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 fiancĂ© 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.