Monday, July 31, 2017

Imagination is Key

            When was the last time your imagination was engaged in a spiritual manner? And further, did you even think that imagination could be accessed spiritually in the first place? A great deal of the church does not, through their actions, believe this is possible. But Paul’s words from Ephesians 3 offer us the possibility.
            So much of what we do in the church, and in our private lives, is done pragmatically. Getting breakfast, commuting to work or appointments, even our devotional time, is often engaged solely from a pragmatic or task-centric mindset and not imaginatively.
For instance, I should eat a healthy breakfast so I will need to get up 15 minutes earlier than normal to cook breakfast. I need to exercise, so I should get out of bed 45 minutes earlier so that all of my plans can have time to occur. That systems approach flows all the way through my day until the moment I go off to bed- it is best to try to get a full eight hours of sleep. Then the cycle repeats. Life becomes one, never-ending, stream of programs and tasks to complete. Seldom do we stop to imagine what God could be calling us to do, or become, that would break this cycle permanently. Is it any wonder that Paul’s words from Ephesians 3 are so hard to apply in our lives?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask of imagine…”[1]

            God is able to exceed our expectations. We understand this truth when speaking about prayer or miracles, but do we understand it imaginatively, in a spiritual sense? We know that when we bow our heads and utter our prayers for healing and God’s presence in our time of pain, that God will do something for us. While it may not always be exactly what we though it could be, we accept that God is active. God is performing God’s designed tasks. But again, I wonder: do you believe your union with God can grow in ways that puts an end to linear thinking, which elevates tasks and programs, and live into the possibility that God is going to do greater things that you believe are possible if you stop and let Him?
            It is truly hard to think and dream in this way. We are not trained to think this way. The older our children become, the more they are told to put an end to childish thinking and embrace the pragmatic life of tasks. And while that is important, it is also not as important in the church where we are trying to nurture a relationship with an active God.
            Yes, the tasks must be completed and embraced. We cannot all go off the mountains and pray as the mothers and fathers of the church did. But space can be found in your life where you can stop and engage God through your imagination. You can find space to dream a little about how God intends to be present with you moving forward.

If we continue in the passage just a bit further we hear that Paul offers a doxology- which is an affirmation of God’s presence with the church forever and ever. Doxologies are given at the end of an encounter with God Himself. God is present in this text inviting us to imagine a new reality where we and God are more intimate then we first believed. Give it a try… imagine something different from God and see what happens.

[1] Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sunday's Sermon

Below is my sermon from this past Sunday... May it bless you.

Matthew 13:24-30
24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” 

            Each of us know the God who works, the God who is active, the God who is present. We know that our God displays patience and kindness when we do not. As we also know that our God will judge the unfaithful, the destructive, in an appropriate manner. He will instruct division to be performed. And, if we remain close to His side, our God will reveal His purposes and plans to us intimately and provide a heavenly reward. This is known.

            But how helpful is this foundational, theological, relational knowledge of God, and God’s nature, when the bearded darnel works alongside of us? How helpful is a God who is present, intimately and actively, a God who ‘gets his hands dirty’ when “the cheat,” for that is how it is known, grows alongside of us in the great garden of life? That is the question we are going to answer together this morning.

            The basic meaning behind this parable from Jesus is perseverance. Today I am examining the parable of the ‘wheat and the tares.’ I will begin where the parable begins- with the individual who sows the seeds. But while his sowing is good, something negative is planted along side of us that hurts. We will close then with the harvest for more is occurring in that harvest than meets the eye.
            I wonder where, and how, you have felt the bearded darnel, the tares, choke the very life out of you? And if you do, or if you have, felt this way, what does this passage offer you right now?

Move 1- He plants
            We begin again where the parable begins- with someone planting. It seems bizarre in our post-modern world, where tractors and seeders work with such perfect efficiency, but the farmer goes out that morning with a bag of seeds that need to be planted.
While the parable does not say directly, yet we know from other parables, that the seed is scattered indiscriminately throughout the field- the world in our context. He takes a handful and carefully spreads it into the soil which has been prepared. And God, the planter, trusts that the seed will find the fertile ground needed to grow and produce fruit.
If you want a contemporary comparison, it is much like the VBS program we just finished. We scattered the seed we had been given, without discrimination, to over 100 families who came through the doors. It didn’t matter where they came from, or how ready they were, the seed was spread faithfully.
We, like God, did not consider who would be receptive or worthy of the seed; we just threw it and it landed, we believe, where God intended for it to land. It was much like the avalanche of cotton balls or shreds of paper that were thrown onto the children after they fell on either Steve or myself.
The seeds goes out by the hand of the planter to ground that He believes is ready to receive it; ground that He believes will produce fruit.

Move 2- The weeds
            But someone comes along- the enemy. He comes along while everyone is asleep and sows the bearded darnel that I began with- the weed- right next to the innocent, pure seed God put in you in your conversion. They grow silently along the good wheat as seedlings until the farmhands realize something is not right; something is growing here that God did not intend when He took the bag of seeds and set out to do His work.

            The weeds that are sown in the parable are particularly difficult to deal with- the farmer knows this as do the farmhands. In verse 29 Jesus states that if the weeds are pulled up now, they will harm the precious, tender wheat that is growing to feed the community and world.
For these weeds wrap themselves around the roots of the good seed battling for the precious nutrients, chocking the very life out of the wheat in the daily struggle. They want to kill the wheat so that they can live. And we know what that feels like in our lives to be so overwhelmed with the bad seed growing beside us, in the home next to us, or the desk beside us that it seems hard to breath.
            For the entire growing season the wheat will deal with the weeds living alongside of them with God not removing the painful struggle of life. When I was struggling two weeks ago with arterial fibrillation, one of my major symptoms was a shortness of breath. All I wanted in those moments, when the air was being taken from me, was one more good breath to stop the confusion and return me to normal life.

But God trusts the good seeds. After all, that is why God planted it in that position in the first place. That is why the indiscriminate farmer spreads the seeds to the world. God being all-powerful, all-knowing understands that while the world sleeps the enemy will come along and work to undermine the goodness God has begun in you; to choke the life from us, to make the ministry we are called to live into impossible and unfruitful.
Yet in spite of the weeds, and the intentions of the enemy, God sees that harvest is coming.

Move 3- The harvest
            Finally, there is a harvest in the text. There are two parts to the harvest.

            The first is fairly straightforward. The master sends His angels to gather up the wheat. It is placed in the warm, dry, safe barn so that it can feed the world. The wheat is safe and cared for in that location. While it may have struggled initially when it grew next to the darnel, now it is safe. Some of the seed will be held back and repopulate the world as starter seeds for a new crop of wheat. This is straightforward.
            The second is the burning of the weeds that were placed into your life, and the life of the wheat, to choke the very existence from you. It was placed there to ruin your prospects of prosperity and life.
            You are offered one or the other results…

            But pivoting back, the harvest will come but we, as the wheat struggling to grow, must hold on during the struggle to live and grow. Even when the world into which we were sown seems to have more tares than wheat in it- hold on. Even when the world around you is choking you to death hold on.

·      Hold on through the endless meetings and expectations we cannot live up to in this life and discourage us.
·      Hold on when the projection to be better than our neighbor or the person next to us at work, presses in and the air of competition is thin and hard to breath in.
·      Hold on when the projection to live to the financial limits and time caps push greed and pride into our laps and make us believe we need to do this as we forsake the God who came for us.
·      Hold on when the anxiety grows in your mind as we bury each other, and for a time, our relationships seem to stop growing.
·      When the struggles of fewer and fewer children and young families come to worship as they opt to stay in bed because it is far easier to catch your breath against the tares, when you just try to ‘sleep it off’ then to press into God, hold on.
·      Hold on when the weeds tell you that you are too small, to insignificant to feed anyone, too tiny to survive in a culture such as this, too small to matter in a world of relativism and plurality.

God has planted you. God knows you are being chocked to death by the weeds the enemy has sown around you, and God will provide the harvest in time to save you. You will be put in the warm, dry, safe barn if you can but live a little longer with the constant threat pressing deeply into your roots trying to tell you that you do not have the energy for this life.

            This text ends with Jesus taking the disciples by the theological hand and explaining this message to them; it ends with him reminding them that they will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father”[1]- again a word of relationship between the sower and the seed that can apply to us.
            Jesus would not have given us this passage if there were not times, seasons, where we too feel the bearded darnel’s influence reminding us that we are just a smaller church that does not matter any longer because what we believe is so outdated and out of vogue.
But we do matter. We matter a great deal to God in heaven and so we must continue to grow knowing that the weeds grow alongside of us but the Father in heaven is watching. He is waiting for us. He will harvest us if we but hold on.


[1] Matthew 13:43 NRSV

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sharing a good story

We just completed our yearly bible school program here at Plains. During the week, 135 children came to our church from the surrounding community and encountered God in a personal, powerful way that scripts and planning cannot fully prepare for.

I was not able to be at the first evening's program as I was in the hospital being treated for arterial fibrillation- thankfully my heart went back into rhythm on its own and I returned home Tuesday to the festivities. When I returned, I was shocked at what I witnessed! Each evening our Director, Dena, led the children, ages 3 and up, in articulating their individual God's sightings. She was asking them the same question we as each week in worship: "Where have you seen God at work?" This question has transformed us and I was excited to see how it would transform them.

Tuesday evening's program required my drama character to 'hide' in a tent because he was sick (perfect right). When the children gathered as crews to speak about their God's sightings I peeked out the tent and saw an amazing sight that I did not expect. So much energy. So much commitment. And so many stories being shared through our church worship space. Each day the stories came and each day the children came forward to share their stories with pride and passion.

This made me wonder: how will are we as the church to share our narrative of God a work in our lives?

I often speak to people who think their story is not worth sharing as it is too simple to actually reflect God working in their life. Or worse yet, they are too busy to stop and examine the places God has been at work for them. I encourage you to find a quiet moment today... be still... and answer the question for yourself: Where have you see God at work? The answer may just surprise you.

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