The Life of a Seed, Part Four

SeedThe life of a seed has much to do with the receptivity and the response of the soil. And, in the same way, our receptivity and the responsiveness has an effect on the proclamation of Jesus.

The series, The Life of a Seed, has explored the Parable of the Sower with the intention of understanding how a seed grows into a fruit producing plant. Grasping the considerable influence the ground has upon the life of a seed enables us to know the deeper meaning of Jesus’ teaching.

The previous messages in the series resisted the urge to move quickly to Jesus’ explanation of the parable so that we might pause and reflect upon the instruction of Jesus associated with the Parable of the Sower. This reflection saw an emphasis placed upon the need for the crowds (and, to an extent, the disciples) to “see” and “hear” the proclamation of Jesus.

The interpretation given to this instruction to “see” and “hear” was a need for anyone who encounters the proclamation of Jesus to “receive” and “respond” to the proclamation of Jesus – or, more simply, to be attentive to the proclamation of Jesus.

As a result, we discover a choice is presented to anyone who encounters the proclamation of Jesus: one can “see” and hear” – one can receive and respond to the Word of God proclaimed by Jesus. Or, one can choose to reject or neglect his proclamation…

Our final message allows us the opportunity to finally reflection upon the explanation of Jesus, whereby he addresses each of the four soils upon which the seed is sown: the path; the rocky soil; among the thorns; and, the good soil.

Each of these soils receives and responds to the sown seed in a different manner and to a different effect!

In the end, we learn the parable is not about a negligent sower or an insufficient seed; rather, we discover a generous sower who sows out of the abundance of seed so that all may have the opportunity to receive and respond!

And, the same in true for us! The Word of God has been sown into our hearts by a generous God about of his abundant grace. This Word is most profoundly sown through the proclamation of Jesus (which we encounter in Scripture; through the tradition of the Apostolic faith; within our experience; and, through the gift of reason). Encountering the proclamation of Jesus presents us with an opportunity to choose how we will receive and respond. Be encouraged, therefore, to “see” and “hear” … to receive and respond … to be attentive to a greater truth.

Listen to Part Four of The Life of a Seed.

Previous messages in this series:

  1. Part One
  2. Part Two
  3. Part Three

The Life of a Seed, Part Three

SeedAre you at a place where you can see and hear your blessings?

The third message in the series, The Life of a Seed, allows this question to guide our exploration of the Parable of the Sower.

The message focuses upon Matthew 13:16-17, where Jesus reminds the disciples of their blessing: The disciples are blessed to see and hear the things (the preaching, teaching, and deed of power of Jesus) they have seen and heard! The preaching, teaching, and deeds of power have revealed the secrets of the kingdom to the disciples: the hidden presence in Jesus and the future realization.

Applying these verses to our experience requires a little more of a stretch: You and I share in the blessing of the disciples. You and I have been blessed to see and to hear. Specifically, I am referring back to an earlier interpretation of sight and hearing – to see and to hear suggests our ability to receive (behold) and to respond (understand) to the proclamation of Jesus.

Our ability to see and to hear is rather evolved, too:

  1. We can encounter the secrets of the kingdom and come to a greater understanding of the proclamation of Jesus through our accessibility to the experience of the earliest follower of Jesus! – We have the witness of these early Christians’ encounter with the Word of God recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
  2. We are, also, blessed to learn from the experience of the saints! Everyone from the Church Fathers to the present theologians have passed on their experiences of divine encounter! And, we have the tradition and holy practices of the Church, which invites us to encounter the proclamation of Jesus (and, therefore, the Word of God) in Spirit-filled ways.
  3. The blessing belonging to us extends into our present experience as much as it exists in the past experiences of those who have preceded us in the faith. You and I are capable of encountering the proclamation of Jesus through the Holy Spirit! We can have unique experiences of the Word of God, which reveals unto us truths of the secrets of the Kingdom – The Kingdom is amongst us; and, the Kingdom will be fully realized in the future.

So, are you in a place to see and hear your blessings? It is more than a question of whether or not you are appreciative of the good things given to you! At the heart of the matter is your ability — really your willingness — to receive and respond to the proclamation of Jesus (through Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience)? Have you assumed a position of attentiveness to the proclamation of Jesus that might enable you to see and hear the truth being revealed by God. 

You can listen to the messages in the series at the following links:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

The Life of a Seed, Part Two

SeedThe second message in the series, The Life of a Seed, further emphasizes the need to “see” and hear” (or, to receive and respond) to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

The verses examined in the second message, vv. 10-15, focuses upon the response of Jesus to the question of the disciples regarding his responding for speaking to the crowds in parables.

Jesus clarifies his reasoning for speaking in parables. The blessing of knowing the secretes of the kingdom is a gift of God given to those people who have chosen to receive and respond to the proclamation of Jesus. Knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom is essentially the hidden presence of the kingdom (inaugurated in and through Jesus) and the hope for its future realization!

Click on this link to listen to the second message of the series. 

The Life of a Seed, Part One

SeedThe first message in the series, The Life of a Seed, introduces the Parable of the Sower. The parable is the first of seven parabolic teachings in the 13th chapter of Matthew.

The first message in the series establishes the context of this particular teaching – Jesus offers this parable (and the other six kingdom parables) as a response to people, towns, and the religious authorities who have failed to receive or respond to his proclamation.

The first message resists the urge to move directly into Jesus’ explanation of the parables; rather, attention is given to the instructions he gives to the crows before telling the parable an directly following the parable! Jesus instructs the crowds to “see” and to “hear” the parable, which is interpreted as an imperative call to receive and respond to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

You can listen to the full message here.

You’re Welcome (II): A New View of Christian Hospitality

You're WelcomeWhat does Christian hospitality really look like?

While preparing for a sermon a couple weeks ago, I came across the sermon I delivered on June 26, 2011 – the last Sunday of my first year in appointment to the Hampton-Varnville Charge.

The message that Sunday examined Matthew 10:40-42 in consideration of the relationship between our churches’ vision to Christian hospitality.

I revisited the sermon from June 26, 2011 on July 2, 2017, which marks the first Sunday in a new appointment year! The message, You’re Welcome (II), does not drift too far from the point of the original message: emphasizing a vision towards Christian hospitality as a humble response to God’s blessings upon our community of faith.

However, our reading of Matthew 10:40-42 is particularly interesting. While the message is certainly directed at a Hampton-Varnville audience, the interpretation of might exercise the minds of anyone with a curiosity towards the nature of Christian hospitality.

Here is a brief summary:

Matthew 10:40-42 is part of a much larger conversation between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus authorizes his disciples to carry his message of the kingdom (as apostles) to the neighboring towns and villages. The message of Jesus is not only to be spoken, but to be demonstrated through deeds of power.

Christian hospitality is often conveyed as a willingness to receive “others” – to have open hearts, open minds, and open doors as our great UMC advertises.

However, Jesus offers a different point of view in these three verses of Matthew, which pushes his followers to move well beyond “openness.” Having already addressed the possible rejection the disciples may encounter in their mission, Jesus declares, “Whoever welcomes you welcome me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (10:40) Jesus does not emphasize an expectation for the disciples to be open to receiving others; rather, Jesus cast “others” in the role of the welcomer. Others are the one expected to be open to receiving…namely, the disciples and the message they carry! The disciples, therefore, are the ones to be welcomed. 

By implication, therefore, the follower of Jesus is more than an open recipient of other people! No, the follower of Jesus is to humbly approach others with the message of Jesus – a message of God’s grace, mercy, and love!! The follower of Jesus is to approach others with the message of the kingdom, which calls for repentance so others might live a full life in the presence of the Almighty!

Christian hospitality certainly assumes an openness to the reception of others! But, Christian hospitality is more than passive receptivity. Christian hospitality embraces a willingness to humbly (and respectfully) approach others with the message of Jesus. Christian hospitality is a willingness to go to others and to offer oneself as a witness to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Welcoming a stranger in the pew is a good thing, but Christian hospitality asks more of us…

We must go beyond the pew into the dark places of our world, the forgotten places, the broken places and offer ourselves in the name of Jesus as a witness to the grace, mercy, and love of God!!!

Check out You’re Welcome (II) if you would like to hear the message!

Against the Wind

Against the WindThere are times when we feel like we are sailing against the wind.

An adverse wind hits us in the face and we find ourselves struggling to move forward.

What can we do when we are against the wind?

Our message for this week focused upon a similar experience of the disciples. While they were trying to sail across the Sea of Galilee one evening, these men encountered an adverse wind. They struggled at the oars as they attempted to make their way forward.

The story can be found in Mark 6:45-52. Jesus sees the disciples in their distresses. His response brought comfort and peace to the disciples. And, his response stands to offer comfort and peace to us during our times of struggle.

Jesus response can be quickly summarized by four observations:

  1. Jesus goes to them.  Jesus does not pass by them; rather, Jesus goes to his disciples in the midst of their struggle. Likewise, God has a funny way of coming to us through our relationship with Jesus in the midst of weakness and struggle. 
  2. Jesus reveals himself to the disciples. He does not simply come to them; rather, he reveals his identity to them in the midst of their struggle. Our times of struggle may not seem like the most opportune time for God to be revealed, yet God has a way of not only showing up…God reveals God’s love to us (in and through Jesus) when we are most in need of love! But, be clear, God’s revelation of love must be received. God’s grace and mercy must be accepted. 
  3. Jesus climbs into the boat with the disciples. Jesus takes it a step further, literally. Jesus doesn’t simply come to his disciples in the midst of their distress, nor does he only reveal himself to the disciples in the midst of their struggle. Jesus climbs into the boat with them — Jesus enters into their struggle alongside of them! To those of us who are willing to look for God in the midst of our struggle and to accept God’s  revelation of grace, mercy, and love, we will be quick to discover the presence of God alongside of us as we struggle against the winds in our life. 
  4. Finally, the wind ceases, but the disciples must continue to row. The presence of Jesus alongside of the disciples delivers a sense of peace, comfort, and calmness. The presence of Jesus, however, does not negate the struggle!!! The disciples must continue to cross the sea…only, crossing the sea is a little less of a challenge and a little more peaceful with Jesus in their boat! The presence of God in our life will not remove the struggle of needing to move forward, but the presence of God through our relationship with Jesus (and by the power of the Holy Spirit) brings a peace, comfort, and calmness to our lives. The struggle is real, but there is peace in the presence of God.

So, these are just a few quick notes on the message from Sunday! If you have a moment, I would invite you to listen to the full audio message.

Blessings to all!!!

Wilted: Exhausted of the Spirit

WiltedEver feel like you are wilting? Does it ever seem as if you’ve been exhausted of the Spirit?

The issue of “spiritual wilt” was the topic of a message from a few weeks ago – Rivers of Living Water.  The message covered the words of Jesus in John 7:37-39 — where Jesus encourages those who are thirty to come to him and those who believe him are invited to drink. For a more complete consideration, I would encourage you to have a listen to the full message.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a post about my new adventure into gardening and how this new adventure has begun nurturing inspiration for my spiritual growthMuch has occurred in the garden (and, I am sure a few more reflections will arise in the coming weeks).

Something very interesting happened about a month ago: my family and I returned from a 48-hour trip to discover our largest plants in a terrible way. Both of the plants were beginning to wilt. The leaves had no life in them and the stems were already limp.

I took a quick inventory of the garden and soon realized the plants were completely out of water. While I drench the garden the morning we left, the following 48 hours were extremely hot. The plants had fallen into distress with the two largest plants already beginning to wilt.

The lives we live are often big and busy – we try to do all we can and as often as we can.  And, quietly frankly, living this way is exhausting.

Even when the betterment of others is our aim, we are susceptible to exhaustion. Sustaining our family, supporting our friends, serving our clients/patients/students is all very exhausting!

Living big and busy lives can wear you down, physically.

For many of us, the exhaustion is more than physical.

The exhaustion is something else; something different.

The exhaustion brought out by our big and busy lives is felt from within — within the body, within the heart, within the place where joy is supposed to thrive.

When our lives gets a little too big and a little too busy, the thriving of joy feels a lot more like a wilting of the heart and the wilting of the spirit.

Back to my plants…

One was of a squash variety and the other was a zucchini.

They were in terrible shape…serious exhaustion, serious wilt.

Over the course of an hour, I began to slowly add water back into the containers. An intentional offering of water was contributed to the roots of these distressed plants.

The response was almost immediate as the stems began standing tall and the leaves became firm within an hour.

The water restored life to the plants.

The water offered to these plants would further sustain their life.

And, most amazingly, two weeks later those plants were producing “fruits” (vegetables) that would sustain the life of my family.

Jesus cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now [Jesus] said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive. — John 7:37b-39a

The more complex our lives (and, by here, I specifically mean the more we attempt to do, the more frequently we attempt to do it, and everyone we attempt to serve), the more susceptible we are to wilting of a spiritual nature.

“Out of the believer’s heart will flow rivers of living water,” which is true. But, the believer must first go to the source of the water and drink. The believer must receive and be filled by the water that sustains authentic life. Then, and only then, will the heart nourished by the Spirit grow and bear fruit.

Discover the hope in these words of Jesus for all who have or may be feeling a little wilted…

You are not meant to be the source of water that sustains, supports or serves.

You are invited to come; and, you are meant to drink, to be filled, and to allow the Spirit to work in you and through you.

The fruit produced by you (through you) may sustain the authentic life of another, but you are not the source of the water that restores and sustains. You are simply a witness to the power of the Spirit at work in you.

Feeling a little wilted?

Has life gotten a little too big and a little too busy?

Do not be discouraged!

Your exhaustion does not signal your insufficiency. Your exhaustion is simply a reminder of your need to pause before his presence, to receive the restorative and sustaining power of the living water, and to joyfully experience the power of the Spirit at work in you and through you.

Side Note – I encourage those who have time to listen to the message related to this topic. Properly understanding the full significance of the invitation of Jesus “to drink” requires consideration to a key detail in the passage – Jesus spoke these words “On the last day of the festival, the great day.” (John 7:37) The message takes the timing and the setting of Jesus’s words into account for a more complete interpretation of the significance of this Scripture. 

Mothers Moving Mountains

Mothers Moving MountainsWhat if your lack of patience is actually the presence of faith?

Parenting is difficult.

Parenting certainly requires patience.

Because parenting requires patience, there will be times when a parent’s patience feels a little thin…

The presumed lack of patience does not have to signal inadequacy as a parent! What if the lack of patience distracting a parent’s heart is actually the presence of her faith?!

Patience has its place within parenting, but it is not the most significant component of healthy parenting! The faith of the parent is the most influential aspect of healthy parenting – the parent’s faith in God; the parent’s faith in herself as a parent; and the parent’s faith in the potential of her child!

The thinning of patience may actually be the revelation of one’s faith in her child – the belief in the potential of her child to grow into an even more amazing person!

The faith of a parent – faith in God, self, and child – has the ability to do the impossible. A little faith has the power to move a mountain…faith has the ability to move a child into adulthood!!!

So, the next time you find yourself praying for patience…maybe don’t! Rather, ask God to strengthen your faith – in God, in yourself, and in your child.

If you would like to hear more, check out this week’s message, Mothers Moving Mountains. Consideration is given to the amazing influence mothers have upon the hearts of their children…and, the how faith strengthens a mother to move a mountain!

Together

TogetherHave you ever wondered what a cucumber plant could teach us about the Christian community?

Well, take a moment and listen to this past week’s message, Together, and learn how intertwining our life can help us grow to a greater exposure of the Son.