A Surprise Reaction

By Rev. Dr. Emma Richardson

For just about all of us, regardless of who we are, what we do, or how we get it done, God puts special people in all our lives who make a real impact on us. Emma was just such a person for me. Emma served in full-time ministry for many years before I knew her. Prior to my arrival in Sweeny, Emma settled into retirement. She made a point to do what needed to begin but at the same time to help whoever was appointed there. She succeeded at that. She was particularly important to my recent book, Average Joe: with an Extraordinary Story. She and Paul Woodworth inspired me with the idea of using the Biblical characters. I am grateful to both of them. Dr. Emma is an ordained deacon and a member of the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She most recently served at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa Oklahoma.

“ While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after
blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’. Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you;’ for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in my Father’s kingdom’.”
(Matthew 26: 26-30, New Revised Standard Version)

I had looked forward with great anticipation to this event and I was
disappointed!

Some background, I am a Deacon (Retired) in the United Methodist Church. For over 50 years the sacrament of Holy Communion has been very special to me. Whether I was assisting in serving or participating as a member of the congregation, the service of Holy Communion always was a high and holy moment for me. It is an instrument of God’s grace to be shared with other members of the Beloved Community. (I don’t mean to start a theological discussion about the meaning of the sacrament, just sharing an experience)

Now, back to my beginning declaration. Due to several health problems, I have not been able to attend worship services for several months. My local church celebrates Holy Communion on the first Sunday of each month and on other special days such as Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday. I had missed both of those this time—first time I can remember missing both in succession.

The Pastor and the Worship chair had brought the sacrament to my home once during this time and I was very grateful. But I had missed 4 or 5 months at that time.

I was almost healthy enough to go to worship services then along came the
COVID 19 virus and my church, like almost all congregations were not going to meet in our church building. So, like many of you, Holy Communion was offered aspart of our virtual worship service on the first Sunday of the month.

The first time, my sister and brother-in-law joined me at my home and we took Communion together.

Then, the second time, I was alone. I had prepared an altar with a cross and a tray with bread and juice. At the appropriate time, I removed the white cloth from the tray, broke the bread and whispered “the body of our Lord, broken for me.” Then I took the juice, gave thanks and whispered “the blood of our Lord poured out for me and for many”. I replaced the cloth, said a brief prayer of thanksgiving and joined in the closing with the rest of our virtual congregation.

Then, it hit me! I did not feel renewed and refreshed in my soul as I usually did after receiving the Elements. I really felt sad. It was a strange feeling, all that afternoon, I would wonder “why?” The next day I realized this was the first time I had been alone, by myself, not another person near me. I missed my community of faith! I missed looking into the eyes of one as I served them or smiling at others as I returned to my seat. I missed seeing the looks of gratitude, of wonder, of knowing the blessing of these sacred moments I shared with other members of the Beloved Community.

I have reflected on this experience quite a bit and know the empty feeling comes from me and not from any lacking of the sacrament.

Since then I have observed Holy Communion again in my home and alone. Butmthe feeling was different. I was prepared for the absence of other believers and read again the names of the members who were participating with me that day (through the magic of Facebook).

I am very grateful for the times of worship I have experienced in this “closed down” time and look forward to the time we can be together as a congregation. Until then, I know with all of my heart and soul, the Church is not a building, the Church is the people of God and together or apart God is with us in all things.

Thanks be to God.

Be Blessed this Day.
Rev. Dr. Emma Richardson

The Owl

By Lisa Price

I introduced Lisa Price last week. I had asked her and her husband Rev. John Price to provide a post and they agreed. Well, John had cataract surgery about the same time I asked that the guest posts be in and he didn’t feel up to writing something so Lisa decided to send me two and I am grateful. I pray you enjoy Lisa’s story of an owl.

I cry out: “Violence!” but get no response;
I call for help, but there is no justice.
He has blocked my way so that I cannot pass through;
He has veiled my paths with darkness.
He has stripped me of my honor
and removed the crown from my head.
10 He tears me down on every side so that I am ruined.
He uproots my hope like a tree.
11 His anger burns against me,
and He regards me as one of His enemies.
12 His troops advance together;
they construct a ramp against me
and camp around my tent.

13 He has removed my brothers from me;
my acquaintances have abandoned me.
14 My relatives stop coming by,
and my close friends have forgotten me.
15 My house guests and female servants regard me as a stranger;
I am a foreigner in their sight.
16 I call for my servant, but he does not answer,
even if I beg him with my own mouth.
17 My breath is offensive to my wife,
and my own family finds me repulsive.
18 Even young boys scorn me.
When I stand up, they mock me.
19 All of my best friends despise me,
and those I love have turned against me.
20 My skin and my flesh cling to my bones;
I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.

21 Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy,
for God’s hand has struck me.
22 Why do you persecute me as God does?
Will you never get enough of my flesh? (Job 19:7-22, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him.

Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. (John 8:3-11 Holman Christian Standard Bible)

From the back porch it looked like a large, crumpled sack or a mass of dried underbrush.  But it hadn’t been there before on the wide expanse of otherwise green lawn.  I thought perhaps the wind had blown something out of the nearby tree-line or from a neighbor’s trashcan.  As I continued to sip my first cup of coffee and rock in my old wooden rocker, the sun rose higher in the sky, and I noticed a slight movement where the mysterious lump was.  Again, I blamed the wind, and continued in my early-morning reverie.  But as my vision scanned across the empty lot once more, I realized that whatever it was, it was alive.

Not prone to much movement until after my second cup of coffee, I sat awhile longer until my curiosity got the best of me.  I walked gingerly on bare feet toward the thing, not wishing to startle it, whatever it was.  As I got closer, I realized it was some type of bird, and it didn’t fly away as I expected.  I took a few more careful, slow steps in its direction, and it eyed me cautiously, but held its ground.  Finally, as we stared eye-to-eye, I realized I was facing off with a brown barn owl who had seen better days.  His face looked wet, his feathers scraggly, and he peered at me through squinty eyes that were very un-owl-like.  The poor thing looked as if the last thing he wanted was a big human hovering over him, but he seemed powerless to fly away.  

After a few minutes of silent communing, I went back into the house to finish my morning routine.  Periodically, I looked out the back windows, and my new friend still sat right where he had been.  Awhile later, I returned to the porch and was startled to see several mockingbirds dive-bombing the poor owl.  They would fly back and forth over his head, swooping down time and again to peck at him and generally terrorize him.  Even the squirrels joined in, chattering loudly from their perch on a nearby limb.

I walked toward the scene of the hazing, hoping that the taunters would leave.  Thankfully, they did, and just my friend and I were left.  He looked at me warily, and I wondered if he expected me to mock him as the others had.  After a few moments, he flew several feet away from me toward the tree-line, barely clearing the tops of the weeds.  Thinking I was missing a good photo op, I went inside to get my camera.  When I returned, the owl was gone, and I feared that one of the other critters from the underbrush had carried him off.  But I sneaked a little closer and saw his owl eyes gazing out from about three feet above the ground in a small tree.  I hoped that my presence had somehow helped him gather up his strength to fly out of harm’s way.

Job had a problem just like my owl friend.  He was having more than just a bad day.  His possessions were taken from him, his family was gone, his health was a disaster.  And his so-called friends came to him under the guise of helping him see his sin.  Just like the mockingbirds swooping and pecking at the owl, Job’s friends came to him, not with compassion and love, but with accusations and blame.  

Those who are in distressing situations such as the jobless, the homeless, the depressed, the AIDs patient, the recently divorced—they are the Jobs of today.  Will we taunt them, shun them, or smugly give a token bit of help?  Will we kick them while they’re down?

When my owl friend was in trouble, all I did was come to his side and stand there in silence.  A quiet, compassionate presence is sometimes all a person needs in order to draw on the strength which the Lord provides.  The Gospel of John tells of a woman caught in the act of adultery.  Her accusers wanted Jesus to join with them in condemning the woman, but He refused to either condemn or defend her.  Instead, He provided a quiet, comforting presence until the accusers shamedly slipped away, and the woman was ready to come to Him for strength and redemption.

Today’s Challenge:  Look for the downtrodden, the forgotten, the grief-stricken, the hopeless.  Don’t worry about what to say; just being there will speak volumes.  Embody Christ’s loving  presence today! 

It’s About Grace

20 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion,[a] he sent them into his vineyard.

“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, New International Version).

A story is told about Fiorello La Guardia, who, as mayor of New York during the Great Depression and World War II, who many New Yorkers called “the Little Flower.” He stood five foot four and always wore a carnation. He was a colorful character who rode city fire trucks, raided speakeasies with the police, take orphanages to baseball games, and when New York newspapers were on strike, he went on radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One cold night in January of 1935, he turned up at the night court serving the poorest people in the city. La Guardia dismissed the judge took over the bench himself.

It wasn’t long before an old woman appeared, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told La Guardia her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor.” The man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach people around there a lesson.”

La Guardia sighed, Turned to the woman saying, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail.” He wasn’t finished. He reached into his pocket and pulling out a bill, tossed it into his hat saying, “I remit the ten dollar fine; and furthermore I fine everyone here fifty cents for living in a town where a person steals bread to feed her grandchildren. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day the newspapers reported $47.50 was turned over to an old lady who stole bread to feed her grandchildren, fifty cents contributed by the grocery store owner, while seventy petty criminals, traffic offenders, and policemen, having paid fifty cents to do so, applauded the mayor.

Here is my question for you. Did the elderly lady in the story get what she deserved? Clearly the answer is, of course not. She had stolen a loaf of bread. Yes, she may have had good reason, but stealing is stealing and regardless of the reason, punishment would seem to be the order of the day.

There’s a word for what La Guardia did, grace. Grace is when one in power shows mercy to less powerful people. The mayor, rather than demanding punishment, paid the fine and helped her with the collection of the fifty-cent fines she received. It was more than she deserved. It was grace.

Our lesson is about that too. The lesson is the wonderful story of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired early, telling them that he would pay them the usual daily wage. He found more workers to hire, telling them he would pay them what was right.

At sunset it was time to pay the workers. He began with the last hired, paying the usual daily wage. Those working all day got really excited. Surely they would get more for all day.

The excitement didn’t last. Ill feelings arose when they got paid the same working all day as those only working an hour.

He heard grumbling and explained he was fair. He paid what was promised. Couldn’t he pay everyone whatever they wanted with his money?

The landowner didn’t live in our time. He also didn’t seem to know much about business. When he next hired help none would until the last hour.

The landowner did know grace. Workers at the end of the day didn’t get what they deserved they got mercy. That is grace.

In the parable the landowner is God, we are the workers, and the pay is the kingdom. Studying this parable, we see, it’s about grace.

First, the parable says grace is received, not deserved. We all should know we do not deserve grace. Nothing we do will leave us deserving grace. All we can do is receive the gift God offers.

David Seamands ends his book Healing Grace with this story. For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs exercised power in Europe. When Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died in 1916, his was the last extravagant imperial funeral. Dignitaries escorted the casket, draped in the black and gold. A military band played dirges and by torches light, as the party descended the stairs of the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna. At the bottom an iron door lead to the Hapsburg family crypt. There was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.

An officer followed the ceremony. “Open!” he cried. “Who goes there?” responded the Cardinal. “We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria…” the officer listed the Emperor’s 37 titles.

“We know him not,” replied the Cardinal. “Who goes there?” The officer spoke again, this time using a less ostentatious title. “We know him not,” the Cardinal said again. “Who goes there?” The officer tried a third time, using the humblest title: “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like us all!” The doors swung open, and Franz-Josef was admitted.

Whoever we are, whatever our titles, how much we have, it can’t open God’s grace, given freely, left for us the undeserving.

Second, God’s grace is about mercy, not fairness. Fair would be to pay the later workers less than those working longer. That would be fair. Grace isn’t fair. It is merciful. God loves us and gives us more than we deserve.

Christian financial consultant Larry Burkett tells in Business by the Book about going the extra mile, beyond fairness. In 1984 he leased an office that was a nightmare. The foundation was faulty and was singing several inches a year. After more than three years of problems, including power failures and weeks without water, Burkett moved his business.

Soon the former landlord called demanding Burkett remodel and repaint his former office space. Burkett said no. He had already been more than fair with the landlord. The demands continued. Burkett got an attorney who agreed Burkett fulfilled his responsibility and need not do anything more.

Burkett saud his son offered him different counsel reminding Burkett of the landlord’s family, who had lost their only child a few years before. The still suffered. Burkett had commented he would wanted to help them. The son said this was an opportunity to do more than what was fair, but merciful. Burkett considered and agreed. He spent several thousand dollars to restoring a virtually unusable building. That goes past fair, to merciful. It is what grace is about.

Third, God’s grace is for the last and the first. It’s easy to say we deserve more. We’ve been faithful. God doesn’t work that way. God wants a relationship with all of us, those hired early and those who worked an hour. That is Grace.

A woman was abused by her father when she was a small child. She grew up, overcame the damage, became a Christian, then married. Years later, her children grown, she received a letter from her father saying he was a Christian and asked God for forgiveness. He realized he had sinned against her and wrote asking her to forgive.

Feelings surfaced. It wasn’t fair! He should pay. This was easy. Now he was part of God’s family! Her home church was killing the fatted calf and she was invited to the party! She was angry, hurt, resentful.

Then she had a dream. Her father stood on an empty stage. The hands of God held a white robe. She recognized it, she was wearing one. As the robe descended toward her father, she awoke crying , “It isn’t fair! What about me?”

She moved past it by realizing her earthly father was now like her, the same in God’s sight. Grace was his as it was hers. With that, she was able to forgive her father.

God’s grace is a free gift and available to all. It’s a free and more than we deserve. Grace is about mercy, not fairness. Grace is for the last and the first. Thankfully, it is about grace.

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

Opening Blind Eyes

by Keith Broyles

From time to time I get on writing.com. You can find different things to help with writing,com, including writing prompts and writing challenges and contests. But I always feel challenged there. Writing from the tags for the Though I have never won’t any of the few I seen there, I still enjoy doing it.

Today’s poem and future song lyrics began as a writing challenge on

Blind eyes fail to see creation’s slow death.
The stench of the air, leaves us without breath
Empty ears ignore the earth’s groans and cries
Still, God who made us, wipes tears from blind eyes

My Blind Eyes bring Empty Hearts
Empty Hearts bring Empty Souls
Empty Souls bring Empty lives
Empty lives bring More Blind eyes

God creates humans for more than we know.
Fun with no joy pulls us from where we grow.
Our hearts are empty, no strength from above
Empty hearts lack peace, Lord send us a dove.

My Blind Eyes bring Empty Hearts
Empty Hearts bring Empty Souls
Empty Souls bring Empty lives
Empty lives bring More Blind eyes

Empty hearts can’t see, God’s blessings for me
Empty souls cry out, yearning to be free.
The soul may be empty, the spirit dry,
God still loves us, let love show in our eyes.

My Blind Eyes bring Empty Hearts
Empty Hearts bring Empty Souls
Empty Souls bring Empty lives
Empty lives bring More Blind eyes

Let love’s light shine, in this dark world.
Let my blind eyes, be blind no more.
My eyes can see, the world alive.
In grace and love, God’s call with thrive.

No blind eyes mean loving hearts
loving hearts mean loving souls
loving souls mean loving lives
loving lives mean, love for You.

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Complaining to a Good God….

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:1-6, New International Version)

Rev. Alan Van Hooser has had an impact on my life that he may not even realized. I attended a pastor’s retreat, it had to have been at least ten years ago. Alan led a workshop on prayer beads. It wasn’t something I had ever done or really given much thought. Alan led a great session and it wasn’t long before I was making strings of beads and looking for more. My more was spiritual directors’ training and prayer ropes. I am pretty sure, if it was not for Alan Van Hooser I would not have those things and they have become important parts of my ministry and I am grateful to him for his work and ministry. I am also grateful that when I came to him again, Alan again agreed to help my ministry again as a guest post but you can also follow Alan’s own blog at thethoughtfulpastor.com Alan has served as pastor in several places including Cheatham Memorial UMC, in Edgewood, Texas. He currently serves as pastor at Friendship United Methodist in Porter, Texas.

God has been good to me.  There have been rough places made both of my own choices and things beyond my doing.  BUT, a faithful and loving God, who holds me in the name of Jesus Christ and lives in and through me with the Holy Spirit has used them all to my growth in faith. Yes, I have whined and that has not been fruitful.  There must be a more spirit led way to share my pain and disappointment with God.  Maybe you are there too.

We are in a crisis that has challenged the faith of many.  The rough places of isolation, loss and uncertainty have created a crisis of faith much larger than the threat of physical illness.  Yes, yes “All things work together for good” but what do we do in the meantime. Can we complain to God in our  anger, doubt and fear?  The short answer is yes.  The Bible is full of faithful whining called prayers of lament

Scripture has famous laments from the Psalmist, the Prophets and even Jesus.  (My God, why hast thou forsaken me!) Our God of grace has big shoulders and allows us to speak of negative things.  How does this work?  

Below is a teaching/learning element, a “formula” for a lament created in your own words.  This guideline is a help, a starter that forges faith from the depths of our pain and  grows our relationship with Christ.  How are you praying from your pain?  Try writing a prayer like this.

  1. Sit quietly and write your deepest pains. Just or unjust.  Put them in words and write a prayer in this way
  2. Address God in a personal way. (Example: Almighty, Father, Faithful God-whatever has meaning for you)
  1. Thank God for ALL things.  (Example: Lord you gave given me good, bad and ugly. Thank you for being able so see me through them all)
  2. Complain! (Example: I am all alone, my job is uncertain and I am losing hope)
  3. Confess your own sin ( I confess things done, undone, attitudes and letting fatigue look like doubt )
  4. Pray for HELP! ( I don’t know how to pray-HELP ME LORD. Pray Psalm 13 or other scripture with YOUR NAME in place of the “I’s” and “me’s”)
  5. Trust God. ( God, I am wounded-but even so I will trust you.  (Psalm 51:8)
  6. Finally, offer this lament as a praise (Psalm 51:8. “Let me be happy and joyful! You crushed my bones, now let them celebrate” )

Write this on a card, carry it, revise it, pray it until the “formula” is simply your honest response from your pain to our God. Watch your relationship bloom through the negative things in your day!

Lament and be healed, pray and be strengthened.  Let others  see your witness of faith in the rough places. By being stronger in your relationship with God, you create a healthier community. 

Peace be unto you! God is near.  (Many thanks to Smith and Schoenfeld in “Growing through Disaster” for the outline)

Seared Into My Memory

By Jerome Brimmage

I went to seminary with Jerome Brimmage. Jerome was a year ahead of me but we did have opportunities for conversation and fellowship. I can’t remember the churches in Jerome’s early career but in the more recent years he has served in Mineola Texas and Cypress Texas. He currently is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lufkin, Texas. Yes, we are neighbors these days.

It was the summer leading into my senior year of high school.  One of my good friends called and asked me to meet him in the park as he needed to talk. We had gotten to know each other over the previous six years. We had played baseball together, coached a little league team, and gone to school together. He took one of his college days to ride with me to Stephen F. Austin State University. He had no plans to go off to college, but he wanted out of school and he was willing to go with me to see what the future could hold. 

It was late at night on that hot summer night. I did not think twice about driving to the park in our small town. My friend and I pulled up in different cars and parked near a picnic table. We got out and sat on the bench and began to talk. To this day, I do not remember the conversation topic. What I do remember is the police officer that pulled up. He got out of his vehicle and began to aggressively interrogate my friend. He asked for his driver’s license; what was his purpose of being in the park so late; and more. I tried to explain that we were simply talking. The police officer did not want to hear from me and never asked me a question. 

I was nervous and not sure what to do or how to respond. I was taught to respect police officers and do as asked. When the officer discovered nothing out of the normal gab session was happening, he got in his police cruiser and departed. 

I looked at my friend and explained my nervousness. I said something about the way my friend was the one being interrogated. My friend said, “Jerome, this happens all the time in our world. We get stopped and questioned about stuff all the time.” 

You see, my friend was Hispanic. He and his family were U.S. citizens of Hispanic background. 

My friend says, “this happens all the time.” As if he was profiled. We were teens, and he knew racism and discrimination in ways that I didn’t know then and, frankly, have not experienced in my lifetime. 

If  (when) I get pulled over, it’s because I was speeding or something, I know I have done. I have not experienced interrogation for any reason or no reason at all. 

As the news came out about a police officer putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck until he died, I had a flashback to that hot summer night. How can it be? It has been nearly 40 years, and this seared memory of my friend in the park rises again. 

My friend was interrogated and not murdered. Yet, systemic racism is alive. That breaks my heart and I am sure it breaks the heart of God. 

As a pastor, at each baptism, I ask the Methodist liturgical questions: 

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your own sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Each person at their baptism or confirmation responds: “I do” to these questions. 

In the safety of the church, surrounded by the body of Christ that is there to support you, it is easy to say, “I do.” Yet, when the time comes, and we see again or perhaps for the first time the racism, do we recognize it as a spiritual force of wickedness? An evil power of this world?

God gives us the freedom and power to resist this evil, injustice, and oppression. The question is: will we exercise that power? 

Please note I do not believe all police officers are racist. I do not believe that all white people are racist. 

I do believe systemic racism is real and alive. This is not of God and not why Jesus was sent to redeem the people of this world.  

We are all children of God. Paul says it like this: 

26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now, if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

As people who are baptized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, I have the privilege to be made in the image of God. Paul says, “Now if you belong to Christ,… then indeed you are heirs of the promise.” This means we belong to one another. 

I will not lose hope! I believe God is still writing the story of faith and hope in this world. 

I will repent for my silence when I should have spoken up.

I will ask for forgiveness for no action when action was needed.

I will seek the face of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to help be the light of Christ in a dark and hurting world.

I believe, with God’s help, there are better days ahead. 

Come Holy Spirit Come!

Eating Together

 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. (1 Peter 4:9-9, The Living Bible)

Family and friends sitting at a dining table

A Guest Post by Rev. Greg Oberg

I first got to know Greg when we served together on a “Walk to Emmaus” around 2006 in the Houston Bay Area Emmaus community. We were serving in the same district. Greg was the associate pastor at Bay Harbor United Methodist Church in League City, Texas. I was serving at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in nearby Santa Fe, Texas. Greg moved on to Brazoria UMC in Brazoria, Texas. Around the same time (I don’t remember who moved first) I went to Freeport Texas. If my memory is right Greg was in Brazoria for four years and moved on to serve as campus minister at my alma mater, Sam Houston State University at Huntsville, Texas where he has done a great job for eight years. In my opinion, campus ministry is the most important ministry around.

One of the many things we have all sacrificed is the ability eat together with others beyond our immediate families. I really miss eating together with others. One of the many projects that I have been doing to stay busy is to sort through 17,000  pictures we have collected for the past 8 years of our campus ministry. I have been purging lots of redundancy, like instead of having 10 Halloween Group pictures, we’re just going to keep the best one and call it good. 

Something I have seen a lot of is us eating together well over the years. We have eaten well as a Wesley Foundation: Welcome Week food, Finals Food, Christmas ham, Super Bowl party burgers and hotdogs, Thanksgiving pot luck, going to Olive Garden for our End of Year Event, Board Game Nights at the parsonage, eating Chicken Express trays for Halloween party, and all the Wednesday night meals donated by churches and Sunday Schools. We have done a lot of eating together and that is beautiful. And we will have more of that starting August 19. One powerful element of our ministry has been eating together. 

Did you know that before Coronavirus hit, this was becoming tougher in our culture and our churches? Research has been showing us that families spend less time eating together than in previous decades. How well is your family eating together these days? Maybe better, maybe not. I have to admit, my family still doesn’t eat together every night and that’s OK, as long as there are nights in which we do. I have noticed that before Coronavirus hit, it was becoming more and more rare for people to invite others for dinner in their own homes. I have noticed a significant difference in churches that eat together and those that don’t. Do you know that most of our Methodist churches never actually eat together? Think about that. Several I have known do potlucks well. One church we connect with, Onalaska UMC, during the academic year they will eat together every week. Others will do it once a month. Others will do it on the 5th Sunday. And many never eat together at all. That’s another reason small churches love it when we do our baked potato fundraisers with them, we are helping them to eat together and feel closer together, and they didn’t have to make the meal that time. Everybody wins!

There’s something Biblical about eating together, and how that brings people together in intimate ways, no matter what the culture is, what the language is, what century they live in. There’s a lot of Bible verses about this. Eating together is all over the Old Testament and the New Testament. Here are just a handful of examples: 

Isaiah 25:6   6 In Jerusalem, the LORD Almighty will spread a wonderful feast for everyone around the world. It will be a delicious feast of good food, with clear, well-aged wine and choice beef. 

Luke 5:29-31  29 Soon Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests were there.  30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”  31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor– sick people do. 

Luke 22:19-20  19 Then he took a loaf of bread; and when he had thanked God for it, he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you– an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you. 

Romans 12:13   13 When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.

1 Peter 4:8-9   8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. 

Acts 2:46   46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity– 

I look forward to eating together with our students again. When we come roaring back in August, you can bet that food will play a key role at the very beginning, and continue playing a key role throughout our many more months and years of ministry.

I believe Jesus loves being present with us at our meals. After all, the Last Supper had more than Welch’s Grape Juice and Hawaiian sweet bread. It was a full meal. Yet, he used that moment to create an even greater kind of intimate moment, Holy Communion. That is something else I miss and look forward to experiencing again someday. 

May God bless your times with your families. I pray that your meals that you share with them would be beautiful, intimate moments, where Jesus is present at your kitchen table, you feel the love and warmth of each other, and that feeds your soul well as your tummies are also being fed well too. 

I pray that God would continue to do the same for our Wesley and our churches when we gather again to share our meals with great joy and generosity in different months of 2020. 

God is still God, God is still good, and we this epidemic lifestyle will be behind us in due time. Onward and upward my friends! 

The Virtues of a Child

Guest Post by Mrs. Cindy Martin-Foster

I have known Cindy Martin-Foster all my life. She is my cousin, a year older than I. She is an authority on children. She should be as she and her husband, Rev. Paul Martin have 8 children and ____ “grand little ones” as she calls them. They are residents of Jenks Oklahoma where Paul is the pastor of Jenks Baptist Temple.

Children have some special virtues that diminish with age.

I have never read the children’s classic novel Peter Panbut I have seen the movie, Hook. Itis loosely based on the story, and picks up later in Peter Pan’s life as a successful attorney with his wife and two children. 

In this movie rendition, Peter does not remember his childhood in Neverland and memories are not all he left behind.   As I remember the story goes something like this: Peter was an orphan.  He lived in Neverland with more orphans called ‘The Lost Boys’  who wished to never grow up.  Peter Pan was determined not to grow up either, but somehow, he did.  His grown up life became very complicated and this was attributed to the fact that he did ‘grow up’. 

Grown-ups change and not always in good ways. Growing up is inevitable, of course, but growing disenchanted and detached is not.  Peter’s particular way of ‘growing up‘ brought on a serious case of misplaced priorities which, in turn, almost cost him his family. 

That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up.

WALT DISNEY, attributed, The Quotable Walt Disney

But he grew up anyway.  He grew up and became a successful businessman which meant for one thing, he got really busy.  In fact, he got so busy that he had no time for anything else of importance.  Not even the most important of all.. his family. 

The ‘adult‘ Peter Pan became too busy, too focused, too mature, too serious, too responsible, too committed, too-everything else characteristic of successful adulthood-praiseworthy attributes without the excess. 

But somehow in pursuit of success, he lost sight of who he was…of the good qualities he possessed as a child…that even though grown, should never have been lost. 

So, what are some of these timeless, precious virtues children possess, but often lose in adulthood?

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. 

Albert Einstein

The Bible notes some exceptional children gifted with wisdom beyond their years. Children chosen by God to teach or lead  powerful adult dignitaries with honesty and innocence in ways only a child could.

There was the child, Samuel, who God chose as His special little messenger to the high priest, Eli, to reveal to him that his days were numbered due to abhorrent acts of his sons.  

Solomon became king of Israel as a child and realizing his deficit of experience, asked God for wisdom when God would have granted him anything he wished. How many adults would do that?  

Or, consider the little servant girl to Naaman.  Naaman was  captain of the host of the king of Syria, who was smitten with leprosy.  She directed him to Elisha the Prophet who told him what to do to be healed.

There was Isaac and Joseph, both very young. By demonstrating faith beyond that of their elders they were greatly used of God. Isaac as a patriarch of God’s Covenant to his chosen people and Joseph, to save his family as well as an entire nation from starvation.  

Daniel, Shadrack, Mishack and Abednigo–Hebrew children and captives of Babylon who politely suggested a better diet when instructed by the king to eat his rich meat.  When it was discovered that their diet was healthier, they established their intelligence, wisdom, and devotion to their God, therefore becoming advisors to the king himself. 

There is much that children can teach us.

Children are illuminated text-books, breviaries of doctrine, living bodies of divinity, open always and inviting their elders to peruse the characters inscribed on the lovely leaves.  AMOS BRONSON ALCOTT, Table Talk

A child is humble, meek, trusting, eager to please, highly motivated, easily led.  He is open-minded and hungry to learn, guiltless and grudge-free.  Adults, being experienced, are prone to skepticism and over-caution but children, lacking that experience are freer to believe and trust.  All the qualities adults consider strengths are often, in actuality, more their weaknesses, at least it seems so in God’s economy.

If God elevates the attributes of a child, then why do grown-ups so often regard children  with what looks more like…contempt?

It seems to me that in churches and families where excessive attention is given to governing children’s behavior, there is little to no attention given to honoring their innocent honesty and nurturing their spirits.  Children are required to be ‘seen and not heard’ and rarely, if ever, credited with wisdom.   

I have been instructed by preachers and other church ‘authorities‘ that when and adult accuses a child of wrong-doing but the child denies it, I should ALWAYS accept the word of the adult over the child.  Well, I guess that might have worked in a time (if there ever was one) when you could actually be confident that adults were more honest than kids.

But not anymore.

In fact, that would be outright dangerous given what we now know of statistics on child abuse and molestation being that 5 children die in America every day due to some form of abuse- http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics and 

http://religiouschildmaltreatment.com/.

and 2 out of 10 girls, 1 out of 10 boys are molested by the time they are 18- http://www.childmolestationprevention.org/pages/prevention_plan.html#focus_on_cause 

Jesus modeled the exact opposite attitude towards children.  When his disciples wanted to dismiss them, he said, “Forbid them not”.  

When the adults treated them as insignificant, Jesus countered, “Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

When the disciples, adults, argued among themselves over who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus took a little child and said,

“Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

When adults abused children, Jesus said, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

If Jesus had such high regard for little children, shouldn’t we? 

Perhaps it is time to correct our focus. 

Perhaps we should take time to remember what it was like to be a child.

Perhaps we should listen to them more and lecture them less.

Perhaps we should consider what we do to provoke their behavior problems before punishing to ‘fix’ them.

Perhaps we should spend more time looking for causes instead of reacting to the effects.

Perhaps we should budget more time nurturing our adult/child relationships than we do trying to convert them to the trivial aspects of our beliefs.  

Perhaps instead of trying to quiet the noise they make, we should relish the sounds of their laughter.

Perhaps instead of grumbling about the messes they make, we should celebrate the energy they have to make them. 

Perhaps we should all, like Peter Pan, revisit that place in our childhoods and rediscover the “happy thoughts” we still need as adults.

Perhaps….

Instead of concentrating all our teachings and efforts towards the proper “training” of children, we should practice being the kind of people we desire them to be.

Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children. 

Khalil Gibran

So, adults, 

Embrace your inner child!  

It’s biblical.  

It’s wise!

Photos courtesy of my grand littles, Cameron and Iris. 

Opening photo of Iris shot by Erin B. Foster Photography.

Not a Happy Ending

Jonah 4:9-11

A Guest Post by Rev. Lisa Beth White

I have known Rev. Lisa Beth While for many years now. I have not known her longer than Paul Woodworth from last Friday or W.C. Hall from last Monday, but I can’t think of anyone else ahead of her on that list. Lisa Beth has the distinction of, I knew her before she was really even considering ministry. We were students together at Sam Houston State University. We met at the Wesley Foundation there and both played an active role there. Before I graduated her oldest daughter was born. While I was in seminary, the spring semester of her first year and my last, I took Celia to school so Lisa Beth could stand in line for registration. Preaching classes were hard to get. It is hard for me to believe that both of those “little girls” are now young women, working to make their way in the world. Lisa Beth has a Bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State, a Master’s of Divinity from Southern Methodist, and a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University. She has served First UMC in Liberty, Bering Memorial UMC in Houston, Moody Memorial First UMC in Galveston, She served a small congregation, First United Methodist Church in Melrose Massachusetts and currently serves at  Swannanoa UMC and Tabernacle UMC, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She is also fluent in American Sign Language and works diligently with missions for the United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Church.

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’ (Jonah 4:8-11, New Revised Standard Version)

When my children were toddlers, our United Methodist Women’s circle gave us a fabric activity book.  Each page had a Bible story and activity.  There was Joseph in a colorful coat to button and unbutton.  There was a star, moon, and sun to Velcro off and on the page.  And there was a big blue corduroy fish whose mouth zipped and unzipped, and a smiling Jonah made out of a clothespin with a brown cloth cloak.  We also had a small children’s Bible that had illustrations drawn in crayon by children, with Jonah going head first into a big dark fish’s smiling mouth.  The story ends with “at last Jonah listened to God and went to Nineveh.  It’s always best to listen to God.” 

Children’s bible stories about Jonah always seem to end on that happy note.  Jonah goes to Nineveh as God commands, preaches redemption, and everyone is happy.  But the Biblical story reveals a far more complicated situation.  Jonah does go to Nineveh, he preaches an eight word sermon, the people lament, repent, and God relents, decides not to destroy the city and all the people in it.  Jonah sees that God was merciful and is angry.  In fact, he complains that God’s mercy is the reason he ran from God’s call to preach.  “It’s better to die from my anger!” he says. 

God does not tell Jonah that he should not be angry.  Throughout the book, God never tells Jonah how to handle his anger.  God asks Jonah questions that allow Jonah to think about his anger in the light of the nature of God.  Jonah’s anger was burning inside him.  We aren’t told how he felt about the people of Nineveh.  We don’t know if he thought they deserved judgment rather than mercy.  The text only tells us that God’s mercy to the people of Nineveh was enough to make Jonah burn with anger. 

As I write this post, there are scenes on all the news channels of police violence, peaceful protests, buildings burning, and looters taking advantage of the chaos.  The U.S. hasn’t seen situations like this since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  Now, as then, it’s easy to divide people into groups, to label this group good and that group bad.  It’s easy to become angry about things and to let that anger burn inside us.  It’s easy to wish that this group or that group would receive the thing that our anger says is right. 

God asks Jonah “is it right for you to be angry?”  Jonah has the opportunity to consider God’s mercy.  Instead he sits and lets his anger burn.  God does not abandon Jonah.  He stays with Jonah, gently teaching him and asking him to think about his anger.  God also does not abandon Nineveh, waiting for them to hear the good news of God’s mercy, to turn and listen to God.  When they do, God is merciful, not angry.

Perhaps that children’s Bible was right – it is always best to listen to God.  Jonah listens to God’s questions about his anger.  The text doesn’t tell us how Jonah resolved these questions.  They are left for us to ponder about our own anger and how we think about other people and the earth.  How is God asking you today to consider mercy?  How is God asking you today to consider the people who make you angry?  How is God asking you today to consider our call to care for creation? 

Now You Hear It, Now You Don’t

By: Keith Broyles

It is time once again for the Sunday Sermon. Because I am not preaching this week I went searching through some old sermon manuscripts and pulled this one out. Unfortunately, there is only the manuscript. I wrote and preached this sermon back in 2007 when I was pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Santa Fe, Texas. I hope you enjoy the read.

13 That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.” (Matthew 13:1-9, Common English Bible)

Most of you know, Cindy, Christopher, and I spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty, but his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Most of you know, we spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty. Four years of running around the boiler room and the engine room on an old ship. He went from the Navy to working construction. His best argument for not getting his hearing checked was expense. But his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Sunday afternoon he and I were watching baseball games on television. When the Astro’s game was over we turned on the Ranger’s game. Kenny Rogers was pitching. For those few people who are totally oblivious to the sports world, Kenny Rogers went after two television photographers a week and a half ago, jerking the camera from one’s shoulder and then kicking it several times. I don’t know if the camera was damaged or not. Following this tirade, Major League Baseball suspended him for 20 games and fined him $50,000.

When we turned the Ranger’s game on, who was pitching, but Kenny Rogers. We talked about how Rogers had appealed his suspension and was allowed to play until the appeal was heard. My Dad even said that he hoped Rogers would be picked to the All-Star team so that he wouldn’t be able to play.

As the game went on, one at a time, Cindy, my mother, my brother-in-law, my sister, and then Christopher and his girl friend walked into the room. As each came in and saw Rogers on the mound they said, “I thought he was suspended. How can he be playing?” And, each time patiently at first, not so patiently toward the end I explained that Major League Baseball rules allow a player to appeal his suspension and keep playing until his appeal is heard. So Rogers was allowed to play.

Monday morning my dad hears on television that Rogers had pitched the day before and exclaims, “I thought he was suspended, how could he have pitched.” My question is, how could he have not heard it any of the six times I explained it and even worse, he watched almost he entire game, how could he have not seen Kenny Rogers pitching the day before? He was even the one who had turned the game on.

II I guess my words to my dad were like seeds scattered on a path that the birds came and ate. I don’t think that they could be seeds scattered on the rocky places that sprung up but were scorched by the sun. I don’t think that they were like the seeds scattered among the thorns and were choked out by the other plants. That would mean that he at least heard a little bit and probably chose to ignore it. He certainly wasn’t the seed scattered on good soil because he just didn’t get it at all.

I have learned over the years that such is all too true. And, it isn’t just true with my father. There are many of us with hearing that is convenient at best. I know, and I understand that there are those without hearing and even those with hearing loss. I am one who has some moderate hearing loss. And, I know my dad is too. Still, if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, at least for many of us our greatest hearing problem isn’t a physical problem. For many of us anyway, we hear much of what we want to hear. Many things that are said to us or around us, we tune out or we don’t pay attention to. Such was the case during the Rangers game last Sunday afternoon.

III We live in a society that just doesn’t want to listen or maybe has lost much of ability to listen. Perhaps it is selective hearing on many of our parts. Perhaps it is too much noise going on around us, distracting us from what others may be saying. Maybe we think that we don’t have time to listen.

The lesson we read a few minutes ago closes with Jesus saying, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Yet all too often, we just don’t want to listen or we don’t have the ability to listen to one another. And, it seems to me that such inability would also inhibit our ability or desire to hear when God is speaking to us.

This morning we continue our series, “Principles from Parables” as we look at “The Parable of the Sower.” In this lesson Jesus says that a farmer went out in the field to sow his seeds. Think for just a minute about someone who goes out, and by hand, broadcasts seeds onto a field or even a yard. As you scatter the seeds they can go everywhere. Some go to where you want, but others go to places that you don’t, even places that have no real possibility of growing anything. Jesus said that some went on the path where the birds ate them up. Some went to rocky areas, places where there wasn’t much soil and the plants couldn’t get much in the way of a root system. When the heat came they burned up and died. Some fell in the thorny places and were chocked out by the other plants around them. But, some fell on good soil, and produced a good crop, many times the amount of seed that was planted.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

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V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

Be Blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved