness and asked the crowd if he should heal him, even though it was the Sabbath. (I’m sure the host was asking, “who let this guy in? Next time, screen for dropsy!)

Of course, the crowd of Pharisees refused to answer – and of course, Jesus healed him.

But the next exchange is what grabs me. Jesus addresses the room and  asked, “Who here doesn’t do some kind of work on Sunday? Fix a tire? Empty the trash? Rescue a cow? Really?”  Silence from the room. (Cue the crickets.) And they couldn’t answer.

Not “refused” or “chose not” to answer. They couldn’t. Their world view simply would not give space for a reasonable answer. They were so entitled to their Sabbath day, that they couldn’t answer. The rules that governed their Sabbath ruled out their ability to speak aloud what was true and made sense. That God desired healing on their holy-day couldn’t penetrate their dogma … or their faith.

What we’ve experienced, good and bad, and what we’ve clung to that seems culturally acceptable might be exactly what stops us from believing … and being healed.

Comedians can read an audience, too. I read that some entertainers choose to beg off shows at colleges – they say it’s too dangerous. What they say is always under scrutiny. And being recorded.

What a shame that dogma might stop the laughter. And everyone needs a good laugh.

 

Lavish Grace

I revisited the parable of the seeds today, and I expected a rerun. Hey, I can be lame when I read the same passage. The farmer scatters seeds; then it falls first on rocky, then shallow, thorny, and finally fertile soil. The seed and ensuing sprout, in turn, is stolen, burns in the sun, dies from strangulation, and grows to produce fruit.

Preachers have outlined this passage mnemonically starting with nearly every letter of the alphabet (I had a friend who embarked on alliterating the Bible in “P”s – I think he’s somewhere committed now.)

I choose “W.”

But, when I read this, it’s the soil that has issues and not the seed. God’s Word is consistently powerful. We have problems with our soil.

The first soil is “without defense.” The enemy steals it like pigeons at a Central Park seed-fest.

The second soil is “without depth.” The heat of temptation and the pressure of tests can be brutal, like the Amazon sun.

The third soil is “without devotion.” Sin strangles and cuts off the life like a thick and thorny greenbrier.

The fourth soil that Jesus points to is “with dedication.” It’s a good word the means devotion and declaration. A tree full of fruit says, “come and get me.” (To quote one of my movie heroes.)

But two things stand out in the parable.

The first is that God is lavish with his Word… and with his invitation to life. Today’s farmers would say foolish. He throws the seed to the wind, and everyone gets a chance to embrace it, and grow to full spiritual potential. Jesus is extravagant with grace and gives it away even to those who reject it.

The second is what follows in Luke. Another metaphor called the parable of the lamp. “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made know to all.” (8:17) Real fruit can’t be faked. Let that seed sink down deep.

Enjoy the sunlight.

Rick

 

Some look for a Wild Time; I’m looking for a Wild Place

When our kids were growing up, they were fascinated by a series of books (maybe more so, their dad) called “Where’s Waldo?” (Christian book fans, you may remember the “Seeking Sammy” series – I’m guessing it was the Biblical Sammy the Prophet.)

In case you don’t recall spending hours searching through the red and white minutiae for the scarf and ski cap bedecked Waldo, These colorful books opened to panoramic scenes of tiny people in public places, and stuck in the crowd was “Waldo.” The winner found him.

At times, I feel the same way about Jesus. Where’s Jesus? In all the minutiae of life, where is He? Sometimes life’s details hide or push out the right stuff.

Luke 5 is a busy time in Jesus’ life. But it has an interesting aside. Jesus is in the midst of gathering a group of friends and he’s performing miracles (while already avoiding arrest, it seems). And Luke says, “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” I imagine that, in their travels, the guys got up, rolled their backpacks, and someone would say, “Where’s Jesus now?”

Oh, he must have found a wild place.

Jesus was regularly taking time from the wild press of people and their needs, and drawn to seek a place to be alone with His Father. Is there a connection between a wild place, the alone-ness, and God’s presence? Maybe our willingness to go to a wild place can helps us see God’s hand and presence more readily? And it might be the questions become more real in a wild place?

Three things about a wild place: 1)It’s not a quiet place (the noise is different, but still there. 2) It’s not a normal place (we have to choose to go there; the “beaten path” and a wild place are exact opposites.) 3) It’s not a safe place. (Wild places have critters. And the dangers can refocus one’s mind.)

When I find a wild place – a place off the beaten path – to spend time with the Father, I expect that my life will be refocused, on Him and His purposes for me and for His world. And that can be dangerous.

Two-degrees and roundabouts

One of my favorite quirks about living in Italy was the roundabout (la rotonda). Just between my house and the nearest real city, there were seventeen. The reasoning of the Italiani, why use stop signs when you can create a circle everybody can use at once? I loved the dance that happened in urban roundabouts when there were four lanes circling a statue dedicated to The Fallen … and five entry points. Ahh, the adventure and the danger!

When we left northern Italy to return to America, we felt the weight of a complete life turn-around – it was like a roundabout we chose to enter and knew it would spill out back toward America and, specifically, my hometown of Myrtle Beach. And it did.

After a conversation with a good friend, I realized that, with the return, much of my library is still in Italy, in the hands of fellow missional’s. One of the books was a John Trent title – The Two-degree Difference. This was one of many “only read the first two chapters” books; the premise is simple. Make two-degree adjustments in your actions, posture, life direction, habits, etc., and before long, you’re heading the right way.

While I agree that we need to make right choices and move toward health – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and otherwise – it may take a greater act. Adjusting actions by small degrees is the way we are told to replace bad habits, but how boring is that!

I like what Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Not two-degrees. More like 180-degrees.

There is incredible power in the simple act of turning around. An about-face unleashes God’s power to change. The get the presence of God’s Kingdom face-to-face with the act of turning.

What about the two-degree principle? It may be that in our act of repenting God reveals the next thing to change, or it may be that we have gotten “out of habit” with the practices that make life richer, and by all means are worth restoring. But if it’s sin, it deserves more than 2-degrees. It deserves the full 180!

I like what Jesus said to Peter even though he knew there was a major fail in his future: “I have prayed for your Simon, that your faith will not fail, and when you have turned back (read: repent), strengthen your brothers.”

Turn from sin. Yearn for God. Return to the things that matter.

From the Rotonda,

Rick

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