Christianity 201

September 13, 2017

The Wheat and the Weeds

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of The Kingdom Parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Wheat and the Weeds

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in the field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” Matthew 13:24-25

This second parable tells us that if the Son of Man is sowing His seed in the world, an enemy is also sowing his seed in the same field. Jesus explains to His disciples, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39).

Wherever God is at work in this world we can be sure the devil is also at work. His purpose is to counterfeit the work of God, tempting us with something that looks real but is unreal. Within the kingdom of God, the devil will offer an attractive alternative to Jesus Christ, and it is not always easy to distinguish between the real and the counterfeit. This is conveyed by Jesus when the servant asked the owner about the weeds, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” His answer was: “No, because while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:29-30).

Jesus tells us there is going to be a harvest time at the end of the age, and there will be harvesters, the angels whom Jesus will send to sort the weeds from the wheat. This parable is not about false teaching so much as it is about false Christians, people who present themselves as part of the real thing but are counterfeit. False Christianity will inevitably lead to false teaching, but at the harvest when the fruit is evident, it will be easier to identify and handle. This means we are not to set out on a crusade to purify the church of any false ingredient, because if we attempt to do so, we may disrupt the good.

On the day of separation of the wheat from the weeds, the real from the false, the bad seed will face the prospect of a fiery furnace where all will be lost and destroyed. The good seed, the righteous, will face the prospect of shining like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:41-43). In the end, the kingdom will be pure, but in the meantime, it is infiltrated with false Christians. Were we to look over a fence to the field where weeds were growing among the wheat, we would not be impressed. This is the picture of the kingdom of heaven as the world perceives it.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for these parables that teach us the importance of being genuine in our Christian faith, so that at harvest time we will be among the wheat.

 

September 6, 2017

Sown Into The World

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of the parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Sown Into The World

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8

The Shallow Seed: This seed is sown along the path and the birds come and snatch it away. This is the person who hears the Word of God but does not digest it, understand it or appropriate it. He or she is vulnerable to losing it all as “the evil one snatches away what was sown in their heart.” Truth has to be combined with faith in order to become experience, but this seed has never taken truth into the realm of experience. This person is shallow and their being planted in the world comes to nothing.

The Superficial Seed: This seed is sown among rocks and is the person who hears the Word of God and receives it with joy, but since they have no root, “they last only a short time.” When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away. In the right atmosphere they can coast along, but will blow with the prevailing wind. This person is superficial and their planting in the world comes to nothing.

The Secular Seed: This seed is sown among thorns that choke the plants. This is the person who hears the Word of God and starts off well, but “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” He or she has never been weaned from secular world views. They are deceived by wealth and seduced by worldly things. This person is secular and their planting in the world also comes to nothing.

The Successful Seed: This is the seed sown on good soil and is the person who “produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Like the first seed, they hear the Word of God, like the second seed, get excited by it, and like the third seed, live in a secular world subject to all its temptations, but their roots are deep. They survive and are successful. Their planting in the world accomplishes its purpose.

The intention of this parable is not to show how some people respond to the Word of God and are converted while others are not, but it is to show how the kingdom of God is to be advanced. Each of us who belongs to Jesus Christ is planted by Him for the purpose of producing fruit. If we were to look over the fence to the fields in the first, second and third planting of seed, we would not be impressed. This is a true picture of the church of Christ, the physical manifestation of the kingdom on earth as seen from the vantage point of those yet outside of the kingdom.

PRAYER: : Dear Lord, I pray that I not only retain, digest and understand Your word, but that it grows and flourishes in me so that I may be used in producing fruit for You.

January 11, 2016

From Preparation to Full-Time Ministry

NIV Matt. 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

This verse in Matthew is a transitional sentence between to eras in the life of Jesus, and it would be easy to dismiss it as simply that. However there are a number of overtones we don’t want to miss.

First of all it says that Jesus began his public ministry. We tend to characterize this as a ‘rabbinic’ type of teaching, but Matthew is careful to note that Jesus began to preach and then deals with the calling of his particular rabbinical students or disciples.

So what about Jesus the carpenter? Did he give his notice on Thursday afternoon, saying to the others he worked with, “I’m starting a new job on Monday, you can mail my last paycheck;” or did he phase out of carpentry work gradually? After he started preaching, what if someone needed their table fixed? Did he continue to do that type of work?

I’m going to say probably not. We have a good example in scripture of bi-vocational ministry in the life of the Apostle Paul (and others he ministered with, such as Lydia) but there’s no indication that Jesus continued doing the work of his earthly father Joseph. I would prefer to think of his teaching ministry as an all-in, full-time, abandoning-all commitment; the complete object of his time and devotion.

The second half of the verse is a reference to John the Baptist who we understand as also involved in full-time peripatetic ministry. Jesus picks up the teaching ministry of his forerunner, which begins in a call to repentance.

He does this only after learning that John has been imprisoned:

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.

and this of course comes only after a time of testing:

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

This temptation culminates a time of preparation which begins with Jesus discussing the scriptures with the rabbis at age 12 in the temple:

Luke 2:46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers…49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

and then in our key verse for today (17) the scene has changed, his teaching ministry commences, as the Asbury Bible Commentary describes:

The proclamation of Jesus contains two major and interrelated elements. The first is the announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near. The kingdom of heaven is a central theme in this gospel; therefore this phrase deserves special comment.

In Matthew’s gospel, “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are used interchangeably. They mean the same thing. The kingdom of God is a dynamic concept referring to the active reign of God. In fact, it is better translated “the rule of God.”

This concept stems primarily from the Jewish understanding of the two ages. The Jews divided all of history into two periods: (1) the present evil age, under the immediate control of Satan; and (2) the age to come, when God will break the power of evil and usher in his kingdom through his Messiah. Mt 4:17 therefore declares that the long-awaited rule of God has now drawn near (to the point of having already arrived; cf. 12:28) in the person of Jesus.

The second major element in 4:17 is the call to repentance. It is not enough to hear that the kingdom of God has arrived; persons also must respond to this message. And the only appropriate response is repentance. The term literally means “changing of the mind” (metanoeo), and in this context it involves orienting all of life, both thinking and behavior, around one ultimate reality: God now rules in the person of his Son, Jesus.

This will be the status-quo of ministry life for Jesus until the next scene change, the next time we see the phrase “From this time on.”

Matt 16 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

The Bible Panorama describes chapter 4 of Matthew in four terms:

  • Devil Resisted
  • Darkness Dispelled
  • Disciples Called
  • Divine Results

The latter is a reference to verses 23-25

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

What about you? Is it time for you to begin your ministry?


Today’s thoughts prepared with free study resources available at BibleGateway.com

December 11, 2012

Journey or Battle?

ESV – Matthew 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

CEB – Proverbs 21:31 A horse is made ready for the day of battle,
    but victory belongs to the Lord.

KJV – Ephesians 6:112 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our focus today is this familiar passage from Ezekiel; seen here in a different translation:

Message – Ezekiel 37: 1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.

He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry BonesI said, “Master God, only you know that.”

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”

5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”

7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”

10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.

Our thoughts today are from Mike Breen where this appeared under the title: Is the Christian life best understood as a Journey or a battle?

’Ive been spending a good deal of time in the last few months working on our newest book that is coming out in the spring of 2013…Leading Kingdom Movements. Been tinkering around with it quite a bit.

Wanted to put out a quick thought I’ve been working on in the content for this book that I think you might find interesting…

Ezekiel gives us a brilliant picture of the people of God coming together as dry bones assembling in a valley, and suddenly it is a mighty collection of soldiers. Not one, but a whole army.

It is true that in the Kingdom we are called to be soldiers. But we must remember we are also a covenantal community, which means we are a family. The picture Ezekiel gives us is of a family of soldiers. There needs to be as much emphasis on the family as there is on the soldiers.

What I’ve noticed is that faith traditions tend to veer either towards the Covenant side (family) or the Kingdom side (soldiers). For those who lean on Covenant, life is about the JOURNEY that the covenant community is making together. They live rich, full lives together, but often win very little ground for the Kingdom. On the other side, for those who lean more toward Kingdom, life is about the BATTLE that is being fought for the Kingdom. Often they gain ground for the Kingdom, but they can quickly lose that ground because there are so many casualties along the way. That happens because they don’t attend to the family as well.

It has to be both covenant and kingdom. It’s a family of soldiers. It’s about a journey through life together as we fight Kingdom battles along the way.

Again, people are often uncomfortable with the one (Journey vs. Battle) that they have seen poorly lived out and throw the baby out with the bath water. But the true task is living out both in a way that does justice to the way the scripture understands the Christian life.

 


Image: Source

August 2, 2012

Seeing a Different Set of Possibilities

You’ll notice there isn’t the usual green scripture text here today, but there is most definitely a scripture reference. This is from the blog Fibonacci Faith, written by Richard Dahlstrom, where it appeared under the title, Imagine: The Importance of Envisioning a Different World.

The authors of “Colossians Remixed” write:  If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in the iron grip of its ideological vision?  Why do you submit yourself to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn, and the environment? Why do you allow this deceitful vision to still have a hold on you?  Don’t you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?”

This paraphrase of Colossians 2:20-23 is intended to shake us a awake because God knows that we fall into the slumber of the curse far too easily, which is the sleep of accepting the world in which we live as ‘normal’.  When this happens we lose our capacity to imagine a better world, which leaves us stuck in status-quo lives.  The greatest tragedy though, is that we don’t know we’re stuck, having accepted the captivity to cultural mores as “normal”.  In such a paradigm, faith is stripped of its transformative power, having been reduced to simply a matter of adding a dash of Bible reading, chastity, piety, and a few key doctrines about Christ’s deity to our “normal” lives, the way we add seasoning to an omelet; nothing changes other than the hope that things taste a little better with Jesus.

John Lennon did a better job of imagining a different world than the church has done.  What steps can we take to recapture our imagination?

1. Get out – By “out” I mean, out of the prevailing winds and waters of the culture.  Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to pray, often to the mountains.  This is perhaps more significant than we realize, not only the praying, but the withdrawing.  This is because our spirits and psyches quickly adapt to our image saturated culture, resulting in our passive acceptance of things that should horrify us.  A simple walk in the park, listening to the birds, watching the ocean, and paying attention to the rhythms of life sustained by the Creator, becomes a sort of ‘reboot’ for the soul if we practice actually paying attention and giving thanks.  These regular forays into the realm of silence and solitude create a soul attuned to how the world ought to be, so that we come to see ourselves as sojourners, foreigners, in our daily living.  We’ll recoil at the disposability of everything: relationships, plastic water bottles, the elderly and ill, employees who are reduced to ‘units of production’.  We’ll grieve over the obsession with body image that’s literally killing young girls, even as we grieve over the damage to health that comes from people sitting, eating fake food, watching TV, and calling it a life – withdrawn from sustaining sunshine, health giving food, and the vibrancy that comes from movement of body, mind, and spirit.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to imagining a world of hope and beauty is our passive acceptance of things just as they are.  They way out of that prison will always include changing the air we breathe – breaking out of the prisons of consumerism, nationalism, violence, and individualism, so that we’ll be free to inhale the life giving air of Christ’s peace, beauty, simplicity, and hope.  But this won’t happen by using our precious discretionary moments only to sit  in front of the TV, or the computer screen.  We need an alternative reality, because as it turns out, we are in fact transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the inspiration of reality TV.

2. Become obsessed with Christ’s reign.  Jesus says something about the impossibility of serving two masters in the context of his exhortation to live more carefree, like the birds, and less like the anxious striving that usually seems to be the lot of those seeking to make their mark in this world, or at least get their fair share of economic pie.  What’s most interesting to me about this section of Jesus’ famous sermon is that Jesus says we can’t serve two masters.  It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t warn us about the danger of trying to serve the kingdom of God and the kingdom of upward mobility.  He says that you CANNOT serve both; it’s an impossibility.  Whichever one you serve, you’ll hate the other.

Wow.  That’s challenging!  If I try to have my “kingdom of this world” cake, and seek to make Christ’s reign visible, I’ll fail – every single time.  I need, then, to become obsessed with only one of these two options, and Jesus makes it clear that the best option is to choose His reign as our obsession.  This will mean that everything – my time, money, property, body, vocation, travel plans, vacation, sexuality, recreational pursuits, exercise program – can all fall under this single consideration:  “what will best make Christ’s reign visible?”  Far from being constrictive, I find this single focused approach to life to be liberating as everything is brought under the single consideration of making Christ’s reign visible.

Of course, if we’re going to go this route, we need to become obsessed with understanding the kingdom.  Otherwise we’ll create, in Jesus name, some sort of controlling legalism, or prosperity/healing thing, or obsession with creating conversions while we ignore the entire glorious physical dimension of Christ’s reign.  All of these have been tried, and they all end up being ugly.  We’d better be working hard to get it right.  This is where good reading can help, like this book, or this book, or even this book. Understanding  the kingdom, coupled with our pursuit of intimacy with Christ will conspire to create something beautiful:

An imagination saturated with a Christ formed view of our world, and some clear steps regarding our part in making it visible.

You may say that I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.

Imagine that.

~Richard Dahlstrom


Book links were part of the original article; at C201, readers are encouraged to support their local Christian bookstore, if you are still fortunate enough to have one. Titles recommended were:

  • Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright
  • The Unshakable Kingdom by E. Stanley Jones and
  • an e-book by the blog’s author, titled The Colors of Hope

Not linked, but referred to was the book, Colossians Remixed: Subverting The Empire by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmatt (InterVarsity Press, 2004)