Monthly Archives: February 2018

“Listen to Him!”

Jesus-teaching-in-the-templeAre we following God’s admonition to Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus?

At the transfiguration, Peter responded to seeing Jesus transfigured and the appearance of Elijah and Moses by offering to build three shelters for each of them.  A cloud then enveloped them, and God said, “This is my Son whom I love.  Listen to him!” (Mark 9:2-8) It was almost as if God was rebuking Peter to get serious.  Quit thinking about building shelters.  It is my son you are with.  “Listen to him!”

Like Peter, it is easy for us to get caught up with the circumstances in front of us.  We forget that Jesus is with us.  We forget to listen to all that he has said about all of the important things of life.  We forget to ask him for guidance in the daily choices of life.  Yet he has so much to say:

  • “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me.” John 14:1
  • “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind and with all you strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:30-31
  • “I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:6
  • “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23
  • “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
  • “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Matthew 7:2
  • “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
  • “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3
  • “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4, 5
  • “Anyone who has faith in me, he will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.”  John 14:12
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13
  • “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
  • “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

So much truth!  So much wisdom in what Jesus has to say to us! 

Over the last several decades we have seen the effects of people not listening to Jesus: the decline of one of God’s pillars in his plan for creation — the two parent family.  We have seen the continuous erosion of sexual morality, an entertainment industry increasingly glorifying sex and violence, and the increasing lapses of integrity among people in authority.  We have seen a crisis in opioid and other addictions, and increasing acts of violence and mass shootings in schools and public places.

Unlike Peter, James and John, we are not covered by a cloud from God, but the haze of a culture increasingly focused on self and moving away from its creator.  But through the haze, God still says, “Here is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”

Who Do You Say I Am?

After the disciples had been following Jesus for a while, he asked them, “Who do the people say I am?” The disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 

Then Jesus pointedly asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:27-29)

No more hiding in the crowd; Jesus was asking the disciples, personally and individually, “Who am I to you?  Matthew quotes Peter as saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

The same question that Jesus asked of the disciples, he asks of us, “Who do you say I am?”

Like Peter, are willing to say with the same depth of conviction that Jesus is the son of the living God who became one of us, and sacrificed his life for us to save us from our sins?

Interestingly, Jesus goes on to define what is required of us to fully acknowledge that he is the Son of God.  He says we must pick up our daily cross, love as he loves and suffer as he suffered.  He says we need to die to self and give up our will for his in all things.  The following story illustrates an initial failure of this standard followed by the action of God’s grace in redeeming the outcome.

After working for a large international company for over 30 years, Jim (not his real name) sensed it was time to do something different with his life.  After several months of prayer and discernment, he accepted an opportunity to work full-time in a Christian ministry.

He informed his boss and set a date for his retirement.  A couple of months before the scheduled date, the company announced that it was merging with another company.  In order to encourage employees to stay on until the merger was completed, a retention bonus was offered to various employees, including Jim.

As a result, Jim decided to postpone his retirement and the date he would start working for the ministry.  After all, he reasoned, it was estimated to be only six months, and the retention bonus would provide an additional cushion for his retirement account.

A couple of months later Jim was flying home on a business trip, looking out the window at an interesting cloud formation, thinking about the future.  All of sudden he felt like the Lord was saying: “So, you tell me you want to work for me in ministry.  I arrange an opportunity, and now you put me off for some extra money!”  Jim said, “It was like a slap in the face.  What had I done!”

The next day Jim told his boss that he had made a mistake.  He had made a commitment to begin working for a Christian ministry and needed to keep that commitment.  He would not stay on until the merger was completed.  He would forgo the retention bonus.  As it turned out, the merger took almost two years to complete.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

Preparing the Soil

009-parable-sower-seedIn three of the gospels, Jesus tells The Parable of the Sower, in which the sower is God and the seed is his Word.  He describes four kinds of soil onto which the seed may fall, which serves as an analogy to where our hearts may be relative to receiving and acting upon God’s Word. (Mark 4:1-20)

  • A soil that is hard and packed down so the seed cannot penetrate, resulting in Satan snatching the word before it can take root and impacting our way of life.
  • A rocky soil where God’s word is received and even welcomed, but not allowed to take root. When the first sign of trouble or persecution comes along, we forget what the word says and resort to our old ways.
  • A soil that is full of thorns where the word is heard and we want to act on it, but the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth, the lure of recognition and fame, and the pride of our own agenda chokes out the word from having a positive effect on our life and conduct.
  • A good soil that receives the word, provides conditions for it to germinate and grow so it can multiply thirty, sixty or even hundred times what was sown.

Notice how Jesus observes that people whose soil accepts God’s word may produce different size crops.  The more fertile the soil, the greater the yield of the seed, the more fruit it provides in a person’s life, and the more a person can be used by God to fulfill his purpose and will. 

Jesus is always knocking on the door of our hearts, waiting for us to invite him into our lives.  We have to be intentional in opening the door and inviting him in.  Once we invite him in, we need to spend time with him in prayer and with his word as given to us in Holy Scripture.   

If we are a part of a sacramental church, we should partake in all of the sacraments that are available to us, for we receive grace upon grace through them.  The Holy Spirit that we receive in baptism is particularly beneficial in opening our minds and hearts to the meaning of God’s word and his will for us in the daily choices for our lives.

Being prayed with many years ago for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit that I received in baptism as an infant made a huge difference in my life.  It opened my heart and mind to God’s word and helped the soil of my heart be more fertile for the Lord’s purpose in every aspect of my life – family, work, ministry, etc. 

John tells us that the Word existed before all else and was God; and that the Word became flesh in Jesus. (John 1: 1, 14) Paul tells us that the Word of God is Spirit and is living. (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17)  The Psalmist tells us that the Word is flawless. (Ps. 30:5)  May we prepare the soil of our heart so that the Word yields a harvest many times what is sown.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)