faith, kingdom, obedience, our hearts, Jesus, discernment, discipleship

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

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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

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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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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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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, #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 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.”’ 

“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 a 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 the 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 tell 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 that nothing. And he’s starving, and quite willing to eat the pigs food.

This describes everyone who has chosen evil over the good.

The prodigal finally gets it. He must return to the father, even if he becomes a slave. (Even they if he 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

Painting by Rembrandt, 1667

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

adjective

  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 one artists love 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 play 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 may’ve changed since they 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 taken 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 key word 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: 4 “What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need 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 are 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 closer 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’re 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, of that 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 the final analysis, not everyone is the same.

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.

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 sea gulls 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, #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 then 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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An 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 over 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 grows, 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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