Archive for ‘843 Acres’

March 3, 2015

The Tree in the Sea

by Bethany

Luke 17.6
Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

When Jesus wanted to create a picture of the potential of faith, he chose the arduous process of uprooting a tree. Jesus regularly drew teaching examples from his environment, but a tree seems odd for this particular teaching. We like to think of faith solving the world’s greatest problems — poverty, slavery, cancer, mental illness — not performing the tasks of an arborist.

The other image in this teaching is curious as well. The sea is an symbol of chaos and death in ancient Jewish culture. In Jesus’ day the sea was a place of tremendous risk and danger. Everyone knew someone who had gone out to sea and never returned.

“Jesus is not giving us some bizarre image of the impossible,” says Oxford’s Religion and Science Research Director, Andrew Pinset. The story is neither a inspirational image of faith or a condemnation for lack of it (for who has ever been able to use faith to cast a tree into the sea).

The story is about Christ himself. Pinset continues, “Jesus Christ, the mulberry tree, which has being maturing for over a thousand years in the spiritual soil of Israel, will be uprooted and re-planted in the bitter, salt water chaos of paganism.”

A mulberry tree is an image of life. Mulberries start out white and turn blood red when they ripen. Each tree’s root system is vast and complex — taking up to three years to develop to the point where the tree can bear its full fruit.

The New Testament’s writers insist that our world’s greatest problems are solved by faith. Jesus taught that it is not the amount of faith — indeed, it could be as small as a mustard seed — but by the object of our faith that saves.

Christ planted himself in the depths of chaos and evil in our world. He obeyed his father to the point of death and gave his blood to calm the waters in which we suffer. 

Prayer
Father, we long for the day that evil, chaos, and death are rebuked and all they have taken is restored. Let us look to you as the one who calms the waters. We pray, as your disciples did, that you would increase our faith.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 14 (Listen – 4:46)
Luke 17 (Listen – 4:22)

Images of Faith
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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March 2, 2015

Getting Everything You Want

by Steven Dilla

Luke 16.19-21
[Jesus said,] “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

At first it’s easy to separate identity from success. Over time, a person can become radically unaware of themselves apart from any type of success — professional, financial, social, or otherwise.

The rich man in Jesus’ story has no name because his financial success became his identity. Jesus paints a picture of a man who has everything. Although he has done exceptionally well in business and lives in comfort, he soon finds himself in Hades. The parable is careful to note that he is not cast there. 

Hades is exactly what the rich man wanted — he structured his life to separate himself from the poor, the meek, and the last.

In the end he discovers what Jesus promises; it is the poor in spirit who receive the Kingdom of Heaven, the meek who inherit the earth, the last who become first. 

The rich man’s problem isn’t his success. His disconnection from God and his neighbor in eternity is the result of intentionally withdrawing from them while on earth.

“Hell is the greatest monument in the history of the world to human freedom,” C.S. Lewis says In The Problem of Pain. “What do you want God to do? Forgive them? But they won’t be forgiven,” Lewis continues. “What do you want him to do? Leave them alone? Alas, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.”

Jesus calls his followers to examine their lives. The parable ends without exhortation or summary. (It clearly isn’t a quaint tale to encourage tithing or a concrete description of the afterlife.) As he does time and again, Jesus challenges his followers to use their best time and energy to pursue things far more worthy than worldly success. 

One day you’ll get everything you want. 

Prayer
Father, root our identity in you. Let us hunger and thirst for your love, truth, and peace in our lives. Open our eyes to the marginalized, the poor, and the meek. Give us wisdom and courage to invite them in from the outside. Show your love for them through us, your Church.

Images of Faith
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 13 (Listen – 3:30)
Luke 16 (Listen – 4:27)

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February 27, 2015

Wasted Years

by Steven Dilla

Exodus 10.3-4
Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? … For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country.’”

A swarm of locusts is like a stock market crash in an agrarian society. Locusts descend in an instant, destroying wealth over the longterm and sending the economy into what could be a sustained downturn.

The devastation from just one attack can raze swaths of land. The largest locust swarm on record covered 198,000 square miles (17% larger than the state of California) and contained 12.5 trillion insects.

Longterm destruction from locusts is referred to as “wasted years” in scripture. Months of preparing, planting, and cultivating are laid waste in a moment. The plague in Exodus is seen as a direct result of Pharaoh’s hard heartedness, as well as an attack on the Egyptian god Isis, who was believed to protect them from such plagues. 

For Israel, who faced their own locust attacks, locust swarms were believed to be tangible reminders of the devastation caused by a nation’s sin. Years were lost because of their disobedience, brokenness, and rebellion.

God’s character is revealed in how he responds to wasted years. If he were spiteful his response would be callous — a cosmic, “I told you so.” If he were overbearing he would make them worse. 

God is graceful. 

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” God promises through the prophet Joel.  It’s a promise that requires divine intervention — for what man can restore what is lost in his darkest hour? 

“It is a great wonder; but he is a God of wonders, and in the kingdom of his grace miracles are common things,” Charles Spurgeon told his London congregation in 1886.

In some ways the joy, hope, and renewal found in Christ result in a restoration here and now. Faith in Christ results in a tangible change to the way we engage in the world. In other ways we await the full restoration of all that has been lost. For then our tears will be wiped away, our pain relieved, our brokenness restored, our hearts made whole again.

Prayer
Father, thank you for restoring us through the cross. Thank you that, by grace, you do what we cannot. You bring us life. You restore what sin and brokenness have laid waste. We look to you; we long for you; come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Joy in God
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 10 (Listen – 4:44)
Luke 13 (Listen – 5:02)

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Exodus 11.1-12.21 (Listen – 4:04); Luke 14 (Listen – 4:36)
Sunday: Exodus 11.1-12.21 (Listen – 5:44); Luke 15 (Listen – 4:19)

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February 26, 2015

TBT: Learning Contentment

by Steven Dilla

Luke 12.15
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

TBT: Learning Contentment | by Thomas Jacombe (1622–1687)  

Discontentment lodges not only in the soul of those who have nothing, but of those who have abundance: both are dissatisfied with their condition, as thinking they have not enough, and therefore are full of anxious desires for more. 

Had you all that you desire, you would be dissatisfied still; for your desires would grow as fast as your riches: yet more must be had, and that is the bane of satisfaction.

If God gives Christians what is necessary, they are not to quarrel for the want of what is superfluous. What are these earthly riches, that any should be thus insatiably greedy of them? Men may fill their bags and chests with silver and gold, but they cannot with them fill their souls: no, the soul is a thing too great to be filled with such little things as these are.

Consider why the love of the world is inconsistent with the love of God. The poison and evil of these things comes not from the things themselves, but from our lusts, that run into and live upon them, as our last end and choicest good. God never made or appointed these inferior goods to be our last end, chiefest good, or matter of fruition and satisfaction.

They who ran in the race, were to lay aside every thing that might burden or hinder them therein. To love God is to transfer the actions and passions of our love from the world to God, as our last end and chiefest good. In short, the love of God implies a superlative preference of God above all lower goods.

Prayers from the Past

Let us pray that Jesus may reign over us and that our land may be at peace — that our bodies may be free from the assaults of fleshly desires. When these have ceased, we shall be able to rest, beneath our vines, our fig-trees and our olives.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will shelter us as we rest, our peace of mind and body once recovered.

Glory to God the eternal, age after age. Amen.

— Origen, c.250 C.E.

Joy in God
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 9 (Listen – 5:31)
Luke 12 (Listen – 7:42)

Today’s post was abridged, and updated in language, from Nichols, J. (1981). Puritan Sermons (Vol. 1, pp. 647-653). Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers.

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February 25, 2015

Repenting of Greatness

by Steven Dilla

Luke 11.2
And Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, holy is your name.”

The crown was the chief symbol of accomplishment and success in Jewish literature. Most crowns were made of solid gold or silver and embellished with precious jewels. A single crown would have been worth more than everything the average person in the ancient Near East owned in a lifetime.

The additional social value of such a prize would have been incalculable, but it was the spiritual value which sealed the crown as the preeminent symbol of success. In prophetic texts, even as late as the composition of the book of Revelation, the crown is the symbol for a life well lived.

The image of the 24 elders receiving their crowns in Revelation was a source of renewed hope for the faithful. The elders had done everything needed to receive the crown — it was their greatest accomplishment. For all of eternity their crowns would signify that they had done well. 

It would seem scandalous that the elders would walk into the presence of God and cast down their crowns (as they do in Revelation 4.10-11). As they throw aside their prize they declare, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.”

The elders do not throw off their crowns out of guilt. The story is about their reward for accomplishment, not rebuke for it. The elders throw them off because they have found the true holiness of God. It’s a worthiness so high we repent not just of our sin, but of our strength, success, and accomplishment. 

The Lord’s Prayer is meant to remind us of his holiness. In prayer we discover purified motivation for success and accomplishment. We also find our hearts less enamored by success along the way, as we place our ultimate hope in the unsurpassable holiness of God.

God reserves crowns for the faithful, but the true prize is the inexpressible beauty and glory of reuniting with our Father in heaven.

Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Joy in God
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 8 (Listen – 5:07)
Luke 11 (Listen – 7:33)

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