discernment, discipleship, evil, faith, father, grace, Jesus, kingdom, mercy, our hearts, repentance, unforgiveness

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

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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?

Z

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discernment, evil, Jesus, lost, our hearts, separation, sheep, wealth

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?

w

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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.

u

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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 too, 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 use the word “tares” which is probably a kinder word. It looked like the regular stuff in every way, except it didn’t developed 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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