A Hug around the Neck and Kiss on the Cheek

Today was a good day for our church.  Attendance is down due to summer vacations and the heat, still the worship service was wonderful.  We began with a breakfast and I had four helpers (men) show up and when we were done the kitchen was clean.  The service started with a baptism.  We had four visitors who will most likely be back.  We shared communion.

When we took the children my wife and I pick up on Sunday mornings home, a little girl thanked me, hugged my neck and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

There are rewards that money cannot buy in service to our Lord.

We are Jesus Treasure

Very good and productive lectionary study group yesterday.

Key points and ideas:

1) In the parable of the leven and mustard seed, both the yeast and the birds would carried negative baggage.  The Kingdom of God would not be what Israel wanted politically or religiously at that time.  The Kingdom of Heaven will be what God brings, not what we want or demand.

2) If one look at the parable about the treasure in a field or the pearl of great price from the perspective of Jesus, we are the treasure Jesus found and would give everything (his life) to obtain.

3) If one focus on verse 52 (as I intend to do) understanding that the Old Treasurer and the New Treasure require an understand that comes from discipleship.  The Scribe has knowledge, but for the knowledge to be valuable it must be set in the context true knowledge.  This knowledge come from Jesus.

God is so Good!

Kingdom Training

The Gospel lectionary passage for this week is Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.  These passages are a series of parables having to do with what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

The parables are all very familiar.  Each of these parables could be the focus of a sermon.  The verse I feel draw toward, however, is verse 52: “Every scribe (NIV=teacher; CSB=student) who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like the master of a household who brings out his treasure…”

The verb for trained is the word often translated made a disciple.  Studying about the Kingdom is described as a treasure, and old treasure and a new treasure.

Our understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven (our being made disciples of the Kingdom) is a treasure.

As a martial arts instructor (my hobby) I understand the meaning of training.  Three days a week I spend time with students who want to learn the martial art I teach (or at least think they do).  When they grasp the meaning and purpose of a kata (pre-planned movement) they get excited because they realize they have acquired an ability.  The hours of practice have produced a treasure.

The more I study these wonderful parables to prepare a sermon or lesson, the more I understand the powerful illustration Jesus uses.  I will talk about this tomorrow with my study group.

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 Wondering Why, Wait and See (rough draft)

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43    Wondering Why, Wait and See

Our passage today is the parable of the Wheat and Tares (weeds).  There is a hymn based on this passage that we often sing at Thanksgiving.  The hymn was written by Henry Alford.  The first verse of this hymn states: For the Lord our God shall come/ And shall take His harvest home./ From His field shall in that day/ All offenses purge away./ Give His angels charge at last/ in the fire the tares to cast./ But the fruitful ears to store/ In His garner evermore.

The purpose of this hymn (like the parable) is intended to remind folks to be thankful and to remind us to be patient in the midst of the conditions of this world. Once again, at the end of the interpretation of this parable, we find the emphasis on the command to hear.  It is important that we listen to this parable over and over.  This is especially true in our age in which the marketing of church has taken priority over the mission of the church, which is to make disciples.

The focus of this parable, like the parable of the sower, points toward focusing on the harvest.  Also, like the parable of sower, there is a warning for self-examination, lest one base their religion on a false faith with a false sense of security. In preparing this passage, I discussed it with another local pastor who brought up a very powerful truism: The greatest waste would be for someone to spend years connected to a perceived faith that they never were really a part.  On the other hand, it is also a dangerous thing to think we have the ability to discern for ourselves who will be the wheat and who will be the tares.

In this parable we are told that Satan (folks we had better remember this entity does exist and is working to damage and destroy humanity because it his hatred for God) plants weed in the midst of God’s field.  Satan loves to plant those he influences and controls among God’s people.  Weeds can (as we learned last week in the parable of the sower) choke out the influence of God.  However in this parable, the owner (our Lord Jesus) knows the attention needs to be placed not on the weeds, but on the wheat.  So when the question asked by the workers about what to do with the weeds planted by the enemy, the response is not to worry, the weeds will be sorted out at the harvest.

Too, often, I believe we focus too much on the weeds.  We focus on politics, we focus on money, we focus on what we don’t have rather than tending to what we do have.

Two stories that I heard this week in my study group:  First, one person in our group talked about visiting the Ukraine.  The Ukraine is known for its rich soil.  In WWII, the Germans actually had trainloads of topsoil taken from the Ukraine back to Germany.  Because of the richness of the soil, the Ukraine has always been able to produce a plentitude of crops.  The pastor told about visiting the Ukraine and how everyone has a garden.  In fact, every place where a garden can be placed, there is one.  The pastor was taken aback, however, by the weeds.  The Ukrainians do not weed their gardens.  When the pastor asked “why” they were told, “Why bother?”  The soil is so rich and there is always so much to harvest, the weeds really do not matter.

Again, in the parable of the sower, we were told what the good soil produced.  The good soil is the heart has depth in trusting Jesus.  It is cultivated by prayer.  It is watered with the Word.  It is fertilized with faith and fellowship, and it is warmed by the light living in the righteousness of  a real relationship with God.

The other story had to do with the pastor’s yard.  This pastor stated that every year, weeds come up in the yard.  Every year someone would comment that something needed to be done about the weeds.  They would want to go out and pull them.  They would want to go out and buy weed killer.  They would worry about the weeds.  The pastor’s response was to not focus on the weeds but on the lawn.  He fertilized and watered the grass.  He aerated the soil.  Soon the grass would grow thicker and healthier and each year there were less and less weeds to worry about.  He had discovered a healthy strong lawn would overpower the weeds so that is where he put his focus.

Folks, in the local church there will always be those join but have never really become children of God.

Preacher, are you trying to get us to doubt our salvation?  No, I am making a statement grounded in biblical fact.  No one can look inside another person’s heart, but if there is no commitment to the Lord, no fruit in his service, no conviction, no repentance, and you are not living (as stated in Colossians 1:10) a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.  Again, God has given us tools in the Scripture for self-examination and for spiritual confirmation.  God wants us to be confident in his grace, but also to remember that grace is a gift given by Jesus.  It is a gift in which God takes up residence in our hearts.  We can stray, God will discipline.  We can slip, God will lift up.  We can and will sin and our Lord will be faithful and just to forgive us of our sins if we confess them.  However, if you think that you can just mouth words, just join a church, just carry a Bible, and somehow this will magically make you a follower of Jesus, then someone has sold you a lie.

Folks, we all can have times of doubt.  We should be convicted when we are not doing what we know our Lord expects.  However, when we love someone and know they love us, the actions of each make those doubts fleeting and attitude of doing what the other desires gives us confidence in the relationship.

When Jesus told this parable, it was something the folks were quite aware of.  There is a poisonous weed that looks a lot like wheat when it is growing.  This is something that someone who hated you would do.  Their purpose would have been to cause you worry and work, but if one waited, these weeds could be sorted out at the harvest.

Again the primary purpose of this parable is to remind us with our tendency to be impatience, just how important it is to learn to be patience.  Patience is a key concept in spiritual formation.  Patience depends on God’s timetable not ours.  It reminds us our Lord is in control no matter what circumstance or situations this world or our adversary puts us in.

A check-out clerk observed a woman in the grocery store with a three year old girl in her basket. As they passed the cookie section, the child asked for cookies and her mother told her “no.” The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, “Now Ellen, we just have half of the aisles left to go through; don’t be upset. It won’t be long.”

The clerk, while checking on a price of a item, passed the Mother again in the candy aisle. Of course, the little girl began to shout for candy. When she was told she couldn’t have any, she began to cry. The mother said, “There, there, Ellen, don’t cry. Only two more aisles to go, and then we’ll be checking out.”

The clerk happened at the front when the woman was in the check-out lane, where the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there would be no gum purchased today. The mother patiently said, “Ellen, we’ll be through this check-out stand in five minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice nap.” 

The check-out clerk complimented the woman.  He said to her: “I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Ellen…”

The mother broke in, “My little girl’s name is Tammy… I’m Ellen.”

Folks it is easy to get impatient in this world.  It is easy to succumb to the temptations of anger, frustration, and futility.  It is easy to want to do things our way.  It is hard to be patient, yet patience is a fruit of the Spirit.  Patience is a spiritual strength we need to develop.

Often times we wonder, why Lord.  Why do you put up with things you put up with?   Why Lord, what do things happen as they do?  Why, because the Lord knows better than us.  The Lord knows what the soil will produce.  The Lord is patience with us, not wanting any to perish.  The Lord is focused on the the harvest and so should we be.

Focus on the Lawn, Not the Weeds

In our lectionary study group, one of the participants told this story:

Every Spring my wife becomes concerned about the lawn.  She worries about the weeds.  My response to her is this: if we focus on fertilizing the lawn, making sure it is thick and strong, the weeds will not have a chance.

Too often, the weeds get the focus in the church.

Good illustration for use with the parable of the wheat and tares.

Another participant shared a quote from a family member who is also a minister:  The greatest waste of a person’s life would be to spend hours and hours in church service only to find out they never were really were part of God’s Kingdom.

Sunday’s sermon needs to bring up a warning about false security in the church (without manipulation or guilt peddling).

Last point (also from the study):  How many times do we focus not on who is involved, but who is not.   God often uses a remnant when the rest of the focus put their attention elsewhere.

The Small Church Pastor- Organized Chaos

Another late start this week after a very urgent filled last week.  Such is the life of a smaller church pastor.  So often our lives are at best slightly organized chaos.

Sunday ‘s lectionary passage (Gospel) is Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.  It the parable of the wheat and tares.  I started this blog on Tuesday and it is mid-day Wednesday.  It is as I said earlier, organized chaos.

I will meet with our local lectionary study group today.  I am doing my best to get ready for this study.  I have found studying the upcoming passages with others adds insights and helpful perspective toward preparing the sermon.

The focus I am looking at now is how this parable speaks to the impatient about the need for patience (in the midst of our organized chaos).

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 How Does Your Garden Grow (rough draft)

There is a children’s rhyme that goes:  Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row.  Even though this children’s rhyme has been around since the 18th century, it has been interpreted to have a hidden meaning back to the 16th century and has been used in works of literature, music, film and television.  It also has several different endings: And so my garden grows; Sing cuckolds all in a row; Cowslips all in a row, With lady bells all in a row; Marigolds all in a row.  It also has several versions which begin with Mistress Mary rather than Mary, Mary.  The history of something so familiar and how it is view can be quite amazing.

The passage we are looking at today is one that is very familiar.  It is a passage with a varied and colorful history of interpretation.  It is the parable of the sower.  Because it is so familiar and because it has been misused and abused in its interpretation, it sometimes can be taken lightly.  This is a dangerous thing to do with the Word of God, and especially with a parable like this that is mention three times in the Gospels.

There are some who say this parable should be named differently.  They say it should be called the parable of the soils or the parable of the seed.  However, since Jesus himself calls it the parable of the sower in verse 18, it is probably good to keep our focus there.  In fact, Jesus himself is the sower.  He is the one who brings the Word to life.  In John 1:1 we are told: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This was true then and it is still true today!

Now there are some things we need to understand.  When Jesus uses a parable, there is a key truth he is striving to get across.  In this parable and its interpretation, that truth has both a promised outcome and a practical application.  The promised outcome is this: God’s plan is going to bring about God’s abundant harvest no matter what Satan does, what the world does, or what we do.  The practical application of this parable is that it is a tool we are to use to examine our own spiritual lives.

In preparing for this sermon, I came across a small difference the version of this parable in Matthew and the versions in Luke and Mark.  Since I do believe the Scripture is given as a guide to help us draw closer to our Lord, to understand our real circumstances, and literally does feed our soul (giving us the confidence and strength to overcome fear and spiritual seduction) I strive to pay attention to anything in the Bible text that can have an impact on our understanding.  I have no idea how many times I have studied, taught and preached on this passage, but this is the first time this difference caught my attention.

This difference is rather technical but significant.  In both Luke and Mark, when Jesus says, He who has an ear, hearing, let him hear.  The word hearing is an infinitive implying continual understanding.  In Matthew the infinitive is not there.  This puts the emphasis on the imperative, on the command, let him hear.  In fact a better translation would be: The one having ears, HEAR!

It is in the hearing of the Good News, the proclamation of Jesus that one is given the ability to hear.  The command to hear is a call to listen to Jesus.  In listening to Jesus the opportunity to understand comes.  It is not optional.  There is no other way.  If we do not hear what Jesus says, then we have no hope.

How many times have we heard testimonies from individuals socialized into (means they grew up in or were taught) a different faith perspective or lack of faith perspective, coming to an understanding of who Jesus is, was, and will be not on the basis of their understanding, but of the power within the message itself.  It is this focus on the command to hear that the familiar moves from shallow to deep, from the comfortable to the convicted.  This parable gives us a contrast.  It teaches us about the spiritual dangers we face.  We are to hear it and hear it and hear it.  It is a call to a continuous examination of where the word of God is in our lives.  We are to hear because is seeking to cast the seed of his word were it can grow in our lives.  This parable is a practical tool of examination.

Folks, there is a great hope in this.  Look again at verse 23.  The good soil will produce an abundant harvest for our Lord.  Now, in the time of Jesus, the typical return on a harvest was 7 ½% increase (7 ½ fold).  Tenfold was considered very, very good.  Thirty fold would have been a miracle. Sixty fold winner the lottery 4 times in a row, and 100 fold was absolutely supernatural.

Folks, through reflection, through obeying the command to hear, God’s word can change our perspectives.  God’s word can change our lives.  God’s word can change the harvest for him our lives produce.  Yes, there will be times the evil one will steal away the word from our heart.  Yes there will be times the world will choke out the word.   Yes there will be times we get excited and then dry up.  But if we listen, if we continually hear the word, we will also have times of being the good soil that will produce that abundance of which Jesus speaks.  This is the goal of the Christian life.  Again, hear the word of our Lord: John 15:4-5 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Folks the purpose of coming to church is to rejoice in what God has done and to be organized to be God’s harvest.  It is not to gather a big crowd.  It is not to make us think we are good people.  It is not to be entertained, or be a social service agency.  It is to hear the Worship the Word, pray the Word, hear the Word and then be grown by the Word, the Word that has become flesh, the Word that is Jesus, God with us.

However, if we do not hear and obey, if we do not listen and reflect, if we do continually let the sower’s seed fall on us, we will not experience the joy at the harvest that God has intended for us.  This life does have consequences.

Folks, hear what Jesus says:  Satan will snatch the Word from us.  What must we do?  James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. The world will choke the Word from us.  What must we do? 1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.  The lack of spiritual depth will dry us up. What must we do? Hebrews 6:7-9 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case– things that accompany salvation.

Jesus is the sower.  We our desire is to please him, when our mission is to follow him, when our choice is to hear him, we will overcome.  We will produce the bountiful harvest.  If we do not listen, then we will not live up to the purpose God has for us.

A husband and wife were driving down a country lane on their way to visit some friends. They came to a muddy patch in the road and the car became bogged. After a few minutes of trying to get the car out by themselves, they saw a young farmer coming down the lane, driving some oxen before him.

The farmer stopped when he saw the couple in trouble and offered to pull the car out of the mud for $50. The husband accepted and minutes later the car was free. The farmer turned to the husband and said, “You know, you’re the tenth car I’ve helped out of the mud today.”

The husband looks around at the fields incredulously and asks the farmer, “When do you have time to plough your land? At night?”

“No,” the young farmer replied seriously, “Night is when I put the water in the hole.” 

Jesus wants us to be the good soil.  He wants us to be part of God’s bountiful, supernatural, wonderful harvest.  Not just a mud hole.

The name we carry, it may vary
But how does our garden grow
Make sure the seed, is where we need
To be confident in harvest we’ll know.