Receive and Apply

Receive and Apply

par-a-ble

noun

1. a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.

2. a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy or the like.

Jesus lays on the parables thick in Matthew 13, comparing the kingdom of heaven to a farmer planting seeds, a single mustard seed, leaven that refines flour, a hidden treasure, a merchant and a fishing net. Each of these comparisons accurately describes heaven, each also delivered to connect with a specific mind. When Jesus spoke, he was speaking to common citizens, farmers, bakers, and fishermen; his words were strategically directed to those lifestyles. While using a language that most of his audience would understand, Jesus also utilized a catch phrase familiar to the modern professional educator,  he inspired “higher order thinking”. By using analogies and symbolism, the listener has to discern what each character and detail represents in order to apply to the kingdom of heaven and in their daily lives. Making the situation familiar while also making the listener think results in the person actually hearing the message and downloading it into their long-term memory.

I have to make confession, I’m a nerd. I love watching all the brainy, educational shows on Discovery channel and National Geographic. I caught a show on NatGeo recently that was all about how our brains operate. One segment caught my attention in particular, the one about memory. During this portion of the show, the producers interviewed a man who competes in memory competitions professionally. They tested his abilities by sending his to a bar and assigning him the task of learning and remembering a set of twenty people’s names throughout the night. At the end of the evening, he flawlessly recalled the names of each stranger, along with some additional details about their lives and character traits. Then the producers had him reveal his secret to super-memory. As each person introduced themselves, this guy would focus on something specific about the person; a facial feature, scent of their cologne or perfume, anything that makes that individual unique. In his mind, he would then take that detail and assign it an object (an apple, for instance). He would then take the object and place it in a specific place in his intellectual living room. Every face has a name, each name would be associated with an object, each object a story behind it’s placement in the room. This recipe of association ultimately ensured the person’s name was locked into the memory of this “professional recollector”. Sounds a whole lot like a parable, doesn’t it?

That show really served as affirmation for what I do, spontaneously translating the auditory into visual. I essentially am fostering the same process of memory  by associating the day’s message with a visual image, then recording the back-story of the image by explaining the symbolism on the blog.

Today’s drawing is a lounge chair sitting in the middle of a plowed field with an apple resting on the seat. I planted my tomatoes yesterday and checked over the rest of our crop sprouting for this year before rain moved in today, so I already had gardening on the brain. The plowed field is a reference to the parables Jesus used with the audience in Matthew 13, the homesteaders of that day. I then added my own familiar association with the ancient parables, placing a lounge chair in the middle of the field. I am a furniture engineer by day, so upholstered seating is my life and leisure! Last, I added the apple. The purpose of parables is to convey knowledge. Among the associations of the apple is education, the apple on the teacher’s desk. Whatever knowledge you are aiming to grasp is encompassed by this apple, resting in the cultivated field.

Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

 

A Smoldering Wick

A Smoldering Wick

 

Matthew 12

A bruised reed, he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench until he brings justice to victory.

As long as you have life, you have value. Jesus will pursue you, longing for you to pursue him, until you breathe your last.

Blessed

1-20-13, City on a Hill 1, Blessed

Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed is the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessed – ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy.

Notice the word ‘happy’ does not appear anywhere in the definition of ‘blessed’ above. Derived from the word ‘happenstance’, happiness is contingent upon extrinsic variables. Our circumstance determines our level of happiness, so if our circumstances are dire, then we cannot be happy (or so we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe). Blessedness is intrinsically motivated. Our level of blessedness is reflected in our gratitude for life (ultimate well-being) and the ability to be joyful in any circumstance. Followers of Jesus learn the secret to joy is not to hoard it, but to give it. Leading another soul to experience joy is an inescapably joyful experience for the one leading! The joy you experience is a direct measure of the joy you bring into the lives of others. Let’s break down these declarations of blessedness from Jesus’s most famous oration into real-world situations:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Pride is a characteristic unbecoming to all who wear it. Pride is often the attitude the bible references when you read of someone being ‘rich’. To enter heaven, one must replace pride with humility.

Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted.

Human nature defaults to sympathy in the presence of sadness. Those who are sad are blessed through empathy from others.

Blessed are those who are meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Meekness is strength under control, another reference to humility. When the prideful have fallen from their pedestals, the strong who controlled themselves are who the people look to for leadership.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

God will not withhold righteousness from anyone who desires to embrace it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Pit this statement against the ‘judge not lest you be judged’ verse we’d much prefer to regurgitate. People will be as merciful to you as you are to them.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

No one is entirely pure in their heart. Everyone carries with them a sinful nature that is manifested through selfish motivation. Through humility, we can begin to purify our hearts. This principle echos the first, reminding us of the importance of humility and self-control.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be sons of God.

This line if often reduced to a political statement. Political activism is not a form of peacemaking. Can activism inspire peace in tense political situations, sure. The peacemaker Jesus is referring to is one who creates peace at a more personal level, leading other souls to peace with themselves and peace with God. The only way to lead someone to peace with God is through proclaiming the gospel. Peacemakers of this caliber are sons of God because they literally reflect the very mind of God; peace.

As followers of Jesus, Christians are literal agents of reconciliation within their communities. Wielding mercy and the gospel as our weapons of choice, we fight for peace in our circle of influence by taking advantage of opportunities to show others mercy and taking time to personally share the gospel. Mercy and the gospel must be used in conjunction with each other. Sharing the gospel without showing mercy leads to bigotry, counter-productive to inspiring peace and the antithesis to the gospel of Jesus. Mercy without the gospel is the root of  modern-day social justice. What’s wrong with social justice you may ask? In theory, social justice is at the root of Jesus’s ministry; peace and equality among his people. In action (at least in modern terms) social justice is a band-aid that enables irresponsibility and conditions people to dependency.  One cannot follow the gospel of Christ without also taking full responsibility for every decision. Social justice paired with the gospel requires those being justified (and those doing the justifying) to accept responsibility to sustain their justified state.

Now for the last two, I’ll clump them together.

Blessed are those (you) who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for their’s (your’s) is the kingdom of heaven.

Back the truck up here. I’m bless for being slandered (insignificant in comparison to other forms of persecution) and should accept it with joy?! Pride. Once again, pride is juxtaposed with humility. If you truly are humble, it won’t matter what people say about you because you understand your spiritually broken state. On some level, even outright lies could be conceivably accurate. Pride responds to persecution with defense, humility finds joy in celebrating God’s love for us despite our nature.

Proclaiming the gospel opens the door for persecution, but a blessed heart cannot contain the mercy it’s been given.

May you be blessed.

Gospel Centrality

Today is one of those days when I must let the art speak for itself, week three of our RE: series; re-imagine. Today’s is a simple, but significant message, with multiple scripture references. All of our story, as the church and as people, rotates around the gospel. Every decision, every motive, every ounce of compassion is driven by its principles.

The gospel is simply this, Jesus is God in the flesh, he lived, he died, he was buried, then rose from the grave and continues to live today. I represent the gospel in the central part of today’s drawing; a simple figure, a cross, a gravestone, and an empty tomb, each symbol guided to the next.

Surrounding the gospel icons are images that represent the main focuses of us (North Ridge) as a church, the defining features of every gospel-centered church. Starting in the top left, gospel-centered worship; intentionally focusing all our attention to making much of God. Next, gospel-centered community. Navigating life together as a body of believers. Moving to the bottom right, gospel-centered multiplication. This is an image of evangelism, but not the over-spiritualized brow-beating kind the media and overly zealous display for us. This multiplication is a banding together of people who look past each other’s failures to maximize each other’s potential. Broken people reaching out to other broken people to make them part of a community that reflects God. Fourth in the rotation is gospel-centered service.     Motivation matters. When the gospel is central, serving is driven by genuine compassion for humanity and a love for all creation for the sake of magnifying the Creator. These four pillars of Christian life orbit around the gospel. When just one element of the rotation goes unfulfilled, the cycle is broken and the wheel cannot turn smoothly.

How does your life measure up in this cycle? In which areas area you doing well and which need re-inflation to make the ride a little smoother?

All of our story rotates around the gospel.

Next week’s message, re-launch. North Ridge, prepare for ignition.

 

Noah – The Original Doomsday Prepper

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Julie and I occasionally enjoy watching Doomsday Preppers on NatGeo. Gaining popularity through all the recent apocalyptic, 12-21-12, Mayan prophecy hype, each show tells the story of three families and their efforts to prepare for every possible end-game scenario. Some episodes are quite entertaining and others are pretty educational. To conclude each installment, National Geographic’s “preparedness experts” critique each group’s readiness in case of an apocalyptic event. My personal favorite was a guy in Arizona who re-designed the in-ground family pool into a self-sustaining ecosystem stocked with a vegetable garden, suspended chicken coop and Tilapia pond. Several segments I found completely laughable. The couple who turn all the lights off in the house every night and practice navigating through their property carrying loaded hand guns seemed a little nuts until they revealed teaching themselves some obscure east Asian language to communicate without intruders understanding them; that officially crossed the line into psycho-crazy. Then there’s the Faraday cage guy.  He’s built multiple storage facilities and underground bunkers designed as Faraday cages. The Faraday cage, named after its inventor, 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, is composed of chain-linked metal walls that shield its contents from static electric fields and electro-magnetic radiation by redistributing electric charges around the exterior walls. The guy building these is convinced an EMP resulting from a massive solar flare will wipe out all electronic and electrically dependent aspects of  life as we know it, resulting in a world-wide apocalyptic event. The major flaw in his plan was getting to these Faraday safe-houses without today’s computerized automobiles. At least the weather radio buried in the box in the desert will be safe!

We make jokes about people preparing for the end of society as we know it, particularly those who seem to go overboard. However, as we heard in week 2 of It’s Not About You this morning, Christians should lead the preparatory charge because we know what’s coming and we know the warning signs!

I’m sure I would have been one of the skeptics talking about Noah, the crazy old fool in the Old Testament. Noah proposed building a contraption no one had ever heard of for a weather event never experienced in the history of the earth to save people who really didn’t care to listen. Add to that, the earth-encompassing flood Noah prophesied and prepared for did not occur until 120 years after he started construction on the boat! Noah had an endless list of “why not’s” to keep the ark from being constructed, but he moved forward anyway.

Last week, we were encouraged to approach that thing in our gut that seems impossible to accomplish but nags anyway with a “why not” attitude. Today, we take that attitude a step further, turning attitude into action. After we accept our passion as our call to action, true faith responds by turning the vision into reality.

What would today look like if Noah, the great-grandfather of doomsday preppers, had not followed through on his project; building the ark, convincing his family to get on board (not to mention all those animals), and continually sharing the apocalyptic motivations of his mission with the public? According to another NatGeo show, society would now be run by coyotes, but no, the coyotes wouldn’t have survived either!

The historic events of that world-wide flood and Noah’s efforts to rebuild society are both history and prophecy. Speaking prophetically, the impending flood is a coming apocalypse, the ark is Christ, Noah is the Christian.

Are you prepared?

Unite

Today is the sixth (and final) week of Jesus+, our chapter by chapter study of the book of Galatians. We’ve tackled one chapter per week, picking apart the word Paul wrote and what they mean for us today. Paul’s letter to Galatia lays out the gospel in great detail, discounting the rules and regulations hollow religion requires. We exposed two major distortions of the gospel in our review of chapter one, the misconception faith in Jesus alone is too simple, and the “fire insurance” mindset leading one to believe anything they do is allowable because forgiveness will cover them. In chapter 2, Paul explicitly calls out Peter for teaching the first distortion, requiring adherence to Jewish laws combined with faith in Christ for salvation. Chapter 3 describes the freedom from the law Jesus offers and what’s required of us to receive it, just listen and believe. In the fourth week we learned about God’s reaction to our faith, not only are we justified and freed from our sins, we are adopted as part of His family. Then last week, Galatians chapter 5, we discovered as sad truth. Despite hearing these words of freedom through faith alone, many will fight to embrace their captor, succumbing to a gospel Stockholm syndrome. Fighting people in this situation only pushes them further into the arms of their slave master, patient love will lead them down the road to freedom.

That brings us, finally, to the close of Galatians and the end of our Jesus+ journey; chapter 6. Throughout Paul’s letter, the tone has been very stern, showing an obvious frustration with the church in Galatia. He has laid out the righteous path to follow, but castigated the church leaders in the process. As Paul closes the letter, he brings their thought process back from exposing their errors to a plan for moving forward. The only way the church (ekklesia) will be successful in fulfilling its calling is through community, people making meaningful connections with other people. Christ reaches the world through his ekklesia is if his people destroy their selfish ambitions, their self-image insecurities, their competitive nature and direct all of their energy outward. This must be a life-style change. Selflessness only evident in the midst of a group is still selfishness for the individual to boost their own self-esteem. The greatest evidence of a spirit-filled life is love for one another. When we as individuals embrace the gospel and serve others without reservation or recourse, then we build ekklesia, a community of believers impacting their world.

Spiritual community is doing life together, loving one another. It’s time we unite.