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.

am I open to rebuke?

A rebuke impresses a discerning person
more than a hundred lashes a fool.

Proverbs 17:10

Dallas Willard I think in his The Divine Conspiracy wrote how today any correction to a person is equated to condemnation. One has to tread very carefully, and try deftly to help indirectly, maybe through just prayer and being present, or through example. Even a hint of correction just isn’t accepted.

Of course we always need to turn the mirror in on ourselves. Are we really much better, or at least do we have some of this same tendency in ourselves? Do we easily become defensive when someone suggests that we might be mistaken, or should have done something differently?

I carry around a little Bible, the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. I recently thought that I might be better off with just the New Testament and Psalms, or just now, the New Testament by itself. But again as I plod through the Proverbs, I’m quite impressed with all the wisdom we find. You have to read Proverbs as sayings that often need to be turned over and over again in our heads, maxims as they call it, to live by. Some are absolute and true in every situation, like the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom. Others are generally true, or at least have truth in them, even if at times we don’t see them coming to pass, or seemingly quite the opposite. Life is surely complex, which is almost why in my own thinking, I could wish Ecclesiastes was included in my little Bible. But then it would be getting too big for my pocket.

Rebuke is mentioned a good number of times in Proverbs, and is nearly always good there in itself. I saw just one exception. My question to myself is whether or not I’m willing to receive godly rebuke. That certainly calls for discernment. Fools won’t discern such rebuke as good, but even if first they flinch, the wise will. It’s a matter of wisdom. When something less than complimentary is said to us, if we’re wise we’ll listen and consider. Prayerfully. And we’ll accept what is helpful, and let go of the rest.

Rebuke can be given to us in words, but sometimes nonverbal communication can be just as telling. At any rate it is good if we’re open to receiving such, so that we might change in becoming more and more the people God has called us to be. Truly growing in loving God and our neighbor. In and through Jesus.

continue to soak it in

When we were part of a Vineyard church, “soaking” was the term for spending time in God’s presence, usually I think for hours. I’m not sure I ever participated in a time set apart for that. We probably don’t do enough of that. People can mock “personal devotions,” or practices in church meant to help us draw close to God, but really, we need to soak in- to remain, so as to soak in- to take in, all God has for us.

Part of that is to watch ourselves and our own life. And to watch life in general. In all of that, we want to observe, and be taught by God. “What is God teaching me?” is a good question. Usually it won’t be hard to come up with an answer if we’ve been open. No doubt we are slow learners. We live as Christians with the desire to know God’s word and apply it, but we also live within experience. In some ways experience can help us when we verify the truth of what God says, the Spirit giving us insight. But often we run up against our limitations, our weaknesses, not to mention spiritual warfare.

Where I start as I’ve often said is in Scripture which I take to be God’s written word pointing us to his Word in Jesus. I remain there, with an emphasis on application. I especially want to apply what I think God has been teaching me lately. That will take time. And included in that is more soaking, not just in the word, but in life and hopefully God in our experience as we seek to grow in what God is teaching us. In and through Jesus.

the need for civil discourse

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?

….Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
    I open my lips to speak what is right.

Proverbs 8:1,6

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of a special kind of wisdom that God wants to give. I take that in the sense of reverence and awe, and because of Jesus, not cowering fear. But there is also a general wisdom given to all humankind from God. So that when wisdom speaks, it can speak from just about any source. Maybe even from the devil, if you would backmask that.

And the funny thing is that all of that wisdom is a gift from God. So that we need to have ears to discern, but in the first place listen.

But a big part of wisdom is to see through the deceptive, foolish allure of sin, and to ferret out both deception and foolishness, that which isn’t wise. And let’s all face it, we all carry a mix of wisdom and foolishness. I’m not saying we’re out and out fools, although scripture says there are such people. Let God be the judge of who. But we can be downright foolish and obtuse. Just the realization of that can help us to be quiet and listen, and only offer humbly any thoughts which might be helpful, but otherwise to be still.

In this day and age, and surely not unlike any other, but maybe given all the media outlets and ability to publish one’s thoughts anonymously, we need like no other time to measure words, first our own words, and then the words of others. We need civil discourse, which means a commitment to listen well, ask questions, listen some more, and offer carefully, with openness to correction and refinement, whatever we might have to say.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand by some principles or truths, such as the need for justice for all, the end never justifies the means, etc., etc. And as Christians, we do so with an eye and heart ever ready to be a witness in life and in word to the good news in Jesus.

Love is to mark us in all we do. And what we’re to model in all of this. Love listens, makes its appeal, and accepts the outcome, including inevitable differences all of us will have.

Something needed today in our society which should always be what we in Jesus strive for in all of our interactions. In and through him.

God has the answer

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7

There is no question that at times we’re befuddled and wondering just what is going on in a given situation. When it seems like God has all but abandoned us, or others, and things are falling through. When it may not seem even rational, at least when factoring in God’s work and peace which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6,7).

God has the answer. We have only to ask. God looks for faith, and seems to treasure that even above love, in a sense. While loving God supremely with all of one’s being is the first and greatest commandment, without faith it’s impossible to please him. We may profess love, and engage in acts of love for God, maybe religious acts, and perhaps those will be acts of faith. But what God is looking for first is faith in his word, and especially in God’s word about his Son, Jesus (1 John 5:9-12).

Of course the answer might not actually be what we asked for or anticipated. That is where we need to have an openness, and seek to have ears to ear what God might be saying, and a heart to understand and be open to any possible unanticipated changes which may be coming.

God has the answer. We need to hold on in faith, a faith which in the words of our Lord keeps on asking, seeking and knocking. Knowing that God will come through in God’s time with his good answer, whatever that might be. In and through Jesus.

listening well, speaking less

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1

If there’s one problem which I think affects us all, it’s the tendency for us to speak more and listen less, to speak without listening, and to go on and on. This seems endemic in our culture, and I think both conservatives and progressives share in the guilt.

A big part of listening is to simply listen well, which sometimes will require questions, and then after that, silence and time, so that we can process what has been said. At the same time this vital need to listen does not mean that there’s never a time to speak. We can’t be held hostage because we lack the certainty of God on a given subject. We have to make the best judgments we can, then proceed. But part of doing so is to learn to listen well.

Part of good listening in our culture is the gathering of information. Reading books can be especially good, but reading online might benefit us on a number of matters just as much. And while we’re doing so, we need to stay in scripture and keep reading and praying. And do so in fellowship with other believers. This can help us to hear better and discern what is best. We certainly need to be open to changing our views. Good listening involves gathering knowledge which may help us better put the pieces together in understanding life, and specifically certain matters in life.

While we’re to be slow to speak, that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak at all. And when we do speak, less is often more. If we always have a word to say on everything, chances are we’re not listening well, if at all. But a word from careful listening which is well thought out can be a help to us and to each other. Something we need much more of today.

putting two and two together

We are approaching the end of our book of Job study at church, led quite well by a pastoral intern, Jordan, along with our Pastor Jack. It has been my favorite group Bible study ever. The well guided participation has made it most interesting, with an emphasis on keeping us tethered to the text. I take Job to be a wisdom story, brimming over with a wisdom which is challenging to get, even if it’s right before our eyes in the text.

We certainly need the Spirit to give us a revelatory gaze as in illumination as to the meaning of the text of God’s inscripturated word. But that understanding will surely be somehow in terms of God’s voice and will for us. And the answer is not simply in terms of ourselves, but to see the bigger picture, true whether in Job or elsewhere in scripture. Not meaning that at certain points it isn’t narrowed down to one matter, even ourselves, for example our sin. But we are taken through Jesus into something of the entire story of God, finding our part and place in it, in God’s love in him.

And so we’ve come to the end of that great book and we’re trying to put two and two together, and we’re finding it challenging which should be the case if we’re really seriously grappling with the book as it is. We could have all kinds of simple answers to explain the book, and in so doing would essentially explain the book away, since we really would be failing to take all of its content seriously. Even good simple explanations like, “Trust God no matter what happens. He will see you through.” And similar thoughts. But again, that would fail to deal with all the dynamic of what Job experienced, his words along with his friends’ words, and God’s words to him at the end.

God will give us what we are ready and able to receive from him. Of course that preparation and reception is also a work of the Spirit. It is interesting how one can reread a good book years later and get much more out of it, or at least something different. When it comes to working on plumbing the depths of the wisdom found in Job, there is simply no one set answer, though there are surely some good books and commentaries which can help us in terms of all of that.

And so I look forward to our last two times together in Job. Wanting to hear from God what he is saying to me at this time through that book. Even as we continue to prayerfully wrestle through the text.


There is one thing among a number of other things actually, which ought to characterize us as followers of Jesus. Openness, or being open. And I phrase it followers of Jesus, rather than believers, or Christians, etc., not because the latter terms would be inaccurate, but to get us in a certain mindset.

We need to be open, yes as to what God would teach us, how he may reveal something of himself to us of his heart and will.

I want to be open on all sorts of fronts, though I acknowledge that isn’t easy, because I haven’t come to where I am on many issues without going through a good number of experiences, along with some thinking, through years and decades. “It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” We need to develop and become set in having a faith which receives and accepts the kingdom of God as a little child. If that is how we’re to enter into God’s kingdom, we do well to hold on to and perhaps develop in some way that kind of faith. Yes, our faith is to mature, but no, not so that we no longer receive God’s kingdom as a little child.

In a way that is easy for me, but in another way, not. Because I tend to keep asking questions, and seem to be skeptical by nature in some ways at least. But I need to be open to what God might teach me, something that is entirely new to me in some way. Maybe something I know somewhat in life, but need to know much further both in a deeper sense as well as with new application.

And so I look to the Lord at the beginning of a new week, desiring to be open with others in Jesus for the world.

learning the ropes

It’s interesting in the story of David, we find the young David rejecting the armor and weapons Saul was going to give him for his encounter against Goliath, and instead chose what he was comfortable with, a sling and stones, which he had grown used to when he protected sheep against bears and lions. And yet further along, and actually relatively soon, David learned (all too–I say) well conventional warfare for that time.

This says something for us, I think. We need to go with what God has given us in the encounter we have against the world, the flesh and the devil. Of course faith with reference to the faith, grounded in the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus is at the heart of this. For each of us, how we live out that faith, and stand in it will look a bit different.

And yet at the same time, we also need to be open to conventional ways we can learn from those who are battle tested over the longer haul. Or perhaps more traditional ways. Of course I am referring to spiritual warfare no less.

David had to learn the new way, but it seems like he adapted well, since success marked whatever he did in warfare.

I am in a situation which is pushing me out of my comfort zone into having to do something in a way I’m not accustomed to. I intend to do what is required of me, but in the way I’m used to doing things, as much as possible. I’m confident it will be a growing experience. It may or may not change me substantially (or much) for the longer haul. But I pray I’ll be open and learn from God through it.