The Great Bible Heist

BibleMark 4:1-20

“And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (v.9)

It was Easter Sunday morning in my church back in Petaluma, CA.  I was dressed in a nice new dress shirt… unusual for me in my northern California church. (I usually wore a polo.)  I entered the sanctuary from the front and was humming to myself “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” when I heard :  “Pastor, come quick.  I need you!”  One of the women of our church was calling me from the back.  I quickly perceived that my church member was engaged in an altercation with a strange woman I had never seen before.  It seems that this woman had wandered in the front door and exhibiting signs of mental illness became obsessed with our Bible on display in the foyer.  It was one of those large coffee table Bibles.  When my church member called me, the woman suddenly grabbed it and was made off with it.

“Stop her!” my church member yelled to me as I approached… “She’s stealing the church’s Bible!”  As I reached the back of the church she was already half way across the parking lot.  I suddenly caught a vision of me scuffling on the blacktop with this Bible thief… in my nice clothes… on a Sunday morning… just as Easter worshipers were arriving.  It responded:  “Let her go.  It’s hers!”

As I watched her with this 50 pound Bible tucked under her arm making her getaway… I had another thought:  “At least now it might get read.”  It reminded me of the coffee table Bible we had in our home as I grew up.  Never saw it opened.  Never saw it read.

Jesus once told a parable:  A farmer went to sow seeds:  some on the path in full view of hungry birds, some on a rocky hillside where the plants could not put down roots so they withered in the sun, some were sown  among thorns where the plants grew up but were then choked to un-fruitfullness… but some were sown on good rich soil where the plants grew tall and plentiful.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the soil that grows the big crop.  I don’t want be some sickly garden; I want my life to be robust and healthy.  I want there to be fruit in my garden to share with others.  But I’m not sure my soil is always soft.  You see, I get seed slung at me all day long… and most of it is not God’s word.  My email inbox, the Nightly News Cast, a casual conversation with a friend, or a blog about something that interests me, they each throw at me… opinions, ideas, theologies, and world views each hoping to raise up a crop in me.

What happens after being bombarded day after day?  My soil gets hard.  I become less a student and more a skeptic.  And yet… I still want that good crop!  How do I get it?

There is a word that can help you and I get to a rich crop of righteousness… that word is “receptivity.”  In Jesus’ parable, the seed is sown… and all the soil can do is accept or reject the seed.  Are you adept at accepting the Word of God?   Or does it sit unopened week after week… its life changing message doing nothing for you.

Soren Kierkegaard reminds us:  “To truly hear the word of God is to say over and over again to yourself, ‘It is talking about me, and it is talking to me.’”  He who has ears to hear… let him hear.  Yes, Jesus was talking about you, and he is talking to you.

What condition is your soil?  Do you have ears to hear today?

(By the way, this heist wasn’t unique apparently.  Read:  http://999thepoint.com/woman-busted-for-stealing-a-bible-from-bookstore/)  Blessed reading!

Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.

Down With the Old Man, Up With the New

Beginning today I am starting a series on my favorite chapter in the Bible.  It is… a drum roll please… Colossians, Chapter 3.  Find that surprising?  I love this chapter because I believe it to be one of the most beautiful pictures of Christian growth and maturity in the Bible.  It begins like this:

 1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

This is a passage about what happens to a believer post baptistm.  Why do I say that?  Well, verse one says:  you have been raised with Christ.  The word in Greek for raised here is the same one Paul uses in Chapter 2, verse 12:  “…having been buried with him in baptistm and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  This relationship of being raised out of the baptismal… and being spiritually raised with Jesus at His resurrection… is carried into Chapter 3, Verse 1.  Hence, my favorite chapter in the Bible is all about what it means to live for Christ – after you’ve taken that step of obedience in your discipleship called baptism.  An article in Sports Spectrum years ago tells what a difference baptism plays in the life of a believer.

“Pat Summerall, the well known sports announcer, overcame alcoholism and became a
follower of Christ in his late sixties. He said this about water baptism:  “I went down in the water, and when I came up it was like a 40-pound weight had been lifted from me. I have a happier life, a healthy life, and a more positive feeling about life than ever before.”

About prayer meetings and Bible studies Summerall comments: “It’s like an alcoholic looking for a drink. If he wants it bad enough, he can find it—no matter what. I’m like that when it comes to finding prayer services and Bible studies. No matter where I am working, I know that they’re out there and I can find them.”  (Art Stricklin Sports  Spectrum (Nov/Dec 2001), p. 27)

I like the connection made in this article… between how excited he felt coming out of those baptismal waters and the desire to scope out Bible Study and prayer services where ever he was working.

Becoming a believer in Christ, one undergoes not just an outward washing… but an inward heart transplant (Hebrews 8:10).  Our hearts are no longer chasing after the fame, wealth and comforts that this world can give us… but are after the affections of a living Christ seated at the right hand of God.

One final word about the word, raisedIn the Greek it is in the Aorist tense indicating that our co-resurrection with Jesus is a past completed action.  The moment we were raised with him… our hearts were his.

I still remember the evening of my baptism.  I wasn’t sure it was going to “take.”  For years I had faced the invitation portion of the church service with dread.  I felt an urge to do something, but wouldn’t do anything about it.  I wondered if now, after I had taken the plunge (literally as well as figuratively) I would still have that same feeling.  After my baptism, I changed my clothes and joined the congregation mid-sermon.  When the time came for the invitation… all I felt was… peace.  My heart was truly His!