Thought of the Week


Sower1

This last Sunday I experienced an ever increasing event as of late, in that my understanding of Scripture was greater clarified. The hard part about the clarification of Scripture is that it is usually accompanied by a conviction, to in some manner also change my life. What I always thought of as a reference to the conception of eternal life in mankind turned into the realization that this is a perpetual struggle not only in the beginning stages but throughout a Christian’s life.

Eric led us this week in a teaching on “The Parable of the Sower” in Luke chapter eight. Jesus parallels the spreading of the Word to a farmer sowing seeds. The Farmer is metaphorical for our Heavenly Father who sows the seeds of the Word in our hearts. The seed is the Word and the soil is the hearer of the Word. There are four types of soil in this passage: the road, the rocks, the thorns, and fertile soil. The seed that falls on the road is trampled upon and never takes root. The seed that falls on the rocks will take small root but has no room to grow. The seed that falls amongst the thorns is choked out. But the seed that falls upon fertile soil will grow abundantly. What I realized as we pondered the meaning of this parable, was that this is not merely a struggle in becoming a Christian but is also a permanent struggle throughout a person’s walk with God. There are times when I have ignored a Scripture or ignored God and trampled on the words He gave me. There have been times when I have ingested His words but did not allow them to take deep root. There have been times when I allowed the comforts of this world to choke out the Word of God. And then finally there are times when I submit to God and become the fertile soil wherein His Word can take root and grow exceedingly in me. It all boiled down to the state of the human heart. When God’s Word falls on the road, our hearts are hardened and cannot accept the Word. When God’s Word falls on the rocks, our hearts respond temporarily and we all too quickly fizzle out of life. When the Word of God falls on the thorns, our hearts are open because it is convenient but we are easily distracted by everything around us and the Word is choked out. The moments in which the Word falls on good soil, are the moments in which are hearts are truly changed. So how does one know when they are good soil? Fortunately for us, there is irrefutable evidence of good soil in that it produces fruit. If we are good soil, and we are recipients of the Word of God, then we will be fruitful. What does being fruitful mean to you? And how can we better be bearers of fruit in our immediate circles of influence?

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What is a sinful woman? And how does she differ from any other woman? At first glance one may not be able to tell the difference but as you grow closer to this woman certain things will be apparent about her character. She suffers consequences that others do not. And as time progresses these consequences begin to take a toll. This week we studied a story of this sinful woman. While this particular account in Luke (Luke 7:36-50) does not expound on her lifestyle it is obvious that she carried deep seeded pain around with her. To understand more fully her pain we took a journey into the Old Testament story of Hosea and Gomer. God prophesies the extent of the consequences suffered by a sinful woman (Hosea 2:2-13) and as we studied this list of consequences, the sinful woman of Luke came alive in character and pain.

As recognition of her situation took on form, the incredible gift of God’s grace grew in magnitude as we began to understand how immense grace truly is. We saw this woman’s overwhelming desire to leave her situation but the futility of that attempt without Christ as the Simon’s of her world told her she did not deserve to rise above her circumstances. And here enters the grace of God. God’s grace is exactly that: undeserved. But that gift of grace hinges on one thing. Are you willing to accept it? We have all sinned and fallen short. The individual’s view of God’s forgiveness and grace is dependent on our acceptance of His gift. Once you have accepted what Christ offers to you, your sin no longer has the power to define you. What defines you is Christ’s vision of restoration and wholeness. Do not let the Simon’s of the world tell you differently. Listen only to the words of Jesus, “I offer you peace and freedom. Stop running in your circle of sin and come away with me into the wilderness where there can be healing, restoration, and wholeness; where I can make you as beautiful as the day you were created. You think I cannot see beyond your sin, but that is a lie – I see all your potential, glory and beauty if only you will come in faith and anoint my feet with your tears. Come to the wilderness with me, so that I may respond (Hosea 2:21-23) to you and administer my grace to you.” (“Respond” in Hebrew is the word anah. It means to dwell in, sing, utter, speak, cry out, answer.) God is waiting for us to come to Him so that He may dwell in, sing to, and cry out in answer to us.

When the Simon’s say, “I see only what you have done,” hear instead the voice of Jesus as He says, “I see what you were created to be.” When Simon says, “You have no future,” hear The Great Lover of our souls declare to us, “I am your future.”

The Faith of the Centurion

This Sunday we finally arrived at the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Luke. While to some it may appear we are progressing at a snail’s pace, it has been extremely enlightening to engross in the teachings and character of Jesus at such an in depth level. The more we learn of Jesus’ character the more we long to become like Him and the way to accomplish that becomes increasingly apparent.

This week we studied two stories in particular that shed much light on the heart of Jesus and what motivates Him to act on our behalf. While there are many qualities that motivate Christ to serve us, the two we analyzed in detail were faith and compassion. The first story was about the faith of a centurion. This struck a deeply resonant chord in my heart because I could identify as a prior service member and now as a military wife with this man’s understanding of authority and the significant role it plays in maintaining order and structure in all aspects of life. This centurion’s understanding of the philosophy surrounding the concept of authority was profound beyond belief; to the point that even Jesus was awed at the display of faith. While on one hand the Jewish elders sought to plead the merits of this centurion to no avail, the centurion himself professed unworthiness to even have a man of Jesus’ authority and stature set foot in his home. The centurion understood that in the physical realm where he had much authority, it was possible for him to accomplish much on the basis of his spoken word. He spoke and men complied with his requests. This provided for him a deeper glimpse into the nature of Jesus’ spiritual authority. He knew that if Jesus merely spoke the word, the principalities of darkness would be dealt with and that Jesus presence would not be necessary to accomplish such a thing. It was a stark contrast between the faith of this centurion and the typical clinging of the Jewish people and their continual demands for a sign to prove Jesus’ authority. I challenge you to chew on this story and break open new meanings that can serve as methods of exemplifying your own faith in the true power of Jesus’ word and His authority which awaits unleashing if we only believe.

The second story we discussed was a story of Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead. The most evident contrast between this story and that of the centurion was that no one asked Jesus for anything; Jesus entered a city and was moved by compassion for this weeping widow. (I cannot help but wonder if perhaps through His spiritual insight, Jesus witnessed the agony of His own mother as she would shortly be put through the ordeal of losing a son.) The sheer magnitude of this miracle astounds me beyond measure. Often we assume that when our fruitfulness dies, that this is the end of our productivity and depression can set in and steal the joy in our life. But what we witness in this miracle is that the immense resurrection power of Christ can infuse us with new life when we least expect it. The widow in this story had most probably resigned herself to her future as a beggar. With both the loss of husband and only son, her chances of being provided for were slim. Her hope in a future had died that day. Jesus who is representative of all we hope for in life, brought this widow’s hope of a future back to life. It is a powerful story of the spark of new life that Jesus can bring to us every day we exist through Him.

As we are faced with the Christmas season this year, may we be more aware of the hope and power Christ’s arrival on earth meant for our own future. May we more acutely grasp the affects our faith and compassion can have in serving others.  It is our hope and prayer that in this season more individuals would become aware of the life that is Christ and the resurrecting power He has, and desires to exemplify on our behalf as He brings new life to our innermost being.

This past Sunday we studied and discussed the beginning of Luke 3.  Luke writes about John the Baptist who teaches a “baptism of repentance” and baptized in the Jordan River.  John, we read in Mark’s gospel, wore clothing of camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey.  He was not a run-of-the-mill teacher.

Luke compares John to “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”  This is a prophecy, written hundreds of years earlier, by the prophet Isaiah.  Not only does John the Baptist fulfill this prophecy, he also is a prophet himself.  Prophets, in the Old Testament, were always spouting off at those in power.  They told people to turn from their evil ways.  They ran afoul of kings.  Often, they acted strangely.  Ezekiel laid on his side for 390 days to show Israel’s punishment in captivity.  Prophets saw strange visions and talked about them.  John wore camel hair and lived in the wilderness.  He ate locusts.

John told the people who saw him to repent.  He told the Pharisees, the religious insiders, to repent.  The Pharisees were the best of the best.  He told the crowds to repent.  Regular, everyday Jewish people who didn’t like the Romans.  He told the tax collectors to repent.  These people were Jewish, too, but cheated their countrymen.  They were disliked and looked down upon.  And he told the soldiers to repent.  Soldiers were Romans, not even Jewish. 

He told the best Jews to repent, the crowds, the worst Jews, and the non-Jews.  John told everyone to change his or her ways.

We talked about this at The Gathering.  So often, in my mind, it’s the people around me that need to repent.  The Pharisees — church leaders who abuse their authority.  The crowds — people who don’t care as much as I do, who don’t sacrifice as much or work as hard.  The tax collectors — people who cheat.  The soldiers — people who kill and aren’t in my circle.

But it’s I who needs to repent.  It’s us.  Our community. 

We talked about this.  We talked about how we don’t care enough when we see people hurting.  How we don’t pray enough for people in our community.  For people out of our community.  For our country, at a time when politics is on everyone’s tongue.  We don’t fellowship enough, sharing not only Sunday mornings but our eating and drinking and working lives together.  We fall short.

John the Baptist showed us this.  And this week, as we go about our lives, we try to remember.  We fall — we turn away from how God wants us to be.  But, as both individuals and as a community, we repent.  We reorient ourselves toward God.  We thank Him.  And we remember the prophets, who tell us hard words that aren’t easy to hear, and we listen.

An inaccurate rendering of a surely dark-haired and dark-skinned Jewish Jesus at the temple.  But a rendering nonetheless.

An inaccurate rendering of a surely dark-haired and dark-skinned Jewish Jesus at the temple. But a rendering nonetheless.

The Gospel, that is.

We’ve been studying Luke’s gospel for the past couple of months, as we will be continuing to study it for roughly 17 and a half years.  I’ve heard the secret to teaching a book is doing it fast enough so you can remember the beginning at the end.  Well, hopefully we have some good memories.

Debbie taught us yesterday, and highlighted a few ideas.  First, we saw Jesus presented at the temple as an infant.  They were at the temple both to present Jesus and for Mary’s purification.  Thus, for Mary’s purification, they offered two birds (either turtledoves or pigeons) as the law required after childbirth.  This was the offering a family could give if they didn’t have enough money for a lamb.  This is significant, because we see that Jesus comes as a poor person, with a ministry to the poor, outcast, and religious nobodies.

We looked at Simeon’s blessing and prophecy (Luke 2.29-35) and learned that his prophecy that a ‘sword’ will pierce Mary’s soul falls in line with Hebrews 4.12 — the word of God piercing to the division of soul and spirit, revealing the thoughts of the heart — as Simeon prophesied would happen to Mary.  Traditionally, this verse is interpreted as referring to the pain Mary would feel at the cross, but it also refers to the Word (i.e. Jesus) and that his life and work would reveal the thoughts and attitudes specifically of Mary (and all of us, as seen in Hebrews 4).  A new understanding of the text, one that works in the biblical narrative, especially with the theme of the sword piercing the soul, something that technically is impossible.

Further on we saw the boy Jesus at the temple.  We talked about the fact that at some point he would have realized he was the Son of God and realized his mission, and likely this could have happened in his twelfth year.  What a realization!  For some reason, I think of it as realizing I had a test that I hadn’t studied for in college that morning: and I would feel incredibly intimidated.  Yet, for Jesus, the responsibility was probably outweighed by the care and connection that he had with God.  He was, after all, the Son of God.

We also talked about how this passage is tied together with the Word: we see Simeon’s prophecy to Mary of Jesus revealing thoughts and attitudes, and we see Jesus anxious to learn more and debate at the temple.  It underlines a thirst for God-as-Trinity: the God the Father, the Word and Son, and the indwelling Spirit.  Beyond this, it points out the need for community and learning: if Jesus needed to discuss, how much more do we?

And, this week, it brings questions to us.  As we go through our regular week, are we people who are thirsty for God?  Do we let the Word, especially through Scripture, reveal our thoughts and attitudes?  Are we living in step with the Spirit so that we can see when Jesus shows up, like Simeon and Anna?  And finally, are we thirsty to talk and discuss and learn more, so that we can be people who “increase in wisdom…and in favor with God and man”?

Last week I posted on how we, as a community, are increasingly focused on helping Cimarron Elementary School.  We’re a small community, and we decided that going as deep as we can with this one elementary school is enough: it is enough of a challenge as to inspire and not intimidate, we are making enough of a difference without overwhelming ourselves.

Too often, though, as churches embark on projects they forget why they do certain things.  Of course, this phenomena isn’t confined to service projects.  Anyone who has spent considerable time inside a church building has felt this.  There are activities we do or songs we sing or prayers we pray simply because we always have.  Or, I would argue, even worse is when we do these activities out of a sense of guilt.  We have misconceptions about God and about ourselves.  We think God is ready to nail us if we don’t serve or pray enough, and we believe that our lives are meant for dutiful action and heartless sacrifice.

Yet, we are not focused on helping Cimarron for these reasons, or even for the ambiguous and obscure feeling that we ought to be doing something.  God does not need us to do something for its own sake.  He does not need us at Cimarron.  He does not need us to gather every Sunday to discuss and learn and worship.  Jesus, after all, did mention that if we don’t worship the rocks will cry out.  God is big enough to get his due, he is strong enough to change people’s lives.  He does not need us getting in the way.

We focus on Cimarron and on reaching out, because we believe this is the best possible way to live.  We believe that when Jesus came teaching and healing and walking, he told and showed the way to fullest and deepest life.  This life is rooted in following his commands.  This life is rooted in loving God and loving others.  We focus on Cimarron together because the way of Jesus is hard.  On my own, my natural inclination is not toward reaching out.  It is not toward changing the economic status of the poor.  It is not toward being near the broken.  Too often, my own inclination is toward comforts: television, the internet, a nap.  We focus on Cimarron together because we need each other as we follow Jesus.  We need to hear each others’ triumphs and failures, each others’ stories.  We need to pat each other on the back and remind each other why we do this. And we hear it through smiles and laughter, through tears and whispers.

This is the best possible way to live.

We reach out to Cimarron because it is a part of what Jesus gave us: a way to live deeper and fuller lives.  It is only part of living fully, but a crucial part.  And it is a part that we do together, because we believe Jesus meant for us…well, to do it together.  Although God does not need us, he offers us this opportunity: to come alongside what he is already doing, to bring more of his kingdom to this world, to live fully and deeply, in the best possible way.

Abide.  It conjures images of sitting and resting.  For some reason, I think of running water and vegetation and maybe sitting in the shade of a tree.  For others, the word brings different images.  Yet, peace and serenity are surely part of all the images, as are security and safety. 

Jesus commands us, in John 15, to abide in him.  He compares us to branches coming from a vine.  We are to be people connected to the depth that without the Vine we wither and die.  Again and again he urges us.  Abide.  Remain in my love. 

In America today, we are so poor at abiding.

We are conscious of producing and we are busy and stressed.  We move from task to task.  We see our day not as a journey with Jesus but as a set of problems to be solved.  What if we became people who abided?  It would start small at first — and it has for many of us — and we would encounter moments of abiding in God’s love.  And what if these moments strung together and became hours?  How would we be changed? 

Jesus said if we obey his commands we will remain in his love.  And in verse seventeen of the fifteenth chapter of John, he gives us his command: Love each other.  He seems to propogate this idea that we must abide in God’s love to show love to others; yet we also must love others to abide in God’s love.  It is a circuit and we give and receive the more we…give and receive. 

May we, this week, be people who abide.

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