Jesus’s teaching ministry

With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Mark 4:33-34; NRSVue

The teaching ministry of Jesus is often relegated to a secondary status maybe behind his miracles, but definitely so when considering especially his death and resurrection. So much of the gospel accounts are hardly considered gospel, oftentimes even considered law with the only gospel, Jesus dying on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and being raised to life to bring us the new, eternal life. But we need Christ’s teaching as well, to try to begin to understand what forgiveness of sins and new life really means, that there is a vision we’re to live in, different from all the many visions and dreams out there in the world. One prime example is “the American dream,” not necessarily bad depending on context, but I think can get in the way of what is being spoken about here.

It’s interesting that Jesus used parables. Some scripture seems to indicate that it was to hide truth, but I think that pertains only to those whose hearts were not open or ready to truly receive it, but would inevitably misunderstand and misapply it, something like was occurring to a significant extent in Israel during Jesus’s time. I think the parables are primed to reach those who are struggling to understand, whose hearts are being opened to understand.

And Jesus taught the crowd, speaking the word as they were able to hear it. I think this makes an important connection between taking in scripture, seeking to hear God’s word from it, but all of that correlating with our experience. I frankly write most of the posts I write out of my experience, or seeking to make sense of experience, or find a better experience. But none of it is grounded in my experience, but only in faith and in trying to discern truth from God’s word for life.

But we must never forget that it’s out of compassion that Jesus taught the multitudes (Mark 6:34). And we want to do the same. To teach others what God is teaching us with patience, remembering that we most often are slow to learn it well ourselves. In and through Jesus.

heads up on white privilege

They served him by himself and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

Genesis 43:32; NRSVue

In the United States there’s great controversy practically raging over what is now called “wokeness,” the awareness that the systems have had and continue to have an adverse effect on people of color, particularly African Americans. Though when you study US history, you’ll find that people of different ethnicities have often had a major problem, especially when first coming to the United States, or due to events. But the two major glaring sins of the United States have been the displacement of the indigenous (in my younger years, called “Indians”) and the enslavement of Africans. And what has come from that so that African Americans often find themselves more segregated in the north than they were in the south, and in places that become run down as well as depositories of unhealthy waste. Yes, strides have been made, but there still is discrepancy and disparity, serious overall in actual net worth monetarily. And that is as much the result of the advantages whites have had over many generations, as it is the result of blacks being disadvantaged throughout the same time.

Some will inevitably say that I am now being divisive and also not talking about something positive and helpful. But I would challenge all to keep reading their Bibles from cover to cover and pay close attention to the marked emphasis over and over again on God’s concern for the poor, as well as God’s action, including salvation and deliverance, not to mention judgment against injustice. It is not helpful nor true to scripture to read it all as if it has to do with our personal relationship to God. The gospel covers that and all of life. The light of the good news in Jesus comes into every dark or we might say instead bleak place. And it exposes all that is false, wrong, and contrary to God’s good will.

It is never enough just to read the Bible. Never. We must also pay attention to life itself. What is God saying through our reading of the Bible which actually pertains to the real world out there? And not just our world of course, but the world of others, particularly the poor and the oppressed and certainly add to that the refugee.

Yes, we need to be awakened to all that is wrong. To listen to those who are affected. To pray yes, but also to find out ways that we can help. In this case being willing to acknowledge that we may have been blind, and I personally know that I have, to a white privilege which has excluded or placed burdens and barriers on those of our human family who are black, with other people of color included. Something for us to be awakened to if we’re to take scripture and the gospel seriously. In and through Jesus.

ratcheted up a notch

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like washer’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD, as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

Malachi 3:1-7; NRSVue

I’m not sure if anyone actually likes difficulty in and of itself. For other reasons, people might like it. To meet the challenge, to achieve some goal through it, maybe winning in competition, along with other reasons why people embrace what is hard. Hardship might be another matter, after all there’s surely a line drawn for each person, which they wouldn’t care to cross.

God was out to change the descendants of Levi, to purify them so that sin was being dealt with in their lives, and so that sin could be dealt with through their assigned task in the lives of others.

What about when we run into difficulty and what for us are impossible things to accept? Life won’t let us down that way. For some, especially who have plenty of material wealth, they may be able to glide through and pretty much avoid what are the common struggles for others. But even they can’t avoid everything, like possible sickness and eventual certain death. And difficulties will come their way as well, even if not so much circumstances, but disillusionment over emptiness in spite of being so well set.

God is active in people’s lives, and especially in those who name God’s name as those belonging to God and supposed to be the Lord’s followers. And part of that activity is not at all comfortable. “Refiner’s fire” and “washer’s soap” imagery above refer to purification and cleansing. We all need it. In the heat of life, what arises can be anything but pleasant, and not good. This can come through a multitude of small nagging things as well as a major concern which hangs over our heads.

But God is at work in that. It’s up to us to respond in being aware what sins need to be confessed, and the change that needs to come in our lives. And actually God is at work to ratchet us up a notch so to speak. So that we are becoming what before certainly was not the case. God is at work for great good, certainly including us. But we need to endeavor to accept that fully. So that we might be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1-2).

In and through Jesus.

when life is more than hard

Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when you are punished by him,
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children, for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

Hebrews 11:35-38; 12:1-13; NRSVue

I really want to read the copy I have of Charles Dickens, Hard Times, because I identify with plenty of what I’m picking up of what he said in it and elsewhere about the times in which he lived. For some of us it’s more than rough. There are some days that are among the very worst, for many of us many days like that. You might be going through something that seems far beneath and removed from what any creature should have to undergo and you may really want to throw in the towel. I know, I’ve been there, and probably not just a few times.

What kind of mindset and attitude, and from that what kind of life does God want us to live as a result of going through such? I think the word above from Hebrews can be quite helpful to us. We need to look at all of it as part of following our Lord, not only his example but following him as well in this life. Along with seeing it somehow as part of God’s loving discipline in our lives, somehow needed so that we can meet the glorious challenge of following Jesus in this life.

We can hit that breaking point and go under. But God wants to give us a new sense, a new vision, and with that a new wherewithal so that we carry on regardless and in spite of, because of the joy set before us in simply following Christ even in the way of the cross. All of this as always in and through Jesus.

at all times, bless God

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Psalm 34:1

It is like a revelation to us, really for our own good, but out of the blue, really into the darkness of our too often down in the mouth existence, a light coming to tell us to bless God no matter what, specifically “at all times.” There is nothing more uplifting, though at the same time it can also seem to be nothing more mysterious than this. And we need to read the entire psalm to appreciate the context, God’s goodness and grace to us (click above link).

But this is a needed breath of fresh air to us, something in which we’re to regularly be engaged, yes “at all times.” The praise of God always being in our mouth. Through hymns sung, in prayer, and all of this spurring us on in love in how we live.

In and through Jesus.

God’s light breaking through

And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

1 Corinthians 2:13

Usually we all plod along, often struggling to understand, but proceeding from what understanding we have.

Then there are those seasons, usually short times, maybe a bit each day but probably less often when God’s light just seems to flood us and help us see and seemingly understand better many things. When that window is open there seems almost no end to where we might go, what we might explore. Though God’s light is for life, not for our speculation or mere knowledge. Head knowledge by itself is not enough, though it is good to have.

But I’m soon back to where I almost always am. Struggling to understand, but looking to God for the insight only God can give. In and through Jesus.

trying to understand

About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Life brings with it many questions. Some are over simple matters in which we can often get quick satisfactory answers. Other things are more difficult to try to figure out, and some things don’t yield easy answers at all. Living in “the information age” we expect everything to be at our fingertips, just a press away, and perhaps the solution shipped to our door or readily accessible to us one way or another. We tend to be impatient over matters which may yield no answer right away, taking time.

Scripture not only mirrors life with real life characters, but like life, often yields no easy answers for us. Scripture can seem a mystery to us, to those without the Spirit- foolishness or making no sense, and to young followers of Christ, often difficult at best even while intriguing and interesting.

I often don’t read Scripture to try to understand, but simply to see or receive whatever God might give me through it. But when we are stuck on something, it’s good to slow down, turn it over and over in our minds again, and prayerfully try to understand. The book of Hebrews from which is the passage quoted above, is often challenging. One needs to be in all of Scripture which will help. And read it discerningly with the help of Bible scholars who dig into the original meaning of the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, the original languages in which the Bible was written, along with a cultural understanding derived from written accounts and archaeology. And we need to seek to read and discern together, a staple of the faith tradition of which I’m a part.

We have to keep at it, or as the writer to the Hebrews above warns us, we are in danger of falling away. It’s either pressing on toward maturity, not giving up, trying to understand, or not doing that. One or the other.

God will help us as we continue on, trying to find whatever it is that God has for us, as well as trying to understand all of its application to all of our lives. In and through Jesus.

trusting, not relying, acknowledging go together

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yesterday I began to work on thoughts from this passage related to when life hits us hard in ways in which there seems no escape or good answer, in other words bringing in the impossible. Today along with some other thoughts I want to emphasize one point I did not mention yesterday, how we’re told to acknowledge God in all of our ways. That can be taken for granted somewhat, as the above passage was quoted in full yesterday as well, and to trust in the Lord with all of our heart, and not rely on our own insight should lead us to acknowledge the Lord in all of our ways. But it’s important to emphasize that, because we’re all to prone to believe, yet fail to really act on it.

We need to consider them all, what this Scripture calls us to do: Trust, don’t rely, acknowledge. To trust in God this way is radical for us. It involves a certain letting go. We don’t trust God only up to a point, then take over. We trust God without reservation, wholeheartedly. It is to enter into a certain realm and remain there. And frankly that is hard, at least for me. I inevitably gravitate to trying to figure everything out myself. It is hard to understand or find the balance. It’s not like a far eastern mystic assumption of total disengagement along with a kind of total merging. We do look at reality in the face for what it is, and we look for what is right, just, and good in harmony with love which is understood best in God’s love revealed in Jesus. But no matter what, our trust is in God, not in ourselves.

Then we’re told not to rely on our own insight, which I’ve already touched on. Our understanding and insight is rarely if ever perfect in this life, except for a special gift from God at a certain point. Otherwise, never perfect. This is why it’s a mistake for us to find rest in our own insight. Our own understanding is never foolproof. And why our true rest is found only in God, in our trust in the Lord.

This reminds me of another point which needs some emphasis. Notice that the passage makes it clear that receiving the blessing actually depends on us. If we don’t follow through with what we’re told to do here, then God’s blessing won’t come. Yes, only God can give the blessing: the straight, smooth paths. But for us to receive that, we have to trust, not rely, and acknowledge. It’s up to us.

Finally the missing link of yesterday’s post. If we fail to acknowledge God in all of our ways, then we also are failing to trust in God with all our hearts, and we will drift back to our own understanding. This is akin, I think to what James speaks about when he emphasizes works in telling us that faith without works is dead. We might think we’re trusting in God with our whole heart and not relying on ourselves, but unless we look to God in prayer, and seek to really depend on God in all of life, in every endeavor, then we’re really not. This is all linked together. What you really believe is not what you say you believe, but what you act on. “Yes, I trust in God, but I need to figure this out myself.” No. Instead something like: “I trust in the Lord, and I believe the Lord will help me through this, to find good counsel, to make a good decision, and to be at rest in that process, and in the end.” All the while realizing that this life will be uneven and messy to the end. Learning to find our rest in God in the midst of that.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.

staying on the cross where the resurrection power of Christ resides

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:19b-20

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him,[a] but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

2 Corinthians 13:4

In Timothy G. Gombis’s most helpful book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry we are given a paradigmatic shifting truth which can make all the needed difference in our lives if we just hold on to it, and let it do its work in us. Well, I just finished the book this past weekend, and did read it over like a month or more, so that the truth there could hopefully begin to sink in some.

The idea and truth is that resurrection power is at the cross. This is not just for our salvation, but for all of life. As Tim says in the book, and has said in his podcast, something like, we need to take our rightful place on the cross in Christ, and stay on it, and suffer the indignity that comes with it, and as we do so, the resurrection power and life of Christ will be present.

I have found this so helpful. Just thinking of myself nailed on a cross, not coming down when tempted to do so, of course the thought much more convenient than the actual harsh physical reality of such. But just the same, spiritually we’re to take up our crosses and follow, think of ourselves as crucified with Christ and live as though nothing else matters except the resurrection power, life and love of God in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

dreams and thoughts of what could have been

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Life makes philosophers of us all? Well, at least for those who take it seriously, though actually everyone has some philosophy meaning outlook on life. We can look back and see better, but mainly how God saw us through in spite of ourselves. And how hopefully we’ve come to see that what really matters is simple faith in and obedience to God. And to understand that our faith rests in the faithfulness of Christ, so that we follow together because of that. That can surely make all the difference in the long run.

If in your stronger more youthful decades you can put your all into following Christ in a community of followers of Christ, and seek to simply live in and from that reality, you will be truly blessed. Toward the end, the strength just isn’t the same, and the heart is often burdened down with the weight of other’s struggles, not to mention the inevitable troubles of life. And for most of us there’s regret and a wish that we could undo something or some things, and do other things all over again.

Lean on community in Jesus, and seek to be a follower of Jesus along with other followers of Jesus. Seek humility, above all just seek God’s love and will in Jesus by the Spirit, and with the desire to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. We’re in this primarily not for ourselves, but for others. Together, Christ’s body for each other and to be light in the world. God will take care of things. And in the end will bring a good end, weaving everything somehow in that for good. Far beyond us, and I doubt we’ll ever fully understand it, but all will end well.

In and through Jesus.