Friday, July 31, 2009
2. Tomorrow, 8/1, is our Back to School Yard Sale. Our volunteers have been hard at work today sorting and organizing all of the items that were brought in today. There was a steady stream of people for most of the morning. Please be in prayer for this event and if you get a chance come on out!
3. Starting August 9th we will be beginning a new preaching series, Lessons from Moses. We are going to take a trip through Exodus and look at the different lessons we can learn from the life and experiences of one of our great Biblical heroes.
4. We are going to begin a new Bible study series in August. There is an announcement in this week's bulletin so be sure to check it out. I will post more information about it in the weeks to come. I hope you all can make plans to take part in this exciting and informative study.
5. As part of my "Reading the Bible in a Year" (the readings I post in this blog) I have been focusing on the book of Psalm this week and I wanted to share something with you that really spoke to me this morning. From Psalm 107:1-2,
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others He has saved you from your enemies.
For He has gathered the exiles from many lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
I wrote in my margin "Praise Him constantly!" What a wonderful reminder of God's faithfulness and love!
Have a great week!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
What a month! Words cannot express how thankful Debbie, Parker, Wesley, and I are at how easily and genuinely you all welcomed us into the Druid Hills family. Your notes, expressions of friendship, and kind words have been wonderful and truly appreciated.
But one of the most exciting parts of this new transition has been the stories. Everyone has been so anxious to share with me their stories, their experiences, as well as the up and down times of their lives. You see, it is through these stories that we come to know one another the best. I could read a biography of each one of you and learn about where and when you were born, where you lived and went to school, the members of your family, and where you worked. But that would not give me anywhere near a full and accurate description of who you really are. We need those stories, we need those jaw dropping, excitement building, heart breaking stories to truly understand one another. Those are the experiences that shape who we are. Those are the experiences that define how we act, what we believe, and who we are to the very core of our being.
And let me tell you I have heard some stories this past month! I have laughed with you, cried with you, and absolutely been amazed by what some of you have endured in your lifetimes. I have heard war stories from the men in ROMEOs. I have heard stories of perseverance at our weekly fellowship dinners. I have heard stories of dreams and ambitions from those I have seen and met with at other times. But the point I am trying to make is that stories are what make us unique and each and everyone one of us have a story that is distinctly different from everyone else.
Stories are not new. They have been around since the beginning of time. The Bible is composed mostly of stories or narratives. These narratives are how we have learned about Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, David, Elijah, Job, Isaiah, Paul, the Apostles of Jesus, and of course Jesus himself. Not only can we learn about these people, and so many others from Scripture, but we learn about who they are and what they believed.
That is why I have spent time this past month preaching and teaching about the parables of Jesus. These stories were not only appropriate for Jesus' day but they are appropriate for us now. These stories carry a timeless message for us about how we as Christians should treat one another, love one another, and how no matter what we are facing, we can rely on the promise that the Triune God will never leave us. These stories carry so much meaning that I hope you will read them again and again and again, and let God speak to you through them. I am sure that you will get something new each time you read them if you are still before God and let God speak to you through them.
Stories are how we have passed down information since the beginning of time. Stories are what have shaped and formed who we are. Stories are how we connect with each other. This past month I have heard some grand stories! And it is through those stories I have connected with some you, gotten to know some of you, and have began to truly understand who some of you are.
So please keep those stories coming because I can never resist a good tale!
Grace and Peace,
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
This past January Debbie and I were blessed with the opportunity to be able to take a two week trip to the Holy Land. We began our trip in Cairo, Egypt and followed the trek of the Israelites from Egypt, through the Sinai Peninsula, through Jordan, and on up to Jerusalem. We saw many of the places mentioned in Scripture, we saw the historical artifacts and monuments in Egypt, and the high places in the city of Jerusalem itself. Those places and things were absolutely amazing and in fact life altering for me. But there was one single event, one single moment, that amazingly tied all of what I felt and witnessed together. You need to understand that as part of this tour group we had chartered buses that provided our transportation on this trip. Each bus had a driver and a tour guide and while one would describe what were seeing or about to see, the other would....well drive. Well one day, we were in Jerusalem and we were getting back from a day of sight seeing and were in the middle of unloading from the bus at our hotel. As everyone is piling off and going in to get ready for dinner, I lingered a bit in the parking lot. It was a nice day out and I just wanted to soak a bit more of Jerusalem in before going inside. As I was standing there I noticed our driver had gotten off the bus and was heading for a car parked in the corner of the lot. Just as he got about half way to the car, one of the doors burst open and this little girl got out and started running toward our driver screaming, “Abba! Abba!” He started running towards her and when they met she jumped up into his arms and they hugged and spun and kissed. You could see the pure, absolute joy that both of them had at seeing one another. You could witness the awesome power of love that they both felt for one another. Watching those two I wept.
Our parable today gives us a similar story. At this point in Scripture Jesus is sitting with public sinners, and tax collectors, much to the dismay of the Pharisees. And he begins to tell this story. A father has two sons and one day the younger son comes to his father and demands his inheritance now. The father obliges and the young man is off. Well it is not long before all of the money is gone, having been wasted on frivolous living and a self indulgent life style. The young son, broke and starving, and the country he was in experiencing a famine, he begins to look for work to help support himself. He hires himself out to feed the pigs of another man. Looking at how these pigs ate he becomes grievous and envious all in the same breath. He is sorry for how he has wronged his father and realizing the the pigs are eating better then he is, he makes plans for reconciliation with his dad. He decides that he will go home and tell his father that he has sinned against heaven and against him, is no longer worthy to be called his son, and will ask for a job as one of his father's hired hands. Well his father, seeing him approach from the distance, takes off after his son and the son says what he came to say. “ Father I have sinned against heaven and you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son, and will you take me back and treat me as one of your hired hands.” Well the father will have none of that and immediately instructs that the best robe be placed on his son and that someone bring him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. He also instructs that the prized calf be killed and prepared, because we are going to celebrate the return of my son! What a great image of love and celebration!
Now here comes the other part of the story. The part that we usually do not discuss with any great length. Now here comes the older son from working a long, hard day in the father's field. And what does he see? He sees a party for his younger, irresponsible, disrespectful brother. He is understandably very angry. He confronts his father and asks him how in the world can you justify this? Your son demands his inheritance early, squanders it, returns home and you celebrate in a way you have never celebrated for me! The father tries to explain why he is doing this with the statement, “this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Unfortunately, the parable ends there and we are not privy to the response of the older brother.
Now most of the times that I have heard this parable preached, it has been from the perspective of the younger brother. How no matter how far we stray God is always looking for us and eagerly anticipating our return to God. But today I want us to take a look at this parable to see what we can learn from the actions and attitudes of the older brother.
You see this older brother had lived a life mostly comprised of honor, integrity, and duty. He is still human and so he was not perfect, but he never left his father, did all the he thought was required of the older son, and probably did it without much complaining. In fact how much more work was probably required of him once his younger brother selfishly left? But by any rate, he was probably a model, eldest son.
Now living the life he had, you can only imagine the anger, resentment, and frustration that he felt when he comes in from a long, hot day in the fields and sees the massive celebration that is taking place for his good-for-nothing younger brother. That got me thinking. How many of us have acted like this older brother and at what loss? How are we to deal with those feelings? Well this parable gives us a few tips.
One thing we need to remember is that God loves us all of equally. Just because we try and do everything right does not mean that God loves us more than someone who comes to faith in God later in life. And sometimes that is a hard reality for us. This world is built around competition. Competition for our spending money, competition for jobs, competition for status. Have you ever heard the phrase or seen the bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins!”? Those mindsets and attitudes can make it difficult for us to keep perspective on the fact that God loves us all equally. We are all part of God's creation, Jesus died for each and everyone of us, and the Triune God is eager for a relationship with all of humanity. There is no competition for God's love, it is freely given to all and we should employ that model and do the same. Those that we know that have drifted from God, never known God, or find themselves anywhere in between, we need to show them the awesome power of God's love. We need to fight the urge to be like the older brother and harbor that self destructive resentment. We need to practice expressing the freely given, non-judgmental, all encompassing love of God. That agape love that knows no bounds. Just as God loves equally, we need to love equally as well.
Another lesson we can learn is that even though we may not have strayed as publicly as the younger brother in this parable, we have all strayed. Anytime we allow something to replace God as the the number one priority in our lives, we are straying. When we allow money, popularity, power, anything to be more important to us than a loving and eternal relationship with God, we are straying. We may only stray for time, but we stray. And we need to understand that fact. Because when we understand that, then the reaction of the father in this parable means something to us. When we see how the father reacts to his younger son returning home, the love, the excitement, the celebration, the grace, the awesome display of love, it reminds us of how God has done the same for us. The older brother is not happy at all with his brother's return. He will not celebrate and he will not rejoice. He does not understand what his father is doing. Maybe, he thinks that his father is showing favoritism to his younger brother. He does not understand the deep love his father has for his son. That love, that awesome power of love, is helping the father rejoice at his son's return rather than focus on the negatives. It is helping the father be happy rather than angry. It is the same reaction that we have received from God time and time again. When we have strayed, when we have acted disrespectfully towards God, God has lovingly and willingly accepted us back time and time again. When we understand the love God has given us, then we can avoid the reaction of the older brother and extend that love to others.
One more lesson we can learn is the upside to being a faithful follower of God. Many people wonder why should we be a faithful follower of Christ when we can convert at the last minute and still get everything those that have been life long believers have. Why follow all the rules, go through all of the demands, and in the eyes of some have no fun, when converting later in life will still yield an eternity in Heaven. The answer is this, because the relationship we can form with God will be all that much deeper and meaningful. The amount of love we can give and receive will be that much more plentiful and widespread. The amount of influence we can have for the Kingdom of Heaven will be that much more impactful and life changing by being a faithful follower. And we do not have to be lost and stray to have God rejoice over us. Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God rejoices over us in singing and takes great delight in us. And if we are a faithful follower for as long as we can be, then there is that much more celebrating over us that we get to experience and be a part of.
The older brother in this parable is often over looked but I think easily associated with. The feelings of anger and resentment that he felt are feelings that we have all felt at some time. But the awesome power of love that the Triune God shares with us can over come all of that. It can remind us that God loves all of us equally, that we have all strayed and should show the love that God shows us upon our return to others, as well as the upside to being a faithful follower of God.
Now when I told you the story of our bus driver and how he and his daughter greeted each other, I told you I wept. But I did not tell you why. I wept not because I terribly missed my two boys, which I did. I wept because at that instant I was reminded that is how God loves me. That is how God loves you. God is eagerly waiting for us to scream Abba, Abba! and to run towards God and jump into God's arms. God is waiting for us to be that excited about being in God's presence. That is the awesome power of love! That is the life changing, soul altering, forever kind of love that cannot be felt anywhere else. That is love that prompted Jesus to sacrifice himself on our behalf. That is the love that was first shown to us that we need to show to others.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Here is the schedule:
Sunday 7/26: Psalm 87-90
Monday 7/27: Psalm 91-94
Tuesday 7/28: Psalm 95-98
Wednesday 7/29: Psalm 99-102
Thursday 7/30: Psalm 103-106
Friday 7/31: Psalm 107-110
Saturday 8/1: Psalm 111-114
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
A story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, "Today my best friend slapped me in the face."
They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, "Today my best friend saved my life."
His friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?" The other friend replied "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it."
So real forgiveness keeps on leaving the sins of others and our hurts in the past. Yet Jesus understands the difficulty of such forgiveness. To keep on forgiving is a God-like characteristic. It is contrary to human nature. So He gives a parable beginning in verse 23 which will help us obey His commandment to keep on forgiving.
Looking at our parable today we read about a king that bestows grace to one of his servants only to have that servant not reciprocate the favor when given the opportunity. Before the actual parable begins we are presented with a question from Peter to Jesus asking Jesus how often a person should forgive another. This question sets the stage for the entire parable. The oft quoted portion of Scripture comes next with Jesus answering 70 times 7.
Then the actual story begins. A king taking inventory of the debts owed to him calls in a man that owes the king 10,000 talents. So how much is 10,000 talents worth? Most scholars will not assign a specific dollar amount because there is just not enough information to do that accurately. However, those that will, to the best of their abilities, estimate 10,000 talents to roughly be worth about $2.2 billion today. In fact for that time frame 10,000 talents would exceed the taxes for all of Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, and Samaria. The king immediately orders that his all of his possessions, his wife, his children, even the servant himself are to be sold to help pay the debt. The point that Jesus was trying to make with this number was that this was a debt that could never be repaid in any one lifetime. This debt was beyond calculation, beyond repayment. The only options this servant had was forgiveness or prison. Well, the servant pleads with the king for more time and being moved by the passionate plea of the servant the king grants more time. The servant then is released and as he is leaving he confronts a fellow servant that owes him a hundred denarii, again no great consensus on the exact value but probably worth around $5,000. He grabs him by the throat and demands repayment. When this fellow servant makes the same type of passionate plea to his debtor, no grace is given and the first servant orders that his fellow servant be thrown into prison until the debt could be paid. Other servants who witnessed this were very upset by this lack of grace and report the incident to the king. The king promptly calls the unforgiving debtor into his court, rebukes him, and has him thrown into prison till his debt of 10,000 talents is paid. Jesus concludes this parable by telling those listening that if we refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters that God will not forgive us.
You see in this parable God is represented by the king and the debt of 10,000 talents represents sin. We owe God more than we could ever repay in our lifetime. We can never “work off” our debt of sin. Therefore we need grace, God's grace. When the first servant then does not forgive as he was forgiven, we are told that God's own forgiveness is then invalidated. We must forgive others in order to have God forgive us. Now the point can be made that God's forgiveness is never really taken back because if we truly, if we truly forgive as God calls us to do, then this will not be an issue for us. But the principle remains...we must forgive. We must extend the gift of grace to those we encounter. And one aspect of grace is forgiveness. The king we read about today extended grace to the first servant and forgave his debt. But you see it would take us weeks or even months to fully dissect what all grace entails so today we will focus on the aspect of forgiveness. So what is forgiveness? Well, forgiveness is basically pardoning someone from some debt or offense with no desire for punishment or restitution.
So I ask again this week...what does this parable mean for us today? I think it means a few things.
To begin with the parable points out to us that we should forgive because God first forgave us. Look back at Jesus when he was dying on the cross. What words does he utter to his Heavenly Father, concerning those that are crucifying him, before he dies? “Father please forgive them for they know not what they do.” He was asking God to forgive the people that were killing him, that were causing him to endure this indescribable torture. If Christ can ask for forgiveness for those that were inflicting this incredible pain on him, how can we not ask for forgiveness for those that commit much lesser acts against us. Christ was completely innocent of any wrong doing, willingly endured this pain, and then asked God to forgive those responsible. All of this was done not just as a model of forgiveness for us, but done out of of pure, agape love for us. To forgive us of our sins. Jesus' purpose on Earth was about love and one way to express that love and show that love and grace to others was though forgiveness. And Jesus modeled that for us time and time again even unto his painful death. We should forgive because God first forgave us and forgave us a debt that we can never repay. Forgave us a debt that cost Him the life of his only Son.
This parable also teaches us that we should show others grace and forgiveness because that is how we can allow God into our heart. As Christians we are called to spread not only the Good News to the four corners of the Earth but the love of God, the love of Christ as well. And in order to do that we need the help, the equipping of God. The way God helps us, guides us, equips us, is by dwelling within, by taking up residence in our hearts, our very souls. Now in order for God to do this we must make ourselves a worthy sanctuary and that means that we strive to make ourselves a people of love and of grace. Resentment, hatred, anger, those are all results of unforgiveness. And when we allow those attributes to grow within our hearts then we are not allowing God to dwell within us. We are taking God out of our lives for a time. However, if we can practice grace and practice forgiveness then not only are we inviting God into our lives and our hearts, but we are giving God and the Holy Spirit a place to work. We allow ourselves to become tools that can be used to bring God glory and to show other people that God is out there, that is concerned about people, and the God is crazy about us. The joy that comes from extending grace and forgiveness and allowing God into our lives, into our hearts, is a joy that it is indescribable. It is a joy that far surpasses anything we can muster on our own or anything that this world has ever created.
Another lesson we can learn from this parable is that if can remember that God first forgave us and allow God to dwell within us by having a loving heart, then the act of forgiveness will become part of our nature. If we remember that God first forgave us, make ourselves a worthy sanctuary for God, then grace and forgiveness will become a part of who we are. By itself forgiveness is hard. At some times it is even undeserved. But neither of those will be an issue for us if forgiveness is part of our nature. If grace is a part of our very essence.
The king in our parable forgave the servant a debt so large that it could never be repaid in his lifetime. God forgave us of our sin, a debt that we could never repay in our lifetime. God created us to be in relationship with us. God created us knowing that it would cost God the life of God's only son. That right there proves how much God loves us. The sacrifice that was made on our behalf will never be repaid. But God wants so much to be a part of our lives that he had Jesus sacrifice himself on the cross so that relationship with us could be a reality. God first forgave us, we do not deserve it, we can never repay it, but God did it anyway. That model of forgiveness should be something that we all strive to emulate to others. God first forgave us, if we follow suit God will live within us and give us joy not of this world, and as such forgiveness will then become a very part of who we are.
Grace is a gift from God. Part of grace is that forgiveness of our sin, of our debt, so that we can be restored to a right relationship with God. A relationship with God that cannot be earned, a relationship that is given. Just as that first servant could never repay that 10,000 talent debt, we can never, on our own, repay our debt of sin...it took the sacrifice of Christ. And just as it can never be repaid, it can never be earned. Listen again, it can never be earned.
My challenge for you this week is to look for an opportunity to extend grace to another person. Look for an opportunity to forgive another person. Then do it. Pray about it and do it and see how God works though you in that situation.
That grace from God, that gift of salvation is a gift freely given. We have to make the decision to accept it. And once accepted we will never be the same, we will never treat others the same, and we can begin to give that gift of grace to others. That gift of undeserved grace just as it was first given to us.
Monday, July 20, 2009
19: Sunday - Psalm 59-62
20: Monday - Psalm 63-66
21: Tuesday - Psalm 67-70
22: Wednesday - Psalm 71-74
23: Thursday - Psalm 75-78
24: Friday - Psalm 79-82
25: Saturday - Psalm 83-86
And remember it is never too late to join in.
Have a great week!
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Sunday: Psalm 31-34
Monday: Psalm 35-38
Tuesday: Psalm 39-42
Wednesday: Psalm 43-46
Thursday: Psalm 47-50
Friday: Psalm 51-54
Saturday: Psalm 55-58
If you are feeling ambitious you might want to try and journal about your reading each day or each week and how these readings have affected you.
Remember it is never to late to join the Challenge and your life will be better for it!
Part I: Best Intentions Can Produce Weed-like Results
Part II: Fruit of Our Life is What Distinguishes Us from Weed-like Lifestyles
Part III: Christ is our Hope for a Wheat type Lifestyle
Last week we began our series on the Parables of Jesus and in looking at the parable of the Four Soils, we talked about being fertile soil for Christ and some of the aspects of our lives that we can focus on to help ensure that we make ourselves as available and ready as possible. Today we look at the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds and the idea of making our lives fruitful for Christ and how Christ has committed to help us in that endeavor.
Growing up my father had an affinity for plants. He absolutely loved them. If fact when I was five years old we moved into a new house that sat on a little over an acre of land. Over time my father began to construct and build about nine huge flower beds that bordered all four sides of the house, the four boundaries of the property, and all around and in the middle of the new circular driveway. When he was finished, those beds looked beautiful. There were all types of plants with different textures, sizes, and colors. It really looked amazing. Well it was not long before the inevitable happened and the weeds started to grow. One day I was outside just looking at the new flower beds and my dad came outside, stood next to me, and put his arm around me. We stared at the beds for a while and then he said, you know I love ya boy. And I said yes sir. Then he said good, he winked at me and said you are the newly appointed weed puller and then he walked away. Pulling those weeds became a chore that I quickly grew to hate. There was always a hundred, no a thousand, other things I would rather be doing than hunched over in the hot sun pulling all these little weeds. But I was always told that if I would do a little weeding each week then it would not be that bad. Well, I would keep an eye on the beds with the intention of taking care of it before it go too bad, but it always seemed that they would grow little by little and then one day, before I knew it, bam!, the flower beds would be so overgrown that you could hardly see the plants for all the weeds. Hard as I tried, taking care of those flower beds never seemed to work out real well for me when I tried to do it my way and ignored the weeds altogether. Often times the job just seemed hopeless.
The parable that we read about today looks at the idea of weeds in our lives and points out how those weeds can be damaging and the importance that we be more like wheat than weeds for Christ.
At this point in Scripture we find Jesus still out on the boat in the Sea of Galilee preaching to the crowds and he begins by comparing the Kingdom of heaven to a farmer that plants seeds in a field only to have the enemy come during the night and sow weeds in that very same field. Well when the servants awake the next morning they are just aghast that weeds have been sown in this field and they immediately come and inform the farmer and are chomping at the bit to run out and pull up those weeds. But the farmer tells them no, that the enemy is responsible and that to pull up the weeds would be harmful to the wheat. Instead the farmer instructs them to let both grow and at harvest time they will be separated, the weeds will be burned and the wheat will be placed in the barn.
And like last week we are again blessed to have Christ explain the imagery in the parable a few verses later. He tells us that he is the Master that planted the good seed, or the wheat, and that the field is to represent this world and the good seeds are meant to represent the children of God. Christ goes on to explain that the enemy in this parable is Satan and the weeds that he sowed are to represent the children of Satan.
So what does this mean for us? Well I think it means the first thing we need to do is to be mindful of our actions and state of our souls.
When something does not go according to plans have you ever heard the phrase but I had good intentions? I think all of us have at some point. And I think that we have all learned that that is not always enough. You see we can have the best intentions in the world but if we are not careful we can produce weeds in our lives rather than wheat. When God created us he gave us the choice to do good or to do evil with our lives. We can stray away from God and from the work he calls us to do or we can follow him. When I was 21 I began working as a manager for the retail superstore Best Buy. It was not long till I started to stray away from God and from church. Working at Best Buy, Sunday was the biggest day of the week for us. It was the day that the new sales ad came out. So we would have to get there about five hours before the store opened in order to have enough time to set up all the displays and change all the appropriate price tags. It was also the day that I had to verify and process all the previous week's time cards for the 120 plus employees that worked there, not to mention it was the busiest day of the week sales wise. Needless to say as a manager I was required to be there. Well as time passed and my responsibilities grew I began to allow the weed of money to overtake my life. The longer and harder I worked there, the more money I would make and I began to drift away from church and began to follow the lure of money. It was not a sudden change of direction. It was very subtle. I began that job with the best of intentions. I accepted that job because it was closer to home. I accepted that job because it paid more money so I could afford to go back to college. However, as my salary climbed, my devotion changed. I allowed money to take me away from God and eventually I stopped talking to him and worshiping him altogether. As I strayed away from my relationship with God and as my walk with God came to a stand still, weeds were beginning to overtake my life. My actions were taking me away from God.
Any number of things can take us away from God and it is not always immediate. Barriers between us and God can grow slowly, almost so slowly that we do not realize what is happening and before we know it, our lives are overgrown with weeds. If we allow any hobby or desire to replace God as the number one priority in our lives, then we begin to run the risk of producing more weeds than wheat for Christ.
Another lesson we can learn from this parable is that those actions we are trying to be mindful of in order for us to produce fruit for Christ, are important to the work of the Holy Spirit. Going back to our parable we read that the servants become outraged at the enemy sowing weeds in their master's field. They immediately wanted to go out and pull up the weeds, but the master says to wait for they might pull up the wheat while they are trying to rid the field of the weeds.
To help us better understand this image have you ever seen a field of wheat? It is not planted in perfect rows, or evenly spaced apart. It is all grown together in a large group with no discernible rows or boundaries. In fact the weeds Jesus was probably talking about more than likely looked very similar to the wheat while they were both growing together. To have those servants go out and pull up the weeds and not the wheat would have been nearly impossible since telling them apart would have been extremely difficult. The same can be said for us and the Christian example we set. We can claim to be the good seed for Christ. We can go to church, put on the good show, and on the surface look very impressive to other people. But on the inside we might be struggling. Maybe because of our struggles we have stopped doing our daily devotions, maybe time with God and going to church have slipped a little on our priority list, or maybe we have just become so busy that we have not spent time with God in quite awhile. Just like the wheat and the weeds it could be hard to tell a difference between our outward appearance and the inward reality.
But for the wheat and the weeds the difference comes when the weeds begin to bloom and produce seeds that the wheat does not. These seeds are not really useful for much of anything and if our lives are mainly composed of weed type actions then they will not be as useful, or fruitful, as they could be. It is what we produce with our lives, the fruits of our lives, that will distinguish us from the weeds. For example take the way we treat other people. It is so easy to get caught up in our own lives that we can become content ignoring other people rather than interacting with them. And before we know it we can get to place where we really do not want to deal with anyone. People begin to get on our nerves a little quicker or we feel we cannot be bothered by strangers that need our help. However, time after time in the Bible we read about Jesus who stopped what he was doing to heal someone, the woman who had a bleeding disorder, the man that was lowered into a house in the middle of Jesus teaching. Christ showed genuine compassion to those that needed it and that is the example we are called to follow. Maybe we can make a simple phone call to someone who needs to feel connected; or a write a note to someone who is feeling lonely. It could even be as simple as listening to someone while we are waiting in a line somewhere. In Matthew 22:37-40 Christ is being questioned as to which commandment is the greatest and part of his response is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and one of the best ways to do that is to show it. We need to strive to lead a life that embodies the love of Christ
I know sometimes we all get the feeling that life is just too hard, there are just too many requirements of our time, or one bad thing after another after another keeps knocking us down and there is no way that we can possibly get our head above water, much less be a good seed for Christ. It almost seems impossible to even keep our own lives together. But this is where we come to the great part of this parable, the part that gives us hope. Remember, at the end of the parable the master of the field tells his servants that there will be a harvest and at that time the reapers will come, separate the wheat from the weeds, and the wheat will be gathered and placed in the barn. So what is so exciting about that? Christ tells us that the reapers are his angels and at the end of the age we will be gathered to Christ and, are you ready?....we will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. Shine like the sun. What a great image! Christ tells us here that we will be gathered up. He tells us that he does care about us and he does love us and that he does have a plan for our restoration to him.
You see, as this parable explains, Christ is not responsible for the bad things, or the weeds, that are sown into our lives. Just like those flower beds that my dad planted that looked absolutely amazing in the beginning; he did not plant any of the weeds that eventually came up. Those came from another source. But Christ offers us hope that those weeds will not choke us out. There were times when I was weeding those flower beds that I thought I could never get it all done. There were too many weeds, too many flower beds, and I was only one person. But looking back, I realized that when I did two things, the chore was manageable and even enjoyable. First, was to stay on top of it, just like my mom and dad told me. The same can be said of our walk with Christ. If we take care of our walk daily, spend time with him daily, listen to him daily, then our walks will bear more fruit and probably be much more enjoyable. For me spending time daily with Christ is such a blessing! It seems to give me a daily peace and the things of this world do not seem to get to me so much. Second, was to ask for help when things got too overgrown. This life is difficult and I do not believe that we were meant to live it alone. The same can be said of our spiritual lives. When we keep focus on our walk with Christ and have others to help us, either via accountability groups, consistent Christian fellowship, community Bible studies, or any other activity where our faith is shared or explored, then it seems our walk and relationship with Christ becomes much stronger and deeper. And it is in those times of fellowship that we build those bonds of connectedness that make this life so much fun!
Just as I pulled those weeds to help restore the beauty to those flower beds, Christ has promised to pull the weeds from our lives to restore our relationship with him and provide us with eternal life, eternal salvation! Even though our lives might look bleak or too difficult there is hope, Christ has said he will come again and gather us up and we will shine like the sun! And we can take great comfort in that promise.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Week of July 5-11
Sunday: Psalm 3-6
Monday: Psalm 7-10
Tuesday: Psalm 11-14
Wednesday: Psalm 15-18
Thursday: Psalm 19-22
Friday: Psalm 23-26
Saturday: Psalm 27-30
I hope you will join me and prayerfully accept this challenge!
Last week I began my very first appointment as a pastor at Druid Hills UMC. This is the sermon I delivered and it is part of a four week series on the Parables of Jesus.
As my family and I were preparing to join you all here at Druid Hills I found a box of old photos and mementos. Knowing I had a lot to pack and get done I thought it best to not go through them but just pack them. Well how many of us can resist the chance to go through items like that? I certainly couldn't that day, so I sat down and begin to look….and remember. I found pictures from years ago from school, boy scouts, and bowling leagues. I also found newspaper clippings from my time as a high school runner, clippings from my Eagle Scout ceremony, and my wedding and engagement announcements. Then just as I was about to pack it all away I came across a journal I used to keep. I opened it and began to read. It was a nice trip down memory lane recalling what I did and how I felt, but more than that I was able to read about some of my beliefs. There were things that I was so certain of in my earlier years that I now wonder how I ever could have believed that way. I started thinking about some of my other views that might have changed from high school to the working world, from before I entered seminary to when I graduated. You see I am not the same person today that I was 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 or 20 years ago. I have changed, I have grown, and I have learned. And I am not alone in that. All of us have gone through the same thing. We have all changed our views about certain subjects, changed the way we act and respond in certain situations, learned information that has caused us to change what we think and believe. I believe that is some of what Christ is trying to tell us in the parable that we read today.
As this story begins Scripture tells us that Jesus was gathered with his disciples in a house near the
Jesus describes a farmer that goes out to plant seed. As the farmer begins to scatter the seed four different types of possible landing places are described for us, a footpath, shallow soil with rock underneath, thorns, and fertile soil. The seed that fell on the footpath is eaten by birds and never gets the chance to produce anything. The seed that fell on shallow soil with rock underneath while it grows quickly soon dies out from heat and lack of nourishment. The seed that fell in the thorns, while it grows, is eventually choked out and withers. And the seed that falls on fertile soil produces a crop of 30, 60, or even a 100 times as much as had been originally planted.
I imagine that most of the people that were gathered there that day probably were somewhat confused after this story. Was Jesus giving them a farming tip? How did that apply to the people that were there? I imagine most people were confused because even Jesus' disciples, the people that have been with him the most, came up to him and asked him, "Why do you tell stories when you talk to the people?" Even the disciples want a strait teaching. No riddles, no metaphors, they just wanted him to tell them what he meant. Jesus takes heart to their concerns and he takes the disciples aside and actually explains what he meant.
Recorded in Scripture for us Jesus explains that the people that hear the Good News of the Kingdom but do not understand are represented by the seed that falls on the footpath and is eaten by birds. We are told that those people have the Good News snatched from them by Satan before it can ever take root in their hearts. The seed that falls on the shallow soil are the people that hear the Good News, understand it for a while but do not have a secure foundation in which to allow the Word to grow. At the first sign of trouble they are lost. The people that allow the pressures and distractions of this life to take them away from God are represented by seed that falls in the thorns. The Good News takes hold and begins to grow but soon the cares, priorities, and commotion of this life take them away. And the fertile soil where growth is abundant and overflowing are those people that not only hear the Word and understand it, but allow it to overtake their lives. They allow the Word to be the driving force behind their existence, the object by which they judge all truth.
Now as I was reading this parable and putting this message together my first reaction was to try and figure out which type of seed I was. I imagine that many of you felt the same way. How was my relationship with God? Was I in tune and listening? Was I following his direction? Or was I preoccupied and distracted by the events in my life? It was then that I realized that at some point in my life and points again in the future, I have been and will be again, all of these types of seed.
You see there have been times in my life where I simply did not hear nor heed the voice of God. God's prompting on my life feel on deaf ears and I went my own way. As a teenager I got bored by church. I still went, but I did not pay attention. The Word was being given to me, I did not have to seek it out. It was simply placed in my lap and I did nothing with it. I heard it but I did not understand.
There are also people that when they hear the Good News they get excited and the Word begins to blossom in their lives. But then some problem or obstacle comes up and they struggle because that layer of rock does not allow their roots to go very deep. Now this rock could be lack of support in the way of family, friends, covenant or small group relationships and when problems arise they have no one to help them through it. No one to guide them and show them that God is still there. The rock can be any number of things that make our enthusiasm and obedience wane.
Jesus also tells us of seed that wilts when it is choked out by thorns. Those thorns are the cares of this life that distract us and take us away from God. There were also times I was told of the Good News and got incredibly charged up to only have the distractions of this life get me. I remember one year after going to a United Methodist Men's Retreat in Leesburg, I was pumped. I was so excited I could hardly sit still for a week. I had been challenged that weekend to read my Bible. To read it cover to cover and really work on taking the Good News and placing it in my heart. I was told to get a Bible and mark it up, write all in it, and really commit to learning what the Bible had to tell me. I made up my mind that I was going to accept that challenge and as soon as I got home I grabbed my Bible off my shelf, the very top shelf of my book case, the shelf where you have to get a chair and stand on your tip toes to reach it…and I began to read. Genesis was great! Creation, Noah, Abraham, it was good! Then work started to get busy. I worked retail and the retreat was at the end of October and November begins the Christmas push. I was working longer hours, I had more customers and product to deal with and every day that went by it got easier and easier to walk away from that enthusiasm and from my reading. What was beginning as a good work in me a few weeks prior was wilting.
Then Jesus tells us about the soil that is fertile, the soil where abundant growth occurs, where the Good News of the Gospel has no choice but to shine in the hearts and minds of believers. That is place that we should strive to be and I am sure that some of us have found ourselves in that place at some point. Some of you here today may be there right now and if you are God Bless You and I pray you remain there forever!
But for the rest of us all is not lost. Our God is a God of love, a God of Grace, and a God of redemption. God does not want us to suffer. God does not want us to be lost. God wants us to prosper. As believers we are God's children and simply put, God is crazy about us! There are seasons to our lives, some more prosperous than others but we will never find ourselves out of God's grace or God's reach.
So what can we do to help ensure to help focus our attention to be fertile soil for God? I have come up with three but feel free to add to this list yourself later. One is daily meditation and prayer. Every day I strive to spend those first waking minutes with God. I have two, very active, very loud, and wonderful boys. Quiet time in my house does not exist unless they are sleeping. So I wake up before everyone else and hole myself up in my study. And I read Scripture. I read four chapters every day and after I read I say a quick prayer and then I’m quiet. Sometimes I am quiet for just a little bit if the boys wake up, other days I get the opportunity to be quiet for quite while. But the challenge is to be quiet. When we are talking with someone, in order for us to listen, to really listen, we have to stop talking. Psalm 46:10 tells us to be still and know that I am God. I encourage you to simply be still and be quiet before God. There are some days when I can feel God stirring within me with such force that it takes my breath away. Other days I do not feel anything. But the point is to give God the chance! We need to give God the opportunity to speak to us. We need to work on being still before God.
Another way to help ensure we are fertile soil for God is through the act of fellowship. We are called to be in fellowship with others. We need to be in fellowship with others. Matthew tells us that Jesus said, “And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there." I like that version from The Message, because it says you can be sure that I’ll be there. There is no if, you can be sure. That idea of two or more, that is fellowship. I firmly believe that it is through fellowship that we are strengthened by the hearts and minds of other believers. We need that communion of strength, that love and support of others to be strong, courageous witnesses for Christ. Look, a wise man once told me that “if you try and do this yourself, without the help of the Holy Spirit, I promise you will burn out!” I believe that! We need the fellowship of other believers.
And finally, in order to for us to remain fertile soil for God we need to observe the Sabbath. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 commands us to observe the Sabbath. (Read Scripture) We are all humans and our bodies, in order to perform as God intended, need to rest. If we are frayed, burned out, and exhausted then there is no way we can be at our absolute best. When I get tired, everything suffers. My quiet time is exchanged for a few more minutes of unbeneficial sleep, my time with God, being still, evaporates. And my focus and opportunity to be fertile soil for God is gone. We need rest. God rested and God commands us to rest. Now this is not a free pass to lie on the couch all day and watch TV. You see it is in that rest that we have the time to commune with God, to read Scripture, to pray, to recharge via the Holy Spirit. This is time that God wants to be in fellowship with us, with our undivided attention.
As we finish this time together I want to offer you a challenge. I want you to examine your life and your relationship with God. Not just today or this week, but frequently and see where you are. If you are not where you want to be then ask God for help. If you are, then ask God to help keep you there. It is up to us, to you and to me, to tell others about the love of Christ and to be God's mouthpiece. It is up to us to make sure we are doing everything we can to become and remain fertile soil for God to do with as God’s will sees fit. So I ask…How's your reception? Are you in tune with God?