Friday, December 15, 2017

Collision, Week 1 - God Uses the Obscure

It’s four weeks until Christmas. And even though we don’t have snow to tell us that it’s Christmas time, everywhere you go, Christmas is in full swing. The stores are playing Christmas music. The bell ringers are out. I went into the Walmart in Lake Havasu and they had three different sections of Christmas stuff. And with the Christmas season being everywhere, it can bring up fond memories of the past. My favorite memory is a gift I was given when I was either 5 or 6 years old. We had recently moved to a little rural town called Comanche, in the Sierra foothills. Most of my life growing up, I would say we were on the southside of the middle class. We never had an abundance of money, but my parents always seemed to provide more than what we deserved for Christmas. So many times I remember my mom working at a department store for the sole reason as to get the discount so that she could buy us presents.
This particular Christmas I’m sure I received several great gifts, but only one has stayed with me all these years. In fact, out of all the gifts I have ever received, I have only kept one. And that’s my velveteen rabbit, to which I gave the name Christmas. It is something so small, so obscure, and probably so cheap, that my parents thought it would be a simple present discarded in the years to come. But for me it has been something that has stuck with me, and is now a reminder of the love and sacrifice my parents have shown me throughout my life.

So often it’s the obscure things that tend to have the greatest impacts in the world. As we our a church goes forward towards Christmas day, I have felt God leading us to this idea of Collision. A collision is a meeting of two or more things that has repercussions. And after the collision happens nothing is the same again.
And that is exactly what Christmas is, a collision of heaven meeting earth. A meeting that has left both changed. For the next four weeks we’re going to look at the ramifications of the Christmas story for our world. How does this collision of heaven and earth reverberate throughout the world, and impact us today?
Each week we’re going to tackle one part of the Christmas story and ask the question, how does this collision of the Christmas story, effect you and me as we sit in Quartzsite almost 2,000 years removed from the impact?

So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to start off in Luke chapter 1 verse 26. Now we’ll be skipping around, and we’re not going to hit everything that is contained in the Christmas story. Instead, we’re going to look at four different ramifications that come from four different parts of the collision of Christmas. So let’s begin by reading in Luke chapter 1, verse 26.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

If you have ever watched a recent blockbuster or superhero movie, you’ll know that there is a lot of action. A lot of things exploding, a lot of noise, and a lot of adrenaline pumping. And I love it, but those action scenes don’t necessarily impact us as do the quite scenes. You know those scenes that buffer the action. The scenes that bring the world shattering moments to a pause, with the conversations of the characters, and how they are dealing with all that is going on around them. 
I recently went and saw the Justice League movie, and there’s a quiet scene right before a big battle, where the character Flash looks at Batman and lays out his fears. He says, “I’m glad that you are all ready for battle, but I have never battled, I just push people and run away.” Batman responds with, “Save one, and you’ll know what to do after that.”
It’s an quite moment that gives strength to a character and shows the leadership of another. And at this moment in the Christmas collision we witness a small quiet moment before the impact.

God’s messenger Gabriel meets a young girl to tell her of the coming collision. We see nothing fancy, nothing over the top; instead, all we see is a quiet moment between two individuals. 
Gabriel starts off with the greeting, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

And you would think that the presence of an angel would send this young girl running, but instead of being taken aback by the angel’s presence, it’s his words that trouble her. Have you ever noticed that? It’s not the angelic being that stands before her that agitates her, but his greeting.
And I have to wonder, why is that? I know in my own life when one of my kids comes up to me and says, daddy I love, my first thought is, what do you want from me? What are you scheming. Is that what Mary’s thinking, okay what do you want? It’s almost like she’s skeptical. And I can see why should would be. I mean, from what little we know of her, she’s not much on the scale of someone who is desirable.
I mean think about it. Think about the type of person she is, both physically, and socially. She’s young, so she’s got that going for her. But she’s engage, so she’s off the market. But it’s the who that she is engaged to that gives us a little more insight into more of who she is. 
Now, I’m going to follow a trail of logic, that at the very least, makes sense to me. The man she is going to marry is a carpenter. A few weeks ago we talked about what a carpenter was during this type period. Even though by today’s standards, you could be very well off as a carpenter, most, at this time were not. Carpentry wasn’t a intellectual field. It was hands one, so education wasn’t necessarily needed. And because it was a job that dealt with it’s hands, and not brains, it wasn’t very high on the social scale. 
Now because carpentry wasn’t very high on the social scale, that would then limit a carpenter’s options when it came to courting the ladies. So Mary’s fiancé would have to be seek out an equal or lower social status to marry, because anyone of a higher status wouldn’t allow their daughter to marry lower. So May must be of lower social status. Okay that works. But then there’s something a little bit more about Mary.
I’m thinking that she wasn’t exceptionally pretty. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she was pretty, in her own way. And I’m not trying to make this about her appearance, but think about it, if she was exceptionally beautiful then her parents could have sought a suitor from a higher social class. Now, this might seem barbaric by today’s standards, but it was a way for a father to get a better life for his daughter. Through a girl’s beauty, parents could make sure she was more well off than they were. But it doesn’t seem like Mary moved that far up the social latter. So even though she may be pretty, it probably wasn’t exceptionally pretty, but rather average at the most.

So here’s probably an average looking girl, of lower social class, and already engaged, being addressed with this greeting of being called highly favored. But her reaction is exactly what you would think, What is favorable about me? Instead of being taken aback with the angel, she is more taken aback that she is favored, when nothing about her seems to warrant favorability. 
And even though Gabriel reveals that Mary’s child will be the Savior of the world, she is still skeptical. She answers Gabriel’s grand picture of the Messiah with, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Now I don’t think this is skepticism of what Gabriel is saying, and it’s not skepticism of what God can do, but rather it is skepticism on her own role within the plan. It’s almost as if she is asking, “How can God use some like me to do all the great things you are saying. I’m not socially relevant. I’m not physically desirable. Heck, I’m not even married yet. How can God use a person like me?”

And Gabriel’s response is very cutting to this. He explains three things: First, he answers her question of the how, it’s through the Holy Spirit. But then he explains that Mary’s cousin Elisabeth has been given a child even though she is past her childbearing years. And then Gabriel adds one more thing to it. He says, “For no word from God will ever fail.”

In that last sentence, Gabriel breaks through Mary’s skepticism of herself. Because it’s not about her, but what God can do through her. Gabriel never addresses her insecurities, but rather moves past them, and brings Mary into the reality of how God sees her. God sees Mary, not as the average looking, social peasant, little girl that she sees herself as. God sees Mary as he created her to be, the mother that would bring the Savior into the world. And all that matters is that she trust the God who sees her as he created her to be.

And we see a ramifications of heaven colliding with earth. It is so easy for us to see ourselves as the obscurity that this world has us. Whether it’s because of social, economic, material, or other factors. We can easily feel like we are unusable and undesirable. But the collision of heaven meeting earth at Christmas, has nothing to do with how we or how this world views us. It has everything to do with God. It wasn’t Mary who made God pick her, God found favor with Mary, extending his grace on her, because he desired it.

This is why Paul, in 1st Corinthians 1:27, says, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

The collision of Mary meeting Gabriel, was that Mary realized that though she was insignificant to the world around her, she was significant to God. And in that moment, in that collision, she realized for the fist time, that God could use one such as her. Not only did she realize that she could be used by God, but she accept that he would use her. And her response is telling. She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

She wasn’t just accepting a service for God, she was outing herself into a very compromising position. A position she understood. She understood that she might lose her engagement. She understood she would be ostracized from society. She understood that what God was asking of her would be social and economic suicide. And she still accepted it. And she accepted with this world servant, which has the idea as the word slave. She was saying, I will be used by God as his slave. He will direct me and use me in the way he sees fit. 

She realized and accepted that God could use one such as her, and it was based on who he was, and not of what she thought of herself.

This collision reverberates to today. I’m sure that each of us has had points in our lives where we could agree with Mary’s skepticism of ourselves. Where we have said, how could God love, how could God use, why would God care for one such as I? 
But the collision of heaven and earth says, it’s not about who you or the world sees yourself as, but rather how God sees you. And at your weakest, it’s there that God can do great things.

God can use the obscure to impact the world around us. He used the obscure Mary to bring about the Savior of the world. He has used an obscure Christmas stuffed animal to teach me about sacrifice and love. He can use you today in ways, only he understands.

So here’s my challenge for you today, and it’s going take a little more financial effort on your part than usual. I challenge you to make a tag that says, Jesus loves you and wants to use you, then buy one stuffed animal. Next, tie that tag onto that animal, and give it away to someone. It can be an adult, or a child. It can be a neighbor, a family member, or a friend. But give it to someone that looks as if the world tells them they’re not worth it, and let them know that they are. Relay the story of Mary to them. The story of how God used one obscure girl to collide heaven and earth.

Now may the God who initiates the collision of heaven meeting earth, use you to collide with someone else. That they may know that this God does exist and loves them. Amen.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mark, Week 16 - Let's be Honest, We Don't Know

Have you ever thought you knew something, but when it came time to test that knowledge everything seemed to fly out of your mind? You might have prepared for a test in school, just for what you studied to not even appear in the questions. Or has anyone ever gone into an interview confident, but walked out thinking, what kind of questions were those? Knowledge and the application of that knowledge are not necessarily the same thing. Just because we think we know something, doesn’t mean we fully grasp it, or are prepared to have that knowledge tested.

Today we’re moving on to verse 35 of chapter 4in the book of Mark. For the last couple of weeks we have been talking about how Jesus has shifted his teaching, from focusing on who he is; which Mark has been showing us that Jesus is fully God and fully man, since the beginning of his Gospel. This shift moves to Jesus being our example, which includes Jesus having authority over all aspects of life, which we are to follow as his disciples. This main focus of Jesus’ teaching has changed because his disciples are beginning to learn. We saw this with the contrast of chapter 3 verse 9, and chapter 4 verse 1. And as the disciples develop, Jesus begins to prepare them for the future of God’s work.

Now last week we talked about how the four parables that Jesus told his disciples were to help them understand the Kingdom of God. The Four Soils parable told them to be good soil, not soil that had been hard packed against God, or shallow in it’s understanding, or full of things that would choke their faith, but rather be soil where the word of God can grow deep and produce great crop.
The next parable, the Lamp, was meant to tell the disciples, that what Jesus teaches them away from other people, they will need to share. And as they share, God will reveal more to them. This is the cycle of of a growing disciple. Good soil learns and grows, this is done by sharing, and by sharing God gives opportunity for more growth.
The third parable is that of the Growing Seed. This parable was to teach the disciples that their job is to share God’s word with others, which is the seed. It is God who does the growth in people’s lives. So, as disciples, we’re not to worry about the growth of the seed, because that’s not our job. But, we do get to experience the joy of the harvest, the joy of people coming to know Jesus.
Finally, the last parable is encouragement for the disciples. Because it doesn’t matter how charming, or how well you’re put together in sharing God’s word, because God can take the smallest work on our part, and make it grow into an amazing tree.
Taken all together, these four parables paint a picture of both God’s and our role in his kingdom. We are to be good soil where growth happens. That growth happens when we share what God reveals, and through that sharing, God will reveal more. But it is God that grows the word inside of people, so we no longer have to worry about that aspect. Instead we share and get the benefits of watching people come to a saving relationship with him. Finally, we also do not have to worry about how good we are when sharing, because it is God who can take our smallest work, and make it grand.
Understanding this will help us now understand what happens next. So let’s dive into Mark chapter 4 verse 35.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

This is the first of four stories that follow the parables we covered last week. Each one is used to show the disciples a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. So what’s going on here?
A storm comes up, the disciples are scared, Jesus is sleeping through it, the disciples, wake him up, Jesus calms the storm and asks why they are afraid, and then the disciples become terrified at the power of Jesus. But why? Why are they so taken back? The disciples have seen Jesus teach powerfully from the Scriptures. They have seen him heal people from everyday illnesses, to more complex maladies such as leprosy and paralysis.
So why do they seem more afraid of Jesus’ power, than of the storm? The reality is, they haven’t fully grasped who Jesus is yet. They might be learning deeper truths, they might be seeing amazing miracles, but the full grasp of who Jesus is continues to allude them. 

And this can be us. We can think we know who Jesus, but we do not fully comprehend him. We can easily think we understand who God is. We can learn and learn and learn, and believe that we have all the pieces. That we have all the ins and outs to who he is, but the reality is, we don’t.

Listen to these passages from Scripture:

Psalm 147:5 says, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”

Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.”

Isaiah 40:28 says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

To think that we have fully grasped the ungraspable God is to fall into the same folly that Job did. Again and again in the book of Job, the main character talks about his understanding. About how he understandings the stars, how he understands the earth, how he understands all that is around him. But listen to some of what God has to say in chapter 38, 4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—…16 Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? 18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this…What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? 20 Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? 21 Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!”

God goes on like this for four chapters. Challenging Job on his understanding. And in the end Job has two things to say to God. One in chapter 40 and one in chapter 42.
Job says in chapter 40, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”
And in chapter 42, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

It is so easy for us to think we understand God. Job and the disciples of Jesus both fell into the folly of thinking that they grasped the ungraspable. Job thought that he understood this world that God created, the disciples thought that they understood this Jesus they were following. But both thought wrong. Both had their knowledge tested and it came up short. And it’s so easy for us to do the same thing.

Instead, God wants us to realize that he is much more than our perception. Much more than the teachings he reveals to us. And all it takes for us to realize this, is to never believe the lie that we fully grasp God. You know that’s a funny saying. To grasp something literally means “To seize and hold by.” We have the tendency to try to grasp the God who is ungraspable. To seize him and to hold him. But the only grasping that is found in Scripture is in John 10:28-30, “28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

If we try to claim that we no longer have anything to learn of God, then we will be like the ones Jesus mentions in Matthew 13:14, that fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 6:9,“You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”

When Job came to the realization that God was far beyond his understanding, he wept, throwing dust and and ashes on himself. When the disciples came to this realization, they were terrified. What God calls from us when we realize this, is that we be humble before him. And instead of shrinking back from him, we are to embrace the unknowable God, by seeking to know him more.
Here is my challenge to you this week: In what area do you think you have God figured out? In finances? In action? In theology? In his word? My challenge is that you take the whole of chapter 4 and read it at least once a day for the next week, asking one simple question of God, “What new insight may I learn from you, so that I do not believe the lie that I know all of you.” 
It’s easy to think we have grasped God, but what we really have grasped is an idol. The idol of self-conceit. This challenge is left a little opened for a purpose, that we would go to God to show us the storm of his unfathomable understanding, that we might be humbled, and know him more. 

Now may the God of the storm, the One who calms and stirs it up, let the storm of his understanding strike against us. Not that we would be torn a part by it, but rather that we would know his power and be humbled before him. Seeking him today, more than we did yesterday. Amen.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mark, Week 15 - Growing to Understand to Share

One of the things I sometimes do when I take my kids back to visit their grandparents in California, is to show them some of the buildings I worked on. There’s a Walmart in Vacaville that I worked day in and day out creating hundreds of large angel pieces, just to give the look of a continuous point around the top edge of the building. In Natomas, there’s a Safeway that I worked on that had to have 18-20 foot columns, so we had to lift 18-20 foot 16 gauge metal studs into place. And then there was the Toys-R-Us that we worked on the faćade at night to update it. I like showing my kids these things, because even though I greatly disliked doing the work, I took pride in what I did. I look back on it and enjoy showing what I accomplished.

I think we all have a sense of that in our lives. Whether it be something we build, design, imagine, or craft. We enjoy people’s recognition of what we have done, because it gives us a sense of accomplishment.

As we dive into the Gospel of Mark today, we’re going to see how Jesus wants us to understand the work of the Kingdom of God. So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be in chapter 4 of Mark, and we’ll be covering verses 10-13 & 21-34.

But before we start reading, I have a quick question for us to answer. In Mark chapter 1 verse 15, Jesus gives us his message. Do you know, or remember what that message was? Take a moment, but don’t read further, before you think of an answer.

Jesus says this, “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus’ whole message is about the kingdom of God. God’s total rule over all creation, and the reconciliation of the rebels of humanity back to being citizens of heaven. This is important, because up to this point we haven’t had any real teaching on the kingdom. Instead we have seen a heavy emphasis on the who of Jesus and his miracles. But with the development of the disciple’s understanding in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 4, we see Jesus begin to spend more time on helping his disciples understand what the kingdom of God is, and what their role is in it.
So let’s start reading Mark 4 starting in verse 11.

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
    and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?

I have to tell you, the greatest thing that I have seen in the last few weeks is people bringing up the Scriptures that we have been talking about. A few weeks ago I challenged everyone to read chapters 4 and 5. That following week I had a conversation with someone about what was being said in a section that we will cover today. And then last week we skipped over the section of Scripture we just read, because we were focusing on the four soils and their interpretation. But in our Sunday night discussion, this section was brought up. Which we discussed, and I explained how this section actually helps us to understand the next three parables of Jesus. So let’s get into this and how it speaks to the others.

So Jesus tells the parable, or the story of comparing two things to make a point, about the four soils. We talked last week about how we should be asking which of these soils are we. Because Jesus makes clear that three of these soils have accepted the gospel in some sort of capacity, but how they allow the gospel to effect them is different. In other words, just because we have said we accept the gospel, does not mean we are allowing it to find good soil. In fact, we talked about how we need to actively plow our soil so that it will be good soil for the gospel to grow in our lives.

Now Jesus tells this parable and his disciples become confused. So later on they ask him to explain it. That’s where what we just read comes in. Jesus eventually gets to the explanation of the parable in question, but first gives them three insights into how he is going to proceed with their teaching. These three insights are: First, these parables are to help us understand the kingdom of God better. People tend to learn through story. Fables, tall tales, nursery rhymes, all help us understand morals through story form. So too do parables. Second, parables are given to hide teaching from those that do not want understanding. See the purpose of a parable is to awaken spiritual hunger. So if you desire to know more of God, parables are to ignite a desire to find the answer. To do what the disciples are doing right here. It’s the seek and you will find of Scripture. Finally, we are to learn how to interpret these parables correctly. How do we do that? We listen, watch, and ask questions, searching for the deeper meaning that Jesus would have us learn.

From there Jesus interprets the first parable, which is the four soils. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Mark directly moves us into Jesus sharing more parables. These three parables that Jesus gives are: the Lamp, the Growing Seed, and the Mustard Seed.

If you read last week, we talked about how God loves dirt. One of the reasons why I know he does, is because three out of the four parables he shares here deal with it. One of the reasons why I asked everyone to read these chapters a few weeks back, is because we’re not going to read every part of these parables, rather we are going to look at how they connect to each other. Jesus says of the lamp in verse 21, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” He follows this up with verse 24, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Following our understanding from the first parable of the four soils, where we must recognize and make sure that we are good soil for the gospel to grow in. This second parable speaks to taking what we learn from Jesus and not keeping it to ourselves. As we share what God has revealed to us, he will reveal more. But if we try to keep it to ourselves, then even the understanding that we have gained will be lost. Because we have snuffed out the flame of understanding in our lives. So we must share what we learn from God, with others.

Jesus moves on to the third parable, where he says in verse 26, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Here, Jesus moves us from ourselves, from our soil, from our understanding, to our role in the kingdom of God. We are to be growing learners of Jesus who share, and as we share we must recognize that it is not us who germinates the seed of the gospel. What’s that mean? We merely share, God is the grower. Paul, in 1st Corinthians 3:6, relates this very idea, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Jesus wants us to understanding that when we share, we cannot force the seed to grow, but rather we need to allow God to work his growth out. But we get the joy of seeing the person accept the gospel, the harvest of God’s work.

Finally, Jesus gives us encouragement in the last parable. In verse 30 Jesus says, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

This is encouragement, because Jesus is saying that even the smallest seed of the gospel planted in a person’s life, can bring about a huge change. In other words, our sharing of the kingdom of God doesn’t need to be grandiose. It doesn’t need to be extravagant. All it needs is someone to plant what they know of the gospel into someone’s life, and God can grow it. This is why I believe that some of the best planters of the gospel are those who know little about the theology of God. Because when we start filling our heads with so much knowledge, we can easily miss the simple truth of these four parables: We are soil, we share what we learn, it is God who does the growth, and no matter how insignificant our sharing is, God can do great things with it.

The passage ends with this in verse 33, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

This wraps back to were we started today in verse 10. Jesus gives parables so the we may seek deeper truths of God. These deeper truths are to reveal who we are in relation to who he is. We are soil, and God wants us to make sure that we’re good soil. When we recognize this, we are to share what he has given us, so that we may experience more of him. As we share, we must recognize it is God who grows the seed in the person, but we get to experience the joy of the harvest that was brought about by cooperation with God. And finally, even the least amount that we are able to share, can still be used in powerful ways, because God grows his kingdom into a magnificent sight.

When I show my children the things I have done, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride. But when I show my children the things that God has done, it plants the seed of what God can do into them. And that, is infinitely more important.

My challenge for you this week is simple: Take these four parables and wrestle with them. What soil are you? Are you sharing? Are you learning new insights about God? Are you allowing God to grow the seed in other people’s lives, or are you working or trying to force it? Are you more interested in how big the presentation is, rather than on the simplicity of the Gospel.
Let us look honestly at our lives, so that we may be the people that God has saved us to be. By being good soil, ready for growth. Eager to share what God teaches us with others. Looking forward to seeing his growth in others, and not worry about the significance of ourselves, but that the kingdom of God would be built.

Now may the God who is knee deep in dirt, prepare you to be a great crop in his kingdom. Amen.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Mark, Week 14 - It's Okay to Be Dirt

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

You know I think God really likes dirt, and I think God likes to get his hands dirty. Have you ever smelled dirt? Ever since I was a little kid, my family has always lived in areas where I could go out and get dirty. My mom is a planter. She loves planting all kinds of vegetation. My dad loves grass, and always made sure we had some sort of grass were we could sit out on. Which meant that I always had a job cutting the grass. I developed a love for the smell of fresh cut grass, and the smell of grass right after a rain. And it seems to me, that God loves the soil too.

God crafted man out of the dirt, and I like the idea that God got down, as if he was on his hands and knees and dug into the dirt to form man. Our God is a dirt loving God, and we’ll see God’s love of dirt again today.

We have been in the book of Mark for 13, going on 14 weeks. Last time we talked, we saw a major change occurring. That major changed is happening because the disciples Jesus called to follow him, are learning. They’re learning what it meant when Jesus said “Come and follow.” We saw that from the first calling of the disciples in chapter 1, to Jesus telling them to do something in chapter 3. In this in-between time, the disciples had been sitting back eating, while Jesus did all the work. We saw them hearing Jesus’ words, and seeing his actions, but not joining in. But in chapter 3 that changed. Six months into Jesus’ second year of ministry, the disciples were called to bring Jesus a boat. After a little more teaching, similar instance presented itself. Same situation, except this time Jesus never requested a boat. Instead, the boat was already waiting for him. The disciples were learning.
And it’s because of this development that Jesus starts to teach them the second thing he called them to. The first was being a disciples, the second was to be fishers of men. 

And that’s where we’re going to pick up. In Mark chapter 4, verse 2. And as we do, let’s get a little more review. We’ve been talking about how, as we are going through the book of Mark, we’re laying the ground work to understand the last aspect of the church’s vision of Love Lift, Locate, Life. The Life aspect is pointing people back to the life that God has for them. Not to the life we think they need to live, not to a pastor or a church, but to the God who saved them. But what does it mean to point people back to God’s life? Well to answer that, we have to understand what that life is. That is why we are going through the book of Mark; so that we can know what the life is that Jesus is calling us to, and calling us to point others towards.

In the last couple of weeks, we have seen that we need to grow as disciples. We need to learn from Jesus. Always learning, always seeking a deeper understanding of who Jesus is. And the reason that Jesus gives, is so that we may see God at work and be a part of it. It’s with this understanding that we are to constantly be learning and growing so that we can be a part of God’s work, that we come to chapter 4 verse 2. Now today, we’re going to be covering 18 verses, so we’re not going to read every verse. Instead, we’re going to focus on the two big parts. So let’s get into it. 

Mark chapter 4, starting in verse 2.

2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.’
“9 Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’
“10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.’”

So Jesus gives this parable, a story with a comparison point. Jesus brings up sowing/planting seed. See, God likes dirt. At this time some farmers didn’t plow their fields, and if they did, they had a tendency to plow afterwards to till the seed into the soil. So this farmer, in Jesus’ story, starts to throw out his seed. And this seed falls onto four types of soil. First, the seed falls onto a path. These paths were formed from people taking short cuts through a farmer’s field. These paths eventually became the roads on which people traveled. So as the farmer threw his seed, some of it would land on the path, because his field would be divided by these travel routes. This was prime food for the birds, who picked it off as soon as it hit.
Other seed fell on rocky places, where the soil was very shallow. I’ve always thought this to mean that it was soil that was mixed with rocks, but it’s not. It’s actually kind of like the soil we have in Quartzsite. It’s top soil, with a layer of rock underneath. Almost like putting top soil over concert. Plants can grow a little ways, but not deep, because of the layer of solid rock underneath. These plants wither, because they can’t grow deep enough to weather the heat.
Then, some of the seed fell into places where thorns and thistles from previous harvests were not fully cleared. These thorns and thistles choked the plants that grew in this area, by stealing all the nutrients from the soil.
Finally, some seed fell on good soil. Soil that was cleared properly. Soil that had no layer of rock underneath it. And soil that hadn’t been packeted down by travelers. This soil gave the farmer what he wanted, a healthy crop.

This is the parable Jesus gives, but his disciples didn’t understand the implications of it. And it’s understandable. Up to this point, Jesus taught very clearly. Sure he used parables every once and a while, but they weren’t his main teaching style. But now, Jesus is taking his disciples into deeper understandings. So it makes sense that they are not able to grasp what Jesus is saying. So He tells them the interpretation of this parable. Starting in verse 14:

“14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

So the farmer represents anyone who speaks God’s word. More specifically the Word is the Gospel, the good news that Jesus has died for our sins, died for our rebellion against God, so that we do not have to and that we can have everlasting life through him. Then the four soils, represent four types of people. 
The first soil is the hard beaten path. It’s a person that has been beaten down to the point where they can’t recognize the spiritual ways of God. Because they are so engulfed in the ways of this world that anything of God seems to be the furthest away from reality that you could get. This person cannot take the gospel because there is nothing for the word to latch onto. They are so interested in the earth, that anything from heaven seems ridiculous. It is also where Satan, represented by the birds, flies in and takes any part of the Word away. 
The second is the soil over the layer of rock. It’s a person who hears the word, and is joyful about it. They’re on fire, they’re excited, but they don’t start letting it effect them. They don’t go after more of God, but instead, they’re okay with the surface level, feel good emotions that it brings. And when the hardships of this life come, they look at the gospel as a faze. Something that doesn’t help in “real life” situations. And then they abandon it.
The third soil is the soil mixed with thorns and thistles. As the gospel takes root into this person’s life, the call of the world becomes too strong. Wealth and status, pleasure and self-indulgence, fear and worry, all come calling, and the person’s eyes leave the God who saves, for the things of this world.
Finally, the good soil. This person who hears the gospel, accepts it, grows deeply in God, and produces the fruit that God intends for us to have.

Now, how many of you have heard this parable before? How many of us have heard it time and time again, and it has become old hat? And if you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior, it might seem like a parable that doesn’t apply to you, but the reality is: it applies to us, if we are willing to realize it does. As Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
In fact, we can look at Jesus’ parables from what is said, and what he leaves unsaid. Jesus original intent of this passage is that we would understood the different things that go on in someone’s life when they hear and receive the gospel. But what about us today? What if we saw the soil, not a one time event, but rather a life long process. I mean think about it, that path wasn’t beaten down in a moment, it took years. The shallow soil with rocks, took time to at least show something. The soil with thorns was trying to grow. And the good soil took time to produce the good crop. So what’s the common thread here? It’s time. We do not know what is in the soil, until time has passed. So this isn’t just a story about people who hear the gospel, but rather a parable about what people do with the gospel over time.

I don’t know about you, but I still need God’s grace today, if not more so, than I needed it 17 years ago when I first accept him. So if we look at Jesus’ parable as a continuing work of the gospel in people’s lives, then we can start asking the question, even after I have accepted gospel, what soil am I?
What if the beaten path for Christians is where we have done things for so long in the way of our traditions, that we are missing God’s life changing work? I mean, do we realize that our world is significantly different than it was in the 1500s when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theist to the doors of a church? Or When D.L. Moody evangelized in Chicago? Or just 20 years ago when our society still had a consensus on biblical marriage? Our world looks more like the first century, than it did even 40 years ago, but have we become so beaten down into the things of the past that we used to do, that we are missing the work of God today?
Are we so shallow in our faith, that we cannot see God’s divine changing power? The shallow soil would then be our willful lack of understanding, to what God is doing. And therefore our inability to recognize what the gospel means for people today.
The soil with the thorns and thistles, for Christians would then be us allowing the fears, worries, pleasures, wealth, and status that we have, keep us from experiencing the gospel in it’s fullness today. What do you fear? What do you worry about in your Christian life? Change? The unknown? God not doing something you what him to? These things can choke the work of God in our lives. 
Each one of these soils are not a passing thing. They are what happens in time. We find out what soil we are, not in the moment, but as time passes. Jesus’ parable is to show us who we are today, even if we have been his disciples for 50 years.

So how do we make sure that we are good soil and not one of the bad ones? I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t mention plowing in this parable. It’s just about the soil. But plowing was not uncommon during this time, so why is it absent from the story?
Look at this parable from this point of view: The path didn’t just happen to be that way,  it had been beaten down by people. The shallow soil with rocks and the soil mixed with thorns had been neglected from being cleared out. But good soil, it had to be prepared. It had been tilled, and plowed. The imperfections have been taken out. Jesus doesn’t mention plowing in this parable, but plowing is not out of his thinking when talking about soil. Listen to what Jesus says in In Luke 9, “61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ 62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

You know what that means? We have looked at our soil we have decided we want to make the most of the soil. In Jesus’ story the farmer didn’t plow, he just spread. 
But Jesus confirms that there is something that we can do to the soil. We can engage in plowing for preparation for the Gospel to go out. The willingness to be active in plowing the soil, needs to happen if we want to be fit for service in God’s kingdom. Or we can allow the soil just to be whatever it is, and leave it at that.

As a church, we started down a new road two years ago. And in June of this coming year, we will have reached the first leg of it. Two years ago Pastor Jeff began the process of transitioning out of the leadership of the church, and moving me in. The Elder’s confirmed this transition, and our church has been walking down this path ever since. There have been many changes. Some can be seen, and some cannot.
Since we have begun this journey we have stated over and over again, that we are seeking to build on what God has done in this church since it’s founding almost 40 years ago. To reach out to the people of Quartzsite. Young, old, men, women, it doesn’t matter. We have confirmed that this is where God is leading us, because he has been working it out even before most of us even knew it existed.
As the changes have happened, we have seen new faces, both young and old walk through our doors. We have seen people accept Jesus, rededicate their lives to him, and take up his call to follow. There is good and bad that comes with it.

Just this week, I have heard of spouses that do not attend our church being asked to not come to activities of the church, because they do not attend a service here. I have heard of snide comments about a person’s spouse being made to the spouse who does attend our church. I have heard of people fighting over chairs and tables, with people who are nonbelievers. And the list goes on and on. What type of soil are we to allow this to happen? Are we the beaten path, not wanting anything, but what tradition has taught us? Are we the rocky soil, just deep enough to produce something, but not enough to have that something be useful? Are we the soil mixed with thorns and thistles that, is slowly choking the gospel from ourselves and the people around us?
We can allow ourselves to be beaten path, the top thin soil, or soil surrounded by thorns and thistles. If we are more interested in getting our way, making people fit our expectations, then what are we really doing here? Are we really scattering seed? Or are we trying to make sure the seed has no place to grow?

Because if we are not scattering seed, but instead trying to fit people into a way we feel they should be, then we are the beaten path allowing the birds of Satan to pick off the seed. We are the layer of rock, not allowing others to grow. We are the thorns and thistles, choking the gospel from people’s lives. Because we sure are not the ones who are plowing the soil so the gospel will grow. We’re not even the farmer scattering. We’re just useless dirt.

And we are hampering the work of God through this church, because we think we are more important than the seed, when in reality, we corrupted soil.

I do not know who told someone they were not welcome to help in projects around the church, but with the full support of the Elders I can say, they are wrong. I do not know who said rude comments to those who’s spouse do not come to church, but with the full support of the Elders I can say, they are wrong. I do not know who is giving a bad reputation of Christ to nonbelievers, but with the full support of the Elders I can say, they are wrong. But ever single one of us needs to ask the question, am I plowing the field for the planting of the seed, or am I trying to stop that seed from being spread?

I believe that God likes to get into the dirt, and I believe that he calls his people to the dirt as well. And as he cultivates it, we should too. So this is my challenge today: take a quick inventory of yourself. Is there a hardness to your faith, that makes you ridged? Have you been growing in your faith lately? Are the worries or passions of this world distracting you to God’s work. Or are you growing and sharing what God is doing? If you find yourself in one of the first three, now is the time to repent, to turn to God and cry out to be plowed by him. To have your soil cultivated, so that you can be useful. If you are good soil, go and spread seed, cultivating others for the glory of God.

Now may the God of dirt, dig deep into your life, so that you may produce the crop of righteousness that he desires from you life. Amen.