Satisfaction: a Reflection on Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22, Psalm 84:1-7, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, and Luke 18:9-14
The journey of discipleship has moments of satisfaction. Did you know bluegills are being used as early detectors of toxins? Now what do bluegills detecting toxins have to do with Christian discipleship? Listen to the following account by Marcus Wohlson in an article he wrote for www.ABCNEWS.com September 19, 2006:
A new, highly efficient system is being used by San Francisco and New York City to detect the presence of toxins in a city’s water supply, a possible sign of a terrorist attack. They have found that the best tool for monitoring such threats are bluegills, those little fish so many catch on a lazy summer afternoon. According to an article by the Associated Press, a small number of bluegills are kept in a tank at the bottom of a city’s water treatment plant because they are highly attuned to chemical imbalances in their environment. When a disturbance is present in the water, the bluegills react against it. If the computerized system of the treatment plant detects even the slightest change in a bluegill’s vital signs, it sends out an e-mail alert. Bill Lawler, the co-founder of the corporation that makes and sells these bluegill monitoring systems, said, “Nature’s given us pretty much the most powerful and reliable early warning center out there.”
In our daily walk with Jesus, known as discipleship, we are to discern toxins that are threats to our growth in Christ. False beliefs, false doctrine, false teachers, heresy, and false prophets are significant toxins that can “kill” your faith. The Holy Spirit, like the bluegill, gives you the sense that something you’re thinking, learning, or believing is “slightly off.” Be aware of the toxins that can disrupt and even harm your life with Jesus.
The texts in Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22, Psalm 84:1-7, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, and Luke 18:9-14 ask us to hold the unyielding silence, forgiveness, and presence of God together in healthy tension. It is experiencing God’s unyielding silence, forgiveness, and presence that we know, holistically, satisfaction.
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 leads us to discover that obedience to God’s ways and will is always preferable. Why? When we do, we experience satisfaction. The people of Judah experienced drought, a plague of locusts, and the invasion of the Babylonian Empire. Yes, the drought, plague of locusts, and invasion of a foreign army stripped away the people’s identity. Jeremiah 14:7-8, 9 reads, “Although our iniquities testify against us…our apostasies are many…O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land? …Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us!” Listen to God’s unyielding silence. Practice confession. Receive God’s unyielding forgiveness. Rest in God’s unyielding presence. These disciplines of discipleship bring about wholeness, transformation, and satisfaction.
Psalm 84:1-7 is a song and prayer for all. It reflects on the worshiper’s desire to be present in the house of the living God. God extends mercy to all, saints, and sinners alike. Psalm 84:4-5 reads, “Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” Being happy is being satisfied.
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 leads us to discover that a life lived that is worthy of the gospel is one that does all that it can to promote the love and justice of God. And God never abandons us on the journey of discipleship. 2 Timothy 4:7 reads, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Reflecting on his life and ministry, Paul wants to encourage those who come after him. Paul’s life and ministry had many moments of satisfaction.
Luke 18:9-14 leads us to discover the human tendency to behave like a pharisee and a tax collector as opposed to a follower of Jesus. Pharisees would boast how they kept the law and insist on others doing the same. On the other hand, tax collectors demanded tax payments far exceeding that which Rome charged. They were greedy. And Jesus calls his followers to be in the world but not of it. Luke 18:14b reads, “…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus teaches that legalism and greed are toxic to discipleship. Living like a pharisee or tax collector is not satisfying.
The Bible’s message is simple. Until you respond to God’s choice of you in Jesus Christ, you will continue to make a mess of your life, other’s lives, and God’s creation. The good news of God, as we know it in and through Jesus Christ, is that we can love others as God loves us. But loving others is not without conflicts and challenges. Thom Rainer says this about churches which use the means of self-righteousness and legalism to evaluate success of their pastor and overall ministry when he writes,
It is self-evident that pastors and their leadership are vital to churches. The problem is that many good leaders are leaving churches before they reach their prime leadership years at a church…pastors came and went at a pace of every two to three years, especially in the two decades leading to the deaths of the churches. The cycle was predictable. The church was declining. The church would call a new pastor with the hope that the pastor could lead the church back to health. The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. In some cases, the pastor was fired. Repeat cycle.
This cycle is not Geneva’s but is for many churches in our denomination. The cycle that Thom Rainer cites is not satisfying to congregants or pastor. The cycle is stuck in a toxic system.
A satisfying cycle looks like this. Years six through ten is the time for bearing fruit and harvest. I began my ministry here October 1, 2014. Remember, year one is the honeymoon. Years two through five are filled with changes and conflict. Significant toxins are addressed. Years six and seven are the crossroads. Years eight and beyond are bearing fruit and harvest all the while addressing old and new toxins as they arise.
Recognize the toxins in your life and our faith community that deplete your satisfaction as a follower of Jesus, your discipleship. Here are a few: Let go of the past for it does not fix anything. Focus the church’s generosity outwardly for the sake of others. Practice the Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commission, and Matthew 25. Do not be motivated or guided by your preferences in music or worship styles. Value a long tenure for a pastor who leads. Doing these things bring satisfaction to your walk with Jesus and your participation in the mission of God in and through this congregation. Yes, the journey of discipleship has moments of satisfaction, and those moments increase when the toxins are purged.
Marcus Wohlson in Fish used to detect terror attacks, www.ABCNews.com, September 19, 2006. In all five paragraphs of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Tim Meadowcroft, Fairfax F. Fair, David Gambrell, David Johnson, Cleophus J. Larue, Vanthanh Nguyen, and Stephen I. Wright in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 407-410, 410-412, 413-416, 417-418, 419-421, 422-423, and 424-425. Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 55-56. Adapted from Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, 58-59.