Meditation

The Kingdom Underground: Hometown Hero

A response to the "small group questions" for the 14 April 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

When Jesus had finished telling these stories and illustrations, he left that part of the country. He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief.

How would you describe the current posture of your heart towards Christ? Are you giving him a warm Hometown Hero's welcome? Or are you battling unbelief like the people of Nazareth?

I don't struggle with unbelief towards Christ; or, when I do, I wholeheartedly trust that Christ will "help my unbelief." [2] I expect that where I fall short is in the warmth of welcome; I let myself become distracted by the mundane logistics of life, even with Christ. I am "anxious and troubled about many things" and neglect the "one thing that is necessary." [3]

How would you describe the difference between doubt and unbelief?

I don't know, man. I expect the intent here is to differentiate between doubt that is covered by faith vs. unbelief that rests final; but the father in Mark 9 describes his "unbelief" while asking Christ to help him through it.

I think I've got to call "meaningless rhetorical difference" here.

Can you identify any ways that your intellect may be limiting you from experiencing all that Christ wants to offer you?

Sure! For lots of examples, see basically the entirety of my medidations here so far. It's basically my own personal little microcosm of sin.

Are there any areas in your life where disappointment has left you disillusioned? What do you think God wants you to do with your pain?

Probably the closest thing was when we left New York. I left feeling defeated--like I had either not understood God's direction to go in the first place, and had led my family down a needless path of stess; or that I was failing, giving up on God's plan for us.

I am blessed now to have been given peace; both at the time, by virtue of God's faithfulness in leading us here, where I am confident we are in his will; and later, when we briefly (and accidentally) passed through Manhattan and God sent me a spirit of peace unlike anything I had experienced before.

In all things, I think God wants us to praise him.

If there are any areas in your life where you are battling unbelief, take some time to confess those to one another and to Christ. Repent and choose to believe. Remember, even when we don't understand what God is doing, we can trust who He is!

I believe; help my unbelief!

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Hometown Hero
[2] Mark 9:23-24
[3] Luke 10:38-42

The Kingdom Underground: Nets and Fish

A response to the "small group questions" for the 7 April 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

exerpt from the English Standard Version of the gospel of Matthew [2]

Which of the parables from MAtthew 13 has been the most significant for you (Sower, Weeds, Mustard Seed & Yeast, Treasure & Pearl, or Net)? Why?

I don't know that I could count one most significant; but I do struggle to receive the parables of Weeds and the Net more than the others. The others of these parables focus more on the power and effectiveness of the kingdom of heaven; but the parables of Weeds and the Net more specifically describe the discarding of "the evil" or "the sons of the evil one"; and more than discarding, they describe "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Part of my tentative personal theology has been, given that I am not judge; and that God is "allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him." [3] I don't "begrudge his generosity." On the contrary, I have praised him for it; but implicit in that has been the hope that God would save all people in reconciling creation to himself. But I don't see room for that theology in the image of "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

But I suppose, before I rest in an interpretation of this passage, I should call into question my understanding of "the kingdom of heaven." Is it the ultimate end of such people? Or is there something more going on? Here Christ specifies that he is talking about events to take place "at the end of the age"; and I have also been operating recently under the tentative escatology that the age referred to here is the end of the Jewish age, succceeded by the Christian age; but I would be reticent to equate the work of Nero with that of "the angels of the Son of Man who will come out and separate the evil from the righteous."

My escatology and theology clearly need some work. [4]

How does the setting (A fishing boat) and Jesus' tone (loving warning) impact the way you hear this passage?

It gives me a sense of place; like poetry, it conveys a mood. But I don't know that I can draw any specific meaning from it.

It does set the stage for the two-forum presentation, where he preaches to the crowd on the beach, but then relates more personal information to his disciples, ostensibly in the boat with him.

If you were an original hearer of the Parable of the Net, how do you think you would have responded that day? How do you think Jesus wants his hearers to respond to this warning?

I don't know that I _do_ consider it a warning. No-where in the parable is there room for weeds to become wheat; or for bad fish to become good. They are judged by what they are, and there is no call to righteousness here.

I cannot be proud. I expect that, were I an original hearer, I would "hear but never understand; see but never perceive." [5]

As for how Jesus might have hoped his disciples would respond: I expect it begins and ends with that they should "see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn."

Jesus' invitation to discipleship in Matthew 4:19 has also been considered a definition of discipleship: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Which aspect of discipleship is most evident in your life? Which is most lacking? Spend some time considering how you might be more intentiaonl in pursuing a life of Christian discipleship. Talk to God about and and tell someone else about it as well.

I follow Christ. I want to be transformed by following him, and I see the work of that transformation in my life. I expect that I most lack in my willingness to be in fellowship with God in his spirit, and so in vulnerable fellowship with others. I tend to intelectualize discussions about my faith; but it shouldn't end there.

I've felt a desire--and I think it it from the spirit--to start reading scripture in a public forum (e.g., in my neighborhood) and to invite others to join me. I've talked about this with a friend, but I haven't actually discussed it with God, yet. I just keep feeling like he's mentioning it to me.

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Nets & Fish
[2] Matthew 13:47-50
[3] Matthew 20:1-16
[4] Matthew 16:1-3
[5] Matthew 13:10-17

The Kingdom Underground: Pearls

A response to the "small group questions" for the 31 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

exerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel of Matthew [2]

Recall a story of a time when you stumbled on something of great worth. What was it? How did it make you feel?

I don't think I've quite had a "treasure in a field" moment. The closest thing that comes to mind are the employment opportunities that I've had. I often tell the story of when my team lead at Argonne first casually mentioned KAUST over lunch. That day I asked Andi for her thoughts about applying for a job there. She was a bit dismissively reluctant at first, but we pursued the possibility together, in response to the niggling sense that there was something important there. (And was there! "Everything that follows is a result of what you see here.")

And there was a similar situation when we came out to Boulder. Andi felt a niggling that this was where we were supposed to be; and, though I was more than a bit reluctant at first, I went looking and found... this. The life we have now.

Both of these situations make me feel like the way ahead of me is prepared. The truth is apparent to those who honestly seek it. I pray I continue in earnest.

Where have you experienced in your own life some of the "treasure" of knowing Jesus Christ?

I've meditated before on the nature of having been in the church "a long time." I think I'm ill-equipped to understand the proportional value of the treasure of Christ in my life, being as I am so assumptively familiar with it--I know little else.

I see the blessings of the life that I have, and I thank God for it; but I can't say that that's sufficient, because I thank Christ for more than that.

I often think that my children and my family help give me peace; because I don't have to worry about having correct motivaiton. No that my motivations are always correct; but because I can consider whether my motivations are in support of or at the expense of my family. It's a useful metric.

But the same is true more fundamentally of Christ. If I need to evaluate the rightness of my heart or my actions, I only have to meditate with the Spirit. Beyond that is faith.

What holds you back from going "all in" with Jesus and his kingdom?

I often allow myself to become distracted or consumed by the mundane logistics of daily life. More completely, I procrastinate many things in the face of the seeming mundanity. Or, because of a sense that there is too much for me to be able to complete (at least, in the time that I wish it would take for me to complete it) I in stead do nothing.

How might you cooperate with God and move closer to joyful surrender to Jesus?

But that is not where it should end. I need to realize that even mundane daily tasks are--or can be--worship, and as such have the potential for intrinsic value. I haven't read it yet, but Andi is talking well of The Liturgy of the Ordinary, and I'm thinking I should read it soon as well.

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Pearls
[2] Matthew 13:44-46

The Kingdom Underground: Mustard Seeds

A response to the "small group questions" for the 24 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”

Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet:

“I will speak to you in parables.

I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.”

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel of Matthew [2]

Throughout this series we have been saying that something is happening in God's Kingdom that isn't obvious. What about Jesus' ministry seems small? What about your own current ministry seems small?

I think this might again be one of those points that is already so ingrained in me that I don't know how to look past it. My life is so full of blessing, and I credit it to God; I don't know how to consider it small.

Maybe another way to say this is that I have already seen the mustard seed grow to the plant in the past. Even now, when I see "mustard seeds," I'm already looking forward to what God has promised, often almost discounting the time it will take for the plant to grow. [3]

How would you describe what is happening to the smallness in these parables?

I particularly notice that the seed and the yeast are types of the "kingdom of heaven" in these parables; not the word, nor the believers. In these illustrations it is revealed, over time, that the effectiveness of the seed or the yeast isn't confined to their initial appearance; they are alive, and their inherent potential allows them to grow beyond a shallow understanding of their bounds.

Do you see a difference in meaning or emphasis between the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast? What nuance or difference do you notice?

It's a weird thing; but I generally assume that yeast in Jewish imagery is a symbol of sin. Paul even makes this same reference to sin as yeast permeating a whole loaf. [4] It's probably nothing; but I'm always knocked a little off-balance when a metaphor like this is used toward inconsistent ends. Part of me wants to dismiss it as a simple liteary issue: nothing says that the kingdom of heaven and sin can't both operate like yeast in a loaf of bread. Except, if you're looking at the world as flour or dough, and there's a little of the kingdom of God and a little sin, which permeates the loaf? If it's the sin, then what power is there in the kingdom of God? But if it's the kingdom, then what purpose is there in Paul's caution?

Sometimes details in a parable just add detail, but sometimes they add additional meaning. The birds in verse 32 are one such place. What additional meaning might have been intended if we also read Ezekiel 17:23 or 31:6?

It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches.

The birds nested in its branches,
and in its shade all the wild animals gave birth.
All the great nations of the world
lived in its shadow.

I'm also reminded of Matthew 6, where Jesus uses birds as a type of a creature who lives its life in patient, faithful dependence on God. [5] Our pastor, in his sermon, compared the birds in our passage today to those in the world who might otherwise feel unwelcome but should be welcomed through faith in Christ into the body of believers as children of God. But I read it more that the kingdom of God, as seen in the example of the mustard tree, is an expression of God's providence and care as promised to those who trust in him.

60 pounds of flour is a HUGE amount of flour. Interesting detail, or theologically important?

I don't know, man. The NIV translates "three measures" into "sixty pounds"; but a couple other translations say "fifty pounds"; and still many more just keep the actual language of "three measures" from σάτα τρία. Barnes claims these are "small measures"; but according to Strong's concordance the measure is a translation of a Hebrew measure, סאה. Barnes does then say that the quantity is likely "about a peck and a half", or three dry gallons, which is roughly equivalent to all the other assessments of the measure; and some random unit converter on the Internet claimed to me that three gallons of flour would weigh something like fifteen pounds. So who knows?

With all this uncertainty, I'm loathe to draw any significance from the specific quantity of flour. It seems sufficient to me to understand that there is significantly more flour than yeast, but the yeast affects the whole batch. Perhaps one day Jesus will tell me more specifically what he was trying to convey with his specific measurements.

Verse 35 quotes Psalm 78:2. What might this mean? What are the things in this parable that have been hidden but happening since the creation of the world? [6]

I think this is one of those parts of life in Christ that are difficult to appreciate retrospectively. We have had the benefit of Christ's teaching for thousands of years now. We might look at our history, our people, and the world, and "long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering" [7]; but it's my belief that we don't fully comprehend, even now, the affect that God's grace through Christ has had on our world. More plainly, I think things were much worse in the world before Christ, but we have lost track because we have only ever known the age of grace.

We read Christ's teachings now, and much of it has so permeated our culture--even what we would consider secular culture--that some would consider it common knowledge. But the fact is that before Christ, no-one thought you should "love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" The thing that had been hidden was that "In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven." [8] It is the character of God that we have misunderstood, and that character is revealed in Christ.

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Mustard Seeds
[2] Matthew 13:31-35
[3] Romans 5:1-5
[4] 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
[5] Matthew 6:25-27
[6] Psalm 78:2
[7] Romans 8:22-24
[8] Matthew 5:38-48

The Kingdom Underground: Weeds

A response to the "small group questions" for the 17 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

[...]

Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

“Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel of Matthew [2]

Even our pastor struggled to pronounce "wheat" and "weeds" distinctly and correctly during his preaching. For the curious, the word used for "wheat" is σῖτον (siton) and the word used for "weeds" is ζιζάνια (zizania). If only christ had been more cognizant of potential tongue twisters when his words would be translated into English.

What color is your thumb? As we come to Spring, and as we come to this passage today, discuss your own experience with gardening or farming.

Um... I'm bad at it. It speaks to a larger problem I have with forming good habits, which I suppose is part of the exhortation we've received from the messages over the past few months; so that's fair enough.

This is another passage where Jesus appears realistic (pessimistic?) about the state of His church. Are you personally prone to optimism or pessimism when it comes to the state of global Christianity? Why?

No question is ever simple for me, is it? Here, the question of my assessment of the state of global Christianity is mixed up with my ongoing, long-term meditation on my personal escatology, prompted largely by my encounter several years ago with An Evening of Escatology, a round-table discussion between respected Reformed theologians debating their respective escatalogical positions. In watching this I found the post-millennial view most resonant with my experience, and as part of that viewpoint it seems to me that the church is ever-growing, ever-increasing in glory to God. Limited perspectives on the health of the church, in our very recent past intersected with our very-limited western/European/North American context, leads some to believe otherwise; but I believe that we both under-estimate the impact that Christ and his church are having in parts of the world that we pretentiously dismiss and that we under-estimate how different life is in the church age with the state of the world before Christ.

This might be a good place to bring up one of my problems with the message, which is triggered in today's benedictory exhortation to "be the wheat." Christ makes clear in the passage that we are not the wheat but the seed, planted in the world. It's part of my longstanding caution against interpretations that encourage pride. We are not the fruit; the fruit is the glory of God. Anything that does not glorify God will be removed, and the world--the field--will be redeemed.

If you were to try to summarize this parable into one sentence, what is the meaning of this parable?

Wait patiently for the LORD. [3]

Thinking parabolically [ed: even I don't know what is meant by this, and I'm a pretentious big-word person], if the workers can't "pluck the weeds" what can they do in the garden that would be helpful? What would be the equivalent in the real world?

Again, I think this begs the question of whether we are the workers in the field. We are not, and we are not called to separate the wheat from the chaff. The angels are the harvesters; we are not responsible for the harvest; we are the seed. The carriers of the gospel. Trying to come up with something "helpful" to do misses the entire point of the passage. We are to trust the lord, and wait patiently for him, both us and the angels. We carry the gospel; we don't tend the field.

How does this parable help (or not help) to understand the problem of evil in the world?

It's an interesting story in this context, because it counters a strictly Reformed view of the soverignty of God. [4] Here, Christ identifies the source of the weeds as the work of "an enemy," the devil. I tend to go to Romans 8, believing that "what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later." [5] But further than that, this passage teaches that the weeds are allowed to persist to maximize the ultimate glory of God. Peter taught that the work that God is doing through Christ and the holy spirit is so great that even the angels marvel at it. [6]

How do you react when it comes to the idea of a final judgement? embarrassed, eager, denying or something else? Why do you react that way?

I think it's easy to shy away from the idea of a final judgment because we're used to imperfect judges; but if we have faith in God through Christ we can trust that the final judgment will be wholly just, wholly gracious, wholly merciful, and wholly good. Where we run into trouble is where we start trying to put ourselves in God's place, being judges now of the future children of God. But, again, we are not the judge, nor the harvester, but the seed. We should not be jealous because of his kindness to others. [7]

What does this passage make you think you should do or change about your own following of Jesus?

Clearly I have conformed the meaning of this message to my own pre-existing understanding of the scripture; so at least in this instance I have received mostly an exhortation to patiently wait on God, to conform my life to Christ, and to be a branch that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [8] I don’t mean to say that I perfectly (or even reliably) embody the spirit in this way; but this is where I am facing, and where--by Christ's grace--I am being led. [9]

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Weeds
[2] Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
[3] Psalm 27
[4] Sovereignty of God in Christianity (Wikipedia)
[5] Romans 8:18-30
[6] 1 Peter 1:10-12
[7] Matthew 20:1-16
[8] Galatians 5:19-23
[9] Philippians 3:1-14

The Kingdom Undergound: The Sower

A response to the "small group questions" for the 10 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel of Matthew [2]

One commentator has noted that how you understand this parable depends on how it is "branded." What is emphasized and what new point gets made if you call it:

(I wish the sermon notes included a citation for the "one commentator.")

The parable of the Sower?

I have heard this parable taught before with the speaker identifying with (and encouraging the audience to identify with) the sower. That is, I've heard it as an exhortation to evangelism. Sometimes this perspective is taken as an encouragement to share the gospel irrespective of how it is received; but I've also heard it used as a a point of pride, where the evangelist uses the classification of soil as a taxonomy for placing themselves over others as better soil.

I think this is very much missing the point. First, it is important that we recognize that Christ is the sower, not us; and while we are called to proclaim the gospel as Christ did, our calling as a servant in Christ's field is by the grace of God; not by works. It is not a source of pride, but thanksgiving. [3]

The parable of the Soils?

I personally probably think of this parable more in terms of the soils, as it is the soils where there is variability. With the example of the path; the shallow ground; the thorny ground; and the fertile soil, we are called to think about how the word of God enters our own lives. Are we worn and beaten, unwilling to receive God? Are we quick to respond, but unwilling to allow him into our hearts? Have we allowed other things--idols--to grow in our lives that leave no room for him? Or are we soft, pliable, and willing to allow the word to take root in our lives, filling us with new life?

But even here I have seen pride, when I have been taught this passage in the past. I've seen proclaiming Christians hold themselves superior over lesser soils. But I would caution: a soil that was once fertile can become hard. It can accept weeds and thorns that choke out the Spirit from year to year. The parable of the soils is an exhortation to each who hears it; not a law used to condemn each other.

The parable of the Harvest?

I'm less familiar with this particular perspective, though I believe it was part of the emphasis in the sermon. The idea is to consider not only the viability of the seed in each soil, but the overwhelming bounty (thirty, sixty, even a hundred times as much as had been planted!) that comes from the effective seed. I think this perspective plays well with a more encouraging and useful perspective on the sower as Christian evangelist, that we should not be discouraged when the word is not received. Seed lost on the inviable soil is nothing compared to the fruit of the successful seed. [4]

The parable of the Seed?

Through all of this I've assumed the interpretation that the seed is the gospel. The good news of Christ come to save all through his sacrifice. Immanuel. The spirit of God that lives in us. [5] Not that I have any other way to interpret this; but it's worth pointing out.

With this, the branding of the parable as of the seed is, to me, only a slight variation of the harvest: together, we see the gift of God, given to all, and effective in some.

In a culture focused on things like organizational efficiency, what bothers you or looks wasteful about your church?

I actually feel pretty good about the stewardship of our church at First Presbyterian of Boulder. I don't see any oppulence that isn't used to make the church a more effective expression of God's love for the world; a home for any who would sojourn with us or join us as brothers of Christ and children of God.

Not to say that there isn't any such waste; but our church is characterized in my eyes by a spirit of generosity reflective of Christ, at least corporately, serving as an inspirational example for us individually.

What harvest are you most interested in seeing through the scattering of God’s Word? What person, circumstance, or community are you most eager to see grow?

The population of Boulder has changed a lot in the last ten years or so, shifting the oppulent population from one that assumes some (if shallow) relationship with the Church to one that has rejected Christ, often due to our misrepresentation of him. While First Pres has continued to show commitment to the poor of means, I would like to see First Pres rededicate us to reaching the poor in spirit who have more recently come to call Boulder their home.

What about the soil of your own life needs to be emended to yield a different health? What can you pursue in this season of Lent that may create deeper and healthier roots for God’s Word?

Andi and I are currently in a season of patience [6], having seen the ineffectiveness of our impatience in our parenting. I've been reflecting on this same movement in my own heart in the last several posts: that I am often impatient with brothers and sisters who have forgotten the gospel or are perverting it to justify an anti-Christian heart. [7] I pray that the Lord will keep my heart soft, that his word will remain rooted in me, and that my spirit will be his.

[1] The Kingdom Undergound: The Sower
[2] Matthew 13:1-9
[3] Ephesians 2:8-9
[4] Romans 8:18-19
[5] John 14:16-17
[6] How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger
[7] 1 Timothy 1:5-7,19

WELLSPRING: Legacy

A response to the "small group questions" for the 3 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

What is a family 'mantra' or constant piece of advice you received from your parents?

I have struggled to answer this question all week. The fact is that nothing specific comes to mind. That isn't to say that I don't think I learned anything from my parents; but I tend to think of my parents as teaching through the example of their life more than specific moral instruction that could be condensed to a mantra.

I wasn't satisfied with that answer, though; maybe I just didn't pay attention? So I took the question as an encouragement to reach out to my siblings and find out about their memories of the experience. So far, they've said basically the same thing.

I've Thought a lot about how a father should teach a son, and it's given me renewed appreciation for the example that my father set for me. But I do think my father struggled to provide actual instruction, in a lot of ways.

My mind goes to when I first tried to learn C. I came home with an absurdly thick instructional text on the language; but his first reaction was something along the lines of, "You know, it's going to be a lot harder to do GUI programming with C than you're used to with Visual Basic. You know that, right?"

It might be a strange association, but I relate it to how he approached our relationship. I always wanted to be like my dad: he had my "when I grow up I want to be a computer programmer" school paper hanging in his office basically forever. But I remember him saying, way back when I was so young, "One day you won't like me like you do right now, and we won't be able to be friends." He always struggled with the idea of being friends with your children, and it always frustrated me.

Looking back on it this week, I think Dad was always trying to look into the future for potential trouble, and to prepare for it. I think he was trying to prepare me for what he saw as likely frustration if I didn't expect hard work learning a new, lower-level programming language. I think he was preparing himself for the sadness he expected to feel during teenage rebellion. And I think he was preparing us both for the difficult responsibility of being a parent when you're not getting along with your son. All of this is good--the only trouble was treating these potential future problems as inevitable, sometimes to the extent of self-fulfillment.

Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.

[...]

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly. The various divisions of priests and Levites will serve in the Temple of God. Others with skills of every kind will volunteer, and the officials and the entire nation are at your command.

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the first book of Chronicles [2]

What pieces of legacy advice can you pull out of this passage? How are these connected to a life of generosity and stewardship?

God makes himself available to those who seek him; and he who knows you intimately.

But beyond that (and maybe even including it) this seems a pretty personal exhortation from David to his son. I'm loathe to read any further into it or to generalize the message, particularly as it relates to our relationship with the son and the spirit.

As for how it relates to a life of generosity and stewardship, I find this connection somewhat tenuous. We are expected to respond to the call the God has placed on our life; and, for Solomon, that was (among other things) to build the temple. He is to take it seriously and do it well; but much of the work is simply to trust God that it will be guided by his will.

What do you hope to pass on to the family line that will grow up hearing stories about you?

Be a little bit better than your father, and raise your children to be a little bit better than you are.

David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly:

“O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, may you be praised forever and ever! Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.

“O Lord our God, even this material we have gathered to build a Temple to honor your holy name comes from you! It all belongs to you! I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there. You know I have done all this with good motives, and I have watched your people offer their gifts willingly and joyously.

“O Lord, the God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make your people always want to obey you. See to it that their love for you never changes. Give my son Solomon the wholehearted desire to obey all your commands, laws, and decrees, and to do everything necessary to build this Temple, for which I have made these preparations.”

Then David said to the whole assembly, “Give praise to the Lord your God!” And the entire assembly praised the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and they bowed low and knelt before the Lord and the king.

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the first book of Chronicles [3]

What stands out to you about this long prayer? As you study it, what do you notice about its structure that could also be your prayer practice?

There are striking similarities, in my eyes, to the model prayer Christ gave his disciples.

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Sometimes, when I don't know how to pray, I think about this prayer. I don't recite it; but I think about its structure. The order and priority it presents. And I try to meditate on what my priorities should be in prayer, and what from my life hangs on this structure.

David's prayer is similar. It praises God, and acknowledges his kingdom. It acknowledges that everything we have we get from him. It acknowledges our obligation to give back from what has been given to us. And it asks for leadership from God, and that the people be made to follow him.

Generosity sows eternal benefit with temporary assets. Share some part of your life where you are invested and pleased with what will likely happen after you die.

I get where this question is coming from; but frankly this is not my concern. My role is to be in relationship with and respond to God. Part of this is to be in relationship with and respond to the people around me as well, and to live that relationship as a reflection of the model that God has provided for me; but if I let myself be concerned with the effects that my presumed obedience will have on the world around me, I am taking credit for the work of the spirit, and thinking more highly of myself than I ought. This is not to say that I never do; but I'm uncomfortable holding up this behavior as exemplary here.

[1] WELLSPRING: Legacy
[2] 1 Chronicles 28:9-10; 20-21
[3] 1 Chronicles 29:10-20

WELLSPRING: Stats

A response to the "small group questions" for the 24 February 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the Gospel of Luke [2]

What is a detail or insight you notice that you’d like to explore more fully?

I don't know. I feel blessed to have the life that I have, and the means that I have, and the possessions that I have; but I carry no pretense that any of it is because of how great I am. The life I have seems so improbable to me that I can only credit it to God.

I am sometimes anxious about my possessions; but it's not about amassing wealth. My anxiety is more about my ability to provide for my family. For my wife and children. That they will have a home, and food, and health. With that, my philosophical and theological focus falls more on Christ's teaching in Matthew 6.

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.”

So with the theology out of the way, my attention in this passage from Luke is drawn more to Christ's refusal to serve as judge between the brothers. It makes me wonder what would have happened if the someone had said, "Teacher, our Father has appointed you judge over us; and we submit ourselves willingly to your judgement. What you say, we will do."

How do you understand the warning in v.15, ‘watch out’?

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

How might that warning still apply to our community? And to you personally?

While I don't look at my own possessions and feel a sense of self-worth from them, I do admit that I look at others who appear to have more than I do and feel inadequate. I must fight against this kind of comparison, and rejoice in the blessings others have been given as much as I thank God for mine.

To the same extent, while I do value the work that I do, I must not let the pursuit of wealth take priority over the commandment to love God and my neighbor [3]. I have been presented with that choice to almost comedic effect in the past, and I believe that I have chosen well. I hope (and pray) that this continues; but that if I loose sight

It seems like there is much wise about the man’s planning and business sense in vv.16–18. Where has he gone wrong?

Eric made a big deal about this perspective in his sermon, and it speaks to his perception of his audience. Boulder has a reputation for a certain success-driven priority; but I think it's misguided to consider the man's actions wise. I compare this to the parable of the three servants (or the parable of the talents).

“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.’”

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the Gospel of Matthew [4]

The "rich fool" doesn't consider his wealth a blessing that he has been entrusted with; but the work of his own hands, to be treasured and experienced all for himself. Even so, it's no different from the servant with the one bag of silver. Both fail to be proper stewards of what they have been entrusted with.

What does Jesus’ conclusion mean, to be rich toward God? What step needs to happen in your heart and life this week?

Translation divergence answers this question with a certain presupposition, that "to be rich towards God" is to have "a rich relationship with God." But I like the somewhat awkward use of the word "toward" as seen in the ESV, the NASB, and even the NIV. To me it places the focus on direction and on orientation, rather than possession. To be rich towards God is not even to possess the things of God: only to prioritize and value the path and direction that God has laid for you, and that leading to him.

[1] WELLSPRING: Stats
[2] Luke 12:13-21
[3] Matthew 22:36-40
[4] Matthew 25:14-30

WELLSPRING: Generosity in Relationships

A response to the "small group questions" for the 17 February 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you...

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the Epistle to Philemon [2]

What new insights did you gain from our study on the book of Philemon?

I was reading a commentary on Philemon [3] in my study tonight:

If the New Testament were simply a book of doctrinal teaching, this Epistle would certainly be out of place in it; and if the great purpose of revelation were to supply material for creeds, it would be hard to see what value could be attached to a simple, short letter, from which no contribution to theological doctrine or ecclesiastical order can be extracted. But if we do not turn to it for discoveries of truth, we can find in it very beautiful illustrations of Christianity at work.

Recently I've been trying to be more intentional about the way I profess my faith; not just to nonbelievers, but to professing Christians in my community. It's no secret that I have been forcefully frustrated and often discouraged by the discongruity between the teachings I was raised with and the behavior that I see from many that I once considered elders. In previous meditations I have reflected on the tone and heart with which I've approached such conversations, and purposed to be more charitable--in a sense, more generous--in such conversations.

Here, Paul (at least, as presented in our message today) presents an example of how better to exhort Christian behavior among believers. In a sense, it comes off to me as passive-aggressive: a tact that I very much try to avoid. However here, where presumably Paul is being genuine when he calls Philemon "beloved" whose "love has given me much joy and comfort." It speaks to a point made in the sermon: Paul is generous with his assumptions. He expects Philemon to act rightly, even if he is, it seems, guiding Philemon to do so.

I have much to learn from this.

This weekend, we explored four examples of what generosity looks like in the context of relationships: be generous with your words (v4-7) be generous with your time (v10); be generous with your resources (v18-19); and be generous with your assumptions (v21). What would you add to this list?

I hesitate to call the list complete; but I also don't have anything to add. I very much appreciate this insight into various aspects of generosity in our relationships with others (particularly as it relates to our relationships with fellow Christians); and I further appreciate that, during the message, these examples were called out with specific reference to passages in Philemon. (I have added these references in line with the questions.)

Considering the four examples listed above: in which area would you say you are the strongest?

I always struggle with self assessment, particularly when it comes to my strengths. I find that it is often when I think I am strong that I find my greatest weakness; because where I think I am strong, there I am overconfident [4].

But if I were to rank my strength in these four examples of generosity, I would at least put generosity of time and resources above words and assumptions. I would like to think that I prioritize time with others above most other concerns, even if I fail to seek or arrange it myself. And then, whenever I have been asked to help in some physical way, I believe that I have always been willing to share what we have, even if I am sometimes anxious beforehand (and I hope that this anxiety has never prevented anyone from asking for help). We have been blessed to embarrassment, and I have no pretense that what we have is the result of my hand, but God's in our lives. I only worry about my ability to discern between being generous and thinking of myself more highly than I ought.

Which one represents your greatest opportunity for growth?

If time and resources represent my strengths of generosity, than words and assumptions represent my weaknesses. If not my immediate assumptions, I am often quick to write-off the intent and heart of people who have disappointed me; and while I generally consider it a value that I am direct and honest with the people around me, I often loose sight of how my words will be received. At the very least, I should spend more time in prayer over what I will say, particularly if I pretend to look to the Epistles as my example.

Daniel, in his message this morning, exhorted us to "be liberal in our praise and conservative in our criticism." I relate this to the "robustness principle":

Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.

Jon Postel, regarding the implementation of TCP

While I do try to be liberal in my praise, I often use this as an excuse to be equally liberal in my criticism; but I see value in trying to ensure that the one is more prevalent than the other.

What one relationship in your life could really benefit from some extravagant generosity at the moment?

I'll refrain from calling out any specific person here; though I will not pretend that the Spirit has not brought people to my heart.

I will, however, change context and admit that these principles of generosity--or lack thereof--apply to my relationship with Andi as well; and even my children, to a certain extent. Andi and I both often fail to be generous with our assumptions of each other; and I also often fail to be generous with my words, particularly failing to ensure that my praise outweighs my criticism.

What is one thing you will do this week to be more generous in that relationship?

I am often a critical person, and I mean this in the strict sense that I view the world through a lens of what could be made better about it. In my relationships at home, and particularly with Andi, I will endeavor to use my habit of criticism to prompt me to look for more charitable interpretations of what I experience, and to be more generous with the words I use, hopefully through prayer and the leadership of the Spirit.

[1] WELLSPRING: Generosity in Relationships
[2] Philemon
[3] MacLaren Expositions Of Holy Scripture, Philemon
[4] 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

WELLSPRING: Intent

A response to the "small group questions" for the 10 February 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.

So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept.Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the book of Genesis [2]

What can you recall about the life of Joseph that may have led to a life of more generosity? Or perhaps less generosity?

I don't really accept the premise of the question. Joseph's generous spirit wasn't the result of life circumstance outside of his control; but his response was an act of faith irrespective of his life or circumstance.

When Joseph says "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good." he is declaring his faith in God's plan for his life. It is faith in God's character as shared by Jeremiah:

"I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." [3]

Faith in God is not a response to blessings in our life, nor is it in spite of trouble. As it was for Joseph, faith is the source of perspective. It is faith that led Joseph to see his circumstance as the work of God, and for good; not the serendipity of the end result.

What are the circumstances in your past that may be negatively effecting a life of generosity in the present?

From the literal intent of the question, there are none. I am blessed beyond reason, and have tried to live generously.

If there is a tangential critique for me here, however, it may be that I have become more hardened, less charitable, and (from a certain perspective) less generous with those who, thought I once saw them as mentors in the faith, have fallen short of our outright rejected the teaching that I received from them.

How does Joseph overcome his own circumstances, and what are the lessons he has learned the we meet be able to apply to our own situation?

Joseph did not so much overcome his own circumstances as he remained faithful to God, and God used Joseph for his own purposes. By God's grace Joseph was saved through faith, and so are we. [4]

If we did apply those lessons to your own situation, how would it alter your generosity and sense of abundant living?

It's difficult to express without seeming to think of myself more highly than I ought; so I will say that I should try to live more often by Romans 14:1-23 than by Luke 11:37-54.

We suggested three things from Joseph's life that may help our own generosity regardless of circumstance (careful stewardship, extra-ordinary service, and bountiful grace). Where do you already exhibit these things, and where do you need to take a deepening step?

I will abstain from puffing myself up by congratulating myself for success; but I will simply say that my stewardship is pretentious to care but often ultimately lazy; my service is ordinary, but I generally accept that as my calling, at least for right now; and I will, as I said before, be trying to be more gracious than I sometimes become.

[1] WELLSPRING: Intent
[2] Genesis 50:15-21
[3] Jeremiah 29:11
[4] Ephesians 2:8-9