Dig Deep

10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 NIV)

While the leaves have stubbornly held onto their color, as we approach the end of  September I’m beginning to see the first glimpse of Fall color.  Autumn will soon be with us.

Fall is one of those, universally beloved Seasons.  And it’s easy to see why. The weather, at least in the beginning allows you to dress however you wish.  Football begins, Baseball heads to the World Series. The trees show off their glorious color, We gather at bonfires. Pumpkin spice is added to everything imaginable, from lattes to Oreo cookies.

It’s a time of harvest and bounty as farmers pull in their crops.  Farmers gather in their crops, we pick apples and pick out our pumpkins.  Fall simply seems to be a time when we enjoy God’s Bounty that is before us.

Of course, that bounty simply doesn’t happen. Whether you have a small garden or a large working farm the process is pretty much the same.  Early in the year the ground must be turned over and broken up.  Seeds are planted. They are watered. Fertilizer is spread to give plants the proper nutrients.  Weeds are pulled. Measures are taken to protect the crops from insects that will destroy them.

In other words a good crop must be cultivated. The plants must be tended. Otherwise you will not have a bounty at the end of the year. No one, I hope, goes out to a piece of land and simply hopes that somehow crops will grow and there will be a good harvest.  A Good bounty is the result of wise, planned out cultivation.

So it is with our hearts and spirits.  In our Scripture, we are reminded that Ezra was a man of God because he prepared (cultivated) his heart. If we do not take the time to cultivate our spirits, then we cannot expect a bounty. Not only do we not grow in our faith, but a shallow, uncultivated faith, will not have the depth of strength to carry us through  our time so of trouble and tragedy.

How do we cultivate our hearts? How do we begin  to turn over the hardened ground of our Spirits so that the love of God can begin to grow within us?  It’s really not that difficult. In fact it’s really is a joyful thing to do.  But it takes more than a trip to see the gardener once a week on Sunday morning.

There are no surprises in cultivating our hearts. The issue is not that we don’t know what to do, it’s simply that we don’t do it enough. We are to read and meditate on God’s word. The Bible remains one of the widest distributed, but the least read of all books.  If you wish to truly cultivate your spirits, then read God’s word. meditate on it.  Ask God what He is showing you.

Attend to the means of grace. Pray, and don’t do all the talking. Worship daily. Take part in the sacraments. enjoy being in God’s presence. Take a Sabbath. A Sabbath, by the way ,is a time for you to stop , step back from your busy schedule and see God at work in your life. A Sabbath is not an extra day to get things done. It’s supposed to be about cultivating your spirit. Spend time in service. Few things soften the ground of your heart than looking for ways to be in ministry to someone else.

This fall, as you experience the blessing of God’s bounty, I hope you experience the blessing of His bounty within your heart. But it won’t just happen. At some point you need to get off your porch, turn the dirt of your heart over and cultivate a place for God’s love to grow. Amen.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Offended?

“and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for.” (1 Peter 2:8)

Colorful Chameleon Background Image Animals 135006 Wallpaper

God’s desire to give all of his creation the ability to protect themselves has always fascinated me.  The “walking stick” an insect that looks like a twig and can hide itself from predators. Butterflies or moths with spots on their wings to give (many believe) the appearance of eyes looking up to ward off anything wanting to eat it.

Most famous of all, is of course, the chameleon.  Not only can the chameleon adapt to its environment, but it’s able to adapt to any environment. It has the natural ability to camouflage itself and hide in the background. Sort of nature’s answer to Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

It’s a wonderful adaptation. As long as the chameleon is still it can fade into the background and become invisible. It isn’t seen. It doesn’t bother anyone, and nothing bothers it. It becomes completely inoffensive.

As a United Methodist, I’ve always loved our denominational symbol of the Cross and the Flame.

It represents the uniting of the Methodist and United Evangelical Brethren churches. It symbolizes both our need for redemption in the cross and the ongoing sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to Christian Perfection. It reminds us of our Wesleyan distinctive of both Personal and social holiness (and how the two are intertwined.)

There is a lot to be proud of in our symbol. The only problem with it is that it really doesn’t truly represent us. The cross and the flame are bold. They are distinctive. And they are bound to offend someone.

And there is the rub. They are bound to offend someone.  And if there is one thing in our culture that has become the unforgivable sin it’s saying or doing something that offends someone.  I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way we went from being the “Greatest Generation” to “The generation that takes offence at everything”.

It’s an odd juxtaposition. We take offense at everything while at the same time bending over backward to  insure we don’t offend anyone else. And while it’s indicative of our culture, it’s also become indicative of the church today. We’ve become so worried about offending anyone I wonder if our symbol ought to switch from the Cross and flame to a Chameleon.

Take for instance the “Rethink Church” ads often seen in the media. While well done, they go out of their way to not talk about Jesus. Or that He is the only way. Or the Cross.  With an emphasis on community service, they could easily be recruitment ads for the Rotarians or the Kiwanis. Both fine service organizations. Bu they aren’t the church. The church offers Jesus, And Jesus is always going to be offensive.

He just is. Take some time and read, really read the Gospels. Jesus says all sorts of truly offensive things. Things like He is the only way to Heaven. The only way to salvation.  He offended the religious establishment by calling out the hypocrites. He offended the rich by lifting up the poor and disenfranchised. He offended the sinner by not accepting his/her sin as a part of the human condition, but as brokenness that God could change. He offended the Romans by hiding that His truth was eternal and not bound to the shifting sands of cultural acceptance.

Those who followed Jesus were offensive as well. That’s why they were martyred. In fact the closer the followers of Jesus become Christlike, the more offensive they were to the world.  We live in a world that doesn’t want to see there is a better way. They don’t want a God so invasive He can change someone’s life.

If nothing else we should heed Jesus words. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth. But He also warns us that if we lose our saltiness we become useless.  In Revelation 3:16 Jesus speaks to the church at Laodicea. He tells them that they have become lukewarm. And that it makes Him physically ill.   He reminds us that when we hide our light it will go out. Jesus clearly warns us against living a chameleon’s lifestyle.

But what about all of us? It’s easy to pick on a denomination. But what flag flies above your heart? Is it a Cross and Flame, or is it a chameleon?  Does your spiritual life adapt to its surroundings?  Do you live one way at church and another at work? Are you living an offensive life for Jesus? Please note, I’ve used the word offensive exclusively. There is a big difference between being offensive and obnoxious. I’m not implying its Ok to be mean spirited, angry or demeaning to anyone. I am saying we must not be afraid to live out our Christian faith. We must not be afraid to get as close to Jesus as possible and become Christlike in all that we do.

Yes we may offend some. But if we smother our light, if we lose our saltiness, if we become lukewarm, what good are we? How will the world find Jesus if we are afraid to live out our faith?

in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Wasteful?

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.” (Matthew 13:3-4 NIV)

The above Scripture is taken from Jesus’ parable of the sower. In order to make sure we are staying in the proper context, before you go on please take some time and read the entire passage, found in Matthew 13:1-23.

I freely admit it, I hate gardening.  Yes, I get the whole it’s nice to grow your own produce. But is it? I mean you spend months out of your lives planting, watering weeding fertilizing your tomatoes. Maybe, depending on your garden, you give up a good part of your weekend working in the soil. I spent 15 minutes in the grocery store. Doesn’t seem a fair trade-off.

Maybe it would be Ok if your garden produced just enough for you. But it either gives you a small yield for all the work, or such a great yell you don’t know what to do with it. You find yourself reduced to driving around at midnight, leaving bags of zucchini on people’s front steps.

My Dad loved to garden. We had a huge garden every year that took up a little over an acre of land.  That big a garden took a lot of hands to keep it growing. Well,mostly my Father’s hands and mine. We dug, used the rototiller, planted and watered. We picked off bugs and sprayed. We harvested. A good portion of my summer was spent helping him in the garden.

I never developed a love for gardening, actually the opposite. But that didn’t mean I didn’t learn a thing or two from my father about the process. I learned that where you plant is as important, if not more so, than what you plant. You plant in good fertile earth with the proper nutrients. You make sure you plant where there is the right amount of sun, and a supply of water. If you don’t plant in the proper soil you’re just wasting your seeds and your time

Which makes Jesus’ parable of the sower so interesting.  This parable may be familiar to you, describing the different types of soil, or human heart, in which the word of God can be planted. It describes the shallow heart, the heart full of sin and the heart so deep the Holy Spirit can take root.

But let’s lift our eyes off of the ground for a moment and look at the sower. In the sower we see a wasteful extravagance.  This guy is throwing seed everywhere. He throws it on the rock, in the shallow ground, he throws it in the middle of the weeds and in the good earth. A knowledgeable farmer would never be this wasteful.

But I believe this is a part of Jesus’ point. He describes exactly how God pours out HIs grace and his word upon the world.  No one is spared an opportunity to hear HIs word. Everyone gets to experience His grace even if it doesn’t take hold. God doesn’t just go to the obvious “good soil” He is extravagant. He is hopeful, He pours out His love on all of us even if it might seem wasteful.

And aren’t you glad? Every now and then in the middle of a patch of weeds, or even pushing up through rock and concrete, a seed will reach for the sky and bloom. Sometimes even bear fruit. Some of us had hearts like that. We weren’t the obvious ones who were ready to receive the Gospel. We had hearts full of the weed of sin. We were ready to give way under the heat of persecution. We were shallow. Yet against the odds the love of God bloomed in our hearts. Thank God for His extravagant waste.

But if that is true, aren’t we called to follow in His footsteps? That is, after all, what it means to be a disciple. We follow. While we ought to check our own hearts to make sure its rich soil for the Gospel, we are also asked to look at how we sow the seeds of the Good News. Do we only invite those to church whom we think will say yes to us?  Or heaven help us only ask those who “fit in” with us? Are we sharing the  love of Jesus with those we think will reject Him? Do we love those who turn their back on God? Do we look at everyone, no matter their struggles, as someone Jesus died for? Do we tell them?

This week you’ll come across every single type of soil Jesus describes. Sometimes you’ll find more than one soil in a single heart. Will you sow the seeds? Will you sow the seeds in glorious, wasteful extravagance?  WIll you follow the sower?

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><