Friday, November 25, 2011

Just how DOES God act in the world?

We're still in our (chronological) study of the real Jesus of the Gospels, which we're finding is far outside how He's always portrayed by the Good Religious People of the world and their "Church".

Today, Jesus talks about how God works in the world, but also how we hit or miss the mark in our search for a relationship with God, and – just like we saw last week – He delivers His message in parables.

As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels chronologically to find the real Jesus, here.

And as always you'll find the scriptures for today are here. (Note that you can change the human-translation version on this scripture page, as suits you. I have NO theological or other tie to the online-bible site I use for this blog – it just lists many human translations to choose from, including the NASB, KJV, The Message, and the NRSV, which are the ones mentioned by those I chat and email with.)

First, Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed. I'll only quickly note that the scholars and other "Big Thinkers" of the world have long debated over this tiny mustard seed Jesus referred to, pointing out that mustard seed was not the smallest seed known to Jesus' listeners, and the mustard plant – even when it reached its biggest height of about ten feet – was never big enough to be called a tree or for (most) birds to perch in it.

Such big-thinker-ism is a good example of why relying only on one's intellectual resources to understand God – and therefore falling into literalism and what we can measure and deduce – means a big, fat failure. It's an example of why we shouldn't be pegging our salvation on what the smart people of the world can figure out, because they too often get so tangled up in "explaining" things that they miss the whole point of the message. They're like people who hear, "It's as hot as the sun in here!", but because they're too busy arguing and preaching and lording over what their thermometers find and under what circumstances anything on earth could truly be as hot as the sun and so on and so forth – they burn up in the fire everyone else fled.

This does NOT mean: "God doesn't mean for you to use your brains." Obviously, He does. But part of using our brains is figuring out when a message or point is being made with what's called hyperbole, or exaggerating for effect. That's certainly a story technique that Jesus uses sometimes, and it's one He uses here.

The second thing to realize as we go through this and other parables, is that we have the benefit of "seeing the answers", because we can read even what the disciples had to have explained to them later. But when Jesus was speaking these parables, no one had a "cheat sheet" called the Bible, and so people then had to rely on how much of God's Spirit they had in their hearts to help them understand what Jesus was showing them. That means many people – Good Religious People who did every Religious thing they knew to go – never understood a word Jesus had said. To them, even though they counted themselves as God's People, Jesus might as well of been speaking on gibberish: they never "got it", because they never "got" Jesus.

However, the fact that we can claim to "get" what Jesus' point was in these parables because we know what these parables mean doesn't mean we actually "get it" any more than most people 2,000 years ago did. As we've said, WE have the "cheat sheet". So we are actually in more danger of never "getting it" than the Good Religious People Jesus was originally speaking to, because we can know the words intellectually, but not spiritually, as measured in our lives. In that case, we're like people in an algebra class, who, when test day come assume we've learned all there is to know from it – but who have only memorized the answer sheet for the final, and therefore can't actually do algebra at all.

Once again, what matters to Jesus isn't what we can show with our mouths and what we can memorize and even teach others, but what we can live with our hearts and minds and spirits.
  • The people listening to Jesus heard His words – but only a tiny, tiny few ever understood His point. yet these were highly religious people, well-schooled in God's rules and ways. How dangerous is it to just assume that, because we go to church to hear the Bible preached, we are getting Jesus' point? 
  • It doesn't take a Bible scholar to realize that the vast majority of those who call themselves "Christian" don't even come close to living like Jesus (though they're really good at living like what they call "Christian"). Even God-rejecters can see that. In what ways do you call yourself "Christian", but have actually only memorized the Bible answer-sheet and not really learned Jesus' lessons? Are you ready to turn away from your "answer sheet Christianity"?

Ok – so what is Jesus talking about with the parable of the mustard seed? He tells us that the kingdom of heaven – God's way, in other words – is like a tiny, tiny thing that grows unexpectedly, astoundingly, even "abnormally", huge. So huge, in fact, that even those not expected to find shelter in it can and do.

Another parable. Jesus says God's way is like yeast – another tiny, tiny thing – that gets mixed all through everything, so that in time it's everywhere.
  • God starts with a lot of tiny things, and then grows or mixes them everywhere. He started with one little human being, and grew us into billions. He started with one Man from a tiny, backwater part of the world, and mixed that Man's message all through the world. Is God planting something tiny in your life, working to grow that something all through who you are so that you also become a resource for others to shelter in?

Then we come to Jesus' parable of the weeds – a parable that we should find great comfort in, when we wonder why God allows evil and evil people in the world. Through this parable, Jesus tells us that God "planted" good, but that the devil came along later and planted bad among God's good. But if God were to rip out the bad people from among us now, others who are good might be destroyed also – something He won't allow. Instead, He tells us, both good and bad people will inhabit the world – until, that is, Jesus comes again to sort us out for good.
  • There are many people – either because they've been turned off of Jesus because of the crappy example of "Christian" Good Religious People, or simply because their hearts haven't opened to God yet – who would count even right now as "bad" people. Yet because God hasn't chosen to "harvest" yet, they aren't sent off to hell with the people who simply will always reject God because they love evil. Have you in your own life been a "bad" person that God has allowed to stay mixed in with the good people until you could heal into the good person God created you to be? 
  • Does this give you comfort, understanding that God is still in control, His plan hasn't "failed", and He still cares deeply for us, even when our lives are impacted by the "bad" people of the world? Are there others you could share this comfort-message with in your life, today?
  • Jesus speaks more than anyone else in the Bible about the reality of hell as a place where good-rejecters end up. But He also speaks (as do many others in the Old and New Testaments) about God's continued attempts to save people from hell by inviting them to the real good they can only achieve through God. How should knowing this affect our lives? How does it currently affect your own life?

Jesus said God's way is like a buyer of fine goods who's seeking for something really special. When he finds it, he gives up everything he has to buy it.
  • The buyer could be us. Have you discovered in the Gospel THE treasure you've been searching for? Have you given up everything to be part of it? 
  • The buyer could be God. Have you considered that Jesus searches everywhere for you, and that He gave up everything to make you part of His People?

Jesus said God's way catches up everyone – every kind of person there is – and in the end the angels separate the good from the bad, gathering up the good to keep, and tossing the bad into hell.
  • Jesus said God chooses good people over bad – not straight over Gay, or white over Black, or male over female, or rich over poor. What do you imagine a heaven full of God's people will look like? Does it look partly like you?

See you next week, when we'll take a look at how God's supernatural power can act in the world, and what that means for our lives today.

This article written by Lynne at You can contact Lynne at