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A Camel and Needle Story, #38

Matthew 19:23-25, CSB

23 Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

Okay, it’s technically not a parable, at least in a classic theological sense, but it is an analogy of what’s true in the somewhat invisible Kingdom of God. It’s explaining something we can understand about the spiritual realm. Hopefully, and I’m not trying to get spooky on you, but it seems to communicate what is real, and solidly true about Jesus’ rule.

What precedes this passage is what we call “The Rich Young Ruler.” It’s a painful part of scripture; we see this young man, devout and upright, crash and burn. He simply can’t extract himself from his riches, and that’s scary. He’s wealthy, and when Jesus reaches out to him and calls him to follow, he cannot. He’s chained to his money, (Matthew 19:22).

How terrible this is, and what a warning to us.

Let’s get to Jesus’ observation about this mostly invisible Kingdom of God. He chooses the largest land animal—a camel (this is not the cigarette type) trying to squeeze the smallest imaginable hole (a needle hole). I don’t know for certain, but Jesus’ audience gets awfully quiet, and it says that his disciples are “astonished.”

“Then who can be saved?”

This question flips everything upside down. The text says that Jesus looked at them (interesting) and declares what is true—“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Okay. But what does this mean?

I believe that when wealth sticks to a man it makes it impossible for him to enter God’s Kingdom. It cannot be done, at least not without the Holy Spirit’s stripping process. Let’s not quibble about this, and let’s not sweep it under the proverbial rug. It is what it is.

It’ll take an act of God (maybe several acts of God?) to sever that golden rope. Wealthy is tricky—it affects the wealthy 1% as well as the penniless street-person. Money is such a snare that only a definite act of God can break it.

The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to do this.

An angel writes to the church in Laodicea and gives them no commendation at all; rather he scares them into repentance. In Revelation 3:17-18 he speaks:

“For you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.” 

The Laodicean church is warned—point-blank to renounce and reject that false god wealth. The angel writes to them (and we have the text) and declares that they must take definite action. They must buy another kind of gold; they must dress in garments suitable for the Kingdom. They are bankrupt. They are stark naked.

Living in the Spirit, and walking in the Kingdom demand definite action on our part. To go back to Jesus’ comments—our camel must get really, really skinny. Wealth must shrink until its needle eye size, and I haven’t really figured out how to do that. I suppose I must take off my camel’s saddle and bridle, and whack him on the behind, and let him loose.

“Nothing is more fallacious than wealth. It is a hostile comrade, a domestic enemy.”

    John Chrysostom

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Parable of Talents and Rewards, #37

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey. He called his own servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents,[a] to another two talents, and to another one talent, depending on each one’s ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I’ve earned five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’

22 “The man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I’ve earned two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’

24 “The man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a harsh man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

26 “His master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy servant! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then[b] you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and I would have received my money[c] back with interest when I returned.

28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Three men, three outcomes. It’s one of Jesus’ longest parables. And it’s a formidable one, and we often scan rather than intently read. “Too many words!” If we do this, we’ll minimize its impact. “Too much repetitive thinking!” But these three men explain the mechanics of lives lived—for good, and for those not-so-good.

Three men, money entrusted. So what’s the outcome, why is this literary redundancy? Could it be that Jesus wants something sharp here—something straight to the point? To me anyway, stress is put on the abilities of these three. No more is given more than they can handle, and no one gets the same.

Three bags of money, three investments. We see exactly how they operate under this responsibility, the first two double what they received. Now the “talents” here are not personality giftings, although they could be. Talents here refer to actual cash, something tangible. The parable here is practical—something that can be quantified.

The first two are commended. The third not so much.

The first two take a risk, and after all, isn’t that what should be done? The first two double what they’ve been given. The third, given the least, chose to bury the money given to him in the ground. He was scared and figured that taking a risk was too dangerous, but we’ll discover that action was the real danger.

So what is Jesus saying here?

Seeing talents as our resources: time, energy, ability, and opportunity, we determine that these are things that each are freely given to all three. Now a talent would have been $6,000 dollars in today’s economy, it would’ve taken 20 years for a laborer to earn that much. If we do the math we’re talking about a lot of money—an insane amount of money!

I think the issue was fear—the text tells us that in verse 25. The third guy wouldn’t take the risk with that which had been given. It’s out of pure panic he decides to stash the money away, and yet we see that he expects commendation. He thinks that what he did was something good—something noble and safe.

The master was really angry.

He states that even doing something like turning the money over to bankers would’ve generated something at the very least. Interest maybe? But apparently, even that was too risky to this third man.

It seems to me, (as I’m on my third cup of coffee—and praying) that following Jesus is risky. We can be afraid, so fearful that we commit to doing what is wrong at the end of it all. The Kingdom of God demands that we take chances, even if it seems like a challenge to us.

We should pray for and then do big things, so big that they necessitate grace to pull it off and make it work. We mustn’t make our discipleship safe—the Father wants us to take chances, and live in a way that’s iffy. Perhaps that is the beating heart of this parable. It seems like God rewards those who are willing to “step out of the boat” and to walk out in a certain amount of “danger?”

I think that this might be the whole point.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14:28, CSB

Art by Eugène Burnan

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The Story of the Ten Virgins, #36

Matthew 25:1-13, CSB

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. When the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

“Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

“The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

There were three stages in every ancient Jewish wedding.

  • Engagement–when fathers got together to make sure that it would be a good match.
  • Betrothal—a ceremony in which formal promises were made by the lovers.
  • Marriage—a surprise arrival, usually a year later, by the groom at the home of the woman.

Each was incredibly important. There couldn’t be any short-cuts; one just didn’t jump into this. It wasn’t a Las Vegas approach to just getting hitched. This parable was an extension of the previous verses in Matthew 24:36-51 and had to do with being prepared.

We can extract this from the third step of marriage. The groom would show up at night, and torches were used to light their way, (apparently the flashlight hadn’t been invented yet). Within Jesus’ parable was the idea of suddenness or surprise.

But no one knew exactly when the groom would show up.

Hence there is an emergency feel to this story. The text states in verse 5:

Five of them were foolish and five were wise.”

The story hinges on this sentence. Readiness is the issue here. Everything of any significance must take on the sudden arrival of the groom’s entourage. The virgins, apparently, would go out to meet him—the torches mingling their light, and drive out any darkness. (It seems that 10 was the acceptable number for a proper rabbinical ceremony).

The problem was that only 1/2 of them were ready. It’s interesting to note that everyone was sleeping. Obviously, that didn’t mean anything for it was the availability of “oil” that would make the difference. The idea was a surprise visit.

The oil was the key. And for us, it represents the Holy Spirit.

Sleep is not the whole issue here, but being prepared is. Five girls were foolish, they were simply not ready. They realized their error and tried to finagle oil from the others, but ultimately that would short everyone in their group. There was an idea that a trip to the local oil merchant would work. It was an idea anyway.

But it was already too late!

The door was closed. The five simply missed it. They stood outside knocking and calling, but they didn’t enter in on time. Reading between the lines, I sense they were desperate. Verse 12 is meant to penetrate and reveal the price of tolerating spiritual sloth.

“He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’

The purpose of this parable is the ending line that stresses alertness in a society that dulls everything. The temptation is to act like you’re spiritually aware when you’re not. It’s one of our greatest sins. We assume our lamps are lit when the reality is that our oil (the Holy Spirit) is running close to zero. When our sloth gets mixed with hypocrisy it’ll surely destroy us.

We’re snoring our way to spiritual death.

We must resist slumber and slothfulness. Jesus asserts that his virgins must be prepared and ready for his coming. We must be ready, we must—the price of our unreadiness is high indeed.

“Take care of giving up your first zeal; beware of cooling in the least degree. Ye were hot and earnest once; be hot and earnest still, and let the fire which once burnt within you still animate you. Be ye still men of might and vigor, men who serve their God with diligence and zeal.”

    Charles Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnan

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Are You a Sheep, or a Goat? #35

Matthew 25:34-46, Message

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

This passage is murderous. It clearly explains the existence of heaven and hell. It develops the idea of personal accountability—you will be asked to explain the reality of your faith. It penetrates to the very core of you and I. Questions will be asked, and there will not be an attorney present. You will face him alone. (Easy-peasy, right?)

There’ll be only two possibilities (simple huh?) Will you be a “sheep” or a “goat?” Just two.

The issue here is what you’ve done with your life. Did you help others? Was Jesus hiding in the faces of those less fortunate? Did you recognize him there?

We’ll try to understand and we’ll have many questions. Who, when, and where? These aren’t insignificant or trivial issues. They’ll determine your eternal destiny; but after all, does it really have to come down to this?

It does strike me that everything is decided at that crucial moment. Did you really serve others? (As good believers, we emphasize “justification by faith” alone, and rightly so; but does this parable suggest this?) Are we really grasping what Jesus is telling us?

What about serving others?

The Lord Jesus makes things crystal clear, (too clear, in my book,) about service now, and eternity then. This story scares me. If I had a “sanctified” magic wand, I would use it here (“poof, be ye gone!”) but this parable doesn’t want to co-operate, and quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to “mesh” on my good theology, but on serious actions.

There is something at that moment that’ll mystify us. We’ll need him to explain things. Sheepiness and goatiness demand need a clear understanding, and believe it or not, we’ll need it. Our Lord balances his decision on ones action to others, and he interjects that whatever is done, is done to him. Period. End stop.

Whether we agree or not. Whether we accept his decision or hate it, it won’t matter a bit. His verdict is final.

He decides whether you are his sheep or just a common goat. Either way, your actions determine everything. He’ll examine all you’ve done, and then you’ll have to live with it. And whether you like it or not—he does call the shots. How we treat others (less fortunate than us,) will determine our eternal destination. This chafes, I know it does. Please dear one, you must be afraid.

After reading, and hopefully acting positively to this story is important—it’s critical. But whatever you decide, you’ve been adequately warned.

Period. End stop.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

    Albert Schweitzer

    

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The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, #34

Luke 13:6-9

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’

“But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’”

There must be a dozen of ways to look at this one. Here’s one you probably haven’t heard of yet—I think that it’s really about intercession. The worker wants another year and is willing to make things happen to save this precious tree. He’s even intending to put in even more sweat and blisters, just to bring the tree back to life. He seems to be a diligent chap, and will make a special effort to “git-er-done.”

He intercedes for this tree and will give it an extra boost. The sun is hot, and it really might be easier to knock off earlier, grab a cold one and take it easy. But that’s not his way.

The vineyard guy wants to give the tree a second chance.

Isn’t that a lot like our heavenly father? He deals with us patiently. He will do whatever is needed for the tree to grow. I believe that this parable deals specifically with the ministry of a patient intercession.

“You should accordingly exercise your mind to remember your friends, relatives, and fellow workers to determine if they are in need. As you remember each one so shall you, in turn, intercede for them. If in interceding on their behalf your spirit remains cold and dry, then you know you are not to pray for them.”

   Watchman Nee

Art by Eugène Burnan

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The Authentic Vine, Parable #33

John 15:1-7

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. “

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. “

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Both Jesus and Father God are involved here—we see that right away in verse 1. They both are at work very hard in our own lives, especially me; I’m a work in progress!

He prunes—the work of a good vinedresser. The knife is kept very sharp and the dead stuff is always being chopped off. He wants things to be healthy and flourishing, the vine is constantly assessed to see exactly how it’s doing. Fruit (for us the Holy Spirit) must be seen or else. If it’s not green, off it goes! The vine must bear fruit!

In verse 3 we can grasp the role of the Word in this spiritual “butchering.”

The secret in all of this is something called “abiding.” That idea gets repeated and repeated again so we don’t forget. Abiding is the whole point. The vine—branch—fruit analogy is a remarkable concept which explains the very essence of an authentic Christian life. It explains exactly what is happening.

So what? Have you wondered why the Father hasn’t taken us home already? Why not just escort us straight into his presence when we do get saved, what’s the hold-up here anyway?

This parable tells us that it’s the fruit that matters. We must bear fruit, even in adverse conditions. As a matter of fact, the grapes get good when the weather is hotter—that explains much, doesn’t it?

Verse 6, is crystal. If it abides (stays connected) it stays on. If it doesn’t it’s dead–and hence the knife. Just two possibilities, it’s simple folks, not rocket science. Let’s not mystify it, or look for hidden meanings. When Jesus taught, there weren’t any complications; a little child would be able to understand, and that was his intention.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23

Life automatically comes to the attached. We can “do nothing” on our own. Without the knife—and without abiding, we go nowhere. And simple abiding, staying attached or connected, is the only way the Christian life works. That’s why prayer and praise are such an issue. When you do these, you’ll stay nice and green and grapes (“the fruit of the Spirit”) just happen.

Don’t spiritually strain or grunt—just be. Stay connected through the Christian disciplines (prayer, praise, Bible thinking and reading…etc:) and then there will be no end to the green!

“Prayer comes spontaneously from those who abide in Jesus… Prayer is the natural outgushing of a soul in communion with Jesus.”

CH Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnan

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The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, #32

Luke 16:19-31, LB

19 “There was a certain rich man,” Jesus said, “who was splendidly clothed and lived each day in mirth and luxury. 20 One day Lazarus, a diseased beggar, was laid at his door. 21 As he lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. 22 Finally the beggar died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham in the place of the righteous dead.[a] The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and his soul went into hell.[b] There, in torment, he saw Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham.

24 “‘Father Abraham,’ he shouted, ‘have some pity! Send Lazarus over here if only to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in these flames.’

25 “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted and you are in anguish. 26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us, and anyone wanting to come to you from here is stopped at its edge; and no one over there can cross to us.’

27 “Then the rich man said, ‘O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father’s home— 28 for I have five brothers—to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die.’

29 “But Abraham said, ‘The Scriptures have warned them again and again. Your brothers can read them any time they want to.’

30 “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham, they won’t bother to read them. But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins.’

31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.’”[c]

Luke 16 is the “Fort Knox” of the Bible. The entire chapter deals with money, and golly, I could use more of that. The chapter deals with the disciple and his wallet, and how it relates to God’s kingdom. The passage that we read is a parable (a story) that seems long, but when Jesus shared it the listeners must’ve been alerted that what wealth a person had was a real issue.

Verse 19 is the crux of the story, ““who was splendidly clothed and lived each day in mirth and luxury.” Although the average Jewish person might be able to pull this off 2-3 times a year (during feast days). This particular man lived this way, every single day. He ate very well, and his clothing was very nice. The rich man was the cream of the crop, the upper 1% of society.

I can see him throwing bones over his shoulder!

Laying just outside his gate was a “diseased beggar” whose dream in life was just to grab one of two of those bones for his dinner. To push Jesus’ story even further, we see the dogs (apparently hungry too) coming to lick the sores of the beggar’s body. The whole scene, the stark contrast between opulence and poverty made a very definite impact. I can just imagine that Jesus’ listeners grasped this terrible scene quite easily.

Quite suddenly both died. The afterlife separated them both, and those explosive words “a place of the righteous dead” and “hell.”

Jesus used them, and it makes me uncomfortable. We see the rich man trying to negotiate the situation. From the text we find a deep chasm separating these two men. We discover in the passage a real existence of an afterlife. This is not an easy truth to accept, and I wish it was otherwise. The text uses the word “flames,” and it appears that these are real.

I believe with all my heart in God’s love for us. Perhaps it’s our own sin that separates us from eternal life.

The rich man, whose eternal destiny has been fixed, desperately wants his family to see the truth. Hell is real. He wants them to understand this before it’s too late. It’s Farther Abraham who replies (and he pays an integral part here.) Reaching thw rich man’s family is not possible, even someone resurrected from the dead wouldn’t matter.

  • It’s obvious that consciousness exists beyond the grave.
  • The way that a person lives his life has eternal consequences.
  • Wealth has an accountability to it.
  • God’s word is the standerd by how a person is judged–for good or bad.

The parable, if interpreted literally, must be a factor in the way we live. We’re aware of the danger that wealth matters. The idea of repentance, “they will turn from their sins” is critical. So what do we do with all of this?

“The rich man wasn’t lost because he was rich. He was lost because he did not listen to the law and the prophets. Many will also be lost for the same reason.”

David Guzik

Sobering, isn’t it?

Art by Eugène Burnan

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Listening to Our Shepherd: Parable #31

John 10:1-6, Message

1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you, know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice.”

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

6 “Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about.

For context: 10:7-18

What a joy can be found in the Shepherd’s care, and to hear his voice. Nothing really can match this wonder. We follow as he leads. The voice is an integral part of this passage and the foundation of authentic discipleship. You really can’t walk with him unless you hear him. We belong to him. We’re his flock that he keeps and provides for.

He knows our name! That’s the intimacy found in these verses. We’re never forgotten and he will never overlook us. To think otherwise is slander and an attack on his present-day ministry. Jesus is our good shepherd. He always will be.

“Intimacy with God comes in whispers, not shouts.”

     Woodrow Kroll

He sometimes whispers, and this world can’t hear him. To be perfectly honest, my ‘busy-ness’ silences him. I suppose that the real issue isn’t with him, but with myself.

“And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”

1 Kings 19:12

The gentle whisper to a man afraid. This fits the Father’s m.o. He doesn’t speak through a windstorm, earthquake, or fire. He chooses to speak very quietly, and that’s a problem for me. In the original Hebrew, the word for “whisper” can be translated as calm, silence, or something gentle. He speaks this way if only we shut up for a little while.

If we are to recognize God’s voice, we must belong to Him. We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leading in our lives.

Perhaps Psalm 23 should be brought in at this point?

The flock hears the shepherd, and it’s that voice that breaks through our cluttered-up life. We can hear, and it’s that communication that encourages us to walk through life—one day at a time. Just today. That’s all you must do.

There are so many other voices. You must ignore them.

So many are speaking, so many want us to hear and follow them. But in reality, they want us to leave the Shepherd and his flock behind. But we can’t allow this, we must learn to listen to him alone.

Art by Eugène Burnan

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The Parable of the Rich Fool, #30

Luke 12:16-21

16 Then he told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? 18 I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. 19 Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’

21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

All it took was one night. Everything hinges on this. This man seemingly had it all, to the point of expanding things even more. He’s pulling down older and smaller with the intention of going big time. Perhaps on a superficial level, all that he intended to do made incredible sense. He had the means, why not make the next step?

This man saw an opportunity, and he quickly decided that he must be especially favored by God. “Didn’t becoming rich the evidence of the father’s approval?” It seemed that he was stepping up, and stepping into the prosperity of authentic blessing. He thought he truly understood.

This was the common perspective of the day. To be wealthy was the proof that you arrived.

We can see his thinking in verse 19. This was his reasoning, and we must understand the whys in order to understand this particular story. The parable makes perfect sense when we really consider Jesus’ words in verse 15:

“He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

The rich man was considering his retirement. The risk he was taking was somewhat inconsequential when the business end of things looked so good. There was a risk, but it doesn’t seem that it was a real factor.

But the prophetic voice was definitely clear. One voice was Haggai who spoke about measuring godliness with the measure of financial attainment. Perhaps the rich fool didn’t take this into account:

“You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”

Haggai 1:6

Rich towards God, or confusing material prosperity with the spiritual is a deadly trap to fall into. Many of the prophets spoke directly to that temptation, and riches was not to be the gauge which one was to use.

Life is short–death comes way too suddenly. The rich fool didn’t have a handle on what was eternal (and what wasn’t.) This man was to be an example and a not-so-good one. Jesus both encourages and warns us that unless our wealth is funneled into eternity it means nothing. In a thousand years, we’ll realize its truth.

Real wealth is not found in an abundance of possessions. When will we understand this?

Art by Eugène Burnan

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The Parable of the “Good Mormon,” #29

Luke 10:29-37, ESV

“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” 

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Do you have any idea how radical this parable was?

A scribe of the Law is testing Jesus. Verse 25 and 28 knit together to reveal the resistance that Jesus was dealing with. Was the scribe speaking on his own, or was he voicing the Jewish leader’s arguments? The word for “test” is the same word found when Satan tempted Jesus. It seems that this was the role of the darkness.

Jesus would have understood; he wasn’t intimidated by the enemy. If anything the parable discloses his understanding of motives and tactics of darkness. Jesus’ story was a masterpiece. He focuses on things that reveal the hearts of the religious leaders, with just a few words he strips bare the evil intentions of darkness. The parable bases itself on the end results of their false position. Jesus is the master and he is fully in control.

A man is beaten on the road by robbers. They mugged him, and even stripped off his clothing, and then left him to die. First, we see a Pharisee who made the decision not to get involved. Jewish tradition had developed a law that stated that even if his shadow fell on a corpse it would’ve rendered him unclean. That’s how messed up things got. Theology, not theopraxy, was completely in charge.

It was the same for the scribe.

Their ceremonial law blocked any real act of mercy. This man was without hope—until a Samaritan found him. Interestingly, Samaritans as a nationality despised by observant Jews. Jesus expertly tools his story to make them out to be the heroes of his parable.

Consider this: The relationship between Jew and Samaritan has a comparison for us in the present day. If we modernize this we can make the comparison to be between Christian and Mormon. The parallels are fascinating to consider. Like Samaritans, Mormons are close counterparts in the religious world. Now, I know Mormon theology is goofy, but let’s consider what’s going on here.

A Mormon shows up, and he really goes the extra mile, and then some.

He does what the Pharisee and the scribe should have done. With this simple story, Jesus shatters the deceptions of the Jewish leadership. When it comes down to it, what really truly matters is how we love our neighbors. It’s something active and it defies labels and descriptions.

Jesus turns to the questioning scribe and delivers a death knell to false ceremonialism. It isn’t what you believe is true, it’s what you do that really matters. It’s funny, but when Mormons act like Samaritans in this story, they’re regarded as holy and true in the sight of God. They’re really doing the Father’s will. This is true, whether we like it or not.

“You go, and do likewise.”

This is the will of God. Doing the work of the Samaritan is what declares our faith to be real and valid. Luther once commented:

God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of the Salt Shaker, #28

Matthew 5:13, Amplified

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste (its strength, its quality), how can its saltness be restored? It is not good for anything any longer but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.”

You are different. When Jesus moved in he fundamentally changed you, and you’re a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). The word used there (or at least I’m told) is where we get the English word for “species.” Something quite real has happened (probably the most profound in history) and recasted you into a new type of being.

Jesus chooses his words carefully; I believe he wants us to understand.

He tells us that we’re now “salt” which, when you think about it, carries us right into something that’s completely different than anyone else. “Sodium chloride,” is a white substance that gives food a different taste. But there is more: it preserves, melts and heals.

It should fascinate us that this verse comes right after the Beatitudes, (Matthew 5:2-12). These verses are the critical principles of God’s kingdom found there—they must be understood with this in mind. This “salt” idea declares how very different his reign exactly is. As salt we’ve become fundamental to Jesus’ work on planet Earth, he has chosen us to change the world around us.

Everyone who really listened to Jesus as he declared his Beatitudes, would’ve known that these ideas were radically different from what the world sees as success. The “salt” verse is the immediate idea of actively putting these ideas into place. As we consider these, we realize that the world as we know it is now radically different because of us, because of him.

Salt that is not salt is a bit of a surprise.

Thinking about it we determine that “unsalty salt” is essentially sand. Now it might look like the real stuff, and it might be sold as such—but it isn’t salt. It’s a counterfeit, something that’s not the real deal.

Imagine you’re a Jewish person sitting at a wonderful meal of lamb chops. You reach for the salt shaker and expect it to flavor those delectable pieces of meat. But instead of shaking out salt (what you want), you get sand! What a let-down. You feel betrayed, and maybe it causes your whole world to collapse (and maybe not). Anyway, you won’t be tricked again, so the whole batch is used to fill pot-holes in front of your house.

The salt is sand.

The Holy Spirit who lives inside of you is what makes you very distinct. You’re altered on a spiritual/molecular level to be something you weren’t before. The implications are obvious to everyone who “tastes” you. The verse immediately following pounds this truth even deeper still—it’s all about “light” shining into deep darkness, (see “Parable of the Light, #11). Both deal with distinctiveness—both would’ve been really obvious to everyone.

I like the Message Bible on this verse (take it or leave it):

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.” (5:13).

Let’s be salty.

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The Story of the Wicked Tenants, #27

Matthew 21:33-41

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. 34 When the time came to harvest fruit, he sent his servants to the farmers to collect his fruit. 35 The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Again, he sent other servants, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. 37 Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

41 “He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his fruit at the harvest.”

Great care had gone into this venture. The owner determined that money could be made if it was done right. He made a proper vineyard, complete with everything that might make it a success, yes, he made a risk, but it seemed to be a good investment. He had hired workers—laborers and foremen to tend and harvest the grapes.

There is envy here.

The harvest was exceptionally good it seems. The men he hired were amazed when the shekels started to pour in. Perhaps they determined that if they seized the vineyard, and make it theirs, they could possess the profits for their own. They made the decision to hijack the entire operation.

The owner sent stewards to collect the money that was earned. It seems that the workers determined not only to own the field, but deny the yearly profits, When the stewards showed up to collect, the workers attacked them. The tenants violently reacted. They severely beat one, and murdered the other. The workers were committed now, and we see how serious their rebellion was.

The owner kept sending men to collect, and it seems like these tenants kept up their resistance. The owner was baffled, and he came to a decision to send his own son. He felt that this would show his seriousness over this sort of resistance. But it didn’t work. The tenants reasoned that if they murdered the son they could finally take absolute control.

The parable was clear. Judaism had been hijacked by the leaders of the people.

They were resisting God’s work and declared the entire religious system as their own. They committed themselves to taking control of all that the owner had done. The story was obvious to all who heard. The Jews were actually taking ownership of the field—to the point they would murder Jesus.

The end result was total judgement by God. He would destroy these men who were resisting him. He would transfer the entire kingdom to men who understood the true purpose of the vineyard. Judgement was coming; and it would be both fair and just. God had been more than patient.

God requires that we transfer the glory over to him. We’re the “new” workers, and the Church is now the vineyard we toil in. The world has become our field (but not ours—God’s). We dare not get confused, we must watch our own hearts. Any blessing or glory should go to God. We must work knowing deep down that all our efforts, and the harvest, belong to him.

We dare not forget this. It is critical.

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of the Two Sons, #26

Matthew 21:28-32

  28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go work in the vineyard today.’

29 “He answered, ‘I don’t want to,’ but later he changed his mind and went. 30 Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered, but he didn’t go. 31 Which of the two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.

It isn’t what you say, it’s what you do.

The parable kicks-off the last week of Jesus’ ministry. Consider the following, Jesus has just entered into Jerusalem, and on a single day:

  • He has just rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
  • He has received the praise of the crowd that he’s the Messiah
  • He has cleansed the temple
  • He has healed many sick in the temple courts
  • He’s had a showdown with the leadership of Israel
  • He rebuked a fig-tree for not having figs to eat
  • He had another encounter with the leaders of Jerusalem over his authority,
  • He teaches two parables (this one, and “the Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” vv. 33-46.)
  • He has another go-around with the Jewish leadership

And you thought you had a busy day! Jesus realizes that time is running short for him and on his earthly ministry. This parable, and the one that follows is a clear indictment on the Jewish leadership—the scribes, Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The parable must be understood by those in his audience. The leaders listened, and so did the crowds. Everyone got to hear the truth, whether they liked it or not. We must realize that Jesus didn’t intend to antagonize his audience purposefully. He only spoke these two parables to clarify what was true in the kingdom of God. Two sons, two reactions. The story divides the people right down the middle—you either accepted his word, or you ignored it.

It doesn’t matter what you said, it does matter what you did.

Tax-collectors and prostitutes (!) discover that the door to the kingdom opens up for them, but slams shut when the religious people want in. Jesus’ story declares that the Pharisees must go to the back of the line, and wait for others to enter in first. (Now that’s a mind blower.)

Let’s not get it mixed up. Salvation is 100% pure grace, and it has zero per cent human effort. He saves us, not because we’re such wonderful people (at least on Sundays, anyway!), but because of his gracious love. “It is by grace that we’re saved,” (Eph 2:8-9).

We’re the ones who won’t go to work when asked, but afterwards we decide to go. When we listen to Jesus—either from a Pharisee or a sinner viewpoint, will determine our real position in the kingdom.

What we say matters little, but what we do matters a great deal more.

“They talk of repenting, but they do not repent. They speak of believing, but they never believe. They think of submitting to God, but they have not submitted themselves to him yet. They say it is time they broke up the fallow ground, and sought the Lord, but they do not seek him. It all ends in a mere promise.”

C.H. Spurgeon

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of the Desperate Widow, #25

Luke 18:1-8

“Now he told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not give up. “There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect people. And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’”

“For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect people, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so that she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming.’”

“Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Will not God grant justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay helping them?”

8 “I tell you that he will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This parable deals with heavy-duty prayer—not the weak watered-down stuff. But rather something that’s bold and confident. Jesus teaches us to intensify our prayers. There are parallels here with the woman from Canaan. We see Jesus seemingly ignore a seeker (Matthew 15:21-28, Message). I guess that bothers me somewhat. But he wants her faith to grow.

Jesus uses the word “unjust” to accentuate the story to his listeners. It more or less creates a tension where true faith can be seen up close. Back in the Old Testament we read of Jacob refusing to let go of the angel (Gen.32:22-25). We see Rachel who demanded children, “or else I die,” (Genesis 30:8). Both prevailed even when confronted with difficult situations.

“Don’t give up” in verse 1 explains this passage. Discouragement is a frontal assault on a believer’s faith. Satan uses different tactics, but attacking ones faith is his specialty. Whenever Satan sees faith, he attacks. He absolutely hates your relationship with the Father. He will turn you against him if he can. We are told that our faith must become a shield when he tries to assault us, (Ephesians 6:16).

It seems that to me that some believers refuse to wear their armor. They don’t realize how vulnerable they really are.

This parable is clear. Often God seems to be distant and unconcerned, but that isn’t true, and yet Satan insists that it is. As believers we’re told to press the father about our need. Repeatedly, we’re told that God is very much aware of us, he only wants to build our faith—to make it strong. He uses Satan’s assault on us to magnify the fathers glory.

The widow is a case in point. She demands that the judge listen to her case, and finally he relents. Her insistence is finally rewarded. He realizes that this widow isn’t going away. She’s starting to give him a headache, and she is very persistent. Her faith is stronger than his reluctance.

Our faith needs to be exercised. It’s very much like working out in a gym.

Weights are used, and once you’ve mastered one level, it’s increased. It may sound like a cliche, but God won’t give you anymore than you can handle, our faith isn’t much different. Sometimes we’ll sweat and strain spiritually, but we must understand that our faith has to be strengthened. We never seem to arrive.

You must understand that our faith will be tried, but that isn’t a bad thing. If God withdraws, then we must pursue. If he doesn’t answer we must crank it up. Like the widow we need to persevere; we must not give up. This is how your faith grows. Hebrews 11 declares what faith looks like when it’s wrapped up in flesh and bone.

“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.”

Luke 11:10

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, #24

Luke 18:9-14

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’”

13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me,[c] a sinner!’ , 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He despised others. As a Pharisee he prided himself as a holy person; he stood before God and congratulated himself. I believe that self-righteousness has many levels. You can be blatant and obvious about it, or it can be subtle and hidden. But we must understand that the father sees and knows. Notice the “all” here in Isaiah 64:6:

“We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind.”

Hmm. A menstrual rag? You got to be kidding!

We often advance ourselves by demeaning those who struggle hard with their sin–there are those who see and somehow know that they’re superior. We don’t come out and say so; but we’ve arrived— but guess what— God (and scripture) know better than this.

But we’re not dealing here with a hidden self-righteousness. The Pharisee truly believes that he is different from the tax-collector. He stands and doesn’t kneel. He feels comfortable and confident in the holy presence of God Almighty. He’s not like the others. He is sure that he’s holy.

The tax-collector was brutally honest about himself.

He didn’t need anyone to tell him how sinful he was—he understood his own wickedness. Jesus’ story reveals God’s love for those who know that they’re twisted inside. Notice the heart of the tax-collector:

  • “He stood afar off” which showed his awareness of his separation from God.
  • “He wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven,” which declared his humility in the presence of God.
  • He kept “striking his chest,” which tells us of a deep pain over his sin against God.
  • He prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ This describes his desperate heart.

These both came to pray, but that is all they had in common.

The Pharisee came to the temple to show off his righteousness, the tax-collector out of a terrible despair. It strikes me that the text in verse 11 says the Pharisee “began praying to himself.” It seems that his prayer never really met God—he was proud and showy, doing the things God hates (Prov. 29:23).

Things really came to ahead in verse 14. That’s the critical point of the entire story—“one went down to his house justified rather than the other.” Wow! What a statement. One professionally religious man, sure of his holiness, the other a sinful sinner, who came humble and broken. One showed off his faith—boasting with a legalistic swagger. The other desperate and desolate, completely undone.

But it was the tax-man who became righteous in the eyes of God.

Humility is the foundation of the kingdom of Jesus. In Matthew 5:3-4 makes a lot of sense—to be “poor in spirit” and to “mourn” are the bedrock of a Christian’s discipleship. To be justified (made right) was a gift. He didn’t try to earn it, and there wasn’t a probationary period. The tax-collector now became righteous; the Pharisee carried his sin.

God wants us to have a broken-heart. He rejects everything else. I suppose that the question is this: Do you mourn over your sin?

“The Lord is near the brokenhearted;
he saves those crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Story of the Unmerciful Servant, #23

Matthew 18:22-34

23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. 25 Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

26 “At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

28 “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

29 “At this, his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. Instead, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. 32 Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’”  

“And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed.”

God is generous. All that he does is grace. It’s also grace when we really meet another. He loves us, and we need to siphon that love to everyone we meet. When we come before the Lord, we don’t get the justice we deserve. He has forgiven us—the ten thousand ones.

God is generous. We owe him an outrageous kind of debt. Commentators list the modern value of 10,000 talents would be $1 billion USD. Granted this is figurative, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. Grace is God’s extravagant for scandalous sinners.

That is an insane amount of money. To settle our debt would far, far more than we can repay; but isn’t that the point. God’s grace on us, is a precious thing.

When he gets off his knees, we realize that he really hasn’t changed by grace. He’s teflon, and the mercy the father gave him isn’t really understood. His heart hasn’t really grasped his lesson in forgiveness. God forgave, the servant didn’t understand. His treatment of another proclaims this.

The story is all about grace and the law.

The $10,000 guy meets the $100 talent guy and we see our own inability to forgive. We shake down our brother and sister for just small things. Notice verse 28, the text tells us that he actually assualted him, “he started to choke him.” How bizarre and how disturbing. And yet, God sees, and responds.

Was the $10,000 guy really forgiven? Did he understand the spiritual transaction of what just happened? I don’t think so—and it scares me.

The other servants have seen the issue.

The key word is “distressed,” or lypeō in Greek, the word means “to throw into sorrow, to grieve or offend., to make heavy.” All that the forgiven servant did, was recognizable by others, and they reported what they saw to the master.

He’s called “wicked” in verse 32. What he did was awful, and again he’s brought in. Because of his mistreatment of the other who owed, he was now thrown into prison, owing a billion bucks. He gets what he now deserves. He gets justice instead of mercy.

“But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.”

Matthew 6:15

I’m pretty sure that God isn’t hammering us over our unforgiveness of others. I suspect it’s our sin that does that. When we consider our sin, how can we understand others who sin against us? We have been forgiven much (very much!) how can we not forgive others for sinning against us?

Many people ruin their health and their lives by taking the poison of bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness. Matthew 18:23-35 tells us that if we do not forgive people, we get turned over to the torturers.

    Joyce Meyer

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of the Wedding Feast, #22

Luke 14:16-24, Message

16-17 Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’

18 “Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’

19 “Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’

20 “And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’

21 “The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and down-and-out you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’

23-24 “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’”

There is danger here, and it gives this parable an edge. It seems that there are two kinds of people in this story: the well to do, and the misfits. Each plays an integral part–something that must be understood. We may not like what we see.

But the edginess that cuts in this parable is the real frustration of a man who has invited the respectable as guests to a wedding feast. But there’s nothing but good excuses. On the outward, they seem appropriate. In this story; three men justify their absence with what seems like reasonable.

But there’s more here. To refuse a wedding invite—was never done. It was the ultimate snub.

The overseer is outraged (obviously) by the conduct of these men.

He directs his servants to do something quite radical. He knows that the feast must have guests; the quantity reflects the quality. He orders that the servants scour the city, the streets and the alleys. He must have guests.

He doesn’t really care whether they’re misfits or not.

He’ll take misfits and rascals, losers and the homeless—it doesn’t matter, he wants warm bodies. He’ll take anyone at this point. He has decided that there will be guests, no matter what.

It’s grace—pure and simple.

The parable is a direct indictment of the religious situation of his day. Since the Jewish leaders have decided to reject Jesus, to spurn the invite to join in—he’ll invite the outsiders, the Gentiles. That is the first and obvious interpretation.

The second would be the “open door” given to the undeserving. We’re the ones who get to eat bbq lamb, and drink the best wine. It’s grace—pure and simple. And guess what, Jesus has room for more. There is a place at his table for you!

“Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These words of God are true.'”

Rev. 19:9

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The Parable of the Growing Seed, #21

Mark 4:26-29

 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.” 

“The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

From a seed to a plant. We have no idea how this happens, it just does. This is a “kingdom” parable, one of several that explain what God’s realm is, and how it happens. In this particular story, we’re told how the Holy Spirit works. It also explains our role in this (which isn’t a whole lot).

The farmer puts the seed in the ground—and that’s it. He’s done his work, there’s nothing more he can do. He doesn’t do anything else from this point, and honestly he can’t. And yet the soil needs to be prepared—plowed, fertilized and tilled again. You might say he creates the conditions (that’s what makes a good farmer, I guess) for something to happen.

He doesn’t massage the seed, coaxing it to grow. He doesn’t sing to it, or tell it about the wonders of being lush and green. He does zero. The seed grows on its own. He goes to bed, and gets up. After several days, bingo! That seed turns into a plant—something green and alive. He doesn’t do a thing. Life occurs without his work.

The point is this. God’s work is done invisibly within us (and that’s a relief)!

“The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.”

Robertson’s Commentary

God’s kingdom works pretty much like this. The farmer doesn’t cause the seed growth, all he does is go to bed! He sleeps and waits and watches. It grows and he hasn’t the slightest. It’s a complete mystery. He has done everything he can, and God has done the rest. He “shares” in this amazing transformation, but the father has done it all.

We trust in a process we cannot see, or really understand.

We don’t dig the seed up every morning to see what’s happening. We just let the (super)natural happen. And it does!

The farmer has faith in the process (after all, he did plant the seed), but that’s it. There’s a verse in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 the should be considered. It gives us confidence and a definite trust in this process of growth. The Apostle Paul understands this “principle of growth.”

“We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing.”

We must trust God completely to grow. We’re responsible for tilling and planting. But you need to understand what happens after that is up to him. The kingdom of God is supernatural. It’s exactly how the kingdom happens—and we must be patient and wise.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Arnold Glascow

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The Parable of Loving Much, #20

Luke 7:40-47, Message

40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Oh? Tell me.”

41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”

“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

How much do you love Jesus? This parable looks at the heart of the believer, the person who has been incredibly forgiven of everything–past, present and future. And it’s here we see a woman whose heart is broken by her sin, and she discovers Jesus’ grace, and tremendous mercy.

Jesus has been invited to Simon’s home. He’s a Pharisee, and at this point they haven’t banded together to attack Jesus, it seems that there were still some Pharisees who were true seekers.

The text jumps right in and we see Jesus reclining at a table (the Jewish people didn’t use chairs–pillows were used instead.) At a feast like this people who weren’t officially invited could come in to stand in the back and listen in on the conversation. (How awkward.)

Suddenly a woman enters the scene.

She’s described as “a woman of the city,” which is a code word for “a sinner, or a harlot.” (Let your imagination roll that one around.) She comes with a purpose, for she brings a jar of expensive perfume with her.

The passage reveals that she’s on her knees, weeping on Jesus’ feet, and rubbing her tears with her hair, and pouring out the perfume. She’s kissing his feet. She’s obviously a broken person—someone who knows who Jesus is, and who understands who she is, and how deep sin has destroyed her.

At this point Simon is deeply offended, and probably embarrassed by what’s happening. But he also assumes that Jesus isn’t who he’s saying he is. “How dare does this man let an unclean person do this!” But Jesus understands everything. His parable is short (just two verses) and it’s directed at Simon; and it’s a no-brainer.

The interpretation is obvious: the man who owes the most will love the most.

Jesus accentuates Simon’s breach of protocol. The Lord deftly explains the entire situation; Simon is busted. He’s put on the spot and Jesus has made his point. It’s all so obvious. The essence of the story is clear. How much do you love the Master?

Have you really grasped how much of your sin that’s been forgiven, or maybe you’re a Simonite—someone who doesn’t quite accept what’s real? The Bible tells us repeatedly that no one is righteous. No one. Scripture has a very low opinion of the righteousness of men. (That should shatter your thinking.)

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Isaiah 64:6, KJV

The Hebrew word for “filthy” is extremely graphic–it literally means “a menstruating cloth.” It was something that a woman used before there was Tampax. How very descriptive. Do we even have the slightest idea what that means?

How does that alter our discipleship? I’ll let you be the judge on this on this one.

“One great power of sin is that it blinds men so that they do not recognize its true character.”

    Andrew Murray

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The Vineyard Workers, #19

Matthew 20:1-16, CSB

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius, he sent them into his vineyard for the day. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and about three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go into my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. 10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. 11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: 12 ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.’

13 “He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? 14 Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The market place in a first century Jewish community was also the hiring office. Land owners who need laborers would come there early in the morning to get day laborers. If you needed a job that’s where you went. Typically, you brought the tools, and waited until you were hired for the day’s work. The standard pay was a denarius a day.

Agriculture was always an irregular business.

There were times when no workers were necessary, and then there were times (harvest) when you couldn’t have enough. Grapes were the biggest crop, and vineyards needed to be cultivated, but that took only a few; and probably more skilled men.

The weather was always an issue, harvest time and the rainy season happened pretty much at the same time. The trick was to get the harvest in as soon as possible. It was always a race against time, rains could come at any moment, and if they came too early, the entire crop would be lost. That’s why even a worker who only worked just an hour was welcomed.

The workday was divided up into four 3 hour increments: 6–9–12–3–6.

After the 6 am group was hired, the landowner made four other visits to the marketplace. Laborers were needed in the worst way—he would take anyone, even if only for an hour. Things were critical, and every worker made a difference. With each group, he told them that their wages would be appropriate. This was his agreement with them. “I’ll give you whatever is right.’”

When the day was done, a table was set up; the day laborers stood in line, the men who were hired last went first. They received a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work! The one-hour guys couldn’t believe it. This was generosity in the extreme. They were elated.

Word quickly spread down the line.

The men who worked the hardest—(they were the dirtiest and sweatiest), just knew that they were going to get even more than they ever expected. They were already figuring out in their heads what their adjusted wages were going to be. “If the landowner was forking out a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work, we’re going to get far more.”

Surprise!

It’s not going to happen. Everyone down the line gets one denarius. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked, or how long, or how many blisters you got. Everyone gets the same! That dear one didn’t seem right or fair. The Greek word used here is γογγύζω, we translate it as “grumble, muttering or angry whispering. To be extremely discontent.” They were offended. Plain and simple.

The guys who worked all day complained. It wasn’t right. They confronted their employer, “how could you do this to us?” They were angry. What the landowner did, in their minds, was wrong—how could he “reward” those who barely broke a sweat. “You made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day’s work and the burning heat.”

Verse 16 smashes our conceptions of law and grace.

The law tells us that we get what we deserve. That seems logical; everyone receives what is reasonable. We like the logic of it. But grace doesn’t work that way. Law is man’s perspective; grace is God’s. We don’t understand it, it doesn’t compute. We “get” the law, it’s an automatic; it makes sense to us—grace on the other hand is foolish. “Who in the world gives out salvation to those nasty, evil people?”

God deals with us according to who He is, not according to who we are.

The landowner isn’t unfair to anyone—true, he’s more generous to some, but he’s not wrong or unreasonable to anyone. We read this in verse 13. He has been completely appropriate. He paid what he said he would. Grace is totally foreign to us, we find it offensive. We can’t understand it—we come to God complaining about the grace he lavishes on junkies and homosexuals.

I shudder to think that I’ve accused him of being too merciful, too gracious to some others. The reality is that we deserve nothing. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would be here, we’d all be damned to hell. But he is good to all of us. And really, in the final analysis, what does it matter if we’re the first or the last? I should be thrilled that someone else is blessed by a grace that they never deserved.

I get it mixed up sometimes, and I don’t really understand all of it.

Art by Eugène Burnand

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The Parable of Going to War, #18

Luke 14:31-33

 “Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” 

 “In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

There’s a disparity here. That difference is the backbone of this parable, and it seems that everything connects to that. One king has to make a decision, and it’s probably not an easy one. He has 10,000 troops, and ordinarily, that’s enough. But this isn’t a normal situation that he faces, and he has to figure out his next step. The text tells us that he “sits down and decides,” which shows us he is honestly evaluating the situation.

It’s awfully hard for a king to submit. As a rule they can be a bit haughty. They hate to submit. But he determines that if he goes to war, he’ll be outnumbered two to one—those are terrible odds, and victory really isn’t going to be easy. For us reading this passage, the choice is clear; he must seek a diplomatic solution, and he must do this quickly.

Jesus is asking us to sit down and consider if we can meet his demands.

To follow Jesus (verse 33,) will require (demand) that we give up everything we own. I believe he’s speaking primarily to the crowd here; the disciples who are following have already made a decision. (See Luke 14:25-26.) They have to commit; so what will they decide?

It’s a bit scary/funny. To ignore, doubt or waver is also a decision. To say “no, I can’t, or won’t,” is also a choice that carries incredible consequences. It’s as much as a commitment as deciding to renounce all and follow. Notice that the king sat down—that means he deliberated. He has to make a decision that effected everything.

The 1st century Greek text interests me. The word for renounce is “to say goodbye to.” That’s the point here—Jesus speaks to the crowd (us?) that you cannot be a disciple unless you can say this particular phrase from the heart. If you’re going to be “numbered” as a true follower, you must come to that place where you walk away from it all.

There are really just two options.

And yet both are decisions with definite consequences—one leads to life, the other leads to death (?!) and I’m not sure exactly what that means. (You need to figure that out on your own.)

Will you—or can you, give up everything to follow the Master?

There’s a lot to this parable—I know this. I believe though that I’ve shared the true gist of it, and I really hope you understand. If I’ve stepped on your toes, I apologize. But I’m convinced that its essence has been shared here.

“We have suffered from the preaching of cheap grace. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. People will take anything that is free, but they are not interested in discipleship. They will take Christ as Savior but not as Lord.”

     Vance Havner

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The Dishonest Manager, #17

eugene-burnand.com/

Luke 16:1-9, ESV

“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 

And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’” 

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[b] of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’” 

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world[c] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,[d] so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

This one’s a challenge. I’ve wrestled off and on with this passage for 40 years, and until just lately have I’ve gotten an idea, (maybe) of what this parable is about. (If I’m off the wall, please let me know.) I must say, first of all, that the dishonest manager’s trickery is never endorsed by Jesus. The man is a thief and a scoundrel. He has embezzled his master’s money, and betrayed his trust. That’s a bad thing.

But yet there is something worth emulating about his conduct.

He’s a genuine businessman–focused and direct. He’s always got a plan, he’s always thinking ahead. He has a definite direction. There’s a purpose and a direct idea–a focus, and that sets him apart from others. Jesus makes an observation to his disciples. It’s the key to this parable. Notice what I’ve highlighted:

8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself.” “Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens.”

“They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right

—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

Luke 16:8-9, Message

A sailor will tell you that the hardest boat to steer is one that is dead in the water. Perfectly still it can’t be directed. It has to be moving. I wonder sometimes if some of Jesus’ disciples are too passive. They’ve repented and experienced God’s grace; they are definitely saved and going to heaven. That’s wonderful. But they’re just stalled after that. They have become passive and unfocused. They seem to float and drift and take whatever current that moves them along.

That “dead in the water” passivity isn’t what Jesus is looking for. This parable stresses the need to be aware, alert and always “looking for angles.” People like this have an edge about them, they’re like the salesman in a leisure suit– they’re always focused on their next “lucrative” move. They’re the “hustlers” of the Christian walk!

Jesus made an observation about that same sort of intensity in the ministry of John the Baptist:

“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”

Luke 16:16

There needs to be a holy violence, it seems, something that’s pressing–something we’re striving for. Paul understood this also:

 “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:14, KJV

Jesus is making it quite clear that a passive walk is contrary to true discipleship. There must be movement towards a goal. We can’t just float through a nice, quiet Christian life. There needs to be a zeal and a holy direction. Yes, we need to wait, and listen! Being still and quiet before him is critical. But we can’t lose our direction and focus. It seems we must be forceful.

I believe that this parable reveals to us that a holy zeal is needed. The dishonest manager was a rascal and a cheat. But yet there was something that Jesus approved of, a directed zeal for that which we should have. Perhaps we’ve gotten a bit lax–floating through our salvation without any direction.

We definitely need to be people who love, and who are controlled by the Spirit. But we also need to be a people who press into the things of God. We need a directed zeal and definite purpose. Being a passive believer isn’t an option, and it doesn’t please God. We need to become believers who are always looking at God’s glory, and are moving toward it with a holy zeal, and a specific purpose.

“Men could be content to have the kingdom of Heaven; but they are loathe to fight for it. They choose rather to go in a feather bed to Hell than to be carried to Heaven in a ‘fiery chariot’ of zeal and violence.”

    Thomas Watson

Art by Eugène Burnand

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Take the Lowest Place, #16

Luke 14:7-11, CSB

He told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: 

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t sit in the place of honor, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place.”

10 “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Choose your seat carefully. In Jesus’ day, there was a definite seating order to a wedding feast. It wasn’t first come, first served. There was a strict protocol, where one’s importance mattered. Honored people got honorable seats–close to the front as possible. Average people got average spots; but no one wanted be at the bottom, having to sit at the “kids table.”

Jesus was watching, and he what he saw was a spiritual principle of his Kingdom.

Jesus often teaches out of the things we encounter–real life events. Spiritual truth often hits us from those things we actually see. If you want to know what God is doing in your life, all you need to do is look around at the “practical” things, and start to see the spiritual lessons inside them. We learn from real-life. That’s how he often teaches us, he combines the Word with what we’re experiencing.

Our natural inclination is to move higher up. We often think that we’re deserving, and so we take our “rightful” positions. That’s the way humans think. We all want to sit in the best possible place, and so we end up wheedling our way up front. We can fall into the subtle trap of self-promotion. But that’s not how discipleship works.

Jesus corrects, advising us to take the lowest place. I think verse 11 is the key to figuring out this seating arrangement. We’re starting to see a physical situation become a spiritual lesson. There’s much to learn. Here’s verse 11 in the Amplified version:

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled [before others], and he who habitually humbles himself (keeps a realistic self-view) will be exalted.”

This translation injects some realism into our lives, especially in how we see ourselves. It’s something quite foundational. It lays down a principle that is always true in his Kingdom (1 Peter 5:6). If we don’t accept and implement this, we’ll suffer a definite deficiency in our discipleship. It stunts the growth of many believers. And that is tragic.

The whole scene lays out how life in the spirit really works, and it seems terribly paradoxical.

Our human logic asserts that deliberately choosing the lesser is foolish, things really don’t work that way. We think, (falsely,) that we’ll only advance by asserting ourselves. But Jesus, quite aptly, clarifies the ways of the Kingdom–true maturity will only come if we decide to take the lowest place.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

James 4:10

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The Parable of the Midnight Request, #15

Luke 11:5-8, CSV

“He also said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I don’t have anything to offer him.’ Then he will answer from inside and say, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I have gone to bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ 

I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s shameless boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”

This parable is known by some as “the Importunate Neighbor.” That’s an excellent description. Importunate is defined as being persistent, especially to the point of annoyance or intrusion. It’s tenacious and stubborn–not giving up even when being ignored. That describes what’s happening here.

What proceeds this parable is Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer, which the disciples requested. They wanted to understand the methods and mechanics of praying–perhaps the Pharisee’s prayers weren’t quite up to snuff–they wanted more; and they insisted that Jesus instruct them. They wanted to do it right.

A typical Jewish home had sleeping quarters (one room!) located on a raised platform. A ladder was used to access that level (which could be crowded, sometimes two to a bed.) Often their livestock were brought inside. And when it was time to get up, everyone got up. That explains the homeowner’s reluctance to give bread to his neighbor. To get up, light a lamp, wasn’t a solitary affair.

He’s obviously unenthusiastic to make an effort.

The word used here to explain the neighbor actions is ἀναίδεια “anaídeia,” which is only ever used here–it’s translated as impudence, shamelessness, audacity or “chutzpah.” It’s a Greek word that explains the knocker’s rudeness. He won’t stop. He knocks and pounds until he gets his bread. Not to have bread for his guest is unheard of, it violates the unwritten law of Jewish hospitality. 

This is part of Jesus’ view on prayer. It means we must be inappropriate sometimes–even to the point were we are being rude.

Immediately following this parable (the very next thought) are the following instructions:

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Luke 11:9-10

Perhaps it’s this intensity that’s lacking.

We “pray” but don’t insist. We desire but don’t demand. Maybe it takes a certain shamelessness to make prayer work. Jesus emphasizes a necessary component to praying God’s way. It’s never automatic, a simple phrase or two that moves the father’s heart, and loosens his hand. In Jesus’ teaching, prayer means effort.

“There is neither encouragement nor room in Bible religion for feeble desires, listless efforts, lazy attitudes; all must be strenuous, urgent, ardent. Flamed desires, impassioned, unwearied insistence delight heaven. God would have His children incorrigibly in earnest and persistently bold in their efforts. Heaven is too busy to listen to half-hearted prayers or to respond to pop-calls. Our whole being must be in our praying.”

    E.M. Bounds

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Art by Eugène Burnand

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An Unworthy Servant, #14

Luke 17:7-10

“Which one of you having a servant tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’?” 

“Does he thank that servant because he did what was commanded? 10 In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we’ve only done our duty.’”

“The will of God for your life is simply that you submit yourself to Him each day and say, “Father, Your will for today is mine. Your pleasure for today is mine. Your work for today is mine. I trust You to be God. You lead me today and I will follow.”

    Kay Arthur

Really now. What little we give determines so much, since we owe him so much. The service that we can give to our master is just a small repayment for everything. Settle that now and God will use you.

Question: Is the master unfair? Does he lord his authority over the servant–taking advantage of him? Every time I read this passage, questions like this always comes up.

#1, the Holy Spirit really hasn’t taught me yet. That’s very possible. Until he does, the parable isn’t truly understood.

#2, I’m a product of my country, no such things like slaves, we’re a democracy. Equal rights and all that jazz.

#3, It’s purposefully constructed to create issues in my mind and heart. Something that “irritates” me–but in a good way.

And maybe they’re all true. But no matter how I “squeeze” out this parable, I always hit this spiritual speed bump. But I like it, and I love reading it, no matter what it does to me.

We owe everything to him. Plain and simple.

Jesus wants to be my master. I’m his servant (at least I really want to be). Reading this parable puts this idea into a real perspective. I do like this verse, 1 Corinthians 6:20, in the CEV:

“God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.”

A transaction has been made for your soul. God has intervened, and he’s given you salvation. We have a life now that will give us life, eternally. Since he is our master, we can no longer direct our own lives. Like the “unworthy servant” in verse 10, we now walk forgiven and very much redeemed. And we owe it all to him, he’s our savior and our master.

“The question in salvation is not whether Jesus is Lord, but whether we are submissive to His lordship.”

   John MacArthur

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Art by Eugène Burnand

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On the Rock, #13

Matthew 7:24-26, NCV

“Everyone who hears my words and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. 26 Everyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”

Embedded in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, are these words: they absolutely penetrate any “religious” sensitivity we think we have. This parable Jesus taught carries the full weight of divine authority. Up to now, Jesus’ listeners just might reduce his words to nice religious platitudes–something future, and maybe conceptual. I must warn you, this isn’t the case.

Obedience is the critical idea here. If they’re wise, they are told to put all they’ve heard into practice. It’s really not enough to hear and respect what Jesus declares–they must do the words. Jesus isn’t simply a great moral teacher, all that he says is authoritative; and not just in a benevolent, superficial way–what he says are the very words of God to people, like you and I.

There are two builders in this parable. Two different men; the wise and the foolish.

The each have their own strategies, their methods are quite different. Both listen; but one responds with careful planning. He understands the potential dangers–rain, floods and wind are going to happen. It’s funny, our Lord never “sugarcoats” life. Nasty things are going to happen, weather that’s quite hostile. Following Jesus never gives us any immunity; there are no special favors given to a believer. (Only comfort.)

The other (Jesus addresses him as foolish) are those who’ve decided to take a shortcut in all of this construction stuff. Maybe it takes too much time? But he decides to implement the work as soon as he can. Maybe his motive is just wanting to put Jesus’ words into practice. Maybe (just my conjecture) he feels compelled to initiate Jesus’ teachings as soon as he can? Maybe he’s got a noble reason in this? (In God’s kingdom however, I’ve learned that there aren’t any instant breakfasts on the menu.)

Obedience is mentioned twice. Enthusiasm is never mentioned; eagerness in all of this is not good spirituality it seems. Careful work (and planning) are critical issues. This is just an example–Matthew 5:3 is the first Beatitude:

“They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty,
    for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

How diligent are we putting this into effect? Do we just slap it down and move to the others as quickly as we can? Many commentators refer to the Beatitudes as the “foundation stones” of the disciple’s life. Many believe that each one builds off the other–they compliment and support each other. Sometimes I wonder about my own foundation; am I laying it right, and level?

I want to stress that your take your time laying down his words. Examine carefully what he’s telling you about your construction. He’s our true Architect–we are only the builders. We read his plans, examine his blueprints. We really need to be faithful.

“Using the gift God gave me, I laid the foundation of that house like an expert builder. Others are building on that foundation, but all people should be careful how they build on it.”

1 Corinthians 3:10

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”

1 Timothy 4:15

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The Old & The New Wineskins, #12

Matthew 9:16-17, LB

16 “And who would patch an old garment with unshrunk cloth? For the patch would tear away and make the hole worse. 17 And who would use old wineskins to store new wine? For the old skins would burst with the pressure, and the wine would be spilled and skins ruined. Only new wineskins are used to store new wine. That way both are preserved.”

Some might suggest that Jesus came to bolster up the old covenant, to rehabilitate Judaism and to bring it back in alignment with God’s will. This wasn’t the plan of the father. Jesus understood that he didn’t come to repair or reform the old, but to institute the new. That which is old and stagnant could never be made new and fresh.

The kingdom of God was to be something the world had never seen before. Jesus adeptly uses two illustrations to declare what the Holy Spirit was now doing. Patching up the old with something new that wouldn’t ever work, a tear would happen. And to pour fresh wine into something old could never handle the pressure of the new–that would be the height of foolishness.

The Pharisees’ and the scribes were hanging on to Jesus’ every word (and you’d better believe it.) They suddenly understood the threat of his Kingdom had on their own initiative. And these guys were scared; they were threatened by the coming of this new thing. These men were counting on “tradition” to preserve the order of things. They were old wineskins.

I’m thoroughly convinced that God is always up to something that’s totally brand new. Throughout history we see him show up on the scene with things that challenge his believers even further. He’s always had new things up his sleeves. He’s always faithful and true, no question about that. But he’s always been creative and busy in our present-day lives.

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they sprout I proclaim them to you.”

Isaiah 42:9, (43:19; 46:9-10).

The real challenge is whether we can keep up with what he’s doing. He’s the “I am,” not the “I was” or what “I will be.” He’s present in this “now” moment! And if that’s true, I out to get a grip. To solidify isn’t the answer.

So what does this really mean? Perhaps, I suppose, I’m to think that the Holy Spirit is full of amazing and incredible surprises!

He’s always moving the goal posts, pulling us along with him. To be honest, I’ve changed dramatically in the last 30 years as a Christian. I think I understand more about the Father than I did in July 1982. (And sometimes, it seems like I know him less.)

I once got trapped in a “rip tide” off of a beach in Mexico. It dragged me along with it, and I couldn’t escape it. The current was pulling,, and I remember flailing against it; but no matter how much I fought and struggled I couldn’t resist the pull. Perhaps that’s how the father’s kingdom works. His spirit is never still or stagnant. He tugs on us, so we must follow him, if we’re going to be obedient.

Our king is moving. We must follow Him.

Scripture tells us that his kingdom is always growing, (Matthew 13:31-33.) He is always faithful and consistent to his people, but yet he’s also always taking us somewhere else. Abraham, Moses, the Jewish exodus all tell us he loves to stretch out his servants this way. Discipleship means following, not sitting under a nice tree, we’ve become brand spanking new—whether we like it or not, (2 Cor 5:17.)

The Bible is full of revival, and renewal, but God refuses to simply re-educate and legislate us to do his will. Rather he re-makes us. We WALK by faith (always steadily moving) and being a pilgrim means we never get to camp out in a nice, comfortable spot. He’s always leading, and I’m always following.

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Of Moses, (Hebrews 11:10)

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The Parable of the Light, #11

https://stevesbiblemeditations.com/

Matthew 5:14-16, CSB

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Trying to work this parable out demands careful attention to what has proceeded it. Jesus declares the deep and radical principles of God’s kingdom. They come right at us through the Beatitudes, (Matthew 5:3-11). These define this story–you cannot shine unless the “light” is inside. We would be acting foolishly unless our message wasn’t based on the reality of an illuminating light. It truly does penetrate the darkness.

Jesus declares the obvious. Look up at a city, it’s situated on the relative safety of a hill. And actually, the Greek uses the word for a “mountain” (which is translated that way 47x). Essentially, it’s in a place where it’s very obvious. “Look up! You’ll see it.” It can’t be camouflaged. You can’t hide it.

Jesus then shifts to another analogy, he understands that it’s vital that his disciples grasp this. You light up a lamp because the house is really dark. The father or mother puts that lamp in such a place that’s optimum for illumination. It would be pretty stupid to hide it. The listeners grasp it immediately. Truth is rarely complicated (thank God.)

Both the elevated city, and the shining lamp become the way the Kingdom is revealed. Simple, I know–but I’m sure that the theologians would find some sort of issue with that.

Good works are the real issue here; but that’s not completely true either.

The clear truth is the glory given to God–by those good works. We don’t shine for the sake of shining, rather we shine that our “Father in heaven” would gain some glory by what we’ve done. And isn’t that, ultimately, the believer’s real purpose? The difference maybe subtle, but it’s good to double-check this out.

Luther once wrote (if I can recall it correctly) that God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. Not sure I completely agree, but it’s a witty and provocative idea.

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The Older Brother, #10d

Luke 15:25-32, (part four of four)

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’”

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’””

Things get interesting here. The older brother can’t understand grace, love or real joy. They’re foreign concepts to him. The father and the younger son are partying, and he can’t make the connection from dot-to-dot. All that’s happening is really difficult. His religious diligence won’t let allow him to join in this raucous celebration. People are swinging on the chandeliers, and it really irritates him.

God’s grace is the most radical thing in the universe.

It must be experienced before it can really be explained. Things don’t compute for the elder son. He’s angry, and he feels like he needs to express his “righteous” indignation to his father. He has been holding it for so long that it finally erupts. Ultimately, it can’t, or won’t be contained.

On a religious basis, the older brother’s issues might be commendable to some readers. He works hard in the fields of his father. He’s unlike his flighty brother, and yes, he makes a point of that. There’s a certain logic here. But honestly, logic isn’t a part of the kingdom of God. It never was. It isn’t.

Anger and resentment drives this part of the parable.

You must understand anger in order to understand. Resenting others often comes when grace is absent. The basis of religion is always comparison. We can theorize grace, but we can’t or won’t receive it for ourselves. And to be painfully honest, we’ll never see it in others–even if we “profess” it. We might turn it into systematic theology, but it remains theoretical.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are, and does not leave us where it found us.”

Anne Lamott

Anger and resentment are the quiet killers of the spiritual life. We never get what we think we’ve earned by working in the fields. He didn’t understand what the fuss is all about when his younger brother came home. He didn’t understand grace, and the absolute joy that is a vital part of it.

Anger has made the older brother foolish.

That concept alone should alert us of trouble in our own hearts. To be “un-graceful” will take over our hearts and cause us to distort the Kingdom into something very ugly. When will we see this?

The father calls the older brother “son.” He also communicates his love and acceptance. But the father also shares his new-found joy over the prodigal’s return, (verse 32, Amplified). That particular vision communicates on a level that it violates the “rules” of being a good Christian.

This last part of this story very quickly shifts from religious anger to an unreal grace. I often ask myself, am I fully understanding God’s grace, do I see the Father’s joy?

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A Father Who is Running, #10c

The Father Runs

Luke 15:20-24, (part three of four)

20 “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

“Cursed is the man that feeds the swine.” That’s the commentary on Jewish ritual cleanness. The prodigal knew this, but when you’re starving, tradition is thrown out the window. It’s really hard to be spiritually correct when your stomach is growling. In verse 17, we see that the prodigal suddenly realized his condition. Notice the change:

It took sometime for this to happen. But it was a true and a complete repentance. A total alteration of his mind and heart took place at that point. And I must assume, when he finally made the decision to return, he didn’t even say ‘good bye’ to the pigs.

It’s the Father’s reaction that fascinates me.

How does God see us? Is he angry or frustrated? And yes I suppose, there is ample reason for him to treat us with caution. Deep down, we know exactly how dark we are, and on a superficial level we realize our dirt doesn’t belong in heaven. And yet the father is in a party frame of mind. That isn’t rational.

And there were no tests given to evaluate the son’s sincerity. Did he really repent, or was it all for show? The text tell us that he was hungry, maybe he just wanted a hand-out? Did he meet the criteria needed for reinstatement? It amazes me, there wasn’t a 30 day waiting period to determine whether the prodigal had truly repented. No, the party started when the father hugged his son.

Do you see the “suddenness” of this part of the story?

At least for me, the pace quickens, and I imagine the whole household jumped up to get in the act. Verse 10 explains the joy that reverberates through heaven at this, Just so, I tell you, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy seems to be the key thought to really “get” these verses. If we can’t see it saturate (like a sponge) we’ll never understand this parable. Its not hard if you can read it with excitement and anticipation. If you decide to do so, it’ll make a lot of sense, and it’ll be less mysterious.

This story is as much about the father as it’s about the son.

In it we see the character of the Father revealed. We see his joy, and excitement over his son’s return. Right from the start we see him running, (v. 20) moving to his son. I can see a weeping father giving his son a big bear hug and lots of kisses. He has hoped and dreamed about this moment.

Golly, there is so much to be said: there’s rings and shoes and roasted calves. But I think that the tremendous lesson is the joy of the father. It tells me much about what he’s like–and he’s not at all what I thought he’d be.

He’s the Father who is always moving, and he runs to meet us. He’s the One who is filled with joy at our return. And honestly, aren’t we always returning?

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The Insanity of Sin, and the Prodigal Son, #10b

Luke 15:14-19, (Part two of four)

14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

“The hearts of the sons of mankind are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.”

Eccl.9:3

Insanity is an irrational belief in something that isn’t true; it’s a severely disordered state of the mind, often sometimes even a form of psychosis. This is how the world operates. It’s part of a deep confusion that doesn’t accept the reality of God. It has taken up the darkness repeatedly, so it walks in darkness now, a chosen blindness that can’t see the realities of the gospel.

“In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

2 Corinthians 4:4

The youngest son demanded his share of the inheritance right now. This was simply unheard of, one would never ever would of done this in biblical times–it was as if the father was already dead. The youngest son insisted on his share immediately, without question. He wanted everything that was coming to him. The insanity of sin is that it causes darkness; it grows us into madness.

However, the prodigal is never judged by the father.

One of more amazing facts is the son was never corrected for his irrational behavior. Perhaps the father knew what would happen to him, and rested in that understanding. The younger son would learn the hard way. The father understood, but that didn’t make it any easier for him. Being a father isn’t always easy.

The son spent it all, everything that had been given to him by his father. There was nothing left. He was hungry–starving, but he didn’t have a penny to buy bread, in this passage we see that he had to work with the local pig-keeper–and a good Jewish boy would never have dreamed that this was his destiny.

Hunger had done its work.

If you’ve ever starved, you know what that means. If we ever can understand insanity, this is where it finally ends. The scripture tells us–“He came to his senses” and finally it begins his journey home. He suddenly realizes that even the father’s servants have more than he has. He choose to leave the pigs, and come to hus real father. He will return.

“Father, I have sinned.” and with this truth he finally understands.

All of this rolls over him, and he finally connects with reality.

He realizes that his disobedience has led him into the lie. He has betrayed his father, and we start to grip this thought, we immediately realize that every cent he has paid for booze and whores. He has nothing–maybe less than nothing. And he’s starving and quite willing to eat the pig’s food.

This describes everyone who has chosen evil over good.

The prodigal finally gets it. He must return to the father, even if he becomes a slave. (Even they if he finds food to eat.) He has less than nothing–the choice he makes is obvious. He’ll return, even if it means servitude to his father. At least, his hunger pains will not be an issue.

There’s the insanity of sin.

It develops and we see it in Jesus’ story. If we’re irrational, we’ve left behind the reasonable, and we’ve embraced lies. He does exist, or so we’ll tell. And yet we continue, over and over, to want the false, over the truth, and the question is why. Could it be, that sin has altered our thinking? He has changed our thinking.

The son is no longer walking in deception–he finally gets it. He understands, to be the slave of his father is something that’s worth it all. To be rescued from the pigs is what he can only dream about. He leaves the darkness and chooses to step into the light.

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A Very Lost Son, #10a

Luke 15:11-32, part 1 of 4

11 He also said, 

“A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 

14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. 15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ 

20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’”

28 “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Magnificent, defined

  1. impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking/ “a dramatic landscape of magnificent mountains”
  2. very good; excellent/ “she paid tribute to their magnificent efforts”

This is one of the most exquisite passages in all of scripture. If the Bible is a mountain range, then this would be Everest. This is the third parable–all in Luke 15, and all dealing with lost things. Everything is lost in this chapter, but we could also say that everything is found, and we wouldn’t be in error. This story is about one artist who loves to paint, and preachers like to preach.

They say that every actor dreams about playing “Hamlet,” and Jesus’ story is a dream for every reader and thinker or actor. As a writer I don’t really know how to begin, I could easily produce a library with this simple parable. (And some have tried.)

There are just three characters here: the Father, the son, and the elder brother–and each plays an integral part of the story. The prodigal is the main character, but the father is the main focus. The son is a wastrel, a good-for-nothing rascal who blows his father’s inheritance on parties, booze and prostitutes. He lives for the moment, he seeks pleasure in those things which destroy him.

Haven’t we all done that; at least to a degree?

The father represents God, who represents the loving patriarch of the parable. He’s the one who has turned over the prodigal’s portion of the inheritance. To a degree I suppose he has funded the prodigal’s descent into depravity, and yet it was the son who decided to go crazy. The father is not to blame.

But in this story, the father is vital. His actions are very difficult for us to grasp. He behaves outrageously, his behavior is quite difficult to understand or fathom. Who acts this way? Granted we think our earthly fathers might do this, but on a superficial level, it doesn’t make any sense at all. This parable describes how God feels about sinners.

But don’t blame dad.

This post is merely an introduction. I intend to do a couple of posts based on this parable. Obviously, I can’t begin to do this justice, and even with two or three more posts I’ll be only skimming the surface–most likely, inadequately. I covet your prayers. I love this parable, perhaps more than any other, I definitely want to do it justice.

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”  

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

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Losing Your Coin, #9

Luke 15:8-10

 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

She’s completely lost it. It’s commonly understood that the coin had a hole in its center, and it was given to her (along with other coins) on her wedding day. Most likely it was put on a silver chain that she wore on her forehead when she left the house. It was sort of like us wearing a wedding ring. It marked her as a married woman. It was her treasure. It was valuable.

Archaeologists digging in houses have found coins in the cracks of the rocks of floors. They discovered these while excavating out the houses dating from New Testament times. These weren’t wedding coins, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

The listeners to this story would’ve clearly understood Jesus.

Each one knew exactly how frantic she would be over this. Perhaps these were the most precious thing she owned, and losing that coin would of pretty much consumed her until she found it.

She’s thinking, “Where did I have it last?” The house was most likely the place. She lights a lamp to see better and to hopefully find it. She searches diligently, and there might have been fear involved–but definitely worry and concern. She was totally absorbed in finding that missing coin.

Searching over and over–sometimes at the same spot, once, twice or three times, as if something have changed since the last time she looked. She was getting frantic now.

And suddenly, there it was! Not where she expected it, but that doesn’t matter. The entire situation seemed laughable now that she held it. But now, she was ready to do cartwheels. Incredible relief flooded throughout her heart, nothing really had mattered–or take precedence over finding it.

And that’s what the Father is like.

He’s been searching for us–oh so diligently. He’s brought out an extra lamp, and a broom–he’s been searching the corners and examining the cracks. The coin is his. Notice verse 5, “I have found my lost coin.’” The word ‘my’ seems to jump out, and that’s significant.

Another keyword is joy. Or “rejoice.”

Joy is his heart. And all of heaven responds to its discovery, and oh my, there is one heck of a party when it’s found! How valuable the human soul must be, that both God and Satan are pursuing to possess it. And I honestly don’t really understand God’s passion for finding us, or Satan’s hate.

“Come and celebrate with me’, she says, ‘for I have found that coin I lost.’ I tell you, it is the same in Heaven—there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner whose heart is changed.””

Verse 10, Phillips

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The Story of a Lost Sheep, #8

On a warm afternoon, a lamb takes a peek at a visitor while eating hay at Fat Rooster Farm in Royalton, Vt., on April 27, 2003. (Photo by Geoff Hansen)

Luke 15:1-7

 “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

What does it mean to be lost? All of us have that much figured out by now–and if not, we will. The Bible nails us with this particular story, and it rings very true of the human condition. You don’t need a PhD in Psychology to understand this. The heart and soul of a man, a woman is in the awful state of separation, and for some of us–we understand. For others, the clock is ticking.

Let’s face it, the Pharisees and the scribes have issues. Their whole belief system–the idea of who’s righteous and who’s not, is being rocked. The sinners are coming to listen to Jesus (maybe for the stories, maybe for something else?) The religious regime is mystified, and maybe a bit jealous. Perhaps they were irked at the grace of God they see in Jesus?

Jesus tells a story, (and he loves to tell stories I’ve found.) Anyway, the parable he shares is 100 words (more or less) and it describes the condition of every man, woman, and child–everyone who has ever existed. He clearly cuts through “religion” like a hot knife through cold butter. He quite succinctly describes us. And wow, these stories are eye-openers.

We’re all lost sheep–wandering, and very confused.

The paths we’ve taken to get out of our “lost-ness” have only confused us even more. We’ve had to deal with thorns and vultures; it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve never been able to reconnect to safety. Some become “smart” people, others buy fast cars, some kill their lost-ness with booze or drugs. We find many different ways to keep us from feeling this separation from God.

A very lost sheep. In Luke 15, we find three parables that all deal with lost things–sheep, coins, and sons. Essentially, they each explain things; they’re very aware. Most of us know that the religion of the Pharisees hasn’t worked. Even the sinners understand that much. Sometimes even the very lost have figured that much out, even before the so-called righteous do. Some of us need to listen closely to sinners, and to stop listening to religious people.

Jesus tracks us down–our confusion has finally enabled us to finally see his outstretched arm. The Father has this odd preference for those who know they’ve lost, and these three parables come in a deliberate succession–that should make things pretty clear.

So dear one, will you insist on wandering? Is that what you really want?

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Good Fish, Bad Fish, #7

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind of fish, 48 and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but threw out the worthless ones. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 13:47-50, (context, vv. 47-52)

There will be a separation, the scripture is painfully clear. This division can also be seen in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. In both stories, we see this splitting-up of the authentic and the false. The saved and unsaved. They’ll never be mixed, they’re like oil and water.

In this parable, a dragnet (a net that scrapes the bottom) collects all the fish. Apparently none escape. The net is finally dragged up on the beach, and people begin the sorting process. This really has to be done.

Jesus has captured us.

Here in Alaska, I had the wonderful chance to work in a cannery. There was an automated line where a bunch of us stood. (Believe me when I tell you it was hard and mindless work.) We picked out the fish that didn’t belong, and only the good were crated up. These were flash-frozen for their trip to Japan. The bad fish were ground up (if I remember correctly) and dumped. The seagulls loved it.

In this parable, we see precisely the same kind of separation.

There was no wholesale acceptance of every fish. The “quality control” guys looked over the sorter’s work, they made sure that every fish ended up where it was supposed to go. There couldn’t be any mistakes. I suppose if anything, the whole process might be called “discernment.” Distinctions were made by the type (or nature) of every fish that came on the line.

There can be no mixture in the Kingdom of God.

Oil and water, even if you shake it–really, really hard, you still can’t get them to blend. Apparently, they’re of different densities (I assume anyway) and they won’t merge or mingle. That’s a fact.

There’s coming a time, Jesus said, that there will be a reckoning, a summation. The Kingdom of God won’t come as a party for everyone. We’re pretty much warned of that ahead of time. This is going to happen, you can mark it on your calendar. Jesus shared this story, and it doesn’t entertain us like some of the other parables he shared. It’s meant to sober us up, and it’s given to help us choose, and prepare.

We have been warned.

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The Pearl of Great Price, #6

Matthew 13:45-46

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

This is subtly different than the previous parable (verse 44). The central issue seems to be of value. The pearl was magnificent. This merchant had never seen one like this. It gleamed in his hands, and he knew he must have it. It wasn’t an option, he had to buy it. His response–sell everything to the highest bidder (of course) and buy it.

O.K. I’m going to take an entirely different approach than the last entry. It just might be not so much us seeking the treasure in the field–the kingdom of Heaven, rather it’s Jesus seeking us. This different interpretation isn’t as weird as it seems.

We know that Jesus loves the Church.

Rather the people who make up the body. He loves everyone, but he’s crazy about his people. I have a shirt, and I’ll wear it sometimes when I feel like it could touch someone, it says “Jesus Loves You, but I’m His Favorite.” I know it’s funny, but maybe (?) it’s true. I know that he loves me–crazy-like. I love that he loves, even me.

We’re the pearl.

Jesus sees, and he must have us. So he comes, and pays the price, he sells it all just to possess us. Now we certainly don’t feel possessable (I invented a new word). We know that there is nothing remarkable about us, and actually, we know our sinfulness, we’re spiritually evil all of the time. The theologians call it “the depravity of man.” (Ecclesiastes 9:3; Job 15:14-16; Matthew 15:19).

We become the “elect”(2 Timothy 2:10) when we really put our faith in what Jesus did for us and believe me, that’s not what I feel or sense about myself. But it’s what he sees, and he desperately wants me to be his own–and I don’t know why he would do such a thing. It makes no sense to me at all.

“Love has reasons which reason cannot understand.”

    Blaise Pascal

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Getting Rich, #5

Treasure!

Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

From rags to riches. We like that kind of story, the newspaper boy turned into a publisher, C.E.O. This parable, only a single verse is almost the same thing. A poor man is walking through a field and viola! He finds a treasure chest, and it’s packed full of golden coins, diamonds, and emeralds.

He looks around, and seeing no one, he re-buries it. (After all, when you accidentally discover a treasure chest, you must take certain precautions.)

A key I suppose–the word “joy.”

And that really isn’t something we really know–unless something wonderful happens to us of course. He has joy, he can’t believe it. I think he was a bit dazed by it all, and he must of walked in an unreal sort of bubble. After all, these things never really happen.

It’s sort of like finding you’ve got the winning numbers of the Lottery, and you just won $10,000,00!

It’s this kind of unreal “luck” that this guy knows what he must do. Now the owner of the field owns everything, including the chest. The finder realizes he can’t just sneak the chest off to his home–there would be too many questions. (Where did a poor guy like you get a gold coin?) His neighbors would figure it out. And besides, he would be a thief. There has to be a better way.

Suddenly he has an idea. If he sells everything he has, he probably could buy that field. And then everything that was there would be rightfully his. Selling all isn’t a problem, he knows that whatever he gives up is nothing close to the treasure in the field.

The listener (them), and the reader (us), should understand two things about the treasure that can be found by “poor” men:

  • It’s about the Bible–the promises in the scriptures are often compared to wealth, at least the spiritual kind. Psalm 119 describes finding treasure in God’s Word. What he speaks is valuable, very much so. There are hundreds of verses that bear this out, Here’s one: “Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:72).
  • It’s about Jesus–the Bible is constantly aware of him, and his presence is seen in every chapter and book. He’s the treasure we find, knowing him, is the most valuable thing a person can ever have (by far). “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36).

To be his disciple means we give everything else up. We sell it all to get spiritual riches. There’s a field that we find that is worth everything, and the only way we can have the treasure is by giving up everything. There really isn’t any other way.

“You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:21, (context vv. 17-33)

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Hiding the Yeast, #4

Mix it up and watch out!

Matthew 13:33 (context, vv. 33-35)

 “He told them another parable.” 

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

One version says 50 lbs (or 40 liters for your metric fiends) of flour. Crazy, why that much is beyond me–some figured it out and it would be enough bread for 100 people at least. Far more flour and yeast that was close to normal use. The parable that Jesus taught would certainly be humorous to the listeners. I suppose their imaginations were in overdrive.

What Jesus taught in these stories was the truth that engaged the listeners. They would leave and the stories would stick.

These parables, or stories, were like bombs that would eventually explode in the hearts of the people. Sooner or later, maybe when they least expected it, these parables would suddenly make sense. A lightning strike. Very seldom did they connect immediately. We can see this by the disciples’ desire to have them explained. They didn’t get it at first. But when Jesus illuminated them, they understood.

Back to verse 33. Lots and lots of flour, and just a bit of yeast (leaven). It doesn’t take much to make bread rise.

Notice she “hid” the yeast. Perhaps she didn’t realize the power they had when they mixed–and why the secrecy? What was going on with that?

I’m starting to think that the kingdom of God has a definite power. It works secretly, it’s not visible to anyone. It just does its stuff. The yeast, combined with the flour is a hidden process–something that isn’t observable. Perhaps that’s the way God’s kingdom comes, quietly, secretly but powerfully. Once the flour and yeast have come together it’s pretty difficult to stop it.

The kingdom is working in our lives.

And most of the time it’s a hidden work. We can’t understand the process or grasp how it’s happening. We seldom know what God is doing. We may concentrate on being a witness to our neighbor, (which is a good thing, please do) but perhaps the Holy Spirit is working instead on our patience or love.

What we think is going on escapes us. I’ve been in ministry for almost 40 years now, and I’ve tried to be faithful and worked on my discernment. But it seems I don’t quite grasp yet what the Father is doing inside of me. And I admit, I’m not really sure what’s going on in the lives of those I teach and counsel. Most of the time, I have no idea what he’s doing.

And that’s alright. I know he loves me very much and I trust him to work in me.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

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The Story of the Itty-Bitty Seed, #3

From a Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

“He put another parable before them, saying, 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew is writing to Jewish readers, so he chooses to use the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead of the kingdom of God. Essentially they’re the same thing, but his readers probably would object to the use of “God.” Matthew wanted to avoid any kind of controversy–he really didn’t want to create issues, he honestly wanted them to understand. A good move.

Is the mustard seed the smallest? Not really, but for the sake of the story it is.

A small seed gets planted, and guess what? It gets bigger than everything else in the garden (“Miracle Grow?) The little seed becomes a big tree. The birds even build their nests in it. (Some have suggested that the birds are satanic, but I think that’s a stretch.)

Small beginnings which grew up even larger than anyone’s expectations. The little seed exploded into this humongous tree. Who would’ve guessed?

That’s the way his kingdom is to grow inside of us and inside the Church.

The kingdom of heaven (or God) erupts into our lives. It grows fast, and it grows big and it doesn’t fool around. It’s just a very small thing, that takes off and it’s enormous. Everything our Father does grow, but only if it’s his doing.

Obedience is necessary, but the Spirit is critical. Growth is packed inside every seed, I don’t really understand it all, but Jesus has this figured out.

“In the future, the mountain with the Lord’s temple will be the highest of all. It will reach above the hills; every nation will rush to it.”

Isaiah 2:2, CEV

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Those Sneaky Weeds, #2

Can You See the Difference?

Matthew 13:24-30

He presented another parable to them: 

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The landowner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’”

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he told them.”

“‘So, do you want us to go and pull them up?’ the servants asked him.”

29 “‘No,’ he said. ‘When you pull up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but collect the wheat in my barn.’”

Jesus is still sitting in the fishing boat. And he’s still spinning his stories that are true–they’re revealing what God’s rule is like in a human heart, the Church, and the world. If we want to, we can imagine sitting on the shore, just watching and hearing him teach us. Wouldn’t that be great!

This parable is sort of funny in a way.

A man has finished sowing seed, and that night and someone (the passage calls him an enemy) sneaks in and starts spreading bad seed on top of the good. Why he did this is a bit of a mystery? Most likely there was some kind of an issue–bad blood I guess.

The seed the enemy used was known as “bastard wheat.”

The King James uses the word “tares” which is probably a kinder word. It looked like the regular stuff in every way, except it didn’t develop a head, it never produced any grain. All it did is rob the soil. It had no value to anyone, it was worse than worthless.

It was at that point that the foreman informs the landowner of the situation. He comes to him with questions (they seem thoughtful, and perhaps he’s just thinking out loud.) The landowner knows good seed was used, and this bastard wheat must’ve been sown by someone else.

An enemy did this,” was the only possibility they came up with. The servant wonders what needs to be done. The logical thing is to walk through the field and pull out the weeds. To him, that was the only reasonable option they had.

But the landowner decides to do nothing, he simply would wait and let them grow up together. He would be patient. But there will be a harvest, and at that time there will need to be a sorting process. It’s then that the reapers will pull out all the bad, collect them in bunches, and have a big bonfire.

The good wheat, the ones with a head, will be collected and stored.

It’s the “wait and see” perspective that interests me. The landowner isn’t losing any sleep over this–the enemy may have done evil against him, but it really isn’t an issue. He knows that, in the end, things will work out. He responds appropriately to a situation that others in his place wouldn’t have done.

The final harvest would mean separation of the tares from the wheat–the real from the false.

In a real way, this parable explains the conclusion of the Kingdom. When it’s all said and done, those who haven’t produced will not go with those who have. A fire awaits at the end. I think you can figure out what that means.

It seems that the servants are the ones who see the difference, they see the authentic grow up with the false, and all they can do is wait and watch. But believe you me, the harvest will certainly come. It’s critical that we be those who bear fruit.

“The amount of time we spend with Jesus – meditating on His Word and His majesty, seeking His face – establishes our fruitfulness in the kingdom.”

    Charles Stanley

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A Story About Seed, #1

Van Gogh (obviously)

Luke 13:3-9 (context 13:3-23)

Then he told them many things in parables, saying, “Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.  Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it. 

Still other seed fell on good ground and produced fruit: some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown. Let anyone who has ears listen.”

Luke 3:3-9 (context 13:3-23)

Jesus loved to tell stories. Each of them was jam-packed with truth, and the people loved them. In verse 2, we see the popularity of Jesus–just imagine a preacher doing this today. The people were entranced by our Lord Jesus. They followed him throughout his earthly ministry.

If you were his disciple, you had better get used to crowds.

This parable, believed to be one of his first, begins with the word, “Consider,” and really, isn’t that the needed quality one must have? In the original, it simply means “to see.” But it’s also in the imperative–a command. Seeing isn’t really an option–may be a good word today would be, “Look!” (And using an exclamation mark.)

This is all about receptivity to the Kingdom of God. It concerns seed that is sown indiscriminately–the sower isn’t assessing the ground conditions. He just throw the seed. That’s his job, and he seems to do a bang-up job of it. He “broadcasts” the seed, reaching in his bag and spreading it evenly, and quickly.

In some places the ground had been packed down, things were too hard. Others landed on soil, but it was only a skim of dirt, which wasn’t enough to support any growth.. And yet the third scattering made it to into the thorns. So there was three different possibilities, which none were ideal.

But there was a fourth.

Seed that landed right where it should–good soil, fertile, tilled, and ready. The first three were all wrong, but the parable isn’t given to find fault–no one was to blame. And certainly not the sower, he was merely doing what was necessary.

The parable is meant to explain how the Kingdom enters our hearts. Our lives are the soil, and we all react to the seed differently. Sometimes, there’s no response at all, and “birds” get their breakfast. Sometimes, it’s all rocky, and nothing can grow there. Some tried to grow, but thorns and thistles essentially got in the way.

There are always four responses to the words of Jesus.

There was a lot of people sitting on the beach, and all were listening. But Jesus knew deep down that his words would only touch 1 out of 4, and yet he kept sowing. He hoped for good soil, but that wasn’t a given.

In verses 18-23, Jesus had to explain this story to his disciples, who always did seem out-of-touch with these sorts of things. But I’m glad he did–Jesus, by interpreting this parable, gave us the keys that would unlock every one of his others.

Jesus was never mystical or otherworldly, he didn’t cloak his words in imponderable mysteries like every other teacher longs to do. (Ego, mainly.) He didn’t want things to be an enigma, rather he wanted people to understand the ways and nature of God’s kingdom.

He wanted even the little children to get it–there were to be no secrets, only receptive hearts.

“The Bible is shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim.”

     Augustine

A Simple Plea

Being a Christian is not having better ideas, but having new eyes, a new heart. And God’s heart is broken over the sin and rebellion of men and women. Where’s the Church? Most never read their Bibles, they don’t pray or fast anymore. Instead, we listen to preachers who insist that political engagement is the solution. This is not biblical.

The Church no longer has a passionate and all-consuming love and passion for Jesus (Rev. 2:4). We consult the internet and watch our favorite TV shows. We think that this is appropriate considering the evil we see. This is not the way.

Satan rejoices when we the Church capitulate like this.

Most of us are not seeking the Lord. Churches are now a political force, and not a spiritual one. We don’t pray, and we seldom read our Bibles. We never fast or intercede. Our pastors never talk this way.I heard recently a large church supported a chant, “Lets go Brandon.” (f**k Joe Biden). What a grief. We should be praying, “Let’s go Jesus.” (Or “lets go Church!)

We’re no longer emphasizing the Kingdom of God. Statistics now tell us that only 20% of believers pray, and only 10% of us pray and intercede. Instead we’re turning to the internet, and our favorite network commentaries.

Satan is rejoicing.

I believe we must be salt, we must be light. But we can’t adopt the world’s approach or techniques. We must pray. We must fast. We must read the Word again. We must become passionate for Jesus. Don’t allow yourself to be seduced.

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your minds will be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

2 Cor. 11:1-3

If I offend you, please forgive me. Some believers feel differently, and I’m not always discerning. I apologize if you think this post is wrong.