Everybody loves a party

“Then He said to him, ‘A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, “Come, for all things are now ready”‘” (Luke 14:16-17).

Over the years we have had many Islamic neighbors of Khulna Bible College come to our campus just before their major holidays asking for donations so they can better celebrate with feasts and sacrifices. What has intrigued me is that some of these same devout Muslims will return to ask for the same kind of assistance just before major Hindu or Christian celebrations. They usually explain, “We want to help you celebrate your holiday also.” Continue reading “Everybody loves a party”

Without a parable

by Stan Mitchell

“All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable” (Matthew 13:34, ESV).

Every now and then I will read an article or hear a preacher say something like this: “Sermons should not have stories or jokes; preachers should only preach the word.”

Let’s be clear. Of course preachers should preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). They should preach it after spending a great deal of time in prayer and preparation (2 Timothy 2:15).

There are, furthermore, far too many preachers for whom a biblical text is an afterthought, not the foundation of what they preach. Beware the preacher without a biblical text.

I have listened to preachers who indulged in what might be called gratuitous jokes, humor that has no bearing on the lesson. I have also sensed that for some the message came primarily from the illustration, not the biblical text. This is a genuine concern.

Yet we need to be thoughtful about the role of humor, illustration and stories. Matthew in what was probably hyperbole declares that Jesus never spoke to the crowds without a parable. What is, after all, a parable? Isn’t it a story?

Biblical writers, the prophets, and Jesus himself made use of illustration. James was the master illustrator. Do you want to envision the run-away nature of gossip and harsh words?

Picture a tongue as a deadly forest fire (James 3:5). Do you want to know what it’s like to hear God’s word and fail to put it into practice? Think of a man who looks into a mirror, then does nothing about what he sees.

My concern is that we will communicate to young preachers and their listeners that the task of preaching is to be a grey and fact-filled enterprise with as much passion as a teenager doing Saturday chores.

If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying from the heart.

Young preachers should be encouraged to develop their craft. They should learn how to reverently open up the truths of a biblical text. They should lean on the text for the substance of their message.

But they should also learn from the great preachers of the Old and New Testaments to illustrate, plead, make use of irony, and even utilize visual aids (Ezekiel, Jeremiah) to convey the precious message of Scripture.

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'” (Matthew 18:2,3).

I suspect they never forgot the sight of that little child, and how they were to adopt his humility and faith!

Replowing the parable of the sower

When Jesus sketched out for the crowd the divergent destinies of seed sown by a farmer, his parable analyzed different responses to the message of the kingdom (Matthew 13:1-23).

Jesus’ story goes beyond being merely descriptive to also functioning as an alert against danger. Accordingly, further insight can be gleaned if we step into the typical thought processes behind the various behaviors Jesus described.

Consider the type of thoughts ricocheting around in the head of those who hear the message but do not embrace it. Perhaps she is highly educated and convinced in her own ability to accurately understand how life works. Upon hearing about a Creator sending his Son to die that he might rise from the dead creating a people for God and ruling over them, she thinks, “That’s just outdated superstition. I’m too sophisticated to fall for that!”

Maybe his life experiences had been rougher than normal. In a dog-eat-dog world, there seemed to be no place for justice or a God who loves him. With a wry smile he thought, “You expect me to believe in a God who loves me and cares for me? Where has he been?”

These are some of the ways the hard packed soil might think.

Those whose hearts represent good soil, even if raised in a secular home, are open-minded enough to consider, “I am going to check out whether or not God’s word is credible.” Having examined the evidence and finding the claims reasonable, this person reflects, “I need to respond to Jesus.”

How might the rocky soil think? As a new Christian she quickly discovered that her work environment not only frowned on Christians revealing their beliefs, the company promoted immoral lifestyles and her boss encouraged ethical practices contrary to her new life in Christ. She thought, “I had better tone down this Christianity thing or I will hurt my chances at career advancement.”

On the other hand, the good soil might muse in such an environment: “I am to be an influence for God’s kingdom in this potentially hostile world” or perhaps, “While I value career advancement, I measure success by how I am serving God.”

Thorny soil thinking seems to abound in America. Viewing the world as resting solely upon one’s own shoulders, this individual discovers in unemployment, credit card debt, or numerous other difficulties the opportunity to think, “I don’t have time to worship this week.”

Nevertheless, in the same situations the good soil remembers God’s promises of provision and care. Rather than withdrawing from God, the good soil ponders: “I will rely upon God’s promises.” “God will get me through this day by day.” “What matters most is that I remain faithful to God.”

Reflecting on some samples of divergent mindsets can provide us with a barometer for measuring our own hearts. With what type of soil does our thinking resonate? Who are we?