Great Expectations

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4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”   Luke 8:4-8

I love Jesus’ parable of the sower, seed, and soils. It generates confidence in the Word of God. And it causes me to wonder about the condition of my own heart. Do I have ears to hear? Could God really do wonderful, fruitful, and productive things in my life?

Jesus’ disciples were curious about the parable too, so they asked Him about it.

9And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

Jesus is giving them insight into how God is working. “A sower went out to sow His seed… The seed is the word of God.” God is sowing seed, His truthful word into our lives! God is choosing people! God is bringing people into the fullness of His Kingdom!

Jesus has confidence that His words would accomplish dynamic, life-giving impact in the lives of people. When we speak and receive the Gospel of Jesus we can have the same confidence.

Boston, Our Broken World, and the Kingdom of God

Whether its Boston, Beijing, or Azerbaijan, global events have seared

themselves into my conscience and make me wonder about

the world we live in.

This week its Boston.

I have grief from a distance; then the wondering sets in.

Someone did this with malice and aforethought.

It was not an accident.

Lord help us.

Still within our broken world love remains a choice.

The impulse toward life resists terror and speculation

about our next race, our next celebration, our next gathering.

We lift up the heroes who rushed in.

And those of us who pray, seek God

for the comfort and healing of those who remain.

Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God

to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose.”  Luke 4:43

We believe the good news of the God’s kingdom

breaks into our conscience and our broken world

with the message of God’s redeeming work —

He will gather the nations before Him.

He will set all things right.

He will wipe away every tear.

He will make all things new.

He will cause the joy of our faith to abound in His love.

He will.

Wrecked… Kin in the Kingdom of God

This morning I read a post written by Ann Voskamp about her trip to Haiti.  Halfway through I kept having to sweep the tears in order to finish.  Wrecked.  Its too easy to distance ourselves from our kin who live in poverty.  Its too easy rest in the self-righteousness of “where I was born.”  She writes,

And when our Haitian Compassion translator, Johnny, stands in The Alpha Hotel with its rats running down the hallways, he tells us how, after getting his BA in Florida, he’d got his MDiv in North Carolina.

How he’d come back to Haiti to work for Compassion, and took in 5 starving Haitian orphans to raise with his own 3 and saved to send all 8 of them to university.

How he’d walked out of the Hotel Montana not 30 seconds before it collapsed in the earthquake and how after the quake, how he’d climbed from one tree to the next, all down the mountain from the Montana, all the roads blocked with rubble and death, wild to find his kids and wife somewhere in Port Au Prince that is home.

And that’s when I couldn’t stop it – when it came out of me, a whisper, but still too loud.

Like an angry fool, I had asked him, laid my hand on his arm and quietly begged him, “Johnny, I know you were born here – but someday — couldn’t you take your family and move to a land like the States?

Just step over the rubble and beggars and latrines and garbage and gangs and just get your family out of this place where you were born and come find the land of the free? It’s ugly, but it’s what I thought for our friend: You only get one life here and who really wants to spend it in the slums?

And he looked me in the eyes and he waited, searching mine.

Searching for a way to get the truth right into me, me born into the lap of ease of the West and homesick for the farm and wanting everyone to have the relative ease of the middle class.

“But I am Moses.” Johnny speaks it deep, his eyes never leaving mine, his fatherly hand gently squeezing mine, soothing out my roaring wail.

I am Moses. I do not leave my kindred.

And the whole planet and all my heart reverberates.

I am Moses. I do not leave my kindred.

You don’t leave your kin to save your own skin.

You don’t stay in the palace if you want anybody to find deliverance – especially yourself.

You don’t forget who your brother is — when you know Who your Father is.

I turn away, chin quaking hard. I’ve got a passport in my bag and a ticket to ease and he only gets one life here and he’s living in the desperate need of this one for the definite reward of the next one – and how in the world again am I living mine?

If the grace of my life is mostly where I am born, and I am born again into the family of Christ, than how can my life birth anything other than a grace that gives?

Read the whole post and take in the pictures.

Quit small expectations

If a single mustard seed was sitting on the table you would miss it.  However, you won’t miss the big shrub growing in your garden.  The parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4 conditions us as followers of Jesus to quit underestimating the impact of the Kingdom of God as its announced and displayed in the context of our usual relationships.

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth,32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Mark 4:30-32

3 observations:

  1. This big shrub was not a usual garden plant.  However, Jesus has it planted in the frequently visited place — the garden.  So it is with the Kingdom of God, when we proclaim the Kingdom through the Gospel of Jesus, it is to be in the normal pathways of our lives.  Our relationships in the normal patterns of study, work, life, and play become our “garden” for the Kingdom of God.   Quit diminishing the value of your normal and usual relationships.
  2. The seed contains immense potential.  Although the seed is not the focus of this parable it is important to note that the big “change” that is the focus of the parable starts with the seed.  Mark 4 has conditioned the followers of Jesus to view the seed as the Word of God — the word of the Gospel and the Kingdom of Jesus.  The Gospel story of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection has a power of its own to bring change in the lives of people.  Quit diminishing the value of the Gospel.
  3. The growth of the Kingdom is not only for our benefit.  Jesus describes the impact of the seed’s great growth as the creation of a refuge for the birds of the air.  Jesus may be drawing an allusion to the birds of the air references in Ezekiel and Daniel.  The nations shall take refuge in the Kingdom of Jesus.  We don’t get to choose who we are nesting beside.  By design others are to benefit from the change occurring in the lives of those who take refuge in Christ.  Quit diminishing the Kingdom call for open engagement with people who are “not like you;” then, we will experience the blessings of the Kingdom of God together.

I want a career…

You know the moment.  The person across from you has been talking away and the moment is serious.  But your mind is light-years away from their concern.  Rather your mind has been hijacked by another concern.  In fact you showed up for the conversation with another agenda.  And finally the person takes a breath and you cross the threshold and carve out a doorway to your heart.  “I want… Please tell… Do this for me!”

People like me interrupted Jesus. He often used the moment to address the heart concerns of many other people.  In Luke 12 Jesus had been teaching the crowd to avoid hypocrisy by trusting God with their fears, when a man in the crowd revealed his distress.  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.

Practical Security

An inheritance in Jesus’ day was most often held in the family property or land holdings.  Traditionally the first son would receive two-thirds of the property as his inheritance.  The remaining one third would likely be sold and divided among all else who had a claim to it.  The “wisdom” of this approach developed out of the desire to maintain the ability of at least one member of the family to secure a future, a lifestyle, and an income for the family through the property that remained.  This younger brother’s request was likely driven by the desire to also have some security for the future.

When I poll University students at UBC and in Vancouver as to why they are pursuing school, its most often because they “want a good job” in the future.  They want a career that will bring some sense of security for themselves and for their family.  Although “the career” may be fading as a sure promise of security, it still holds power over many–especially those who are about to graduate.  The stress created moves them into the realm of worry.  Worry habituates us to what Jesus calls greed and a view of life because it rules out God from the equation.  Worry moves us to the center and displaces Christ.

Greed Consumes

A flashback to Wall Street reminds us that our societal message is that greed is good.  However, Jesus tells us “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:13  A career can be a wonderful journey.  However, we can miss the joy of work and the real purpose of life when wealth position, and security become the end-goals.  The story Jesus told of a  successful rich man getting ready to retire, yet dying “prematurely” was meant to confront the prevailing narrative of both brothers and the rich and poor in the crowd.  Life is about more than securing wealth for ourselves; wealth will fail us; life is about being rich toward God.

What happens when greed dominates life?

1.  My wants exceed my needs and become supreme.
2.  I will use people rather than love people.
3.  I will sacrifice the most important for the mundane.
4.  I will have a shrinking faith in God and His providence.
5.  I will create a self-righteousness that allows me to judge others who have less.
6.  I will fail to enjoy giving.
7. I will view hospitality as a chore or a way to ingratiate myself to others.
8. I will be possessed by my possessions.
9. I will be deceived into become small and insignificant rather than great.
10. As greed is a form of violence I will become habituated to injustice.
11. I will be persistently pre-occupied with security and therefore fear-full.

Jesus secures life

Greed is contrary to the knowledge of God.  In fact Jesus’ view of life and career is so different from ours and He knows it.  In light of who God is Jesus then exhorts His disciples:

1.  Not to worry about their life; what they will eat, drink, or wear.

2.  Not to set their hearts on what they will eat, drink, or wear.

3.  To pursue the Kingdom of God.

4.  To live generously–to sell their possessions and give to the poor.

So when thinking about our careers, Jesus would have us re-examine the question of WHO we are living for.  If we are at the centre you can be sure greed will find open space to take root.  If Jesus and His rule and reign is at the centre greed will find little rest.  I pray that we would truly know Jesus.  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”  2 Corinthians 8:9  When Jesus tells us to pursue the Kingdom first, he then reminds us that our loving Heavenly Father has in fact and will continue to “give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32  Jesus has secured what a career will never give us.