A Beautiful Bouquet

I don’t know any kid who doesn’t love dandelions.

As a kid, I remember rubbing the pollen on my forehead. It would leave yellow oily smudges like it were cheap face paint. I remember having a contest with my friends to see who could blow the seeds off of the dead dandelions the fastest. It was a contest I would have with myself to see if I could blow all of the seeds off with one fatal gust of breath. I also remember getting off the bus after school and picking the biggest dandelions I could find to give to my mother. I would find a cheap cup, fill it with water, and place them on a windowsill as though they were flowers.

I think now as an adult, if I would pick dandelions for my girlfriend, I would soon be without one.

There is a popular story in the gospels where Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It is coupled together with a couple other stories in Mark explaining the expansion of the message of the gospel. At the root of his parable, Jesus was saying that though his message has started out small, it would soon grow a large following. It isn’t necessarily a parable of growth, but it is more of a parable of contrast – explaining how great things always start from things that are small.

A Tree and a Weed:

As far as dandelions are concerned, I think you understand. You can have one dandelion in your yard, and in a day there could be dozens. This is the focus of the parable, but like with the dandelions, there is one crucial aspect people are missing when they read this passage. And though this might not be the main idea of the text, it was still an intended illustration made by Jesus describing the Kingdom of God. Mustard plants, much like dandelions, were a nuisance to those whose gardens they overtook.

I don’t think any Jew at the time would describe the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Many Jews would describe the Kingdom of God or Israel like a mighty Cedar – a strong lavish tree with many uses. Cedar would be a sign of strength and a sign of stability. Jesus instead likens the Kingdom of God to a bush that overtook one’s garden. Once mustard was in one’s garden, it was most likely there to stay. To take out the plant would be troublesome, because the seeds alone germinate as soon as they hit the ground. Jesus knew the Old Testament. He could’ve equally used a parable describing the Kingdom as a Cedar, but his use of the mustard plant is important.

The Kingdom of God isn’t going to look like what the Jews were expecting.

Where many Jews thought they were God’s only people, Jesus made a way for ALL people of every tribe and every tongue to be part of the People of God. The mustard plant will grow so large that birds will perch in its branches. No one wants birds in their garden much like how many farmers put scarecrows in the cornfields. Yet Jesus makes this sound like a good thing.

Where many Jews and others thought they should revolt over Rome and rule the world, Jesus instead taught to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemy, and to put other’s in front of oneself. When many Jews and even the disciples thought the Messiah would come and deliver the people from their physical bondage, Jesus instead died at the hands of the very government they were trying to overthrow. Jesus came to deliver them from their spiritual bondage.

The Kingdom of God might not look like what we are expecting either.

While many churches spend their time looking to bring in young suburban families, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God is longing to see people in the slums and ghettos and cities. While American churches long that our government be right-wing conservative Capitalists, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God will welcome the Socialists who follow Christ as well. While many in church praise their pastors, I can’t help but think the people in the Kingdom will praise janitors and ushers, teachers and social workers, and the developmentally disabled as well.

Have we been looking at the Kingdom of God all wrong? What are our priorities as the body of Christ? How are we bringing heaven to earth? What are we doing to point those who are lost to Christ? How are we making the physical world a better place?

We need to learn how to stop saying we love people, and we actually need to start going out and loving people. We need to not get bitter at those who we don’t agree with. We need to love our enemies, and we need to encourage those who are going through difficult times instead of continually kicking them to the ground. We need to stop quoting the Ten Commandments, and we need to start following the One who perfected the Law. We are not only representatives of the Kingdom. We are representatives of Christ.

Embrace God like you’re holding a bouquet of beautiful dandelions.

Loveable Leslie and the Valentine’s Day Parable

Loveable Leslie grew up like any other child. She was quite normal and fun. And she had a heart of gold. While most other kids picked best friends, Loveable Leslie just wanted to love everybody. It was part of who she was – loveable. She learned quickly though that love isn’t always returned. Sometimes love is met with hate and bitterness.

It happened one year during Valentines Day. All the children were to bring in bags or boxes that were decorated and then they would go around the room and put a valentine card in all of their boxes. Loveable Leslie made a very special valentine for a boy that she thought was very special – Tough Tony. On it, she wrote with the best of her ability, “Tony, will you be my very special valentine? Love, Leslie. xoxo”

Tony came back the next day with that valentine in his hand. Loveable Leslie was so nervous she could barely stop shaking. Then Tony did the unthinkable. He signaled the rest of the class: “Hey guys,” he said, “look what that Loony Leslie gave me!” Leslie’s face swelled as red as the valentine in Tony’s hand. She quickly shriveled into her seat. But nothing she did made the moment any less worse. Immediately after school, Loveable Leslie ran home and cried for the rest of the night.

Now – most people would find it hard to love or trust any one ever again after a moment like that. Not only did Tony embarrass Leslie, but he also embarrassed her in front of all of their classmates. It would be understandable if Leslie took a long time to trust again, even at such a young age.

But that moment didn’t faze her.

Even though Loveable Leslie wasn’t so loveable to Tony, she continued to love people. She loved her parents, she loved her friends, and she loved her dog. And sometimes people would take advantage of her. Sometimes they would abuse the love and trust she had for them. But she still loved them regardless. And by the time that Loveable Leslie grew old, she had hundreds of people who loved and cared for her. Through her love towards others she really became Loveable Leslie.

Christ truly taught miraculous things through parables. The way that he was able to use everyday circumstances and situations and transform them into vessels and vehicles of spiritual truth shows what an amazing teacher he was. In the parable of the sower, for instance, we know that Christ isn’t merely giving advice regarding agriculture. We all know that the parable of the sower isn’t about a sower at all, but is about the Kingdom of God.

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

So what kingdom principles can we learn from the parable of the sower?

The first is about the seed and the soil. No matter how good the seed is it won’t grow in some soil. The fact that there are different soils already tells us that not everyone will receive the message of the Gospel. There will be some that won’t understand it. There will be others that abuse it. Some will even extort the Gospel for their own selfish gain. But when those who understand the message allow it to take root, they will multiply.

Later, Jesus says that blessed are those who see and understand. This is not only talking about understanding the parable, but is also talking about understanding the message of the Kingdom of God. To those who are receptive and allow the kingdom seed to be rooted in their heart, God will give them more of Himself. He will give them knowledge and understanding of His Kingdom. That is why it says later in verse 12, “He who has, more will be given.”

The second thing about the parable of the sower has to do with the sower himself. I like to call him the “foolish farmer.” The farmer is to sow seed regardless of the condition of the soil. The foolish farmer here, much like Loveable Leslie, is acting quite foolishly. Leslie shouldn’t have continued to love people the way she was after being hurt. The farmer, if he knows anything about sowing seed, should know that he is only supposed to plant seed in good soil. But in the parable, Jesus has the sower spread seed all over the place. Any farmer would know that he would be wasting valuable seeds if he were to plant them on rocky soil or amidst thorns. Yet Jesus has the farmer spreading his seed, his livelihood, everywhere, not thinking once of how it might affect his crop.

Here Jesus is teaching a lesson. It is easy to look at some who are lost and not see hope for them ever receiving the Gospel. One might think, “What’s the point,” and ignore this person as a lost cause. “What is the point of wasting time and energy into someone who won’t receive the message anyway?” But here, Jesus is saying that it isn’t the responsibility of the one sharing the Gospel to decide who will and will not receive its message. The sower’s mission and responsibility is to merely plant the seed.

Lastly, the parable teaches that growth only comes through God. Despite the terrible terrain and the farmer’s foolish ways, there was still a magnificent crop that was harvested from the seeds that were sown. This wasn’t due to the soil. It wasn’t due to the farmer. Most of the soil was bad and the farmer was planting seeds like he knew nothing of agriculture. No, the growth of the harvest came by the miraculous power of God.

It isn’t our responsibility to decide who deserves to hear the message of the Gospel. Everyone deserves to hear it. And it isn’t in our power that they receive it. It can only be through the grace of God and the Holy Spirit. We, like Loveable Leslie, just need to keep loving people and sharing with them the Gospel, and by the end of our time in ministry, God will have used us to reach a multitude of people.

We just need to share the Gospel and trust in Him to bring in the harvest.

The Party Starts in Heaven

There were these men in my old town that became known as the “Sign Guys.” They had these magnificent beards and would stand on the corner in downtown Springfield, MO with words that read “A woman is to be meek, modest…” and “To marry a divorced woman is adultery.” You get the idea. Well, one of their signs got me kind of intrigued. I’ve heard the phrase before. But for some reason reading it from a street corner around a bunch of bars and clubs really resonated with me.

“The Party Ends in Hell.”

It was perfect for the location. Springfield is a college town, so many of the college students pour to downtown on the weekend. During certain occasions they even open up all the bars and shut the streets down. Downtown Springfield is a true Bizarro-type testimony to the hedonistic lifestyle that has swept through our young adults in America.

Unfortunately for the world, they think that morality and Christianity puts shackles on their freewill to have fun. They see religions as “boring” and stale. To have fun in their minds means to go out and party. Like Solomon said sarcastically: “Eat, drink, and be merry!” And though in the past there have been many bad Christian games played at youth groups and bad comedians who tell too many bible puns, Christianity is getting a bad rap. Whoever decided to play the game where students drink soda through their socks is probably going to lose a jewel on their crown in the afterlife.

Being in Christ is being where the party is! In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a story about a HUGE banquet thrown by a king. The king invites all of these people to his party, but when the banquet night comes around, NO ONE shows up. So the king has his servants go out to the street corners and invite everyone they can! The rich and poor are invited along with the sick and well.

Many people were invited to the party but few chose to come.

The Pharisees and Jews as the people of God were invited to join the revolution that Jesus was creating. Jesus came to set the captives free, but the people denied him as their king. They failed to show up to the party. So the invitation was opened to all the people: Greeks, Samaritans, Barbarians, etc. What the Jews thought was a closed party invitation, God had opened up to the world.

People today are trading in their party tickets of a greater life for a knock-off. The bait of instant gratification has become an allusion of wholeness and happiness. That’s why celebrities chase the high, seek attention, and eventually fly off the handle. They don’t realize they skipped out on the Best Banquet ever offered.

So maybe it is true that “the party ends in hell,” but I think what resonates more in our hearts should be that the party starts in Heaven!

My senior pastor just finished a wonderful series on the “Things Unseen.” During the summer between his exegetical series, he spent some time to talk about the things in the “spiritual realm.” For the first time in his pastoring career at the church, there were two weeks devoted to talking solely about Heaven and Hell. It was great! As contrast was painted between the two possibilities of eternal essence, it rang even more true to me – so many people are attending the wrong party.

Maybe you have been taking advantage of the freedom you have in Christ. Maybe you have been searching for a “high” that you can’t seem to find. Maybe you are attending the wrong party. At Christ’s banquet there is freedom, there is fun, and there is fulfillment.

Hopefully I will see you at the party!