We had a conversation that expanded more on the parables in Matthew 13. First focussing on the catholicity, the universality of the work that Father is doing in us through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. For example, the seed being scattered across a field with the farmer representing Jesus, the seed the Kingdom of Heaven and the field being the whole world in all its different states. The key thing to remember in reading that parable is the fact that we have been taught wrongly about the different meanings. We assumed these were pre-salvation states that hinder entrance into relationship with God. But in all cases, there is growth. 
 
In the case of the birds eating the seed, think about how poison ivy suddenly appears in a part of your garden where it wasn’t last year. In most cases, the birds move the seed from one place to another by pooping out the seed they’ve eaten. In the case of the rocky soil, there is still growth. Then, of course, the “good” soil. But in all cases, there was growth. How it happens is by the mystery of grace.
 
In the second parable there is the wheat and tares. Again, the seed is sewn in a field. The “bad” seed planted by the enemy was of a type that was indistinguishable from wheat except by the expert eye of the farmer. It’s one of the reasons that the farmer tells the workers, who are not experts, NOT to pull up the tares. They don’t have the expertise necessary to tell the difference. No, wait until the harvest and THEN the separating will be done. But one thing it does not tell us: what is the ratio of wheat to tares? How much wheat is there versus how much tare? It is the farmer who will make the final decision of how much fruit has been borne, how much wheat and how much tares. The tares, it says will be tied in bundles and burned. But we’ll come back to that.
 
Then there is the mystery of the mustard seed. The kingdom is like the mustard seed in that it starts off small and is hidden in the field (there’s that metaphor again) where it is indistinguishable in its surroundings. Its transformation is a mystery and doesn’t really become evident until much later. But when it grows, it becomes beneficial to man, beast and bird alike. Oh, and there are the birds again. Repetitive metaphors. Hmmmmm…….
 
Finally, and I love this one, there is the parable of the woman making bread. 1) it is a woman, the true Proverbs 31 woman, 2) there is 100 lbs of bread dough here, 3) there is yeast, 4) we know that you can make lots of bread out of 100 lbs of dough, another metaphor for the whole world 5) there is the kneading of the dough, the pounding and breaking down of the gluten (unless you’re gluten-free) to create the cells in which the CO2 created by the imperceptible yeast, much as we are broken down and made more capable of holding the Breath of Eternal Life – the Holy Spirit, inseparable yeast hidden in the dough. 6) the little loaves are mirrors of the Bread of Life, 7) the yeast is the Kingdom hidden in the dough, 8) But one thing is missing from this recipe. Can you figure it out? What is still missing from this one sentence parable of the Kingdom?
 
In order to bake anything you must have heat. In the old days, you created heat with whatever fuel you had around: Sometimes sticks, sometimes dung, and sometimes…. wait for it….. the chaff from the grain harvest. Hmmm…. where did we see that? In the parable of the Wheat and Tares. The farmer burns up the chaff after separating the wheat which he ground up (more metaphors of our transformation) to make flour into which he placed the yeast of the Kingdom and he used even the chaff to help bake us into little Jesus loaves. All his work. None of our. 
 
A few final ideas to hand out as we look at this: 1) Everything mentioned brought about growth and transformation for the Kingdom: Birds, seeds, chaff. 2) Only the One will tell us what is profitable and what isn’t; what is wheat and what is tare, and 3) All of it is his work: He is the farmer, he does the sewing of the seed; He is the woman making bread, he puts the yeast in the lump, he kneads it and molds it, cuts it, forms it and then bakes it to create the bread. We just lie there like a lump. We are the dirt (Gen 2:7) into which the Farmer puts his seed, again we just lie there. He can use both the wheat and the tare in us to bring glory to the kingdom and himself.
 
Anyway, I just wanted to share this for discussion’s sake. I will probably repost this in my GCI Grace group, too.
 
My house Sunday, 1 PM. We will put off Rave until the following week since we haven’t seen each other for awhile. The kids will be making protein balls for our enjoyment. Tami has the recipe. Maybe we can all chip in to add to the ingredients. I’m anxious to learn how to make them. They sound great!

What if we didn’t live in a world of expectations? What if we really lived in the freedom of love? In every situation where the expectancy of being treated with respect, love, and care there would be the very real possibility of being harmed. But is that in itself a bad thing?

We live under more stress today than ever before. President Obama may get re-elected, or he might not get re-elected. Iran may get a nuclear weapon, or it might not. We might lose our Constitutional freedoms or not. The United States, as we have known it, may cease to continue or it might not. You might get sick, injured, laid off, or a myriad of other worries that may or may not happen yet cause us to live in stress. What if we just let it go?

The religious world is not so dissimilar to these woes. You father, mother, brother, sister, or other friend or relative may “accept Jesus,” or they may not. We stress over their eternal well being. We stress over our own. But is that what Jesus said we should do? 

In John 16:33 he says plainly, “In this world you will have tribulations.” WILL have them. There is no getting away from them. They hit Donald Trump and Bill Gates every bit as much as they hit you or me. What do we do when that happens?

In another place he tells us to ask the Father, “Give us THIS day our DAILY bread.” Well that’s awfully short-sighted of him. What about tomorrow’s bread? What about next week’s? What about laying up for ourselves enough frozen dough that we will have bread available when we retire? What about bread for your daughter’s college? Or her wedding? That will take some dough, won’t it?

Jesus also tells us that “the Father sees you needs even before you ask.” So then why ask? Why pray? Why believe? It is solely to learn to trust that Papa, to use the imagery Paul Young evokes in The Shack, and his love for you. 

His love is unconditional. We have been taught this “karma” version of faith that denies the Father’s love.  We are told, “If you do good things, things that God likes, then good things will happen to you. But if you do BAD things, look out brother! God will be gunning for you.” 

Yet in all that Jesus said, he never once made that connection, drew that picture of the Father. Nowhere does he say that the Father requires your obedience BEFORE he will save you, provide for you, protect you. Jesus says about the Father, “If you, who are evil, are able to give good gifts, HOW MUCH MORE will your Father in Heaven provide for you oh you of LITTLE faith.” If God had to wait for us to be good to care for us, he’d never have to worry about providing even on little thing. Jesus calls us those “who are evil.” What chance do we have of earning anything?

Stress less, love more. If you don’t know how you are going to pay the bills, provide groceries, pay the doctor, find a job, or anything else, ask your Father for what you need TODAY and what you would like to do. But then let it go. Every day we should ask for our DAILY bread. But even then, he is gracious enough to see to our needs if we forget. Trust your Eternal Father. He loves you. He always will.

I am going to try to write this blog from as objective a point of view I can without giving away my own personal political positions. I think it is more helpful that I not try to persuade anyone to go one way or another. I wish it was that way with more Christian leaders.

I am writing this in part because of a bone-headed comment made last week by a Louisiana pastor. I don’t know how any one who claims Christian leadership can maintain his credibility by saying, “If you don’t like America get out. We don’t believe in Buddha or Allah. We believe in Jesus Christ.” If this were a hundred years ago when my grandparents first arrived from Sicily, I could understand it; not accept it. 

Back then there was a lot of social change that had yet to occur. African-Americans were not treated as equals to whites. (FYI, Italians were considered the missing link between whites and “negroes.” Look it up.) Jim Crow laws were still very much in effect. It was due to ignorance, we all know. Much of the government was run by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in both parties. Catholics were only a strong voice in the Northeast and we hadn’t yet had a Catholic President. 

Back then when it was patriotic to be part of the Ku Klux Klan. Back then the world was seen through the ofttimes bigoted eyes of newsreels in the movies. We knew little about “far away lands” and even less about their peoples. Myopia is a difficult thing to get rid of. It takes not only education, but contact with different people from different backgrounds, cultures, and, yes, even languages for us to overcome our fears of what “those people” are about. 

But we are two generations away from the first Catholic President and the Civil Rights Era. We are three generations away from desegregated schools and four generations away from the end of baseball’s “color barrier.” Much of the fear and ignorance is gone, but based on that pastor’s comments, much still remains.

But let’s just for a moment even consider his comments from, say a scriptural point of view. First of all, for whom did Jesus vote, or give his endorsement as a candidate? Was Paul on the left or right of the political spectrum? Why do we insist that Jesus was either a Republican or a Socialist? Jesus was apolitical because he could see how this would divide people. Plus being God incarnate kinda made politics pointless. 

Pastors and churches need to just shut up when it comes to politics. Yes, Jesus is anti-abortion, but, yes, Jesus was pro-feeding-the-poor. Our responsibility as the Church of the Risen Savior is not to promote one candidate over another, or one ideal over another unless it is the living out of the gospel. This political system is man-made, not God-ordained. Kingdom living doesn’t involve the continuation of the U.S.A, England, France, New Zealand or any country but living as strangers and sojourners in the lands we call home. 

That being said, it is also important that we get involved, at least I can speak for life in the U.S., in the selection of the candidate or candidates we INDIVIDUALLY believe will help us put the gospel agenda forward. Notice I didn’t say, “do it for us.” Scripture is pretty clear that in our support of the leaders of our respective lands that we pray for them and for the peace to preach the gospel without hindrance. That should be the point and focus of our ever getting involved in the political process. I have my ideas on that. You should have yours. But it is not to be spewed in a rant from the pulpit. That arena has a different agenda.

Churches were even more segregated than they are today.

A woman who is a friend of mine asked me a couple of weeks ago, “Why don’t you write something on your blog? You need to write something.” Admittedly it had been awhile since I last posted. But the fact is, I wasn’t and I am still not feeling it. Even now getting the words out is labored. There is no free flow.

So I had a talk with the Holy Spirit about it and asked, “Why am I not writing as much or as often as I used to? Why am I not feeling it?” The answer was soft and simple, “Because I’m not ready yet,” he said. So that’s it in a nutshell. I am not writing because the Spirit is not ready to “open my eyes” yet as to what to write about.

I can tell it’s Him because I have plenty to write about: What is the root cause of all sin? Or “If Jesus took all sin and put it to death on the cross, why am I still good at it?” I have that one outlined. Another thought is “if not all will enter into the Kingdom,” (see various places in the gospels where Jesus says that), “how can you say that all humanity is saved in Jesus?” A third thought is on a really deep theological issue that while I don’t have a problem with it, it will take awhile to wrap my mind around it. So I won’t even give you a tease about it. Finally, there’s relating the story of my buddy Cliff and his journey in faith when he lost his job several months ago. So material is not the issue.

The issue is that I am learning to rely on the movement of the Spirit to guide me in all things I do. Being the impatient, capricious person I am, I get in a lot of trouble. I have learned over the years to rest in the Holy Spirit of God to guide me on what things to do and what things to let lie. So this is one of those times. Please allow me that space to just let the Spirit do what He’s going to do and I promise, at some point I will come back to write. Ooh ! I just thought of another topic: “Why are churches that say they are ‘relational’ keeping me from relating?”

Be back soon.

I deliberately chose an honest, challenging question asked of Jesus by Pilate as the Savior stood before him. It’s a good question: “What is truth?” It’s a question Jesus didn’t answer. As Pilate turned and said to the ravenous crowd, “I find no fault in this man,” Jesus didn’t interrupt and say, “Wait! Wait! I have an answer! I can tell you what truth is!” It is curious that there is no answer.

It plagues humanity this question of what truth is. There are searches and pilgrimages made to get at the truth. Philosophy majors will tell you that truth is either subjective or objective. Some will say there is no objective truth only subjective truth, that is the definition of truth can change over time, culture and context. Is that true?

Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Is that the answer? It’s a good canned answer that many of my Christian brothers and sisters will often give in this situation, but does it answer, first of all, what truth is and, secondly, whether it is subjective or not? Christians will state the truth that Jesus is the Savior. I for one would agree with that statement. But there are around 5.5 billion or more people out there who would question that. There are probably at least another billion people who existed before we did some of whom would also question whether Christ is the Savior. Does that allow a kernel of subjectivity to suddenly enter in?

Truth is slippery at best. Intuitively, we know it exists, but much like trying to draw a summer breeze, it is difficult to describe. Scripture tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who will guide us, lead us in all truth. It is this ethereal nature of truth that makes it more a matter of faith than science. It must be given to us, not obtained. We must question and search for it.

Speaking of science and truth, who leads the scientist to discovery? The very nature of humankind is to be curious of our surroundings. It has always been that way. If gravity, for example, is a an objective, absolute truth, that is it does not change over time, culture, and context, why were we so curious to discover that? Why did Galileo and Newton even care? Why do we even care about knowing more?

We are constantly, all everywhere, curious about our surroundings. Why do the seasons change? Why are they virtually opposite from Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere? In that regard, is it better to spend Christmas on the beaches the the Gold Coast or have a “white Christmas”? Why do tulips lie dormant during the winter and blaze beautiful in the spring? Why does a combustion engine work and why does it seem to work best using fossil fuels? Why am I asking why?

It is given to us to follow the one who is leading us to the truth. It is a journey. Sometimes we get things right and other times not so much. Here is a simple guideline for deciding truth: Truth is only objective and absolute. If it isn’t, it isn’t truth. For example, it was once believed as truth that the negro (yes, I am deliberately using an ancient word to highlight my point) was not capable of much more than manual labor because of having a less developed brain. Today we are more Jeffersonian, and just plain more aware, that “all men are created equal.” We no longer believe the former truth that the sun revolves around the earth or the former truth that Columbus was going to sail off the edge of the world. They were never true and as such could never be considered truth.  the nonsense of “it’s true for you or me” is hogwash.  If it is not true at all times in all cultures and contexts it is not truth.

So feel free to start asking the questions that are burning in your heart. Start searching and testing “truths.” There is One who is guiding you. Question everything: God, church, life, job, purpose. You cannot satisfy your soul if you are not questioning and searching, and that’s the truth.

It’s December 24th. I’ve done my last minute frantic Christmas shopping, but I know there are still a ton of people, mostly guys, who will be out shopping for their last minute Christmas gifts. On the radio and on Facebook Christmas music will be played and greetings will be shared.  You probably have noticed and will also continue to read or hear, thankfully only until tomorrow at midnight, tales of what Christmas is NOT about. We are all very well versed, having heard or read a jillion of these things, on all the things Christmas isn’t. So I thought I would write this little post to take the major ones and give some background to them. Then I will take the time to give what I feel is the major point about Christmas and why it can affect how we see the day going forward.

What Christmas isn’t #1: A God-commanded holiday.

This is true. You can comb the Bible from Genesis to maps and you won’t find any command to celebrate it. This is true. This is also true of birthdays and anniversaries. Guys, how long do you think you could get away with not remembering or celebrating those days? The point is that we celebrate a great many things like weddings (uh, the wedding at Cana was 3 days long), retirement, and the expectation and/or arrival of a baby, that are not “commanded by God.” Yet few have a problem with any of these celebrations. And regarding things commanded by God, wait until later in this post. Which brings us to…

What Christmas isn’t #2: Christmas is a pagan holiday.

True, at least in the sense that the roots of the day are found in pagan celebration. Some of the earliest accounts of Christian missionaries in northern Europe give accounts of pagan celebrations with decorated trees (no that’s not what is talked about in Jeremiah, for those who are thinking that), burning yule logs, etc. The missionaries asked for and received permission to adapt these pagan symbols for the season and point them to Jesus.  Pagan symbolism has often been adopted by the Church and even by God himself to try to express things for us humans to understand. For example, we use wedding rings and neckties, to name a few. With regard to some of the things mentioned and used by God himself in dealing with Israel we have priests, altars, and animal sacrifices. When we consider the life of Abram/Abraham and look at some of the things he did, who told him to do it? When he leaves Ur and then Haran and comes to Canaan he builds an alter and makes a sacrifice to God. Who told him to? God didn’t. Was that sacrifice not accepted by God because it wasn’t commanded? When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, why did he not hesitate? Perhaps it was because some of the pagan gods were already asking for human sacrifice, so why not God? All of this gets around the point that we aren’t celebrating a pagan god on Christmas but the coming of the Son of God.

What Christmas isn’t #3: It is not Jesus’ birthday.

True. We don’t know when Jesus was born. But what real harm is there in telling a 3-year-old Christmas is like a birthday for Jesus? We are celebrating a birthday, of sorts. It is simplistic to say that is what the day is about, but the fact is Jesus was born and whether we celebrate it December 25 or September 14 or any other day doesn’t matter. For Christians it is a time of remembrance, not cake and candles.

There are other complaints on why Christmas isn’t what it once was or ever should have been. It is commercial. It is overextended. It is about measuring who gets what from whom and all that. But is all that reason to just give up on what Christmas is?

So then what IS Christmas? The miracle of Christmas is that God, in an expression of his boundless love for us, came to be exactly like us. Now I want all you Greek and pagan mythologists to stop drooling about similarities. They are not the same. In the mythological accounts the gods they put on humanity, or a human-like appearance in order to fulfill some whim. When the Word of God became flesh, he became exactly like us without losing his divinity. God who is outside creation and history became creation and entered history inside Jesus Christ. It is that Incarnation that we celebrate on Christmas. In this one act of divine grace God gathered all of creation to himself to save it by his love. I won’t take the time here to go further into Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension and all that it means, for my focus is solely on Christmas. Christmas is the first place we get to celebrate God’s love for us.

Jesus told us, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” In all things, on all days we are to express that love to all humanity. Christmas is but one day of expressing that love. Whether it is in sharing gifts with each other, gathering in church or around a table, serving turkey to someone less fortunate, or with quiet heart in prayer for someone dying of starvation thousands of miles from where we find ourselves, each of  these is an expression of Christ’s love living in us and through us. For those of you who want commandments, there you have it. But what good is love if it is only expressed as a result of command. Unless you live in a box on a deserted island and practice your self loathing in a mirror in a cave, you will be celebrating Christmas tomorrow whether you know it or not. His love will come out in some way. Even if it is just love for yourself. Christmas lives in us whether we like it or not for Christ lives in us whether we like it or not. You might as well enjoy it, Scrooge.

So there you have it: Christmas IS about love entering into the world to conquer us. May it conquer us all on this Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!!

Love,

Frank

Often I get really deep theologically. I’ll sit and be reading Athanasius, Torrence, or some such theologian and start to ponder the depth of what I have been reading and coming to understand. But this post, like the last, is more about musing over something seemingly simple that just doesn’t work the way I’ve been told it should.

For example, I wrote my most recent blog on how a relationship with Jesus the way most Evangelicals live it out is not a relationship at all but, I don’t know, a system? Love doesn’t exist systemically. You can never say A+B+C= love. Therefore, since love is the core foundation of relationship you can’t systematically produce a relationship, which is really going to deflate the egos of some Christian writers who have written books and the like to teach you the 7 Tricks to a Great Marriage or some such stupidity.

Relationship can only happen when two or more open themselves to one another for discovery and then grow to trust one another. Trust is the key link in the chain. It can be its strongest or weakest, however. I’m stealing a line here from another blog, though not its content or context. I just thought it a cool and really eyeopening line. So our relationships are only as strong as the trust we have for the other person.

If you’ve ever been to one of those discovery camps that help you grow together as a group by going on zip lines or rock climbing or other obstacles that have to be traversed together, they try to teach you to trust your partner. It is as if by some magic spending a day or two with someone you work with is actually going to cause you to really trust them. That kind of induced trust is like when you were in school. You learned, more like memorized, what you needed to know, regurgitated it on a test and promptly forgot it all. At those camps you do what is necessary because that is what they are asking, but you’re not growing in relationship. Sure I will catch you when you close your eyes and lean back. But I am doing it for two reasons: 1) I really don’t like to see anyone get hurt and 2) because I’ll look like a real jerk if I DON’T catch you. No relationship there.

In our personal Christian reality do we really trust Christ with everything or do we just say it like the answers on an Algebra test? We don’t want to look like heathen jerks so we repeat the mantra and all is well, until it isn’t.

Here is a confession of sorts to explain: I have been really struggling with a particular sin issue in my life. I prayed that the Lord would work in me to transform me so that sin wouldn’t rear its ugly head again. I could see all the exit signs for getting away from it. For days I took the off ramp and ran as far as I could from it.

Then I fucked up. I know that some of you have now been offended and may never read my blog again. But what do you call it when you decide willfully and deliberately to do that which you have been fighting against?

The frustration and guilt that swelled over me threatened to tear me to shreds emotionally. It was like the first time I got pummeled by the West Coast surf as the tide came in. It was a helpless feeling of being slammed to rocky, shell-filled floor only to be lifted up and slammed again.

Then I got on Facebook. That’s random, eh? On FB I saw that my friend had posted a link to a blog. Now the blog was specifically about evangelism and how burdens of conditional salvation are placed on people leading them even after conversion to wonder about whether the salvation experience they had had actually took, was it real or would God take it back.

What Jesus did he did once for all. Jesus did not come to die for our sins only. He did not become some sort of super-man who was not really one of us. Jesus entered into our darkness, our pain, our fear and lived in our humanity and did what we cannot do: live it sinlessly.

That is where trust comes in. If I really believe he loves me. If all that I have grown to know about this man is true, then he forgave me before I could say, “I fucked up again.” By the way, he’s ok with you expressing it that way. Jesus is living his life in me confronting me with my weaknesses and my doubts all the while saying, “Trust me.”

If you are struggling with trust issues like me examine the link. I think you’ll be surprised by something. It is not our link of trust that this relationship is founded on. It is his. His trust, his faith is what keeps this relationship together. That’s why the Apostle Paul could say in Romans 7, “Who shall save me from this body of death? Thank God Almighty, through Jesus Christ.”