No. 42 from the Gospel According to Luke
Pastor Matt Harmless
October 31st, 2021
The stories that our Savior told,
unlike sweet scripts from modern fold
those pictures that our preachers mold,
parables will do a thing more bold.
Good preachers like to make it clear,
but Jesus would those secrets steer
only to hearts that have an ear:
parables are heard by those who hear.
Sown seed: God's Word, so rest assured
a heart that's hard is what's referred
when on trodden path lands the word,
parables are snatched up by a bird.To stony ground some seed will flystart quickly, growing toward the skyno root is there so by and by
parables in shallow hearts will die.On thorny ground with weeds in playovergrown lusts put on displaywith other loves fed day by dayparables will soon get choked awayBut many seeds land in good soiltake root and grow without recoilthe sower cares not for wearied toilparables will not always spoil.Good dirt has room for seed's new shoottilled, watered, and manured suitso in the heart God's Word takes rootparables produce abundant fruit.Dual purpose: sown word to the field.For many its truth has been concealed,but those who have produced a yieldparables were God's word revealed.
In his chapter on "Community" in the book, "Life Together," Dietrich Bonhoeffer says the following on, what he calls "human love" vs. "spiritual love."
"... there is a human love of one's neighbor. Such passion is capable of prodigious sacrifices. Often it far surpasses genuine Christian love in fervent devotion and visible results. It speaks the Christian language with overwhelming and stirring eloquence. But it is what Paul is speaking of when he says: 'And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned' -- in other words, though I combine the utmost deeds of love with the utmost of devotion -- 'and have not charity [that is, the love of Christ], it profiteth me nothing' (1 Corinthians 13:3). Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ's sake. Therefore, human love seeks direct contact with the other person; it loves him not as a free person but as one whom it binds to itself. It wants to gain, to capture by every means; it uses force. It desires to be irresistible, to rule.
"Human love has little regard for truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the beloved person. Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him. On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving. There are two marks, both of which are one and the same thing, that manifest the difference between spiritual and human love: Human love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a fellowship that has become false for the sake of genuine fellowship, and human love cannot love an enemy, that is, one who seriously and stubbornly resists it. Both spring from the same source: human love is by its very nature desire -- desire for human community. So long as it can satisfy this desire in some way, it will not give it up, even for the sake of truth, even for the sake of genuine love for others. But where it can no longer expect its desire to be fulfilled, there it stops short -- namely, in the face of an enemy. There it turns into hatred, contempt, and calumny.
"Right here is the point where spiritual love begins. This is why human love becomes personal hatred when it encounters genuine spiritual love, which does not desire but serves. Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, and nothing else in the world. Spiritual love, however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves him alone; it knows that it has no immediate access to other persons."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together, 1923; pg 33-35)
As it stands right now, natural immunity through COVID infection is statistically higher than vaccinated immunity, by a significant margin.
According to CNN Health (referring to the CDC), there were "...about 5,800 people who have been vaccinated against coronavirus have become infected anyway, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells CNN. Some became seriously ill and 74 people died, the CDC said. It said 396 -- 7% -- of those who got infected after they were vaccinated required hospitalization."
If you try to find numbers on reinfections, you will be a little more hard-pressed. Most articles simply say, they are rare
CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) through the University of Minnesota has conducted one of the only studies. Their summary states that "the findings of the authors suggest that infection and the development of an antibody response provides protection similar to or even better than currently used SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.”
Let’s follow the science and unmask the previously infected.
This blog post will also serve as Episode 36 of my Podcast.
I would like to present to you, without any introductions or fanfare, the Harmless Guide to Being a Better Man. This post is meant to be a companion to the upcoming book release and the made-for-TV movie. Well, OK... that part is not true at all.
The Harmless Guide to being a Better Man is, at its core, a two step process. Keep in mind, though, these two steps aren't like the two steps leading up to a comfy patio with a reclining lawn chair... they are more like the two types of steps that one will take to get anywhere: a step with the right foot and a step with the left foot. In other words, these two steps aren't a "1 and 2 and ... done!" They are ongoing, forever progressing, sometimes more difficult (like stairs), sometimes more cautious (like stepping stones across a creek), sometimes changing the rhythm or direction (like when playing a sport), and sometimes with greater effort (like when running).
In honor of my father-in-law, who by the way, actually is a great man, I will apply some of his advice in the typing of this post. He once told me, "K.I.S.S. -- Keep It Simple Stupid." ... and I wasn't even offended that he did it right before I started preaching!
J. Gresham Machen (Christianity and Liberalism, 1923)
I am currently reading "Life Together" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
In February of 1933, at the age of 27, Bonhoeffer was delivering a lecture via Berlin Radio. In this lecture, as he was attempting to call out the German public for their potential acceptance of Hitler, who was not a "leader" but a "misleader". His radio broadcast was cut short. Once Hitler came to power, Bonhoeffer accepted a call to be the pastor of a couple of German-speaking churches in London and refused to have any part of the "German-Christian Compromise" with the Nazi Government. He eventually accepted a call from the "Confessing Church" in German occupied territory, to lead an "illegal seminary." It was in this seminary, where he shared housing with 25 other vicars in emergency-built houses, that he wrote this book in 1938.
If you can't tell from those ultra-brief comments that I pulled from the introduction to my copy of "Life Together," why I would be interested in reading books written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then I don't think that you are paying attention to what is happening in many of our countries today. In Bonhoeffer we are presented with an opportunity to study and learn from an actual Christian who was facing unprecedented social changes... specifically ones that were finding a comfortable roost in his government, media, and schools. He also faced the reality of other churches that were following along into various degrees of compromise. Aligning themselves with these changes. We may as well find ourselves hurtling toward something like "government-approved" churches and religious organizations.
"In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding. The really important things are the things about which men must fight."
J. Gresham Machen (Christianity and Liberalism, 1923)
This coming Sunday, May 16th, 2021, we will be covering Joshua 3 an 4 during the morning sermon. Paul Fuller will be continuing his series in Joshua, and he asked me to read these next two chapters as we are leading up to this Sunday. Please consider reading and/or listening.
This blog post will also serve as Episode 35 of my podcast. Please feel free to listen to the podcast or read the original blog post below.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, there is a place where Gandalf the Grey goes to seek the aid of Saruman the White. In the story, there is a dark power rising, and all that are in alignment with the light are feeling the need for banding together. This is what has prompted Gandalf to seek out Saruman. The movies do an okay job of relaying this moment... specifically the portion where Gandalf questions when Saruman has "...abandoned reason for madness."
I've felt those words boiling up in me over the last few days. It is bad enough when there is a complete collapse of a spiritual leader, but when the descent into madness comes from the mouths of potential allies... Anyway, I would like to share a portion from the book version though, because I believe that all those who are still in this with me will experience the prophetic feel of these couple of pages. (As you read... Gandalf is relaying the story of this encounter.)
This blog post will also serve as Episode 34 of my podcast. You can listen here:
Ok. I know that might be a strange title for a blog post. Here is what I am talking about: On Wednesday night, I attended an event in my city where there were several pastors, with one in particular, that bound... in Jesus' name... all violence, violent crimes, sexual immorality, etc. This binding of these sins occurred at approximately 6:45 pm on Wednesday, May 5th, 2021. These pastors didn't ask that these sins be bound, they declared them bound. And they declared them bound throughout the city.
Before the next twenty four hours had passed, there had already been a few more violent crimes committed in Danville. I am also fairly certain that sexual immorality, in all of its various forms, was still running rampant. Now, I will freely admit that I have done nothing to verify this second claim, and though I am not in doubt of its truth, I will set it off to the side and focus on the one that I have verified. There were documented cases of violence and violent crime that still happened.
All speech... verbal, written, texted, off the cuff, in passing, in frustration, in anger, early in the morning, late at night... happy speech, sad speech, angry speech, agreement speech, disagreement speech, direct, indirect, and anonymous ... All speech: Let it always be gracious, seasoned with salt.
(By the way, I know the blog title doesn't actually make any real sense.)
This blog post will also serve as Episode 33 of my Podcast.
I would like to speak on a topic that I have been fairly silent on. Well, silent in this realm, in the actual real world, I have not been silent on this topic, but lately I have felt the need to speak up in this format. I hope to do so in a way that displays the love of Christ as revealed through the Spirit inspired text of our Holy Scriptures. If you don't agree with that, then most likely you will not agree with anything else I have to say. If you believe in the inspired Word of God as collected in the Holy Bible, but you don't hold to its infallibility and inerrancy, then we are still going to be working off of different platforms and you will, again, most likely disagree with what I have to say.
To illustrate, I will be working from (what I could figuratively describe as) a boat dock that, in its completed form, is almost 2,000 years old, while you will be balancing on a progressive boat that is headed somewhere. And the truth is, you may genuinely believe that the progressive boat is the place we all ought to be, and immovable docks all ought to be abandoned... and I'm fine with your assessment of the situation, as long as you and I agree that you are progressing and I am not moving.
Finally, this is a blog post, not a book. It will be abundantly obvious that this post is not perfected in its points or extensive in its explanations. If you come reading with an anti-Matt bias or an anti-boat dock bias, then we will again, most likely disagree. But if you are reading this, then it might be possible that you are open to a conversation, and conversations are things that I love.
We don't like waiting. It isn't our favorite. But I noticed this morning, as we were discussing our waiting, that we are handling it in different ways: my wife an I. The one way of dealing with it was not better than the other way, it was just different. For me, even though I am an analytical person, I don't tend to analyze these sorts of things. I tend to bundle them up in a little cubby of my mind. The stressors and anxiety-producing realities find a quiet little home in a quiet little part of my mind. I wrap them up in my blankie in that cubby. I check in on them from time to time, but quickly divert my attention to my job-related "squirrels"... My Adult ADD finds this to be the easiest thing to do. Squirrels naturally grab my attention fairly easily, so the squirrels of homeroom videos, discipline referrals, tech-help requests, lunch duty, and front door duty allure my focus without any hesitating. I'm not saying it is healthy or appropriate... It is just my go-to.
My wife, on the other hand, tends to analyze the situation. She asks the hard questions of herself when dwelling in the waiting. Things like, Why is this difficult? What am I really wanting? What is God teaching me? etc. To be honest, my hunch is that her way of dealing with the waiting is better than mine.
In each of our individual methods, neither of us was escaping a side affect of waiting: It was still leaving each of us with a drained feeling - A sense of having our strength sapped away. So while discussing this experience, over our coffee-drinking experience, a passage of scripture from Isaiah came to me - just a phrase really - but it had me scratching my head. The phrase ended up coming from Isaiah 40:31, which says, "but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength..." (Sung, of course... Petra style.) This phrase came to my mind because the "wait for the LORD" wasn't resulting in anything that even remotely looked like a renewal of strength.
I shared this snippet of scripture with my wife, again Petra style, along with its head-scratching sentiment. She shared my sentiment, so we felt the need to dig into the context of Isaiah 40 to determine why our heads needed scratching and why our strength wasn't renewing but was being sapped. As a result of our digging, I would like to share with you the entirety of Isaiah 40, along with a few tidbits of commentary along the way. I would like to do this because the picture that is being painted, leading up to verse 31 (the final verse of that chapter with that phrase) explains why one would have renewed strength when waiting for the Lord. Not to give everything away, but it seems that the renewed strength isn't a result of the waiting, but of all that leads into the waiting, and the need for renewal may actually come from the waiting.
Isaiah 40 opens with a word from God to the Prophet. The statement contains the words and the way the prophet should speak to God's people in God's city. In verses 3 through 5, there is a snippet of what is yet to come, captured in the prophecy of the forerunner to the Messiah. After that, the passage delves into some commentary on the nature and reality of Our God... accentuated by the reality of us - mankind.
At Edgewood Church we will be looking at Psalm 15 for tonight's Wednesday Night fellowship. If you would like to join us for this time of Bible Study and Prayer, we meet at 6:15pm at Edgewood Church in Danville, IL.
I have thoughts on education. I have these thoughts because I have been in the educational world for a majority of my life. Besides going to school myself, I have been a math teacher for 19 years, being a math department head at two different schools for some of that time. After a short stint as an instructional coach, I have been a disciplinary dean for the last 2 and a half years. Across this educational career, I have taught in both public and private schools in three different states. I am not, by any means, saying that my time in education has made me an expert, but it has left me with some thoughts on the issues facing education, and possible solutions to those problems.
Our Wednesday Night Prayer meeting has been featuring a Psalm each night. We are ready for Psalm 14 for Wednesday, April 14th, 2021. If you live in the Danville Illinois area, consider visiting Edgewood Church at 6:15 pm.
Click to listen to Psalm 14:
Click to listen to the audio of this post being read by the author: Me!
In The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the Fellowship (the group that has been tasked with protecting the ring-bearer and escorting him to Mordor) find themselves traveling through a mountain via some ancient Dwarvish mines. Though always looking to Gandalf the Wizard as their guide, they find themselves more dependent on him in the Mines, seeing as he is the only one who has actually made this particular journey. The movies portray this moment well, but I would like to share the book's version of this part of the story:
It was after nightfall when they had entered the Mines. They had been going for several hours with only brief halts, when Gandalf came to his first serious check. Before him stood a wide dark arch opening into three passages: all led in the same general direction, eastwards; but the left-hand passage plunged down, while the right-hand passage climbed up, and the middle way seemed to run on, smooth and level but very narrow.
'I have no memory of this place at all!' said Gandalf, standing uncertainly under the arch. He held up his staff in the hope of finding some marks or inscription that might help his choice; but nothing of the kind was to be seen.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
 I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (ESV)
Today marks the date of my 25th wedding anniversary. In this post, you will not see any jokes about how she stuck with me or vice versa. No comments about any drudgery in the process or how much time it actually felt like. There won't be any of that in this post. It isn't because neither one of us could or couldn't make those jokes (and laugh them off... trust me... we can laugh!), but that simply isn't what I'm thinking about.
For me, I consider it a genuine honor that God has allowed me to spend my life with this person. My theology dictates my understanding of how this world works: and it is a world orchestrated by a good and sovereign God. And my God, in His Sovereign Goodness, gifted me with a life shared with this one particular person... my wife Charity. That God would bless me in such a way, lies outside of my ability to either comprehend or explain in any reasonable terms, and over these last 25 years this life together has increasingly been experienced as a cherished honor.
She is my best friend: the one that I share everything with. We've traveled together through work, life, family, and love. We relate every story, unfold every experience... sharing both joys and sorrows. She's my TV watching buddy, my coworker in the kitchen, my business partner and partner in crime... She's my traveling companion, my couch counter-part, and my forever date.
After 25 years, I can barely remember life before marriage, nor do I care to. I sense genuine confusion within myself when I try to relate to people who love the single life. I just don't get it. That isn't what is good... Good is what I have with her.
Babe, my life with you has been amazingly profound. I wouldn't trade a minute of my life with you for anything else. Even the darkest minutes and the hardest days have simply served their ordained purpose to bring life and light to our shared weeks, months, and now - years.
I love you.
Listen to me read Psalm 11...
To the choirmaster. Of David.
 In the LORD I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
 for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
they have fitted their arrow to the string
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
 if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
 The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
 The LORD tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
 For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
This podcast episode was originally uploaded in the Fall of 2017 (I believe). It is the one-and-only episode from a podcast that I was going to call, "Ask Pastor Matt." It flopped, not because it wasn't a good episode, but because I never made another one. Well, I'm back at it, so I thought that I would upload this one and get it back out there.
In a July 8, 1530 letter from Martin Luther to Lazarus Spengler, Luther interprets his seal:
Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. "For one who believes from the heart will be justified" (Romans 10:10). Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17) but by faith in the crucified. Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12). Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal. This is my compendium theologiae [summary of theology]. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation. May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen. (source: Wikipedia)
If I add to Martin Luther's interpretation some significance to the 5 petals of that rose... representing the 5 Solae of the Reformation... I get this:
Special Thanks to Trinity Shanks of Iron Tide Gallery in Danville, IL.
I would like to take a moment to address the abortion conversation. I would like to do this, not just to stir the pot or poke the beast. And I absolutely don't want to do this out of any desire to be dis-compassionate to anyone.
Please note, I am not going to be addressing the actual topic of abortion itself in this post... at least not directly... but I would like to discuss the issues that tend to arise in those particular conversations where abortion is the core topic. Now, I will obviously be speaking/writing from my own vantage point, based on my own experiences, and to be completely honest, this isn't a topic that has come up very often, but when it does, the flow of the conversation tended to go the same way every single time... It was a downhill slide... away from abortion.
So... the purpose of this post is to tackle the conversational slide that I've experienced by "thinking through" (in blog format) what is happening in these conversations, and what issues, I feel, are steering the conversation toward that downhill slide. I would like to call these issues "detours" ... they are the blockades that steer the conversation away from anything productive and into side topics that really aren't helpful and usually aren't accurate. The first detour I would like to mention, can be found in the misuse of the word, "compassion."
I'm sitting here in a quaint little French Restaurant finishing my sermon. I'm currently expositing my way through the Gospel according to Luke. This coming Sunday (tomorrow) we will be discussing Luke 3:15-18, which is right in the middle of Luke's coverage of John the Baptist's ministry. I mention these two details in the same paragraph, because I am feeling a sharp contrast between the clientele of this little restaurant versus the John the Baptist persona.
My reason for being in this quaint little restaurant is the occasion of my wife's birthday. One of her absolute favorite things to do is to get away. She loves a little bed and breakfast or a tiny inn. The particular inn, in which we are staying, has a French restaurant on the main floor... with a legit French chef at the helm of its kitchen. I haven't eaten here in the evening, but because the breakfast is included, I've had it a couple of times now. And I have to say, the biscuits and gravy is the best biscuits and gravy that I've ever had.
I came down early, while my wife was finishing getting ready, in order to continue my sermon prep. While sitting here, the conversations from the other tables, drifted my way. I've heard about $25,000 entertainment systems, upcoming vacations in Europe, complete with stays at a hostel, discussions on how often they come to this particular restaurant on a Saturday morning, and I'm fairly certain that I heard someone refer to their wife as "Lovey"... But with all of the grandeur of the conversations, they were coming up short, to the man who ate locusts and wild honey... who Jesus himself said, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11a - ESV)
And yet ... (mind you) ... and yet, that verse continues with this statement: "Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:11b - ESV)
The question I have for you, is this... What defines greatness in your economy?
When I was a child, my mother used to make homemade pudding. It wasn't a pudding that came from a package, it was a legitimate homemade pudding. I've tried to do this a few times myself, but it is more work than the Cook and Serve pudding mix and it is a whole lot more work than pudding cups. Plus, when I've tried doing this myself, I usually ended up with lumpy pudding... and it wasn't the tapioca sort of lumps.
One aspect of the childhood pudding making that I remember the most is being drafted by my mother to stir the pudding. I learned that this was an absolute necessity during the cooking process. Because of the ingredients in the pudding recipe, allowing it to simmer would inevitably lead to a burnt layer sticking to the bottom of the pan. A good homemade pudding can be ruined by a few seconds of unattended simmering. I also remember that stirring that same pot of pudding after it was cooked, would still be necessary to keep the skin from developing on the top of the pudding.
Now, it is possible that you may like a nice pudding skin. If that is the case, then I can't be your friend because you probably also like the little hard piece of mustard that forms on the mustard squeeze bottle or the sludge in the bottom of an old jug of tea. Pudding just shouldn't have skin. It's wrong. For those of us that know that, we solve this problem by stirring the pot.
From this pudding-centric introduction, you probably already know that I am going to argue on the side of being a pot-stirrer, at least to some degree, but I feel that I will need to do a little more clarifying before I get into the basic tenets of that argument lest you misunderstand the debate points and read them as hate-speech. I also wouldn't want you to think that I am naturally a pot-stirrer or that I always argue on behalf of the pot-stirring crowd. If I need to, I can give a few examples of the times where someone can over-stir or over-mix... that can be equally detrimental. This all leads me directly into my main point.
First: This is not a post about the Corona Virus. I am not going to debate the virus. I am not saying that it isn't a real virus and I am not saying that it isn't deadly. What I am saying is that this virus isn't as deadly (to certain strands of the population) as they told us it was going to be. We are not at Threat Level Midnight here... I have yet to drive past the hospital and see body bags lined up outside because the coroner can't keep up. There haven't been, at least in my area, bulldozers piling disease ridden corpses into mass graves. I am not aware of any CDC workers or military personnel showing up in large yellow hazmat suits, looking like giant thumbs, setting up tents and sorting the sick and the healthy into camps for the purpose of transporting them in those large, tarp-covered military trucks to unknown locations, never to be seen again.
But, like I said, this isn't really a post about the virus. Can we, for the sake of this conversation, put that topic in a sterile container and place it on the shelf? We'll label it "exhibit A". It will only be there for just a few minutes. We can reference it, but let's leave it on the shelf. It isn't the focus of this post.