How Things Happen

burst=fireworks

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 

*

ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

Worship is All that Really Matters

Art by Lynda Finch

He leads us in His dance, Lynda Finch

“Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them.” 

Mark 2:19

This whole idea of celebrating is often at odds with religious sensibilities.  “Too much liberty and too much freedom, and not enough control.  People won’t know how to behave, and it’ll ruin everything.” This argument has been used for generations, and will continue to perpetuate itself.

People just don’t know what to do when the presence of Jesus becomes activated in their midst.

There is a wedding!  Like all weddings this alters the present status-quo.  “We interrupt life for this special announcement– JESUS is getting married!”  He has attached Himself to a bride, she is simple, and yet beautiful.  Room is made for the outcasts and mentally ill. For she is the Church, made up of rascals and ragamuffins who have had their many sins forgiven! All are invited.

We are limited our religious duty of fasting.  It is definitely not appropriate in the light of this good news.  Simply put, we cannot advance our religious reputation in this new environment. It’s not about us at all!  Joy has taken over, and we can do nothing but stand in wonder. Jesus Christ has become “all, and in all”.

To follow Jesus must mean we are people of joy and celebration!  The old concepts of religious effort are nullified, plain and simple.  It really isn’t required, but it is understood that we will rejoice.  We will begin to party!

Joy is to infuse our understanding, and it will lift us to the place where life becomes infected with the contagion of heaven.  It is an epidemic spreading to every believer. The Universe has become the stage when worship is the only solution to the history of man.

His Presence has tipped the scales, and He has formulated Himself as the center of the whole ‘kit and caboodle.’  A joyful romance is at the very essence of everything.  C.S. Lewis once said that “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

When it all comes down, we are transferred into the status of the amazed.  What has happened has caused us to take a breath, and step back in wonderment.  Jesus is the Revolution!  We are brought to the place where we belong, we are nothing more than  witnesses and participants in His exaltation.  We must rejoice in the joy of the Bridegroom!

 ybic, Bryan

cropped-christiangraffiti1-2

Hey! It’s Christmas Day!

“This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia,where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” But the promise of the Gospel is that it is always Christmas. To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.”

–Kevin Van Hoozer

Christmas can be a torment and tribulation for so many. I have no doubt it brings grief. Family, friends, finances– mixed liberally with heavy doses of materialism and manipulation will always bring us issues.  The music and decorations are mostly mere Novocaine (which doesn’t always work). Stress builds up. And we want none of that.

Being mentally or physically ill often accentuates these issues. I’m not sure why exactly, but suicide increases during this season. Perhaps the challenges Christmas brings just overwhelm a person who is struggling hard just to make it.

“Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.”  

–Lenora Mattingly Weber

As I think about Christmas, it is helpful for me to see it as a “mirror.” It is my reflection back to me. What we see, is who we are. If we have issues in our own life, the Season will just magnify them.  But this doesn’t mean its bad, far from it. There is always conflict, but this spiritual combat can bring us success. Some things must be fought for.

I’m convinced that in all of this, there is opportunity.  The chance to connect to “Christmas”. The very idea is quite strange.  But Christmas can be an exquisite treat.  It is made by mixing love and truth in generous portions. As we look hard for it, there is something that moves us to a place far beyond us. Grace makes us to stand and look, perhaps for the first time.

When we truly process this, we’ll find “Christmas”. And honestly, it is more than a holiday. For the Christian, it is special time. And yes, there will be times when it may be trying, but I cannot think Christmas has become a time of great joy and anticipation.

It won’t take much, maybe a little imagination on your part. But those things you do may ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives. Be kinder then you need to.

“The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world.”   

Anonymous

bry-signat (1)

Some Christmas Advice

Christmas is my most favorite time of the year.  I was raised in the northern part of Wisconsin, and my most valuable and tenderest recollections are my Christmases.  I was raised in a Norwegian Lutheran church (Lutefisk?!) Many memories flow from that; the cold, the snow and the tree and the presents.  I have been made a ‘rich’ man through all of these great memories.

I remember our annual Nativity play at Church. I remember the sticky, carmelly ‘popcorn ball’ each one of the kids would get from the church ladies aid.  I also remember a very bleak Christmas when there was no money to be had for presents. A local charity came through at the last minute with gifts. I was profoundly touched by all of this, and more. Even when it was bad, it was still good.

I have no real way of instilling any of this to you.  Each of us has what we have, and we must make it work.  But I do exhort you, go out of your way to touch the young hearts you have contact with.  Help them believe.  Make it easy for them to touch Christmas magic.  Let them leave your presence yearning for God’s presence in this day.

It won’t take much, maybe a little imagination on your part.  But those things you do may ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives.  Be kinder then you need to.  Do things that will impact them, even small things often carry an astonishingly strong influence.

You may be in the thick of it. You have “lost” the purpose and meaning of this day. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t permanent. But at least, try to do what you can.

ybic, Bryan

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

 

A Lutefisk History – Lutefisk Recipe (Lyefish) http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/LutefiskHistory.htm

When Faith Doesn’t Seem to Work

by Terry Powell

I am not a Christian because my faith “works” for me. Talk to a devout Mormon, Muslim, or Buddhist and he’ll extol the here-and-now benefits of his faith. He’ll cite a serenity of spirit, or a sense of order that believing brings to his life. Yet his belief system contradicts mine, so logically these various faiths cannot all be true!

If I were a Christian just because faith has utility for me, because my days are more likely to unfold in a smooth, trouble-free manner, I’d be a pragmatist, pure and simple. And I’d be prone to shuck my commitment to Christ the moment a different philosophy or religion appeared to offer me more.

Don’t get me wrong. Following Christ is not without rewards in the present. My faith often sustains me, provides perspective for decision-making, and injects happiness rooted in a biblical worldview.

But not all the time.

There’s the inevitable warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with. And in my case, either chronic depression or other weaknesses of temperament sometime get the best of me. I’ll keep praying for relief and I’ll strive for sound mental health, yet I don’t want to be among the growing number of Christians who expect God to give them on earth what He only promised for heaven.

From a theological perspective, I’m a Christian because God chose me and initiated a relationship with me (Eph. 2:1-10). From a human perspective, my faith is in Christ not because it works, but because I believe Christianity is true. And truth is objective reality, not a subjective experience. No matter how I feel, or how my day goes, truth doesn’t change. Truth just is. I wrote this poem to convey this point.

Nature of Truth

When all hope yields to despair

and I doubt that God is there;

when my heart is cold, unfeeling,

and my prayers bounce off the ceiling;

when depression takes its toll

and winter winds assault my soul;

when the race seems all uphill

and dying grows in its appeal;

when things don’t go as expected—

still, God’s Truth is unaffected.

In the long run, faith works in the sense that I’ll enjoy eternity with my Savior (thanks to His works, not mine). But being a Christian doesn’t shield me from affliction in the here and now. It does assure me of God’s compassion and healing presence: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Love, Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

I Love This House! Psalm 84:1-4

test1

 1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
2 I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
4 What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises.

 Psalm 84:1-4

There are some things that leave an indelible mark inside, deep on our souls.  For me, one instance I remember staying at Simpson College on Silver Ave. in San Francisco in June 1986.  The dorms were empty and I had a whole floor to myself.  The campus was gorgeous.  I found a little “mom and pop” corner market nearby which had a awesome deli. Here I could buy cold cuts, braunschweiger  and fresh sourdough bread.   I returned to my room to build my sandwich.  I remember the windows were open and a beautiful breeze was there.   Food, warm sun, flowers in bloom and the Holy Spirit are just about ready to intersect in my life.

It was simply a moment I captured and savored.  Everything seemed to coincide, it was magical in the best sense of the word.  It was beautiful, that is all I can say.  That time in that dorm room has become a crystalline moment that I will never forget.  Right there, it seemed I fell in love, not with a girl, but with a moment in time and place.

That nostalgia is thick on the shoulders of the writer of Psalm 84.  He remembers and savors the memories of his visit to the temple.  He was given something in that particular moment that  would haunt him for the rest of his life.  In his thinking, the beauty of the temple could never ever be the same again.  The beauty of that experience was inviolable and true and could never be duplicated.  But it was his, and he would never forget._ho2

God gives moments, wrapped in wonder and awe.  His presence is very likely the tipping point in these.  When He is present, a connecting link is made and we receive grace.  We will longingly look back on these moments when grace was so close.  The psalmist has the same hunger .  These moments in the temple which are so blessed have also ruined him.   Special times of God’s presence have resulted in a sanctified dissatisfaction with the present.

When we finally make our way to Jesus, life takes on a curious wonder.  When the rain finally comes to the barren desert, an explosion of life bursts out.  In the exact same way, our lives get very green and lush.  This is in contrast to our dry and desperate life without His presence.

I am hungry for His presence.  I want to be in the center of wherever He is at.  I admit that His grace and love has spoiled me.  But the love of Jesus does this.  Normal life seems to be in black & white, He turns it into a vibrant color.  The psalmist begs to be returned to the temple.  He wants to be there, more then anything.

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

Rembrandt’s Meditation on the Younger Son

Rembrandt-The_return_of_the_prodigal_son

Painting by Renbrandt, 1606-1669

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to  one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Three hundred and twenty-nine words– these describe the life of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. These 329 words reveal to us a God who forgives much, and loves easily; the Father loves far too much, way too easy— and far too extravagantly for human beings to understand. Perhaps we sort of expect that he will ‘appropriately’ punish his son— at least put him on probation at least. It only makes sense.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Many of us have lived in prodigality, some  of us for a very long time. We have spent our inheritance like ‘drunken sailors’ and have nothing at all to show for it. The prodigal, completely destitute, takes the only work he can find. (Imagine a good Jewish boy feeding hogs.) He is so far gone that he starts inspecting the slop pails for something to eat.

Many of us will understand his despair. But there comes this crystalline moment of amazing clarity. The prodigal—filthy and impoverished, has  a memory of the Father’s house. The servants there had far more than him. Sometimes in our captivity we instinctively want to go home, if only to be a slave.

The Father has dreamed of this moment. The parable says, “He saw him–felt compassion–ran out to him–embraced him–and kissed him.” In moments we see a swirl of servants who completely overwhelm an already overwhelmed son. I’ve read the Parable of the Prodigal Son a hundred times or more . It never loses its punch. I simply want to bring you for just a few moments back into its light. I expect that the Holy Spirit may have business with you. rembrandt-prodigal3 (1)

We see that his father receives him with a tender gesture. His hands seem to suggest mothering and fathering at once; the left appears larger and more masculine, set on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture. His head is downy, almost like a newborn’s. Standing at the right is the prodigal son’s older brother, who crosses his hands in stoic judgment; we read in the parable that he objects to the father’s compassion for the sinful son.

Rembrandt had painted the Prodigal once before, when he was considerable younger. And it is a very good painting. The prodigal is happy and gay; there is absolutely no indication of the consequences of sin. He is charming young man at a happy party. But Rembrandt chooses at the end of his life to re-paint it to reflect reality. This is one of the last paintings he will do, and it is the Prodigal Son–destitute and repenting. I can only imagine; the years have taken a toll and he doesn’t really feel his first painting is enough. He wants to paint what is true. He is painting us.

*

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg