Seeds

“Nothing is more practical than finding God."

No PerfectThe high winds earlier this week did a number on my roof, with several shingles now sticking out of the snow at various angles in our back yard. This was the second time our roof showed its age during a wind storm. Fortunately, I knew someone who was able to come and replace the shingles before the snowfall on Wednesday. I’m also guessing it’s time to begin thinking about a new roof.

As you can see, the wind also did a number on our church sign — the one that says, “No Perfect People Allowed.” Like my roof, the sign had also taken a beating during a previous windstorm. I thought it had bitten the dust already then, but Chris Murphy was able to resuscitate it with a couple of pieces of Plexiglas. I think it’s really done this time.

So we’ll have to decide what to do next. Do we create a new sign with the same words? Is it time for a new sign with a different message? We’ll see. Continue reading

Categories: Love

soils2So how do we allow or help the word to take root?

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time.”

In the last post I suggested that the fruit Jesus talks about in the parable of the soils is about abundant living and not just rectified living. Only people who are becoming fully alive are going to attract their neighbors to life in God’s kingdom.

The Jews in Jesus’ day thought that the kingdom would come through violent judgment —  by scorching the wicked and toppling rulers from their thrones. Instead of coming as a political king or military leader, Jesus shows up as a traveling teacher speaking to large crowds and instructing his small group of students. He almost always speaks in parables – figures of speech and stories. While his words are for everyone, he tells his disciples, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” Is he whetting their appetite for what they’re about to hear? Is he putting them on alert that if they actually manage to live out his words, their lives and the entire world is about to change?

If they pay attention. If they take in “the word” and it actually bears fruit.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus says, “Consider carefully what you hear….With the measure you use it will be measured to you — and even more!”

Apparently a lot hinges on his disciples’ response. They can’t be taking this lightly. His teachings aren’t just sermons or spiritual talks. They’re doorways into the kingdom of God itself. And the disciples’ ability to grasp and live out Jesus’ life and teachings is how the kingdom will actually come. Continue reading

soilsThere are any number of versions of Jesus out there. One common one is the ventriloquist version – where Jesus says basically whatever we want him to say. You know, nice things. Reassuring things. Things that confirm our assumptions about our lives and the future and, of course, God — but don’t fit the things Jesus actually said.

When I hear people talk about Jesus’ ministry, it’s usually his miracles that they focus on. We love when he makes everything better – just like that. (Of course, it can be discouraging when he doesn’t do the same for us.)

We especially gravitate to the healing stories. Actually, I think that all the stories in the gospels are healing stories, including Jesus’ parables and teachings. The latter function as a kind of soul surgery, like what the book of Hebrews describes: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow. It is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The process of healing often begins with allowing Jesus to expose and challenge some of our core assumptions.

(By core assumptions, I mean the ones that operate in my unconscious and determine how I actually feel when I’m confronted with…well, life. They’re usually buried and often contradict my conscious beliefs — which can be quite biblical!) Continue reading

war-and-peace

During my sermon yesterday I shared a personal working definition of peace. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive definition, but a practical one for living this stretch of my journey.

Peace is the ability to accept and embrace the uncertainty, risk and emotional vulnerability of being human.

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prodigal-son

The two parables in yesterday’s and today’s gospel readings are so surprising. After the shepherd returns with the lost sheep he celebrates with his friends rather than stewing about how the stupid sheep ruined his day. Then comes the parable of the prodigal son. At the end the prodigal son’s father throws him a party. Really? Personally, I get where the older son is coming from (being the oldest of 6 myself). It’s one thing for the father to allow the younger son to come home; it’s more of a stretch to welcome the prodigal with open arms. But throw him a party? That’s what you do for sons (or daughters) who’ve been away fighting wars or serving in the Peace Corp. That’s not something you do for a son who’s partied half the family’s wealth away.

So where’s the judgment? Continue reading

Cross

I find it interesting to reflect on Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading against the backdrop of Veterans Day as well as the 100th anniversary of  the World War I armistice on November 11.

World War I was to be the war that ended all wars. Jesus talked about creating a new world. In fact, he announced that it was already breaking in. He “enlisted” disciples to join him in announcing and ushering in his kingdom. He called them his followers.

But there other “followers” as well. These were more like his fans. They traveled with Jesus because he was an exciting guy to be around and they were curious to see what he was going to do.

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HearingFor those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14).
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

We come to the last of the four sources of wisdom: the Holy Spirit. The other three are ourselves, life experiences and others. And no, the Holy Spirit isn’t our wisdom source of last resort. It’s not that we first draw upon our own growing ability to think wisely or reflect on past experiences or consult with others, and then, if all else fails, we ask the Holy Spirit’s help. Paul writes, “So I say, walk by the Spirit… (Galatians 5:16).

It’s actually the Holy Spirit that helps us grow in our own ability to think wisely, learn from past experiences, and discern what to do with the counsel of others. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as our Paraclete, a Greek word meaning partner or someone called alongside to help. The Holy Spirit wants to come alongside and teach us how to learn from all the sources of wisdom.

At the same time, there can be these sort of direct “messages” from the Holy Spirit. We may not be sure if it’s the Spirit or our own unconscious speaking; if it’s the Holy Spirit’s voice or our own inner voice, or even some other spiritual voice. Uncertain, we may find ourselves asking, “Am I being led, or am I being led astray?”

I think part of the problem is that we confuse walking by the Spirit with thinking the Holy Spirit is always going to tell us what to do. In my experience, the Holy Spirit as often as not sheds light on a situation without necessarily giving me a direct order. He wants me to exercise my thinking function, develop emotional intelligence, and engage with all of my God-given abilities. At the same time we don’t rely only on our own intuition or logic, but allow the Holy Spirit to show us an angle that we might not have seen on our own.

It can be our immaturity that wants to be told the wise thing to do without knowing the actual wisdom behind that choice. In other words, we want to skip the step of actually learning wisdom. We want to get it right the first time. We don’t want to make mistakes. We don’t want to look foolish. We don’t want to have to take responsibility for our own decisions. We don’t want to have to learn from life experiences. “Just tell me what to do, God.”

And when we think he has, and the results throw that into question, we can quickly doubt our ability to hear God, or wonder whether he even can be heard.

As some of you know, I try to make it a regular practice (though not as regular as I should) to kneel before God with a red pen and open journal, asking God to speak into my life, often about a particular situation or decision. Usually what comes into my mind are insights rather than directives, additional understanding rather than what I should decide. Even when the guidance is specific, I’m usually shown some wisdom about why it’s the best course of action.

But not always. If a granddaughter, for example, is financially strapped, a dollar amount may come to mind that I may not be able to explain. Sometimes the same amount occurs to both Sharon and me, and that pretty much seals the deal.

Remember, the Holy Spirit is working with Jesus to disciple you. He’s here to help us grow, not just learn how to obey orders. He’s also here to help us carry out Christ’s mission. There will be plenty of “holy hunches” to act upon, without knowing where they will lead or what the results will be. Let’s be grateful that we have this Helper to assist us every step of the way.

Having the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean we no longer have to think for ourselves. It just means we no longer have to think by ourselves.