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

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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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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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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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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