Jesus speaks to the crowds with parables

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on a path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. If you have ears, listen!”

Matthew 13:1-9; NRSVue

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but didn’t give the interpretation, only to his disciples as we see later in this passage. But why? Jesus told his disciples that the secret of the kingdom of heaven had been given to his disciples, but not to the rest, citing scripture to that effect. I’ve touched on this before, but it seems like Israel of old, many of Israel had an incorrect picture of what needed to be. They had failed to see God’s big picture, what God wanted. And unfortunately, by and large their religious leaders had failed them as well, they themselves just as lost, the blind leading the blind. Jesus realized that the crowds were not ready to receive the truth he was giving to his disciples, but he wanted to point them in that direction.

I think this kind of teaching was not just a form of God’s just and even wise judgment, but also a form of compassion. Remember that teaching the multitudes many things is said to have come out of Jesus’s compassion for them, as he saw them helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. It could be at least to some extent that Jesus spoke in parables to cause those listening to ask questions. Instead of thinking they already know what needs to be done, God’s program, what the kingdom promised was all about, Jesus’s teaching of parables would raise questions. And would hopefully make some open to a new understanding. Note Jesus’s words to the crowd at the end: “If you have ears, listen!”

I don’t think I’m a good teacher in this way in causing people to ask questions. I try to point people in the right direction through giving the best answers I can. But probably the best teaching leads people to ask questions, but in a way that is directing them to come up with good answers. Probably faith is at least as much about asking questions, having sitting questions without clear answers. But within that simply  trusting in God.

Just some thoughts on Jesus’s teaching to the multitudes of the parables without explaining the meaning to them as he did to his disciples. In and through Jesus.

the destructiveness of the tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

James 3:1-12

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.

Psalm 141:3

There’s wisdom in the saying or idea that we should keep our thoughts to ourselves. Most often true. But add to that, we should bring our thoughts, especially when they’re disparaging of others, to God. And the psalmist’s prayer here is so helpful. One we ought to memorize and pray regularly, ourselves.

We little realize just how unruly and out of control our tongues can be. We might even say something which is okay, even good, yet add just a twist or something else which ruins it. How ruining our tongues can be.

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget nonverbal communication. We might not say anything bad, yet be saying plenty bad by our attitude. People can pick up our spirit, whether it’s anger, or a critical spirit. We’re told to guard our hearts in Proverbs (4:23). In this life we’ll never arrive to perfection, that is, to a perfect heart. So we do well to ask God to guard our tongues. While all the while we seek through confession of sin and prayer to have a better attitude. Non-condemning and prayerful, as well as being a servant.

But to the root of this discussion. Yes, we can’t tame the tongue. But the Holy Spirit can make the needed difference, so that we can indeed become different people, choosing to speak helpful, constructive words, rather than what is discouraging and destructive. So with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do much better. And often times, in fact probably more often than not, simply say nothing. In and through Jesus.

in praise of “fair” over “beautiful”

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away…

Song of Solomon 2:10

This is probably a well intended yet rather erroneous post as far as the Hebrew word goes, but just the same I proceed, and I think and hope for good reasons based on Scripture and life. Both the NRSV (we’ll see whether this remains in the soon to be released NRSV-UE) and the CEB translate the Hebrew word יָפָתִ֖י “fair” whereas at least most all other translations render it “beautiful.” It does mean beautiful, and form is not excluded in some biblical passages. That is all well and good.

But conception of beauty in our age and in ages past has differed. Add to that the Biblical emphasis on inward beauty (see this helpful article). Today’s idea of beauty in women is not far removed from some image of Playboy: sexy, a knock out, one whom others can’t help but notice with wows. Diminishing women to nothing more than objects of pleasure.

Fair might mean beautiful in Biblical times, but depending on culture, while there surely was overlap, I think at least for us, “fair” is a better way of putting it, since really all women should be seen as having this inherent quality about them. A woman is a woman is a woman, none of them to be taken for granted, all gifts from God (and we could add a man is a man is a man, and make some corresponding connections related to what we call handsomeness). Sadly some do in the mystery of life seem lacking in beauty as we see it, outwardly, in whatever way. But that’s where inward beauty can make the woman an honestly beautiful person, so that the outward appearance does not in the least cancel that out. Whereas sadly, women who can be quite attractive in outward appearance might be overall simply ugly people because of character deficit, in need of help so that their God-given beauty inside and out can be experienced.

There is nothing at all wrong with women being beautiful in face and form, nothing at all. Though difficulties come with that. But it is most important that we come to realize that beauty is most important inwardly, outwardly having its limits due to aging and other problems that can arise. Every single woman on earth has a fairness about them, so that this book, Song of Solomon can be applied in every marriage. I can celebrate my wife’s beauty, and never compare her with any other woman that way, thanking God for the fairness, indeed beauty God has given her inside and out.

sins of the tongue

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:5b-8

It seems to me we kind of more or less excuse sins of the tongue, the tongue lashings we regularly give to each other and others. But the Bible is full of warnings against this. And just the relatively short book of James addresses this repeatedly.

What we say matters as well as what we refuse to say. We could even say that what we don’t say is more important that what we actually do say. A lot of our thoughts we should keep to ourselves for good reason. Are they wise, well informed? Are they gracious, merciful? If not, then we don’t need merely some kind of face lift as in changing our habits, but we need to get to what underlies that. We need a heart change. And the book of James addresses that as well.

If we can get a handle on this, and quit minimizing and excusing or even putting up with our sins of the tongue, that can end up helping us immensely. God wants to speak to us and get through to us in this. Not just a one time, or one day change, but an entirely new life. Bringing our disparaging thoughts to God. Refusing to lash out at others, even in our thoughts, but seeking God’s help for us and for them.

In and through Jesus.

God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

fret not

do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Psalm 37:8b

I know I’m pulling this out of context, but I think the point I’m going to make is not contradictory to the point the passage is making. It’s taking matters into our own hands due to excessive worry. And when we do that, I know by experience we can make matters worse.

The Bible has a radical answer for God’s people. Don’t worry; don’t fret. The clearest directive for us is something I’ve shared times before, and I’m sure I’ll share again, Lord willing.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

That is radical. We’re not to worry, not to be anxious about anything at all. Instead we’re to trust God. Bringing our concern thankfully to God. And we have the promise that God’s peace which transcends our understanding will guard both our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That reminds me of another passage.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s a matter of trust: “trust and obey.” We find out what we can, but above all, we put the matter into God’s hands. He’ll take care of it. God can change anything. Or God will work for good in any and everything, even that which in and of itself is not good.

We just need to quit fretting, and instead pray. Develop that new habit and pattern until it becomes a part of who we are when we’re faced with fear. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s law set in our hearts

ש Sin and Shin

Rulers persecute me without cause,
but my heart trembles at your word.
I rejoice in your promise
like one who finds great spoil.
I hate and detest falsehood
but I love your law.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.
Great peace have those who love your law,
and nothing can make them stumble.
I wait for your salvation, Lord,
and I follow your commands.
I obey your statutes,
for I love them greatly.
I obey your precepts and your statutes,
for all my ways are known to you.

Psalm 119:161-168

There may be a secondary and maybe even basic way in which God’s law is set in the human heart by creation, with the sense of right and wrong that comes with that. But since humans are so flawed in their sin, the primary way is surely in the promise in Jesus of a new covenant in which God will write God’s law on the human heart. God’s people in the first covenant experienced a good measure of that as is evidenced here in the psalmist’s words.

I say that to say this: God’s love as evident in “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5) sets the agenda for this law, with specifics spelled out along the way in God’s written word: Scripture. We can be sure by God’s Spirit that has God not only written his law on our hearts, but that God confirms it day after day. It’s always in the way of love, bringing righteousness, peace and joy. And when we experience it, we long for it all the more in our hearts and lives. In and through Jesus.

 

 

God and God’s love is behind his word

ח Heth

You are my portion, LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, LORD;
teach me your decrees.

Psalm 119:57-64

When we hear a person speak, it all depends on what we know about them, and especially our own relationship with them to understand just how we should take in their words. Words by themselves strain to be understood apart from their underlying tone and the heart behind them.

We can be assured that with God’s word there’s all of love behind each one. Even God’s words of wrath and judgment come full brim out of a heart of love which at some point must see justice done. We know of the full demonstration and depth of that love in Jesus and the cross.

So when we turn to God’s word, we can be assured that behind it is God and God’s love. Greater than can be imagined by us. But poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And so we turn to the word again and again to find the face of God. The face of love through and through forever. And to live according to that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

don’t be anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

If there isn’t one thing to be anxious or worried in this life, there’s another, and plenty others. There’s really no end to the number of things we can be upset over or worried about. Some are more prone to worry than others. There are people who seem to take life in stride, everything in stride, though often enough, if you would really get to know them, underlying that appearance is a cloud of anxiety within.

Remarkably believers in Christ are told not to be anxious about anything. Though it’s imperative tense, I take it to be more of loving directive as from a father. But it does come across as an absolute with a promise.

I have found over and over again as I do this in my own broken, disheveled way, but sincerely do it, God does in time meet me with his peace, a peace here which is experiential, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Of course not just not being anxious, but praying with petitions and thanksgiving.

God has it all in tow. We don’t and cannot. We can rest assured in God’s provision for us regardless of what circumstance we’re facing. God’s peace will see us through that and everything else. In and through Jesus.

 

sensitivity to wrong in our lives

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

We are told in this passage that we need to look intently at God’s word and at ourselves. An implication in this passage is that God’s written word exposes what is wrong in our lives, and that by application of that word, we can change and see change over time.

It’s important not only to be encouraged by God’s word, but also to be open and sensitive to whatever is wrong in our life, in our heart and actions. Jesus said that what defiles a person comes from the heart, and Proverbs tells us to watch over our heart since all we do comes from it.

We need the help from God through his word to address our problem. And we have to be sensitive to what is wrong with us. It is remarkable how quick we can be to pick up and pick on the perceived faults of others and be oblivious of our own. Or simply to sweep our own faults under the rug as insignificant or somehow justified, or we can fail to see them at all. As Scripture tells us elsewhere, we who judge others do the very same things ourselves.

Yes, others certainly have their faults sometimes in plain sight for all to see, though only God can see their hearts. But we have to acknowledge to ourselves that we’re in the same boat, that we’re often wrong, and keep our attention first and foremost on ourselves. As we continue in the word, making the necessary changes along the way. In and through Jesus.