Thursday, March 12, 2015

Good News for Hard Times Week 5: The Risk of Faith

Now faith is being confident of what we hope for and sure about what we do not see.

Faith is what the ancients were commended for. 

And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him 
must believe that he exists and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.

- Hebrews 11:1-2, 6

This week in Wednesday Bible study we learned a story about a different kind of hard time - the kind of long, debilitating suffering that exhausts all your resources, that shapes and alters your way of life, that suffering that becomes a lonely isolated journey.

Jesus came to a village, and the crowds were following him everywhere 
because he was healing their sick, 
and everyone was bringing their sick to him to be healed.

Now there was a woman in this village who had suffered for twelve long years 
with a disease that caused her to hemorrhage and bleed.  
She had been to every doctor and healer and they had all failed her 
and taken her money and left her worse off than before.  
But when she heard that Jesus was in the village, 
and that he was healing people, she thought, 
"If I could just get close enough to touch him, I could be well!"

Now in this woman's day, according to the religious laws, her disease would have isolated her.  She would be considered unclean.  She wouldn't be allowed to share a home with others, because everywhere she sat or lay down would be unclean.  She wouldn't be allowed to bring sacrifices and worship, so she would be cut off from the center of community in the village.  No one would eat her food.  Or visit her.

So what she does is so bold.  It is such a risk, slipping out into that crowd, that crowd where no one would want to touch her.  Reaching out to touch the Rabbi.  A touch that would make him unclean.  So she just reached for the fringe on the hem of his robe.

In Wednesday Bible study, we talked about the risk of faith.  Everyone has hard times.  Some are like the sudden storm that came up on the Sea of Galilee.  Some are like the storm of worries within Martha's head and heart.  Some are the hard times of not knowing how your needs will be met.  Will you have enough?  And some hard times are long, exhausting lonely journeys like this woman's.

The question of faith is:  Will you let the hard time drive you to reach out to Jesus?  Will you believe that he is a rewarder of those who seek him?  Will you reach for the life he can give you?

Click here to listen to this week's story and learn it.

You can read the story in Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:40-48.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Good News for Hard Times Week 4: The Lost Son

The synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught

One reason I tell Bible stories:  Jesus told stories.

"How can we picture God's kingdom?  What kind of story can we use?" 
With many stories, he presented his message to them, 
fitting the stories to their experience and maturity.  
He was never without a story when he spoke. 
- Mark 4:30, 33-34 MSG

Jesus, like any Rabbi of his day, told parables in order to teach.  Every Rabbi told many of the same stories;  it was the way they interpreted the story that made each teacher unique.  It was the way Jesus interpreted the story that made him very different and controversial.

A good parable is like a good stand-up comedy routine.  We are drawn into the commonality, the familiar elements of life that we find in the story.  We're pulled along by its plot.  And then, there is the plot twist, the punch line, the surprising ending to which we all react.

Our reactions reveal what is in our hearts.  Who laughs at the story?  Who is offended by it?  Angered by it?  Embarrassed by it?

Jesus told stories not only to instruct, but to reveal.

And this week's story is an excellent example of that.

By this time, the crowds were growing, and they included a lot of people with bad reputations, people whose behavior was considered "bad" by the religious leaders.  These "bad" people were listening to Jesus, too.  And the religious leaders didn't like it.  They didn't like it that Jesus treated them like friends.  He was too friendly to people who hadn't earned it.

So Jesus told three stories about lost things and the celebration of finding them.

"There was a man who had two sons...."

I have three sons, so I know:  this story has the potential to have a lot of plot twists.

This story has become known as "The Prodigal Son."  In fact, it's become imbedded in our culture - a way of referring to any child who fails or embarrasses the family or chooses to go their own way.  They are "the prodigal."  

But in fact it's a part of a three-story set about lost things, including lost sons.  And who is the lost son in this story?  Jesus doesn't tell us.  But we know from experience that it's entirely possible to live at home, work in the family business, behave yourself and still be as lost as a goose when it comes to what the family is all about.  

Family failure is a hard time.  It hurts like nobody's business.  It's maybe the nearest way we have to understanding how it breaks God's heart when his children do not choose to have a relationship with him or with each other.  Relationship is what we were made for.  That's part of the really Big Story into which this story fits.

Click here to listen to this week's story and learn it. You can read it in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.

Who will you tell this story to?