Check Your Soil

Seeds of Love Have Been Sown In You

Seeds of Love Have Been Sown In You

By Beth Demme

I know many people who have beautiful stories about their conversion to Christianity.  I love those stories!  However, I don’t have a story like that. Not exactly.

Because I grew up in the church, I don’t have a day circled in red on the calendar that marks my “before Jesus” and “after Jesus” time. My whole life has included faith, belief, and Christian practices.

Even though I grew up in church, there was a time when I didn’t understand what it meant to be loved unconditionally by God.

I thought God loved me the way I loved other people. I didn’t love people who hurt me or rejected me. I only loved those who loved me first. I offered conditional love, and I assumed God did the same.

There’s a wonderful verse in Ephesians that says, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may … grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:17-18)

For a long time, I did not grasp this or even know to reach for it.

To be rooted in the love of Christ, we first need a seed. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus describes sowing seed in four different kinds of soil. (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) Thinking about this parable helped me see that throughout my life my spiritual soil has changed. I think at different times I’ve had all four kinds of soil.

Even when the soil of my life wasn’t healthy, Jesus kept sowing seeds of love. [Twitter Link]

In the parable, there is one sower and one seed, the only variable is the condition of the soil. The seed is sown on a hard path (Matthew 13:4), rocky ground (Matthew 13:5), thorny ground (Matthew 13:7), and, finally, healthy soil (Matthew 13:8).

God Chooses You


God Chooses You

By Beth Demme

Last week I shared my thoughts on how some Christians take on legalism and judgmentalism instead of the yoke Jesus offers. Like the Pharisees, they focus on the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law. I think Jesus releases us from the prison of self-righteousness. We don’t have to try to decide who is in and who is out. We aren’t limited by the judgment of other people, or by our inner critic, because we are covered by the love of God.

I think Jesus releases us from the prison of self-righteousness. We don’t have to try to decide who is in and who is out. We aren’t limited by the judgment of other people, or by our inner critic, because we are covered by the love of God.

There’s another aspect of taking on Jesus’ yoke that I think is worth considering. When we choose to wear the yoke of Jesus, we are yoking ourselves to him. If you picture two oxen yoked together, you get the idea. As long as the oxen are willing to work together, they’ll share the load and they’ll plow nice straight lines, and easily carry heavy loads, right?

Us, too. When we are yoked to Jesus our load is lighter, our burden is eased.

But think about what that means.

Wearing the Right Yoke Leads to Freedom

Rejecting Bad Billboard Theology


Wearing the Right Yoke Leads to Freedom

By Beth Demme

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-29

Jesus says the way to find rest in our souls—in the deepest part of ourselves—is to take on his yoke. When I picture an ox burdened with a yoke and pulling a plow, I don’t think the ox feels rested or restful. And yet, Jesus says that’s what he offers us.

It turns out, a yoke is designed to make it easier for the ox to do more, with less effort. But wearing the right yoke is important. If we wear the wrong yoke, the work will be difficult, maybe impossible.

Despite this, some Christians want to wear the wrong yoke.

They seem to think that what Jesus offers is to too easy and too free to be real. Instead of taking on the yoke Jesus offers, they take on the yoke of legalism, moralism, or what I would describe as empire (though they might simply call it politics).

I’ve been on the road a lot in recent weeks, especially on the interstates of Florida. Along I-75 and I-95 there are billboards proclaiming, “REAL Christians obey the teachings of Jesus.” And, yes, there is a special emphasis on the word “REAL.”

Messy Beautiful

Messy Beautiful

Messy Can Be Beautiful

By Beth Demme

My daughter is an artist. She has always had an eye for shape and color and an incredible ability to understand spatial relationships. I find her skills especially amazing because they are so different from my own.

Spatial relationships–and all things geometrical–are fairly mysterious to me.

I remember feeling utter confusion as a child looking at the night sky. It looked two-dimensional to me. My parents assured me the stars were spread out in every direction, but the whole scene looked like a dot-to-dot puzzle on a flat piece of paper. I couldn’t comprehend the depth of space.

But God Prayers

But God

But God Prayers

By Beth Demme

Sometimes it comes out as a whine. “But God, I’ve been waiting for so long.” Other times, regrettably, it comes out like a toddler-style tantrum, “But God, that’s not what I want (or how I wanted it)!” Sometimes it comes out like a plea, “I hear you, but God, please help me!”

These are “but God” prayers.

My prayer life over the last year has sounded something like this:

  • “But God, I’m not smart enough to serve as a pastor.”
  • “But God, Stephen and I already have a plan for the next phase of our life.”
  • “But God, Seminary is expensive.”
  • “But God, I’m waaaaaaay too old to go back to graduate school now.”

In response to my whining, God has given me opportunities to teach, each one building up —and on— a base of knowledge. He’s given Stephen and I both a sense of excitement about serving a congregation. God has also revealed ways to pay for Seminary. And about the age thing? I recently had the chance to celebrate the life of a law school classmate who was fifty-two years my senior. When we started law school I was only 20 years old and Joe was 72. Can you guess who made the better lawyer? (Hint: It wasn’t me.) I was sad to attend Joe’s funeral, but it was a potent reminder that age is no excuse.

A Pivotal Pivot

Understanding that God is at work in my life has changed my but God in an important way. Instead of “but God” it’s now “but God.” I’ve pivoted from saying “but God, I can’t,” to understanding, “I can’t, but God can.” In fact, as I’ve tried to understand my call into ministry, I’ve written that very phrase in my journal over and over again, “I can’t, but God can.”

Why I Mumble the Lord’s Prayer


Why I Mumble the Lord’s Prayer

By Beth Demme

I love it when we recite the Lord’s Prayer in worship, but recently I started mumbling it. On purpose.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,
forever. Amen.

I used to say it loudly, articulating each word. I used the power of my voice to declare my prayer to God. I saw it as a personal moment of prayer between me and God. I wanted God to know that I really meant what I was saying. I didn’t intentionally speak louder than those around me, but I have a big voice and, in retrospect, I probably drowned them out more than once.

Then one Sunday morning, as we transitioned from the pastoral prayer to the Lord’s Prayer (as we say in my church: praying as Jesus taught us to pray), I didn’t declare it loudly. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was two beats behind, still contemplating the prayer the pastor had just shared. Or maybe I was grumpy and didn’t feel like praying. Maybe I had a sore throat. Or maybe the Holy Spirit moved to silence me. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t declare it in my big voice that day.

And a wonderful thing happened.

In my own silence, I heard the prayers of my friends being lifted up. I heard the voices of the congregation offering this prayer to God, instead of declaring this prayer to God. I was struck by how different those two can be, a prayer that is offered instead of a prayer that is declared.

As I listened to those around me say this prayer in their collective voice, I also understood myself differently. I felt the truth of what it means to be part of something bigger than myself, a  community of worshippers. I understood myself to be part of the whole body of Christ.

In an instant, I realized being one part of a whole does not diminish me in any way. I am no less myself when I am part of the body of Christ. When I’m part of a community of worshippers I experience the truth of God’s love and the breadth of God’s grace as I see it shared among others.

Since that Sunday, I’ve started mumbling the Lord’s Prayer. Hearing those around me lift this prayer to God energizes me in a way that declaring this prayer to God in my own, solitary voice couldn’t.

I’m not energized because I think God tallies prayers like votes or calculates prayers like poll numbers.

Mumbling the Lord’s Prayer and embracing myself as part of the whole energizes me because I see others allowing God to work in them and through them, and that gives me hope that God will work in me and through me.

It’s encouraging to understand I’m only one of many who say God’s name is to be hallowed and who invite God’s will to be done here as it in heaven. We, together, ask God to provide for our daily bread and forgive us for our mistakes against others. As a collective, we ask God to show us how to forgive others and to protect us from temptation and evil. Together we declare that we know the kingdom, the power, and the glory are God’s forever. Amen.

What about you? Do you declare the Lord’s Prayer? Do you feel like you are part of the whole body of Christ? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.

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Jesus Was Amazed By An Outsider

The Centurion's Story

Jesus Was Amazed By An Outsider

By Beth Demme

Picture the scene. A Roman soldier, a Centurion in charge of 100 men, comes to see Jesus. There’s been an accident or maybe an illness. The Centurion’s servant, someone important to him, has been paralyzed. The Centurion comes to Jesus, sure that Jesus can help.

The Centurion comes as a man of authority, but he doesn’t attempt to exercise any authority over Jesus. He doesn’t demand assistance or intervention. He doesn’t insist that Jesus give his time or his care. The Centurion begins by sharing with Jesus what is happening. He tells Jesus, “my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.”

Jesus doesn’t hesitate, he responds, “I will come and cure him.” But the Centurion, despite his position, is too humble and, possibly, too overwhelmed to accept the offer. Incredibly, he says, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.”

In both Matthew and Luke, we read the Centurion’s faith amazed Jesus:

  • “When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.’” (Matthew 8:10)
  • “When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’” (Luke 7:9)

Jesus was amazed because the Centurion was a Gentile living in a pagan society – there was no expectation that he would be a person of faith.

Jesus contrasts the faith of the Centurion with the faith of the Israelites.

The people of Israel are the people of Moses, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They have a history with God. They have:

  • the stories
  • the scriptures
  • the promises
  • the covenants
  • the Temple
  • the priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees

The Centurion has none of that. And yet, he has faith.

In the Centurion’s story, the people inside the religious order weren’t the ones with faith.

As a church person who hopes to one day serve as a pastor, this hits close to home.

Like the Israelites, I have a history with God. I know the stories, read the scriptures, celebrate the promises, understand the covenants, and worship the one true God. But reading about the Centurion’s faith reminds me that knowing all the right things isn’t the same as having faith. The Centurion’s story reminds me that God has a history of working in ways that exceed human expectations.

The Centurion’s story also makes me wonder – where might Jesus find amazing faith today? The Centurion was outside the church of the time, but he understood who Jesus was and what Jesus could do. He wasn’t bogged down by pre-conceived ideas about how the Messiah would look, speak, or act. He was free to accept Jesus as he met him.

May I, too, accept Jesus as I find him.

What about you? Do you have a faith that might amaze Jesus? Are you like me – someone who loves knowledge, but has to work on faith? How do you think we (you and I) can we be more like the Centurion? Tell me about it in the Comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.

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The Paradox of Worthiness

The Paradox of Worthiness

By Beth Demme

Remember the movie Wayne’s World? Or maybe you remember it as a skit on SNL? Mike Myers and Dana Carvey play Wayne and Garth. Whenever Wayne and Garth meet someone famous or someone they idolize, the bow repeatedly and say, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

That’s how we feel before God, isn’t it? Unworthy? To me, this is a great paradox of the Christian faith. We aren’t worthy, except that God says we are.

The word “sin” means to miss the mark. We each know how we miss that mark. Even the Apostle Paul knew it. He says in Romans, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:15, 18-19 (emphasis added))

One way I personally miss the mark is that I tend to be more than a wee bit judgmental about other Christians. I actually find it easier to accept people of other faiths than to accept certain Christians, and Christian denominations, who – in my not-so-humble opinion – squeeze God into a box and, in the process, squeeze the love right out of the good news of Jesus Christ.

I judge them, all the while pridefully patting myself on the back for my own “right” views.  In other words, I fret over the speck in my brother’s eye, while ignoring the log coming out of my own. (Matthew 7:3)

I miss the mark by failing to show love and by acting out of pride.

For Abundance Live In Dependence Not Independently

And Don't Wither Away With (Church) Busyness

Abundant Dependence

By Beth Demme

I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who first said, “I am a human being, not a human doing.” In a society where busyness is a sign of accomplishment and significance, it’s easy to blur the lines between being and doing. It seems like we do more to have more because we want to be more.

James 1:11 warns against this, saying “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.”

Busyness can be costly.

In the midst of a busy life, the parts of us that matter most can wither away. I know from personal experience. I have tried to do more and have more because I wanted to feel like I could be more. Instead of becoming more, I became less. I replaced my true identity (a beloved child of God) with a cheap imitation identity (busy American mom).

The really tricky part of this for me as a Christian was realizing that church could produce busyness. If I had been trying to create an equation to calculate my busyness I wouldn’t have included church committees or Bible study classes in the calculation. They had a sort of permanent exemption because I put them under the heading “God’s Work.”

Good distractions are still distractions.

Attending Bible study classes and serving in the church are important to me. They are really valuable in my spiritual life, except when they become busyness that distracts me from real relationship with God.

This is the lesson of Mary and Martha, isn’t it? When Jesus visited the two sisters, Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” (Luke 10:39-40) Martha asked Jesus to make her sister help out, but instead, Jesus answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part.”

God Is Bigger Than My Theology

Am I Trying to Get Jesus Into My Boat?

boat theology

Boat Theology

By Beth Demme

You know the passage in Matthew where Jesus walks on the water? Jesus and the disciples feed over five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish. (Matthew 14:17-21) Jesus then herds the disciples into a boat and sends them across the Sea of Galilee. Later, Jesus was ready to join them and “he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.” (Matthew 14:25-26)

Jesus reassures them, saying “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter responds, “Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says “Come” and sure enough Peter walks on the water. We don’t know how far Peter walked but “when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”

I love Peter’s boldness (or idiocy?) in saying Lord, if it is you.” Maybe Peter’s use of the conditional even made Jesus smirk a bit. As someone who appreciates sarcasm, I kind of like the idea of Jesus pausing for a bit of internal monologue: “If it’s me? Who else would it be? Am I myself? Goodness, I hardly know! Who am I, really?”

What really strikes me about this passage, though, is that Peter doesn’t say, “come get in this boat with me Jesus.” It’s subtle, but important. If I were in Peter’s position, I’m afraid I would have told Jesus, “Lord, come over here and get in this boat!”

I would have completely missed out on the opportunity to receive an invitation from Jesus.

My tendency is to tell Jesus the plans I have and tell him to get on board. That’s different than Peter’s impulsive, but better, approach: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you.”

In my life, this plays out in two important ways—in trying to discern life choices and in trying to understand/explain God.