Monday, August 18, 2014

A Thought

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”   Joshua 1:9

Back to school.  For some it is pretty exciting; for others it is downright intimidating.  Anything new and unfamiliar must be approached carefully and with due respect because of what is certainly unknown at least in the beginning. 

Joshua was about to lead Israel into the Promised Land.  Moses was no longer with them, so it is easy to imagine the people and even Joshua to be a little disoriented and uncertain about what is ahead of them.  Moses had led Israel for 40 years, so they had become accustomed to certain ways in terms of journey.  Now they were about to settle in a land which was already occupied.  Later spies would report “giants” in the land! 

The Lord needed to assure Joshua, however, that even though Moses had been the leader for so long, it was actually the Lord and His Covenant which the people had become a part of during that long 40 years.  Moses’ time had passed just as others had passed during the long journey, but the Lord was still with them in the new chapter that was about to unfold.

These words of encouragement were spoken to Joshua within a specific context, but we may also be assured by these same words as we enter into a new realm of possibilities.  Children will meet new teachers, make new friends, and learn new things; and teachers will be faced with the new challenges that come with so many new and different personalities (as well as new state mandates!).  And all will be uncertain about how it will all come together.

The Lord did not give Joshua any real clues about what the new land would look like with the people of Israel, but the Lord was clear about what it could look like if they tried to face the new land and new challenges without the Lord.  And this is the essence of what it means to live by faith; being unsure about what lies ahead, but being absolutely assured the “Lord your God is with you wherever you go”.   As long as we “go” with the Lord and in the Lord’s Name.

Blessings on all new teachers, experienced teachers, and students!  Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is with you!


Monday, August 04, 2014

Making disciples: relationships

Hebrews 11:32-12:2

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision; instead we are always changing the vision.”  G.K. Chesterton

"Living in community requires commitment, responsibility, and accountability to and for all its members."  UMC Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, WV

In other words, living in community requires "relationships"; real attachments to one another.  So I believe we can agree relationships are the foundation of any community; and while the marital relationship should top the list (it grounds the family, stabilizes our society, and teaches children about the importance of relationship, earnest commitment, and appropriate examples of love), there are other relationships we must necessarily take note of.

In the coming weeks we will examine relationships and how these relationships inform us, teach us, nurture us, comfort us, and whenever necessary, correct us - all for the sake of "making disciples".  So if we are involved in any type of relationship that does not strengthen our sense of community as The Body of Christ, it is probably a relationship best left unattended. 

As it has so often been said, there is no such thing as a life without sacred value - value not only to The Lord and His Church but to society as a whole - including those incarcerated.  Everyone has purpose, and every life has meaning.  In fact it has been inferred by theologians and sociologists that the value of our own lives is intimately and intrinsically connected to the value we assign to the lives of others.  So as we seek to enrich the lives of others by affirming their sacred worth, our own sacred worth is affirmed as well.

Before we can examine the relationships we enjoy today and the relationships worth pursuing, however, I believe there is a much broader relationship we are part of as The Church, a relationship we often take for granted.  It is the relationship which exists primarily in the Scriptures, connections to our common past in the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1).  And as we often take these biblical "giants" for granted, we certainly do not take note of spiritual heroes (often referred to as "saints") who helped to shape, teach, and clarify the fullest meaning of The Gospel through the life of The Church.

Pope Francis is getting a lot of attention because he does not fit the typical "pope profile".  He is more easily accessible than many of his predecessors, and he seems willing to answer questions without preparation.  And while he is often misunderstood (who isn't?) because his remarks are often taken out of context (whose aren't??), or something gets lost in the language translations, when read carefully he is forthright and intentional about faith, community, The Lord, The Church, and the sacred value of every living creature - including Protestants! - and human institutions ... another example of the many relationships we often take for granted.

Pope Francis was especially taken to task (and ultimately misunderstood) by so many conservative "talking heads" when the pope released his encyclical, "The Joy of the Gospel" (English translation), which addressed economic issues as well as others - all relative to how we deal with one another.  The pope was chastised as a "socialist" because, while he lifted up business as "a noble vocation", he nevertheless challenged people of business to look beyond profit margins and embrace their responsibility to the Kingdom of Heaven, emphasizing the "social function" of property beyond that which is primarily considered "private" and available only to the highest bidder.

This understanding of human relationships which appreciates the value of good business is the same accountability that chastises us when we seek to exploit any human person in any manner for the sake of profit margin.  So even in business, that seemingly most heartless of human institutions that focuses primarily on numbers and money, it is still about "relationships".  The pope rightly questioned, "How is it not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is [big] news when the stock market drops two points?"

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the Bishop of Rome, he took for himself the name "Francis" in honor of 12th-century St. Francis of Assisi who was canonized (declared a saint) in the 13th century.  What is so note-worthy of St. Francis for the pope and the contemporary Church is not only his deliberate "conversion" from a life of wealth and privilege to a life of poverty and service, but also a vision he encountered at a country chapel just outside of Assisi (Italy) in which Messiah told him to "go and repair My house which, as you can see, has fallen into ruins."

It is said that St. Francis first took this vision to mean that particular church where he was praying and its physical well-being.  Using his father's resources, then, he restored that chapel (against his father's wishes); but this is when the final straw came by which St. Francis fully and completely renounced his family's wealth, and even the clothing on his very back which had come from that wealth.

Without going into a lot of historical detail, it is enough to know that from this moment in St. Francis' life, he devoted his entire being to The Lord and to The Church, understanding that to "repair" The Lord's house did not strictly mean its physical structures.  "The House" to which the Lord referred was "the Church"; that is, the Body of Christ, the community of faith. 

In this "repair", the relationships often marginalized in society were (and still are) in desperate need of rebuilding and restoring.  St. Francis chose to restore from the "bottom" of the social barrel.  This vision is shared by Pope Francis who believes it is the necessary vision and task of The Holy Church.

These deliberate and faithful choices made by a man who "had it all" at one time are sufficient for St. Francis and many others to be included in the "great cloud of witnesses"; up there with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David, to name only a few.  These and so many more had the strength and courage borne of faith that reminded them - as we are to be reminded - that our lives, however grand or seemingly inconsequential, belong to the Kingdom of Heaven - meaning we belong to one another. 

Including Jesus in this company of the "great cloud", however, takes a turn we are not entirely comfortable with, if at all.  St. Francis did not have a vision of Moses or King David.  St. Francis' vision was entirely about Messiah and all Messiah would ask of him in "running with perseverance the race which is set" before us all; the same race set before The Church, Christ in the world today.

This "race" is entirely about "community" and relationships which anchor the community in all that matters, all that really makes a difference in our lives - or more importantly, all that will make a difference in the lives of those whom we consider to be ... beneath us.  St. Francis was once at the top of the social order, but he soon found himself dangerously entangled with the trappings of "empire" rather than the blessings of "kingdom".  St. Francis chose The Kingdom by choosing the "least among us".

Pope Francis seems to be following in that very Franciscan ideal of "repairing" The Lord's House (even though this is the first Jesuit pope), but not strictly the buildings.  This pope has challenged the very institution which was once in its great and rightful heritage socially scandalous and radical in obedience to The Lord and in faithfulness to the Gospel; "scandalous" in rejecting the social norms of a secular society, and "radical" in welcoming all, especially those who did not seem to belong anywhere else. 

It is not necessary to try and reinvent the wheel.  It is the relationship shared by the biblical giants as well as the saints of the past we must reconnect with, embrace, and build upon.  It is The Relationship which has endured much persecution and has withstood many attempts to undermine or even destroy it.  It must also be noted that no one who kept to themselves in their personal spirituality was ever at personal risk for the sake of the Gospel.  The risk always comes from within active, dynamic relationships; the risk to love completely rather than socially, conditionally. 

Relationships matter; but new relationships must be built upon from the "great cloud of witnesses" that has faithfully blazed the trail, each connected to the other in The Lord; for it is our past that connects us to our future.  Amen.  

A Thought

“When [The Lord] summoned famine against the land and broke every staff of bread, He had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.  He feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of The Lord kept testing him” (Psalm 105:16-19).

In the Genesis story (37:1-28), Joseph was the source of much resentment from his older brothers not only because he was Jacob’s favored one but also because “Joseph brought a bad report of [his brothers] to their father” (Gen 37:2).  In other words, Joseph was a snitch!  Joseph was also a dreamer who had rather lofty visions of his own future, a vision that would come to fruition in which his brothers – and the well-being of the Covenant – would be dependent on what The Lord would do with and for Joseph in the future.  Needless to say, it took years before Joseph was able to realize The Lord had chosen him for a very special task.

Clearly Joseph was favored also in the eyes of The Lord but not strictly for Joseph’s personal sake.  Rather The Lord had His eye on the whole of Israel and His own Covenant with Abraham; Joseph would become an instrument of survival for the sake of the Covenant and the people of The Lord.  This, I think, is an element of the whole of the redemption story often overlooked especially in today’s Christian context.  We have allowed a few prominent TV preachers to convince some that when bad things happen to them, they are the result of one of two things: a) their faith is insufficient, or b) the devil is out to get them.  Neither is adequate (or even true) when measured against the biblical heroes who endured maltreatment far beyond anything you or I could imagine today, being “tested” as they were for The Lord’s purposes.

“Consider it pure joy … whenever you face trial of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).  When we are tested, then, our allegiance to The Lord is not necessarily what is on the line.  Rather we are perhaps being prepared for something much greater, something that will involve the well-being of the Church herself!  Either way, the fidelity of The Lord and His greater purposes are the key component of the trials we face.

We must not allow a select few to convince us “the devil is out to get us”.  Maybe he is, but the one thing we can be certain of is that The Lord is with His Church, “even to the end of the age”.  This assurance makes that devil thing laughable.

If we feel our faith being pressed and seemingly tested beyond our capacity to endure, we must remember The Lord’s much grander purposes and stop believing the idle chit-chat of religionists who make things up as they go almost completely independent of what is actually written in the Scriptures.  We are not now, nor will we ever be, “victims” because of the Gospel.  We are now, and will ever be, “agents” of The Good News!  Because The Almighty loves our unbelieving neighbor as much as He loves His Church.



Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Thought

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean.  Remove the evil of your doings from before My eyes.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good.  Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow”  (Isaiah 1:16-17).

“Isaiah was a realist. Though he was convinced of the truth of his message, he expected the people to be able to hear the message the first time, but not necessarily able to understand its importance and follow it readily. Old habits are not easily changed.”

“Much like the Israelites, we also find our ears are dulled to the message. That is why Isaiah comes to us. Isaiah intends to be our hearing aid. Isaiah wishes to help us perceive the silent sigh, to amplify the message that is an octave too high, and bring it down to a level to which we can not only hear it, but also pay attention to it in a way that will call us to action.”

“Isaiah's warning is not meant to be depressing, but inspirational. He notes that IF we can hear the message to act in a good and just manner, we can turn the course of our world around. By learning to do good, devoting ourselves to justice, and looking out for those who cannot look out for themselves, we can find our world transformed. Only when we transform our hearing into understanding and action, can the heavens and the  earth be glad and rejoice.”  Rabbi Matt Dreffin

So our United Methodist mantra to “make disciples for the transformation of the world” must first involve our own transformations.  We who claim to believe in the message of Christ have a bounden duty to reflect all which is taught to us by Messiah.  Claiming to believe goes far beyond a benign belief that Jesus of Nazareth once walked the earth; faith involves actions which reflect what it is we believe about The Lord, a reflection of the mercy once extended to us.

Make no mistake; our actions do not buy us favor with our Holy Father, for He cannot be bought nor can He be impressed by human action.  Rather we understand that the “transformation of the world” begins with the transformation of our own hearts, doing and being to our neighbors and to the world all The Lord has done and has been to His Church, His people.  Then will we begin to see changes.  Then will those outside of the Covenant begin to understand what the Holy Covenant is about.  We will never see it nor understand its importance, however, until we first begin to do it ourselves. 



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Thought

“Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field”  (James 1:9-10).

So much for the so-called “prosperity gospel”, right?  That The Lord is just aching to give us material blessings in such abundance that we will not be able to keep up with it all?  Not so fast, according to James.  We should understand this passage in its appropriate context, however, before we are so quick to judge the “rich” for having more than we think they are entitled to.

There are many persons who are financially very well off and who are also not afraid to share their abundance; and they are not afraid because they have a deep and abiding faith in The Lord to see to their futures.  They recognize that The Lord has seen to their abundance so they have plenty to share, not so they can have more for themselves (“for the Lord does not show partiality”).  Even though there seem to be many passages that condemn the “rich” for simply being rich, everything must be taken in its appropriate context.

James is speaking in terms not of money but of faith; real faith, enduring faith, the kind of faith that transcends an empty and often uncertain belief that has yet to be proved.  We do not see this passage as promising material wealth to the “lowly”; we must therefore not read this same passage as a curse on those who have found success.  Rather we should understand this passage as the same Promise fulfilled in all; that the “lowly” will be raised up from the trappings of whatever has brought them low (it may not be strictly about being “poor”), and the “rich” will be released from the trappings that often come with wealth.  We must believe (because it is true) that money does not buy happiness.  It might be rented for awhile, but it doesn’t last.  And The Lord wants to redeem them as well.

I will grant that the entire passage seems to be condemnatory toward the “rich”, but we must understand we all have our own crosses to bear in whatever form is presented to us.  The Lord assures us that if we take up that cross faithfully and follow Him, He will show us the way out from under the world’s many traps.  The Promise is predicated, however, on our choice to deliberately engage in Messiah’s life and path; not to simply believe He is or that He walked the earth or that He was raised from the grave.  We must have the faith to know it! “For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the winds; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-8).   

Don’t be so hard on the “rich” for being under condemnation, and don’t be so hard on the “poor” who seem to have let life’s opportunities pass by them.  We all have a cross to bear, according to our Lord, and each one is as heavy as the next.  So if we are to boast at all, let us boast in knowing we are being led out!



Monday, July 28, 2014

Making disciples: the attributes

Deuteronomy 4:1-8
2 Peter 2:1-9
Luke 16:10-17

Last week Jesus' parable of the wheat and the weeds questioned whether we could - or should - know a disciple or a potential disciple on sight.  In our determination to keep out those less-than-desirable cultural influences, it is likely we would do much more harm than good not only to disciples who are in early spiritual development but also to future disciples who might be interested to know more about our Holy Father and His mercy in Christ - until they discover Christians are not always disciples themselves.

The mission of the Church, however, is not to spot disciples!  As Christians baptized into the Church and the Eternal Covenant we cannot escape the "Great Commission" from Jesus; our mission to "make disciples".  But to "make disciples", as pointed out last time, is pretty broad and somewhat vague.  So if we have no real concept of what a disciple is, or what discipleship is supposed to look like, how can we know we have succeeded in "making disciples"? 

Is our success measured by receiving new members, restoring fallen-away members, celebrating professions of faith, or increasing our giving?  Yes, yes, yes ... and then some!  As much as these are good and necessary practices of discipleship, trying to quantify discipleship must be approached carefully because "quantity" suggests a goal which can be reached.  I don't think discipleship can be defined strictly by such quantitative terms because discipleship must never be measured in terms of how we can know we're "finished" - because we never will be.

The challenge, however, cannot be brushed aside.  A fellow pastor from another denomination was sharing some thoughts not long ago, general notions, nothing special or specific.  He was telling me about a Bible study he leads on a university campus in the town where he serves, and he mentioned this one particular young woman who never missed a study session.  She faithfully studied the lessons, she was enthusiastic, and she was always prepared for the study sessions with all kinds of questions - not to challenge but for clarity's sake.  Clearly she had a desire to learn more about The Lord and was willing to put in the time and effort.  However, the brother pastor pointed out she was not yet "saved".

I asked brother pastor how he could know something of such depth and spiritual intimacy about another person and what difference it might make.  Understand he comes from a tradition almost completely foreign to the tradition I grew up in, the tradition I pretty much ascribe to even now as a United Methodist.  I'm pretty sure I know what he meant, but I began wondering if it is possible to know what a "saved" person looks like as opposed to a disciple - or if there can even be a difference.  Jesus said, "If you hold to My teachings, you are my disciples" (John 8:31).  This seems to suggest to us that if we faithfully read and then put into practice The Lord's "teachings", we are disciples in the truest sense.

The distinguishing difference, I think, is in what a person says (the so-called 'sinner's prayer' or an appropriate Creed or an officially prescribed Confessional Prayer) and what a person does (study the Scriptures in community with other disciples, for instance). 

We assume too much in Christianity, and there is a certain level of arrogance that comes with these assumptions.  So when we assume anything, we take too much for granted.  We assume others know we are "Christians" because we are "good people" - at least by our own standards.  We forget there are scores of persons in our own neighborhoods who have heard of Christianity in a very general sense, but they know very little about the religion apart from the behavior and practices of known Christians.  We always hope they see only the good stuff - and there is much good stuff to see! - but we cannot ignore the reality that they see, and probably notice more, the less-than-holy stuff. 

The goodness they need to see, the goodness that offers hope to a hopeless world goes far beyond just being a "good ol' boy" or a fine, upstanding Christian woman, both of which are based strictly on subjective regional, cultural, or individual standards.  I have met and have known some decent, moral atheists, agnostics, and Muslims who are clearly not "disciples" of Jesus. 

Based on their culturally subjective moral standards and charitable hearts (that which I could clearly see) of these non-Christians, however, I have a hard time believing these good and decent folks have flat-out rejected Messiah Jesus or His moral teachings.  In fact I think sometimes these folks on the "outside" can see what is "inside" more clearly than we who have been inside most of our lives.  So what they see, perhaps, is what they are rejecting. 

Jesus did indeed tell the Pharisees in Luke's Gospel that "God knows your hearts" (Luke 16:15) even though they were clearly putting on outward airs, but Jesus also warned His disciples about false prophets who will be "known by their fruits" (Mt 7:16); that is, whether they bless or curse by their actions.  The Lord does indeed know what is within one's heart but since the "abundance of the heart comes from the mouth" (Luke 6:45), it is more difficult than we imagine to pull the wool over another person's eyes.

Moses spoke to Israel: "You must observe [The Lord's statutes and ordinances] diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples who ... will say, 'Surely this great [people of The Lord] is a wise and discerning people!"  (Deut 4:6)   

Peter made a clear distinction between Lot and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah as a matter of which human practices are "godly" and which are not (2 Peter 2:7-8).  Jesus also points out that human choices can and will be a determining factor in what will be entrusted to us later, that we can make a choice of what or Whom we will love and devote ourselves to - as a matter of our own choices - in keeping with the Moral Law or in violation of that Divine Law (Luke 16:10-17).

Even though Scripture study is a very good start for a disciple (in fact, maybe it is the only real start - otherwise, how would they know whom they are following?), discipleship is much more than simply reading the Bible just as justification before The Lord must mean more to us than memorization of a few select Bible verses, a particular prayer, or a creed - or just being a "good person".  All these practices have their places in spiritual development but if they never become innate to our being as the people of The Lord, we cannot claim them as "attributes"; characteristics of whom we are or choose to be.

Practices, good or bad, are habits; they are things we do.  These can be good practices, as the many means of grace are good and necessary toward growing in faith and in love; but unless or until these practices bear fruit worthy of the Kingdom, they remain mere practices with no discernable value. 

An attribute, on the other hand, is a characteristic of our being determined by the choices we make.  Discipleship, then, is in deliberately choosing intentional development of these attributes for the purpose of learning to emulate Jesus, to become more and more Christ-like with every thought and with every choice, and taking nothing for granted - ESPECIALLY The Lord's mercy! 

When we learn to take Divine Mercy for granted, we take the Church, the Lord, our neighbors, our spouses, and yes, even those we perceive as enemies for granted.  We assume too much as "given" when in reality, we have spiritual choices to make every single day; choices between what pleases us against what pleases the Lord.  These choices are not always synonymous; "for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15).

In order to "make disciples", then, we must first understand discipleship on terms well established by Jesus.  The enduring mercy of The Lord can and will justify us before The Lord, but only we can choose discipleship - not to earn Divine Favor but to make this Mercy known.  All this comes from a heart flowing with gratitude, a grateful heart that assumes nothing and therefore takes nothing for granted.  It is as I have shared about prayer and being in mission: we cannot know how important mercy really is until we practice mercy ourselves.

It is often said we do not really appreciate something until that something is no longer available to us.  Well, it is a little hard to think our Lord would withdraw His favor from His people - yet even conventional (human) wisdom can acknowledge how easily we take all that is good and right for granted.  For it is truly as Job had observed: "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away" (1:21).

Before we can begin to make disciples (and we must), we must first become disciples ourselves.  Unlike American Express, church membership has no "privilege" except that of serving our Lord by serving our neighbors.  We can find it within ourselves to do this with glad hearts, however, only when we remember our Lord having served us ("I came not to be served, but to serve", Matthew 20:28).  And He has - by His own attributes of mercy.  So must we - by embracing His attributes as our own.  Amen.  

A Thought

“If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe – it is yourself.”  St. Augustine

I doubt there are many among us who take everything written in the Scriptures as “gospel” (good news) – especially those portions that seem to strike at the heart of what is most important to us.  Even the prophets are hard to read because we hear a very angry God speak to a people who had chosen their own course above The Lord’s direction for them.

Yet for all that is written, there is an overall context in which everything comes together.  The New Testament has its context entirely in the First Testament.  The “bad” stuff has its context entirely in the good.  It is, however, as Augustine observed in himself; it is the “bad” that makes the good truly good because even in the “bad”, we find a Holy Father who is much more eager to forgive and restore than He is to “smite”.  That reality is expressed in Messiah, for The Lord did not have to do this remarkable thing – He chose to.  It is in the abundance of His mercy that He continues to reach out to an unbelieving world through His Church.

This is the reality of who we are.  Being who we are, then, requires the necessary expression of all we claim to believe about The Lord. 

So what is it we believe?  That is what we are called to express.  Not with hatefulness, not with spite, and certainly not with an agenda of our own.  The Gospel is The Lord, and The Lord is the Gospel.  All of it – because in the end, we find The Lord still waiting patiently.

Let us not flee from hell.  Rather let us run to Love.  Then hell no longer has a legitimate claim over us.



Monday, July 21, 2014

A Thought

“Be still and know I am The Lord.  I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

Commonly taught as the imperative to “sit down and shut up” so we may listen to what The Lord has to say, the principle is consistent with St. Paul’s understanding of the perfection of Divine Strength in mortal weakness; “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

We don’t often think of being “still” as being “weak”, but maybe this is because we do not understand what weakness means – especially when we choose that imperfect state for the perfection of Divine presence in our prayers.  It is not necessarily that The Lord is most merciful and revealed to those who are weak; rather it may better be understood in terms of complete submission – a willingness to put aside self in favor of something greater even if only for a moment.

We are a little too busy and too “in charge” of our lives for our own good.  We confuse Divine Will with personal desire because we already know what we want – and we like to pretend The Lord always agrees with us.  I am convinced this is only because we do not fully give The Lord the time He requires of us in order to make Himself and His will known.  We must first not only “be still” but we must also choose to “be still”.  It is the principle of complete Sabbath, and it is no less so in the midst of our haste.  And really, when we are in such a hurry, such a state of impatience, are we not just seeking an earlier grave?

Slow down today.  Make time to acknowledge the reality of The Lord, and learn to set aside time strictly for The Lord.  Private time.  Unencumbered time.  It is what we probably need above all things, for surely from such an intimate moment do all good things come.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Thought

“ … Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 13:34-35).

Because we have been conditioned over generations toward Jesus’ many parables each with its own distinct meaning, we are often inclined to overlook certain parables and take them for granted as having been figured out.  While we might agree there may be only one meaning for any particular parable, we cheat ourselves when we strike one off the “list” of things completed – especially when it comes to the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven which the parables speak to and teach about.  So when we believe we have “finished” any portion of the Scriptures, we stop reaching; and when we stop reaching, we stop growing spiritually.  It is the reason there are so many “mature” Christians who have become stunted in their growth; it’s all “figured out”, the ‘secrets’ have been revealed. 

Nothing could be further from the truth!  There are treasures within each parable Jesus teaches that demand a closer look, and it is the reason why our Wesleyan Methodist heritage has an official “discipline”, a discipline which transcends denominational “rules” and promotes and encourages the many “means of grace”.  The study of the Scriptures is a lifelong journey in search of “joy unspeakable” which can only be revealed as we draw nearer.  We must never forget that discipleship can never be considered a “hobby” nor is it a way of living.  It is Life itself which comes only from The Word.