Christianity 201

October 4, 2022

What Jesus Said about the “Stuff” We Own

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Luke.12.32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.

Today we have a special treat; a new source for you, the website Stained Glass Rebel from Niles First United Methodist Church in Ohio. You have a choice today as well of reading the devotional, or watching the sermon on which it is based on the YouTube video linked below. The author today is Shane Russo.

What Did Jesus Say About Material Things?

I play a lot of video games. I prefer RPGs (role-playing games). Those are the types that give you all kinds of weapons, potions, collectibles, and other stuff throughout the gameplay. But, I have a problem. I save up up video game items in my inventory or bank because I want to save them until I need them… only to have them remain unused at the end of the game. I end up holding onto these things because I am afraid to use them at the wrong time.

How does this relate to the scripture cited? It comes down to perspective, and I think ours is skewed more often than not.

As followers of Jesus, we should view our stuff the way Jesus viewed stuff. That means we should constantly evaluate how we view our stuff to make sure it’s in line with what God expects.

Are we viewing our possessions and resources the way God expects us to? Or do we tend to view things from a limited perspective of mortal creatures?

We don’t like to let go of something once we have it because we become afraid that we may not have it again.

We feel compelled to hold on to what we have because it gives us a false sense of permanence and security. But nothing on this earth is permanent, and the more “secure” we try to make ourselves, the more isolated and separated from others we become.

Currency is called currency because it moves from one place to another. The word is based on the Latin word that means “to run” or “to flow.” Trying to hold on to money is like trying to grab the ocean with your bare hands. Yeah, you’re going to get wet. But if you take in too much, you’re going to drown in it.

But whether it’s our personal lives or in our spiritual lives, once we have something in our possession, we keep a grip on it because we are afraid that we will not have enough. We are afraid that if we let go of what we have, we may not get it again.

But no matter how safe we think we are, no matter how secure we find our position, situations change. So we should not put our trust in the material things of this world.

By placing our trust in the things of this world to provide and sustain us, we are reducing or eliminating our trust in God to provide and sustain.

Now don’t hear me wrong. It is not evil to have things. But from the first page of scripture to the last, the overriding narrative on possessions is that we have been gifted them from God for a purpose. And the purpose is this. We have been gifted every resource and possession in order that we might live life abundantly and to the fullest. AND by “we” I mean every person on this planet.

God did not create in Genesis and then say, “Go. Compete for everything I have made…and the one with the most at the end wins!.” No. God gave and continues to give freely for the betterment of the whole of humanity.

This is why I acknowledge this every single week during the offering when I say, “God everything we have has been given to us.” And I know that when I say that it stinks of Obama to some of us. Remember when he made that comment years ago about everything we have is given to us? And remember how mad some people got because “No one gave me anything! I earned all I have.”

Working to earn what you get is a good thing. But we can still acknowledge that everything we have the possibility to gain was made available to us because of the creative act of God, and the free gift of that creation to us.

In Jesus Christ, humanity got to experience the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. What does that mean? It simply means than when we look at how Jesus lived and the example he set, we see the kind of person that will inhabit creation under God’s full reign. It means those who place their trust in his leadership will receive the blessing of God’s reign.

God gave us the gift of the kingdom when Jesus came on the scene, and because of that gift we are free to live as kingdom citizens.

But what does that mean? What is the kingdom of God really? What does it look like to live as a citizen of that kingdom?

Well, as commentator Robert H. Stein writes:

“These teachings on stewardship must be understood in light of the coming of the kingdom and in the sharing in its blessings. Because of the kingdom’s surpassing worth believers should practice such magnificent almsgiving as Luke proposed in 12:33 and recorded in Acts [2, 4, and 5]. By so doing, the great reversal is even now taking place. The ‘poor’ (Luke 6:20) have treasure in heaven, and the rich, like the fool in the parable (cf. 16:19–31), lose all: their possessions and their very lives.”

What is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is this world recreated into glorious newness. It is a world where there is no want because every need is met. It is a world where the selfless giving of Jesus is the norm.

What does it look like to live as a citizen of that kingdom? It looks like taking only what you need for now and giving everything else to those who need right now. In that way, every need is met, and no one wants for anything.

If living as citizens of God’s kingdom means valuing our possessions the way God does, then why do we get into a conservation mentality, or what might be called survival mode?

Many of us in our churches are in this mode right now. Why? I honestly do not think it is greed. Not usually. I do not look around our churches and see a bunch of greedy people. Not usually. Absolutely not. Quite the contrary. What I see in our churches that get into survival mode, those churches who have resources and are afraid to part with them, is not greed but fear.

Even though Jesus showed us what free and fearless kingdom living looks like, we get concerned at letting go of what we have because we do not know how long we are going be here.

That’s how this passage wraps up: Be ready for the master because you never know when he will arrive.

Another way to say that is that we never know when we are going to meet Jesus. And so, like I always do in my video games, we hold onto what we have because we want to make sure we have it for the right moment.

But also, just like my video games, we hold on to it until we can no longer use it. We live in fear of never having enough. We live in worry over outliving what we currently have. And so, we remained shackled to the illusion of security and control that holding onto our stuff gives us.

But Jesus showed us that God’s will for us is to, to quote a bumper sticker, “let go and let God.”

When we place our trust in God and not in our possessions, then we get to live in the blessing of heaven that our ours as kingdom citizens. And one of those blessings is that as servants and givers, we will be served and given abundant life in Christ.

We may not know how long we are going to be here, and that may compel us to hold onto things, but as servants of Christs that give freely as we have been given, we will end up with everything we need…which is more than we could ever hope to imagine.

And no, this isn’t a prosperity “name it and claim it” gospel I’m preaching to you. This is literally what this parable in the text is pointing to. When the master returns and sees his servants going about the business he set before them, the master becomes the servant, and the servants are themselves served. But that only happens because they were going about the business of preparing for his arrival whenever that would be.

As commentator Gavin Childress writes, ““Everyone knows what it means for the boss to be away. Most people take advantage of such a time to relax and ‘go slow’ for a while. After all, no one is closely watching! Yet for the Christian, there should be a continual awareness of God, and an hour by hour anticipation of the Lord’s return. The faithful and watchful servant would be served by his master (v. 37), for he lived in constant readiness for his return.”

And this statement by Jesus is as counter-cultural now as it was when he said it, as Craig Keener points out in his commentary on this passage. He says,

“Although a few philosophers argued that slaves were the moral equals of their masters, and one well-to-do Roman is known to have eaten on the same level as his freed slaves, masters’ serving slaves was unheard of. (The exception among Romans for the festival of Saturnalia was a deliberate inversion of normal reality.) Such an image would offend the well-to-do but would be a powerful symbol of how Jesus would treat those who remained faithful to the end.”

And so, we do not want to give us what we have because we are afraid we won’t have enough, or we won’t have it again, or that we might outlive what we have….but at the very beginning of today’s passage we have a direct command from Jesus to his disciples concerning all of this: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

And then he follows it up with the hard task: Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

Imagine what it would look like for our churches to live fearlessly as kingdom citizens where we used all of our possessions and resources the way God expects us to.

Imagine what it would look like if we only took what we needed for today and used the rest to do kingdom work.

August 10, 2022

When the King Returns

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Again today, a website we’re featuring for the first time, The Jordan Valley. There you’ll find a variety of study resources classified by topic, with a number of series running concurrent with others, weaving in and out of the daily devotional schedule. There’s also links to podcasts and worship music. Click the header below to read this where we found it.

The Parable of the Ten Minas

On His final trip to Jerusalem, Jesus visited several towns and villages along the way, teaching and healing those who came to Him. His ministry was gathering steam as more and more people started following Him. Jesus’ popularity drew such large crowds that when they were passing through the ancient city of Jericho, a tiny man named Zacchaeus had to climb up a tree just to get a glimpse of Him. When Jesus went with Zacchaeus to his home, it spurred him to disburse his ill-gotten wealth to the poor. Jesus even called Zacchaeus, a tax collector who was deemed a sinner by the Pharisees, a son of Abraham. At this time, Jesus started narrating The Parable of the Ten Minas which on the surface may seem about blessings and endowments but Jesus was conveying a much deeper meaning to His critics and to all of us.

“A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

Luke 19:12-14 (NIV)

To the Jewish audience, this scenario would have reminded them of how their own local kings would get themselves appointed. Kings of local regions needed to go to the capital to be crowned chiefs of their state. Even today, MPs or senators have to go to the capital to be sworn in as the chiefs of their state. In those days, men of noble birth who thought of themselves as the rightful heir would go to the authorities in Rome to be appointed as king. Herod was one of the local kings installed over a Jewish territory by the Roman government.

However, it seems like Jesus is talking about himself, as this parable is followed by Jesus Himself entering Jerusalem as a king. The crowds that were following Him were anticipating a triumphal entry, fit for any king as they neared Jerusalem. He is also calling out the hatred that the Pharisees and the religious leader had for Him as they followed Him all through the country and wrote back to the headquarters of what all they found wrong with Jesus and His teachings. They were never going to accept that Jesus is the Messiah who the authors of the scriptures were alluding to.

The King Returns

“He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
“The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
“The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
“His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

Luke 19:15-19 (NIV)

The first two servants knew their master’s heart and were able to do a good job that pleased their master. Everyone wants to hear that they have done a good job, from someone who is above them. Kids want to hear this from their parents for a chore completed, students from their teachers for a well-researched paper, employees from our bosses for a job excellently done. But we must remember that our ultimate goal should be hearing these words from the mouth of God when He is talking about us. These men were rewarded for their hard work and dedication towards their master and they were now given cities to govern over.

Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
…You knew, did you, that I am a hard man … then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

Luke 19:20-24 (NIV)

Some people follow God out of fear as they feel He is a ‘Hard Man’ and might punish them for their disobedience. They try to follow all the outward religious acts without actually loving God. These people are no different from the subjects who had rejected the noble man’s claim to the throne and sent a delegation to make sure this man does not become a king.

The servant who did not put His master’s money to use is perhaps in the same boat as the others and did not expect His master to return as a king. Because of his hatred for his master, even though he feared him he was not going to act on his instructions and did what was best for himself. People who say that they are followers of God but have no desire to obey Him are like this servant, who only put on an outward show of respect but had no desire to follow his master’s instructions.

The Doubters

…those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.

Luke 19:27 (NIV)

Kings who came into power would often ensure that the first order of business is to get rid of anyone who was an obstacle in their paths to their thrones. They did this by killing the people who rebelled against them to lay down the order of things to come during their reign. This happened even when Israel’s own ruled the land. They wanted to send a message to all their critics by such acts of brutality. Today as governments come into power in democratic nations, they pass bills that hurt the supporters of their opposition. Many people think that by including the fate of the hostile subjects, Jesus was prophesying Jerusalem’s impending destruction. But more importantly, this seems like a warning to all, as Jesus was letting us know our awaited fate should we reject Jesus’ claim to His Father’s throne.

The Minas

People misinterpret this Parable and think that Jesus is talking about our talents or endowments, however, in our lives, the Minas could represent many things. It could mean the gifts of the Spirit that God has given us or the souls that He has placed under our care or the life that He has given to us. It could also be something as simple as the day to day tasks that He has assigned for us. Christ did not ask Zacchaeus to give away his wealth but wanted him to wholeheartedly invite God into his heart.

We have partially accepted Christ as our Saviour for different reasons. Some fear God, some face peer pressure from their church fellowships and some simply adopt the religion of their parents because it was convenient. Till the time we don’t truly love our King, we will not know His heart and will try to hide from Him at every instance. We will be like Adam and Eve, who when disconnected from God due to their sin, did not know how to face God after their disobedience and their fears made them hide from Him.

We often think that the verse “To whom more is given more is expected” applies to only tithes and offerings. But it applies to our connection with God as well. To those who have a greater understanding of God’s words, they must learn to be patient when they see others’ disregard for it. To those who have been given the gifts of the Spirit must not make others feel worthless. All of us are given what we have according to God’s will and not on our own merit. If God took into account our deeds before giving us our reward, then we would be rotting in a prison, much like the lazy servant and the disloyal subjects.

Questions Discussed

  • Why did Jesus narrate this Parable?
  • Why punish someone for keeping the mina safely stashed away?
  • Why did Jesus talk about the killing of the hostile subjects?
  • Minas, Talents, bags of Gold, the scripture uses various ways to describe the currency of this parable, what can these represent in our lives?
  • What is Christ expecting from us?

May 26, 2022

Parable Shatters “Equal Pay for Equal Work”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.20.8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

[click here to read the full story starting with verse 1]

Today we’re back for a second time with Brian Lothridge who writes at On The Way. You can read this where it first appeared by clicking the link below.

Called to Freely Give Grace

Everyone got paid the same. This story should mess with our notions of what is fair. Imagine if you were without a steady job, got up early to go to the market in order to be seen by someone hiring laborers, got picked at 6 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m. When it came time to get paid you stood at the end of the line and waited for your fair share. Those who worked one hour got paid the amount that you agreed to get paid earlier that day. So did those who worked three hours, six hours, and nine hours. But surely you should get paid more than all of them. That’s only right. And yet, here is the landowner giving you the wage you negotiated in the morning.

It’s not fair. Equal pay for equal work sounds fair. Equal pay for unequal work sounds unfair. And this is what the kingdom of heaven is like? Everyone gets an equal reward no matter when they come to the vineyard? What do we do with this?

Consider this: A day laborer did not have a steady job. Those who showed up at the marketplace seeking a job didn’t already have a job. However, they needed money. They had families to support just like anyone else. They needed the work. Hanging out in the marketplace all day would mean returning home that night to disappointed faces because you came with no food. Those who were chosen early were lucky. With each passing hour, the likelihood of finding work diminishes and so does your pay. So when someone shows up at noon, or three, or five and says, “I’ll pay you whatever is fair,” you take it because you need to feed your family. A denarius would have been a day’s wages, but if you get a late start you might expect to get paid less. However, you’d be willing to take what you could get later in the day.

How would you feel if you were the day laborer hired at noon, or three, or five and the employer paid you a full day’s wage? You’d be very happy. You’d be thankful for the generosity that means your family gets to eat for another day. You might feel a little awkward about the complaining that the workers hired first are doing. You might wonder if you really should accept this money. However, it’s not your place to refuse the generosity of the landowner and your family really needs to eat.

Some might object at this point and say this kind of practice disincentivizes workers to work hard. The workers hired first would learn the lesson that they can show up to the job late and earn the same amount of money. But do you not think the workers hired at 5 p.m. would have loved to have been hired earlier in the day? Do you not think they may have worked twice as hard in their hour because they were grateful about the work? And while it may not seem fair, the workers hired first got paid the wage upon which they agreed.

There are 140 million poor and low-income people in our country. In a nation that prides itself on being the best in the world and a nation that has some people saying it is a Christian nation, we often find that we are like those who cry out, “That’s unfair!” when poor people receive benefits. We don’t cry out when rich folk get bailouts and tax breaks or make out like bandits during a pandemic that has many of us reeling. We say, “They deserve it!” And to the poor, “Earn your keep and don’t complain.” Can you imagine Jesus holding such views?

I can’t. Especially given the nearly 2,000 verses in the Bible that talk about caring for the poor and downtrodden. Especially when Jesus says in his first sermon that he came to to preach good news to the poor and free the oppressed. Especially when right before our parable was told in Matthew Jesus tells a rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

A truly Christian nation would figure out how to create an economy that shows love of God and love of neighbor instead of a love of money. A truly Christian nation wouldn’t have 140 million poor or low-income people because it would have figured out how to truly care for people. A truly Christian nation would understand that we all belong to each other and that we have been commanded to love God and neighbor. Instead, we have people in power trying to scare people away from the example and teaching of Jesus by using scary words like “socialism” and “radical left.” Instead, we have people trying to incite culture wars and say their beliefs are being persecuted.

It’s time for the Church to reclaim the radical teachings of Jesus and demand more just systems that will contribute to the common welfare of everyone. Remember, we call ourselves Christians. We may forget this at times but calling ourselves Christians doesn’t simply point to the club we belong to or the side for which we cheer. Calling ourselves Christians means that we are calling ourselves “little Christs.” That’s a big name with a big responsibility to act as little Christs both individually and collectively. The responsibility leads us to read the words of Jesus and figure out how we are to truly follow him in our time and place. It’s not to get caught up in the culture war or align ourselves with any one nation or political party. It’s to give allegiance to Christ and to the kingdom of God for which he gave his life.

Whether we identify with the laborers hired first, last, or somewhere in between, the exemplar in the story is the landowner, who is seen as generous or unfair, depending on your perspective. The landowner has made all the laborers equal. Even though they all put in different amounts of work, they all had to put bread on the table. That was their great equalizer. The landowner met the need they all had.

Isn’t that what God does for us? There is no earning our way into the kingdom of God. It’s all grace; it’s all a gift. There may be some people we see in the next life and wonder how fair it is that they are there when we did more and were faithful longer. And God will say, “Are you mad at my generosity? I gave you what we agreed upon, and I didn’t have to hire you at all.”

And if Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is near, and Paul says we are temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones of the temple that is Jesus’ body, should we not work for the kingdom of heaven here and now? Should we not strive to make a more just and equal society? Should we not grumble when the poor receive help but instead advocate for policies and advances that would lift them from poverty? Would that not bring us closer to a Godly nation?

What would it be like if we truly imagined the kingdom of God was among us? That is how Jesus lived his life. He hung out with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick, spoke truth to power, and encouraged people to be who they were created to be. He lived as though the kingdom of heaven was here, even amidst the brokenness of our current reality. This is the task at hand for the church. If we truly want to be the church we are called to be, if we truly want to advocate for a nation that served as Christ served then we must be brave enough to be little Christs, treat the last as the first and the first as the last (making all equal), and speak truth to the powers that be in Washington, D.C. and in Albany and all the halls of power.

We are essentially called to be the managers of the vineyard. The landowner hired the workers and set the wage of grace and we get to dole it out. We are called to make sure everyone receives grace, whether they deserve it or not.

I challenge us to read this story anew this week as well as the chapter before it. Read the sermon on the mount in chapter 5-7. Spend some time in prayer with God and hear where God is calling you to act in the realm of creating the kingdom of heaven here on earth. What action can you take? Can you donate money or goods to charity? Can you volunteer with a charitable organization? Can you get to know the poor and advocate on their behalf? Can you write to your local, state, and federal representatives about a policy that will help people? Use the authority God has given you to spread the grace of God to all.

 

May 3, 2022

Much of the Teaching of Jesus Happens In the Moment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Earlier today I was reading a commentary on The Lord’s Prayer which noted that in Luke, the text is offered in answer to a direct question.

NIV.Luke.11.1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2a He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name…

However, in Matthew’s version there is no prompt from the audience is mentioned for us. It occurs in the context of earlier remarks, which are part of a larger discourse.

NIV. Matthew.6.5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name…

Given that this is in the middle chapter of a 3-chapter passage we call “The Sermon on the Mount,” it should not surprise us that Matthew doesn’t indicate that any interaction with the crowd was taking place. It appears continuous until the final close-quotation-mark when Matthew states,

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

For the most part however, Jesus seems to do what he does “in the moment;” with a measure of spontaneity that suggests “coincidence” which most of us would say is not coincidental at all, but rather divinely appointed circumstances.

In Luke 5:12, as Phillips translates it,

“Jesus came upon a man who was a mass of leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he prostrated himself before him and begged, “If you want to, Lord, you can make me clean.”

The phrase “Jesus came upon” is interesting here, because it suggests that regardless of who is traveling in which direction, a meeting takes place, and an act of healing follows.

You could equally say that in Mark 11, “Jesus came upon” a fig tree. There’s no miracle here in the standard sense — he curses the tree — but there is a teaching which takes place later in the day.

NIV.Mark11.22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

The whole scene appears prompted by the somewhat random encounter with the tree.

Again, in John 9, although we don’t have the phrase “Jesus came upon” used in any of our English translations, Jesus does encounter a man blind from birth. (Remember that Jesus and the disciples are constantly on the move; the itinerant or peripatetic nature of his ministry is such that they aren’t usually in a fixed place. Follow other rabbis if you will, but if you want to get your daily steps in, Jesus is the least sedentary.) The most significant point of the narrative is the healing, but the lesson in the words of Jesus which follow are a very close second in importance.

NIV.John.9.3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So we’ve seen that divine circumstances precipitate actions and lessons from Jesus, but if we go back to where we began (“Lord teach us to pray”) we also see that many of his teachings are responses to direct questions. And there are many of them.

His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” (Matthew 13:10 NLT)

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

There He saw a man who had a paralyzed hand. And in order to accuse Him they asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  (Matthew 12:10)

To be fair, Jesus often asked questions of those around him as well. (Several books have been written summarizing the things he asked.) But he also received questions from the crowd, the Pharisees, his disciples, and others. Part of this was the simply the basic method of learning in Jewish culture. (And often the response itself would be another question.)

But the thing that struck the writer I was reading earlier today was that the teaching on prayer occurring as it it did in the context of a sermon, was a bit of a rarity. Perhaps that’s why preachers — people paid to prepare sermons — hold Matthew 5, 6 and 7 in such high regard.

And that’s what got me thinking.

Should more of our modern churches provide sermon content which is in direct response to questions the congregation wants answered?

I know this flies in the face of (traditional church) Lectionary preaching, or (modern church) your teaching pastor’s penchant for series preaching — “today we’re starting a new series” — but I also know of churches that reserve Q&A Sunday (or Q&R Sunday) for the very purpose of addressing the subjects parishioners want to hear, and sometimes, the Sunday (or weekend) service is the only place where that can be done with the greatest number of people in attendance.

If you’re in church leadership, give that some thought.

If you’re not, either forward today’s devotional to them for consideration, or simply, with pen and paper or with email, ask the question you think is on the lips of people in your church, but heretofore unspoken.

Jesus crafted both direct teaching and parables “in the moment” to help us better understand the unfolding Kingdom of God.

 

April 18, 2022

“A Certain Man”

There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard… – Matthew 21:33

For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. – Matthew 25:14 NASB

A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. – Luke 7:41 NET

A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers. Luke 10:30 YLT

A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard – Luke 13:6 KJV

A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many guests – Luke 14:16 AMP

There was a rich man who received an accusation that his manager was squandering his possessions – Luke 16:1 HCSB

A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. – Luke 19:12 NASB

Although I didn’t stick with the KJV in this list, it often uses the phrase “A certain man;” as an indicator that Jesus is about to tell a story. A fictional story. Many commentators have said that when he says, “a certain man;” he might as well be saying “Once upon a time…” To our ears that indicates a fable. To those listening to a rabbi teach, the purpose might not be entertainment, or even to describe a moral principle, but rather to teach a spiritual lesson, to relate it to the number one theme in Jesus’ ministry, what the Kingdom of God is like.

Also, the use of “a certain man” doesn’t necessarily indicate a parable, and John uses it differently as do the Old Testament writers.

All this is introduction for today’s return to the devotional blog Get Along With God. They use different writers, and the one we’re reading today is John Enslow. Click the header which follows to read where we sourced it.

Parables – God With Us

All the parables of the Bible are God’s attempting to connect our earthly experience to His heavenly reality. I love when God connects our tangible experience with something deeply spiritual and heavenly. For example, His speaking to His agrarian culture about grapevines, fields, wine, oil, vineyard relating it all to His Heavenly Kingdom. When He used their earthly experience to reveal His heavenly reality, they saw in the Spirit so much clearer. They knew what they knew, and He met them in their experience to communicate something beyond their earthly understanding.

Christ wasn’t simply speaking about elusive Kingdom concepts, He was making things more tangible and real for their hearts by share Kingdom realities through earthly experiences. These parables just solidified it in their life, heart and spirits. Parables are intended to connect our awareness by plugging it into heaven’s reality. It is simply genius!

Being a Child – God With US

I am so grateful He knows us like this on such a deep level. That He doesn’t speak beyond our ability to make a connection to His meaning. While the mind of the flesh sees it as foolishness, the receptive childlike heart can grasp deep meaning from simple examples. And in actuality, it is only as we enter in with a childlike heart, that will we see meaning beyond the ordinary.

Imagine, our God is able to connect our hearts, our living, our experiences with His Kingdom. Who else could take something that is mere dirt and reveal something extremely eternal.

The parables of God are a further expression of God With US—Emmanuel! God wants to be with us in our lives to bring us beyond our lives into His Heavenly Reality. Remarkably He does this by coming into our experience and awareness and then surpassing it with His own. He so wants us with Him and comes to be with us.

Parables Today

Our lives are a continual opportunity to receive His parable reality. Jesus will uses our living expressions to communicate His deep truths. The Gospel is deeply tangible and totally relevant to my now moments. He will speak into my living experience just as I know it. This is who He is, God with me – God with US!

So as we live our lives in Him, let’s let Him be God with US. Let’s look for Him to connect our individual experience with His unique design. Le’s listen to hear His voice as He wants to reveal Himself deeply to us. He is so willing to be God with us as He reveals Himself to us.


Second Helping: By the same author, check out I am the Dwelling of God – A Living Tabernacle.


Old Testament Parables: If you’ve been in the church for any length of time, you know there is often intense discussion as to whether all of the narratives in the Old Testament are describing real events. And just because Jesus quotes the story, doesn’t mean the story happened. (If I’m speaking to a group of people and say, “It’s just like what happened to Jack with his beanstock;” that doesn’t mean I believe in magic beans.)

The two narratives most often discussed in this context are Job and Jonah. What do you think? Do you read these as literal events which happened as described? And as hard it is to gauge reaction this last question with everyone, does it really matter if they are parables?

 

April 1, 2022

Christianity 201 12th Birthday | The Fruit of Wisdom

It’s Our Birthday!

I never expected when I started this that we would still be posting devotionals every afternoon at around 5:30 Eastern Time, seven days a week, 12 months of the year. Faithfulness to this and stewardship of the site has meant things like arranging for a series of things to be posted when we would be on holidays, and has meant building margin into my schedule for days when I knew that the devotional could have easily been crowded out by other activities. Some days, like yesterday, the WordPress “publish” button doesn’t get pushed until it’s already 5:30 PM.

It’s also been a matter of keeping some balance, both in the type of writers we feature (their doctrine, denomination) and the subject matters. I know for example that not everyone is married with children, but the scripture teaching on marriage and parenting can have valuable broader application for all of us. (Parenting being obvious, as God, our Father, parents us.)

Then there are the quotations. You can find collections online for hundreds of Christian authors, but I’ve been selective here in choosing a few key authors that I felt led to present, and also a certain type of quotation from each of them that befits the readership here.

I could not celebrate twelve years without thanking Clarke Dixon for his weekly contribution every Thursday which is always a perfect fit. Clarke and I got to spend an hour together yesterday for the first time in ages, and I do appreciate his friendship. I wanted to list some of the other frequently recurring writers here, but I knew that I would leave someone out. However I want to mention Kevin Rogers who has been featured here for a long time, and Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who, while I don’t get to read Daily Encouragement as often as I once did, have always been a source of inspiration and … encouragement!

After thinking about what we could present today, it occurred to me that the best thing I could do is to do what we do best, so here’s today’s devotional.

The Fruit of Wisdom

NIV.James.3.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

The list before us is, I believe, both characteristics of wisdom itself, and of those who seek and manifest wisdom in their daily living.  The first verse appeared earlier this week on my NIV Bible App, but I decided to include verse 18 in light of what follows.

The first thing I noticed was how certain characteristics here overlap the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. When I read “submissive” it reminded me of the overlap with the characteristics in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.”  (Several translations have submissive as “open to reason.) The list may also remind you of the character traits in the “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s also reminiscent of the qualities Paul prays for the Colossian church to have in Colossians 1: 9-14.

But here we have not Jesus, not the Apostle Paul, but James reiterating a similar type of character checklist. (You’d almost think these personal qualities were important or something!) But James is speaking with respect to wisdom and this is an important distinction.

We often conflate wisdom with knowledge. I have to admit this is a real challenge for me personally. I gravitate to teachers whose sermons contain a lot of information. I don’t necessarily retain it all, but I’m challenged by it, especially in the context of the conclusions they reach at the end of their teaching. I love bullet points, and alliterative outlines, and infographics, and those little laminated pamphlets published by Rose Publishing which reduce major topics in Christian history and doctrine to their essential points.

Because of this, when we started Christianity 201, I tended to eschew devotionals which relied heavily on stores about a little boy and his dog, a person looking for a parking spot, a disobedient child, a rainbow appearing after a rainstorm. You get the idea. Privately, I tended to avoid sermons by preachers who feel the need to open with a personal anecdote from the previous week; I like the ones who just say, “Take your Bible and turn to the Book of  _________ …” and then start teaching.

But we don’t necessarily Jesus giving a treatise on advanced doctrinal concepts. There’s nothing close to an outline in systematic theology. Instead, we see, as Clarke reminded us yesterday, stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son (or two lost sons). And the lost son story in particular is beyond human imagination in the different ways we can learn from it.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t give us summary teachings on his theological outlook, as much as he invites us to surmise his theology from the illustrations. He invites us to work it out. (Perhaps with fear and trembling?)

And so, to go back to James’ epistle, while knowledge can be amassed and stored and retrieved as needed, true wisdom is going to produce change in us. It’s going to bring about transformation. To repeat one more time, information (knowledge) is not wisdom.

When we seek spiritual wisdom, what James calls “the wisdom from above” we are asking God to shape us, form us, change us.

… For those of you who’ve been on this ride for a longer time, I hope the twelve years of Christianity 201 has blessed you, and tomorrow we’ll be back with more.

 

March 31, 2022

Are We Christians Ungodly Toward the “Ungodly”?

Thinking Through Luke 15:1-32

by Clarke Dixon

What sermon would you preach if you were to preach on Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son?

Perhaps you might preach to lost souls about the love of God, encouraging them to come to faith in him. Far from God is never too far to turn around. Or perhaps you might preach to found souls about the love of God, on how we should be inspired to help the lost become found. God’s love for people “out there” is a great motivator to reach out.

Whichever you would choose, you are in good company for many such sermons have been preached from these parables. However, today we will consider these parables in light of the event that inspired Jesus to tell them.

So what happened?

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story:…

Luke 15:1-3 (NLT)

Actually, Jesus told three stories, all of which hang together to make a very important point that we can easily miss.

So what is the point?

The lost sheep:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Luke 15:4-7 (NLT)

There are a few things for us to take note of:

First, the lost sheep is neither a goat, nor a wolf, but a sheep. Being sheep, they already belong with the flock. They are not different, they are lost. The religious leaders were treating the lost sheep as if they were skunks. Jesus treated them like sheep.

Second, where the religious leaders saw people that should be kept at a distance, Jesus saw people with potential. The desire of the religious leaders to exclude contrasted sharply with the desire of Jesus to include.

Third, the grumbling of the religious types was in contrast with the rejoicing of heaven, which likely stands for the rejoicing of God.

The lost coin:

“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.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

Luke 15:8-10 (NLT)

We can take note of the same things as with the parable of the lost sheep, but perhaps more explicit here is the idea of value. The lost coin is valuable. People have worth, even though, and even while, lost.

The prodigal son.

The parable of the prodigal son is so well loved, we might actually miss the main point Jesus was making by telling it. It would be easy for us to become fixated on the opportunity for the son to be reconciled, or the extravagant love of the father. We might stop thinking through this parable with the party thrown for the lost son for there is already so much to learn about God and ourselves by that point. But Jesus didn’t stop there in telling the story:

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Luke 15:28-32 (NLT)

While the main point may be lost on us as we focus on the younger son or the father, it would not have been lost on the religious leaders who had attitudes just like the older brother.

The main point.

Taken together these three parables make the point that God has beautiful longings over people the religious leaders had ugly reactions against. In fact the ugly reactions against those considered ungodly, made the religious leaders themselves ungodly.

Does our attitude toward people reflect God’s attitude? Do we have beautiful longings for people? Or does our attitude toward people we consider “ungodly” make us ungodly? is it time for an attitude adjustment?

Perhaps the question is not what you would preach if you were to preach on these parables. Perhaps the question is what sermon do you need to hear?

Do you need to hear the call to draw closer to God? You belong, you are of great worth, God has a beautiful longing over you and for you. God opens the door to reconciliation.

Do you need to hear the call to go out and help people connect with God? God has a beautiful longing for people, they belong, they are of great worth.

Or perhaps today you need to hear the call to an attitude adjustment, to watch out for ugly reactions against people God has beautiful longings for. Is your attitude toward those you consider “ungodly” making you ungodly?


■ This sermon can be seen being “preached” here or heard through podcast for a limited time here. Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays.


Today completes 12 years of devotional studies here at Christianity 201. Tomorrow we celebrate our 12th Birthday!

December 1, 2021

Sheep in the Presence of the Shepherd

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of a couple years, for the seventh time we’re back with author and pastor Colin Sedgwick at the site, Welcome to Sedgonline, an excellent devotional writer. Click the header which follows to read this (and then explore other things) at its point of origin.

The Voice of Jesus

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice… Jesus said, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… John 10:2-4, 11, 14

I have a cousin who is a dairy-farmer. His farm is a one-man business, and that can present problems when he needs to take a break for a few days. Certainly, he can get people to stand in for him, but if he does he finds that the milk-yield of the cows is seriously depleted – it’s almost as if they go on strike until he returns.

Which seems strange. Nearly all modern milking, including his, is done by mechanical means, so what difference should it make who actually attaches the equipment to the cows? But apparently it does.

I use the illustration of the farmer and his cows rather than the shepherd and his sheep because… well, I don’t happen to know any sheep-farmers! But if you read John 10 right down to verse 20 you won’t have any problem seeing the connection. Jesus describes himself as both the shepherd of the sheep and the gate by which they go in and out, but if he had chosen to talk about cows and their farmer the same essential truths would emerge.

What’s it all about? Trust, that’s what! And trust is at the heart of all good and healthy relationships, so it’s about that too. Lacking it, the cows don’t give their milk, and the sheep don’t follow.

The idea of sheep and shepherds is strong in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between the king and his people.

Moses is recorded as praying that God would appoint for his people a leader “who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:16-17). (Compare that with Matthew 9:36, where the heart of the good shepherd is moved with “compassion” – that is, pity and deep sadness – for the big, swarming crowds “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.)

Go to Ezekiel 34 and you find the prophet condemning false leaders as being like worthless shepherds who are only concerned for themselves. And it’s surely no accident that Israel’s greatest king – David – was, in his youth, a shepherd-boy (1 Samuel 16). In adulthood he simply swapped one type of flock for another…

So it’s a very natural parable that Jesus makes use of. What I find particularly striking about it is that four times in verses1-18 Jesus speaks about the shepherd’s voice.

Once when I was a small boy the head-teacher spoke during the assembly about the beauty of human eyes. To prove his point he told us, “There are many things you probably can’t remember today about your mother. But one thing I’m sure of – if I asked you what colour her eyes are, you would answer straight away.”

And I felt bad! Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t have a clue about the colour of my mother’s eyes. I had simply never noticed. Ah, but the sound of her voice – that was a different matter. Eyes, after all, are just there; but a voice is something you relate to. I would be able to pick that out in a roomful of noisy people.

And so it is with the voice of Jesus, our good shepherd; it is more precious to us than we can say.

But… how exactly do we hear it? Not, after all, with our physical ears. There may be times when in fact we don’t seem to hear it at all, perhaps because we have wandered away from him, or because it is crowded out by the many troubles, distractions and noises of our daily lives. But he is always speaking, even when we are not listening, or when our circumstances are such that we cannot hear.

This is where another memory of my early life comes in: as a child in Sunday School, and even more as a young convert, I was encouraged each day to have a “quiet time” of prayer and Bible-reading. That expression has, I think, fallen out of use over the years – people think it sounds a bit twee.

Well, perhaps. But I still think it has a real value, and I am not at all embarrassed to say that even all these years later I still try to make it my practice, and I’m still happy to recommend it to others.

In fact, the modern popularity of “mindfulness”, for us as Christians, is really just a recognition of our need to “be still, and know that God is God” (Psalm 46:10). To find such a time may be difficult in the busyness of our lives. But it needn’t be lengthy; it need only be sincere and determined. A few minutes with a focused heart and an open Bible can make all the difference.

So… Is it time you set aside a few minutes in your life to be still in the presence of Jesus and to allow him to speak? A few minutes to deepen that relationship I spoke about earlier? Everything good and wholesome springs from that, just as the sheep learns to confidently follow the shepherd and (if you don’t mind me comparing you to a cow) the cow produces rich, foaming, frothy, health-giving milk.

May God bless us all as we learn to listen for the voice of Jesus!

Lord Jesus, please train my ear through scripture and the Holy Spirit so that it becomes attuned to the sound of your voice, and so that I learn the secret of guidance, obedience – and peace. Amen.

November 5, 2021

Possessions: We’re Stewards, Not Masters

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In a frequently recurring statement on this site, we note that C201 is a melting pot of devotional material across a wide denominational spectrum. For today’s thoughts, we’re taking you to the site, Catholic Daily Reflections: My Catholic Life. Click the header which follows to get there, where you’ll also find a video and audio for today’s reading.

Stewards of Earthly Riches

Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’” Luke 16:1–2

There is much to ponder in this parable and many lessons from which we can learn. To begin, the rich man should be understood as God and you as the steward. This is an important first lesson to learn because it reveals to us that, when it comes to material things in this world, God is the true owner of all—we are only stewards. Think about that carefully. When it comes to all that you own, all your money and possessions, do you hold on to it as if you were the complete master of these material items?

Clearly most people do think this way. They may work hard to earn a living, save and buy this and that, build up their bank accounts, and then remain very attached to these material things, seeing them as “mine” rather than as God’s. So the first very challenging lesson we should look at is that all we “own” is actually the possession of God. He only permits us to be stewards of the things of this world. Do you believe that?

As stewards, we must be committed to use the riches within our stewardship only in the way that God wants it used. In this parable, the steward was reported to the rich man for “squandering his property.” We also are guilty of squandering the possessions of God when we use money in accord with our own will and desires rather than those of God’s. This is an exceptionally common tendency, especially for those who have become the stewards of much money. Therefore, the more money that one has stewardship over, the more they will be tempted to squander it, meaning, use it for selfish purposes rather than for the glory of God in accord with His will. This is a hard teaching to accept and live. But these truths are indeed revealed to us by this parable, so it is essential that we listen.

The words spoken by the rich man, “Prepare a full account of your stewardship,” are words that we must all anticipate hearing one day. If that day were today, what would that “full account of your stewardship” look like? Have you worked hard for selfish gain? Or have you worked hard to act with great responsibility over the things God has entrusted to your care?

As the parable continues, we read that the steward acted “prudently” in that he devised a plan to make sure his material needs were met once he lost his position as steward. The “prudence,” however, that is spoken of here is a reference to the worldly, and therefore, evil ingenuity, cleverness, hard work and commitment many people have regarding the material wealth they seek to obtain in this world. Though it is good to be diligent and hardworking in life, too often this is done for the purpose of selfish gain. Just imagine if everyone who worked so hard at getting rich put even more effort into building up the Kingdom of God on earth! How different this world would be if we had so many hard workers for God’s mission.

Reflect, today, upon the simple truth that when it comes to the riches of this world, you are only the steward of what you possess, not its master. God wants you free from the attachment to material wealth so that you will be free to use all that you have for His glory and in accord with His purpose. That does not mean that you must donate all you have to charities.

Instead, it means that you continually offer all that you have to God and seek to use it in accord with His will and His will alone. If that means you discern that God wants you to buy something new, then buy something new. If that means giving more away, then give more away. If that means living more simply as a holy sacrifice, then do just that. Money cannot buy happiness. Only embracing God’s will to the fullest will result in the happiness and fulfillment you deeply desire.

My Lord of all riches, You and You alone are the Master of all things created. All that I have and possess are Yours, dear Lord. Help me to believe this and to live my life purely as a steward of the possessions I have. Free me from squandering that which You have entrusted to my care. May I use all for Your glory and only in accord with Your holy will. Jesus, I trust in You.

July 26, 2021

Besides Sheep, Jesus Used the Analogy of Fish and Fishing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.5.3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.


ESV.Matt.13.47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.

Our 11-year journey takes us to interesting places to find devotional material, and today’s no exception. Stephen Bernard writes at Mouse Squeak (the computer type of mouse) and shares this personal reflection. Click to read this at source, and take some time to read some of this other recent essays.

When You Can See The Fish But They Won’t Bite

I went out fishing during the hours when the moon was down and they’d be out feeding. I wasn’t wrong either. Upon arrival the tide was high, the river was flowing and the weather was nice and warm. Under the bridge I could see crowds of fish. They were of all sizes big and small. They looked so good I could taste them. In my district I’m only allowed to use barbless hooks and no live bait so I use golden and silver spinners/spoons most of the time.

When I first arrived I started casting and did not see the crowd of fish until later when I actually began to look. As usual I casually began casting the line here nor there. Quite content I began to relax. But when I saw the horde of fish all nicely piled together I began to get excited. Try as I may, for more than one hour I cast that rod in their direction and none of them would bite. . . Not one.

I had the best gear, spinner and even though I changed my spinner from gold to silver (assuming it was overcast and would help) nothing happened. I almost fired the rod into the river to stab one of them with it that’s how frustrated I became. When I cast my line in their direction I only further complicated matters as it simply scared them away. You see? I got too excited and my enthusiasm ended up dispersing them.

I can see why Jesus uses the theme of catching fish for souls in the Gospels. It’s incredibly similar. Sometimes we can arrive at the seemingly right time. There’s plenty of people to introduce the Gospel to. We’ve got what we think is the right bait and all the best of gear available to us, but nothing ever gets them biting, right? You think fishing is hard? Try evangelism.

As Christians we often change our bait according to the fish we are trying to catch. One method of evangelism gets replaced for this method depending on the size, personality and location of the fish. We use the kind of food they’re used to according to their local customs. Even so, none of them seem to catch on. What are we to do in these cases?

Today I threw in the towel and walked away. I think sometimes that’s what we need to do with souls. It can be very easy to get frustrated with people. When they’re not interested or willing to listen sometimes you’ve no choice but to wave the white flag of surrender and go home.

If you hang around and keep shouting in their direction like I did with the fish, you end up scaring them away altogether. There are moments when we get too enthusiastic and such overtly religious attitudes can make them run a mile. Sometimes it’s enough that they’re there in Church sitting in the pew. They’ve all these bizarre ideas about their faith and their hearts are not totally into what you’re preaching, but at least they’re there. You can sermonize and drop lots of the sweet corn of good advice into the ocean but they won’t be interested.

By simply being present these souls give us the opportunity to come back another day, maybe with different bait or other methods and try again. It really is after that down to the Lord to catch them for you. I’m thinking of the bit in the Gospel where the apostles have been fishing all night and caught nothing. Then Jesus tells them to cast their nets again. They do as they’re told and loads of fish come in. Jesus teaches us that by our own efforts no fish is ever reeled in. The Grace of the Lord is always required on any expedition we undergo to evangelize the world.

Today the Lord was not with me.* Why? Because he wanted me to write this article that’s why. He allowed me to go out and waste my absolute time and effort to teach me a valuable lesson which is to say I can do nothing without him. . . nothing. In my ignorance I didn’t even pray. Maybe next time in addition to bringing the best of fishing gear I should bring along the greatest form of bait one can find. . . Jesus.


*Editor’s note: Maybe the Lord was with Stephen all along, or we wouldn’t be enjoying today’s meditation!

…Where he lands the plane today is neither about sheep nor fish, but comes from a passage where Jesus uses another analogy, about vines and branches.

TLB.John.15.5b For apart from me you can’t do a thing.

May 5, 2021

He Could Have Spoken Complex Theology; He Chose Parables

If I had been planning more carefully, I would have posted this yesterday, which marked the two year anniversary of the passing of Rachel Held Evans. While Rachel graciously endured having a number of critics, for those of us who knew her spirit, she was a beautiful person and an insightful, realistic, gifted writer, who helped so many people who felt they were outside the family of God see that Christ had saved a place for them at the table.

To read at source, click the header which follows. (Yes, thankfully her blog posts are still there for all to enjoy.)

“Without a parable, he told them nothing…”

I’m blogging with the lectionary this year and this week’s reading comes from Matthew 13:24-43:

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

In the Gospel reading for this week, we learn that in the time between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the events leading to his death and resurrection, the travelling teacher communicated through stories. Matthew goes so far as to say “without a parable he told them nothing.”

It is an astounding detail when you think about it: The God of all creation, the One who knows every corner of the cosmos and fathoms every mystery, the One who could answer every theological riddle and who, I suspect, chuckles at our volumes of guesses, our centuries of pompous philosophical tomes debating His nature, when present in the person of Jesus Christ, told stories.

  • Stories about farming.
  • Stories about kneading bread.
  • Stories about seeds and trees and birds.
  • Stories that somehow, in their ordinary profundity, “proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus, who certainly could have filled volumes, favored riddles to lectures, metaphors to propositions, everyday language, images, and humor to stiff religious pontification. In a strange burst of joy, Jesus even exclaimed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Religious education is good and important, certainly. But it’s not as important as paying attention. It’s not as important as seeking the Kingdom in the quotidian rhythms of the everyday. It’s not as important as obedience.

After all, Jesus didn’t come for the rich, the educated, or the right. Jesus came for those with listening ears and open eyes, those who are hungry for righteousness and thirsty for God, those comfortable with metaphors and similes and “almosts” and “not yets,” those content to understand without knowing fully, those with dirt in their fingernails and flour in their hair.

In Matthew 13, we encounter several parables all packed in together, each one worthy of a thousand different reflections. (The one about the seed that grows into a tree is one of my personal favorites.) Each of these parables features Jesus’ very favorite subject, the thing he spoke about more than any other: The Kingdom.

The Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed, Jesus said, that grows into an enormous tree with branches wide and strong enough to make a home for all the birds. It is like a buried treasure, a delicious feast, or a net that catches an abundance of fish. The Kingdom is right here, Jesus said. It is present and yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. The Kingdom isn’t some far off place you go where you die, the Kingdom is at hand—among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. It is the wheat growing in the midst of weeds, the yeast working its magic in the dough, the pearl germinating in a sepulchral shell. It can come and go in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus said. So pay attention; don’t miss it.

This Kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This Kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a war horse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.

And yet there is more to this Kingdom that is still to come, Jesus said, and so we await a day when every tear will be wiped from every eye, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears shaped into a pruning hooks, when justice will cascade like a river down a mountain and righteousness like a never-ending stream, when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will live together in peace, when there will be no more death.

On this week when our newspapers reveal the ugly reality that evil and good grow alongside one another—in the world and even in our own hearts—the parable of the wheat and the weeds seems especially weighty. As reports of civilian casualties mount, we see that, just as Jesus warned, human attempts to “root out evil” on our own, by force, result in the destruction of innocent lives.

Every. Single. Time.

Like it or not, this parable challenges, (perhaps even mocks), our notion of “precision airstrikes,” of getting rid of the “bad guys” without hurting the “good guys.” The fact is, we don’t see the world as God sees it. We are not equipped to call the shots on who deserves to live and who deserves to die, who is evil and who is good—especially when, if we’re honest, we can feel both impulses coursing through our own bloodstreams.

While we could certainly digress into an eschatological conversation about exactly what Jesus means when he talks about throwing evildoers into the fire, the instructive call of this parable remains the same: to let God do the farming. God is the judge—not you, not me, not kings, not presidents.

“Without a parable, he told them nothing.”

Yet still we struggle to understand. Still we struggle to obey.

Two-thousand years after Matthew recorded these parables about seeds and wheat and yeast, we’re still combing our theology books for answers. We’re still talking about airstrikes and minimizing civilian casualties. We’re still seeking power and vengeance, knowledge and stuff.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle tells of a young woman who told the author, “I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn’t understand it, but I knew what it was about.”

That’s often how I feel about the parables of Jesus. I don’t understand them exactly, but I know what they’re about.

L’Engle concludes: “…One does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding—that intellectual understanding which we are so fond of—there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing, knowing things which you are not yet able to understand…As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.”

The God of the universe has beckoned us into His lap to tell us a story, to teach us to pay attention.

Let those with ears hear.

April 9, 2021

The New Normal, the Status Quo, and Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Matt.21.33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

by Clarke Dixon

A year ago at this time we were talking about a new normal. That new normal now feels like the status quo with masks, social distancing, outbreaks, and lockdowns. Even as vaccines are rolled out, it feels like life under a pandemic is now the status quo, that these changes will be with us forever. At least that how it feels. The new normal has become the status quo and we are stuck with it.

This is eerily reminiscent of another great disruption.

We go back to the early chapters of Genesis when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, in perfect relationship with God Who gave them life. The expectation was that they would live forevermore. This is a picture of what humanity could have been.

All that is life-giving was theirs, except for one condition, they were not to eat from one particular tree. I think you know what happened next.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit and plunged us into a new normal. They were kicked out of the garden, barred access to the tree of life, and death was now the expectation. Rebellion against God and God’s ways became the status quo. We can think of Cain killing Abel. The expectation of death became the status quo. We can think of Abel being killed by Cain. The picture of what humanity could have been became a picture of what humanity is; a people who are in rebellion against the Giver of life, a people who could always expect death because of separation from God. The new normal became the status quo.

Yet God gave us signs of hope, signs that this new status quo would not last forever.

We can think of a fresh start with Noah, a new beginning. Yet shortly after hitting the reset button, there was a return to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives us life, and the expectation of death.

We can think of the promise God made to Abraham, to create from him a nation through whom all nations would be blessed, a promise reiterated to Isaac, and Jacob. We see progress on that promise through the rescue of Jacob’s descendants from Egypt. This will be a different kind of people, a people in relationship with God. Yet in the wilderness we see these rescued people living according to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives life, and the experience of death.

We can think of the giving of the law as sign of hope, so that God’s people could be a different kind of people who, far from rebelling against God, would walk according to his law. They would operate according to a good sense of justice. For example, it was to be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, instead of an arm and a leg plus an eye for an eye, and a head for a tooth. They would not sacrifice their children. They would take care of the vulnerable. They were to be a light to the other nations as they lived according to God’s law. Yet they did not have a very good track record of keeping the law. They succumbed to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives life, and the expectation of death.

We can think of the sending of prophets as a sign of hope, so that God’s people could get back on track. Yet the response to the prophets pointed to the status quo of rebellion against the God Who gives life, and the experience of death.

There were many signs of hope. Yet the status quo persisted. The new normal, from the great disruption at the Garden of Eden, remained the status quo. It was like the discovery of a vaccine during a pandemic, and yet nothing seems to change.

But there was one more sign of hope. God sent His Son.

Jesus told a parable of a landowner who sent messengers to the farmers who were working his land. They kept beating up and killing the messengers. In the story of Jesus it was symbolic of God’s people ignoring and sometimes killing the prophets that God sent. In the story the landowner finally sent his own son. They killed him too. That points to Jesus. For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten son, and we killed him! Rebellion against God and the expectation of death had become so normal, that we even killed Immanuel, “God with us.”

On Good Friday we recognize the status quo of rebellion against God and the experience of death made so visible at the cross.

But on Sunday there was a true sign of hope, of change, of the status quo being disrupted and the possibility of something new. The stone was rolled away, there was no body, for Jesus had risen from the dead. That is the greatest disruption to the status quo the world has ever seen. Jesus was obedient. Jesus is alive. This was different!

Our rebellion was no match for God’s love. In a world where rebellion was normally dealt with through power, through armies, and violence, God did not respond to our violence with his. Jesus took the nails.

One would expect that to be the end of it, the expectation of death is the status quo, correct? But Jesus rose from the dead, then told the disciples to go invite anyone and everyone to the Kingdom of God, to be part of His royal family.

Even those who were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus could respond to his invitation. It would be up to the enemies of Jesus whether they would stick with the status quo of rebellion against God and the expectation of death, or step into a new normal, a new normal of intimate relationship with God, walking with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, a new normal of living in Jesus, a Kingdom life that challenges the status quo of a world gone mad, a new normal of the fear of death giving way to the anticipation of everlasting life, a new normal made possible by the grace of God, forgiveness in and though Jesus.

It would be up to the enemies of Jesus, those who crucified him, whether to stick with the status quo of rebellion against God and the expectation of separation from God in death, or to step into a new normal.

And it is up to us.

Will it be status quo? Or will we enter into the new normal Jesus brings?

When Adam and Eve sinned, they ushered in a new normal. That new normal become the status quo. That status quo made the events of Good Friday predictable. There was rebellion against God. There was death. The events of Easter Sunday were not as predictable. The stone was rolled away, Jesus was not in the tomb, he had risen! This is the greatest disruption to the status quo there has ever been in the history of the world. There is a new normal, a new way of life, a new expectation of life.

It is brilliant!

You are invited to step into it.


Watch message in context of the entire online worship expression (26 minutes) from Clarke Dixon’s church in Ontario, Canada or watch just the sermon (15 minutes).

November 23, 2020

Placing the Message of a Prophet in the Form of the Proverbs

Indeed, the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.
 – Amos 3:7 NLT

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
 – 2 Peter 1:21 NIV

I have also spoken to the prophets, And I gave numerous visions, And through the prophets I gave parables.
 – Hosea 12:10 NASB

Again and again the LORD had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”
 – 2 Kings 17:13

When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables.He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
– Mark 4:10-12 CEB

Usually when we introduce a new author here, it’s someone just starting out on their writing journey, but today we have someone who already has a profile, though he may be new to you as he was to us. On his Twitter account, Mark Charles describes himself this way: “I’m a dual citizen of the US and Navajo Nation and was a 2020 Independent candidate for President of the United States.” He’s also the coauthor of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (IVP 2019) You can learn more about it at this link. (Just reading the book’s blurb will change how you react the next time you hear that “Columbus discovered America.”)

I felt directed to share his writing today. This short article appeared on his blog, WirelessHogan in 2018. (Again, note this was written at least two years ago.) Read it slowly. Click the title below and read it there.

From Prophecy to Proverb

The summer of 2018, during the height of the immigration crisis with families being separated at our borders, I had the privilege of speaking at Calvin College to a couple hundred worship grant recipients from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In a plenary session titled “Learning How to Talk in Proverbs” I was given a few minutes to “Propose a proverb about your prophetic insight using a ‘prophecy to proverb’ mode of speech.” Below is what I wrote and shared:

Wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics

Remember my brothers and sisters, Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

When the church merely lobbies one political leader and protests the other

When, for the sake of argument or political gain, the body of Christ turns a blind eye to one sin and magnifies another

We are not representing the headship of our body…

who is Christ.

As vile, repulsive and urgent is the Trump administration’s separation of families at our border

it is not the first time…

Indian Removal, the slave trade, Boarding Schools, lynching’s, Japanese Internment camps, mass incarceration, even the deportation numbers of the Obama administration

the list of ways the United States government has worked to destroy the family structure of people of color throughout our history is as long as it is depressing.

So lets stop pretending that President Trump is the God ordained savior, or the ultimate demise of our union.

The same with President Obama.

What our nation needs is not for democrats to be better democrats.

Nor do we need Republicans to simply be better Republicans.

We don’t even need our nation to be more Christian.

My brothers and sisters, the United States of America is not, never has been, nor will it ever be Christian.

Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

And wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics.

I agree with Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, who said,
“What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot.”

Mark Charles
(Navajo)

 

 

February 1, 2018

Parables of Jesus: The Tricky Bits

by Clarke Dixon

In reading through the parables of Jesus from Mark chapter 4, there are certain parts that have always stood out to me as being difficult to understand. While we might normally gravitate to the familiar parables, I figured that if I found some parts tricky, you might also. So let’s take the difficult path and look at two tricky bits.

First Tricky Bit: Is God keeping secrets, and keeping people outside?

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;
12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” Mark 4:10-12

From verse 11 we might wonder if God is keeping secrets and from verse 12 we might wonder if He does so because He does not want people to be forgiven. This seems a direct contradiction of 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

So how are we to understand this? First off, the word translated “secret” by the NRSV may be better translated as “mystery”. However, even that word comes with baggage as we tend to think of mystery as something we could never know. Here the idea is that though we couldn’t know it before, it has been revealed to us and can now be known. While a secret is something meant to be kept hidden, this “mystery” is something shared.

However, those “outside” (verse 11) won’t be able to understand this mystery while those on the inside will. The point is not that we should pity the people outside, but that we should invite them in. The point is not that those outside should stay there, but that they should push in. We have seen people pushing in to see Jesus before in Mark’s Gospel. We can think of the paralytic in chapter 2 whose friends were so desperate to get him before Jesus they dug a hole in the roof and lowered him in. Note that the first thing Jesus tells him is that his sins are forgiven. That kind of thing happens when you press in to Jesus.

The parables are meant to get people thinking and questioning. Are you outside, thinking that you know everything you need to know and there is noting about Jesus or yourself that you need to learn? Or are you pressing in to find out? The question is not, “are you stuck outside?”, the questions is “are you coming in?”

Second Tricky Bit: Is God being harsh when those who have nothing lose everything?

24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25

It seems both harsh and without logic to say that those who have nothing will lose everything. What are we to make of this? Imagine you have nothing, but are given a house. You don’t even send a thank you note to the generous person who gave you the house.  You go on with your life, living in the home, but you put no work into it. You never clean it and do no maintenance of any sort even though water has started pouring in from the roof, windows and foundation. You live in it, but you turn your back on it. Your benefactor, being very generous indeed, offers to give you a much better home, but you turn your nose up at the offer. Though you earned nothing, even what you do have will eventually be lost when the house falls apart. This is like our relationship with God. God has been good to every one of us in that He has given us life. Life is a gift from his hands, a sign of grace. Now suppose, though you live now by the grace of God, you turn your back on Him and refuse to have anything to do with Him. You refuse the offer of a further gift of eternal life. What will happen? Even what you have though have not earned, namely life, will be taken away from you. Separation from God, what we often call hell, is not harsh on God’s part. It is a natural consequence of the sin that separates us from God. It is what happens when we refuse the generous gift of Jesus who deals with that sin.

While the parables reveal truths about God’s Kingdom, they also reveal truths about us. God is bringing His kingdom. Are you pressing into it, or turning your back on it?

God is offering you a love relationship. Are you pressing into that relationship or turning your back? Jesus didn’t turn His back on you when he could have, when perhaps he should have. His back was to the cross.

All Scripture references are taken from NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

Based on a 32-minute sermon. Click here to listen in full.

 

 

October 25, 2017

The Householder

Today we conclude our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor.

The Householder

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
-Matthew 13:52

This brief parable begins with a question Jesus asks His disciples. “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they replied (Matthew 13:51). They heard these parables and could possibly recount each one of them, but did they understand them?

Did they understand that some of the seed sown in the field will ultimately come to nothing? Did they understand that alongside the good seed, there will be weeds sown by an enemy, which will threaten to choke the good? Did they understand that the mustard seed, though small in its beginnings, will grow into a tree that may appear impressive, but is a distortion harbouring evil? And just as yeast permeates a loaf, did they understand the kingdom of heaven on earth will be contaminated on every level by sin?

The first four parables teach the reality of human failure within the kingdom, and the disciples needed to understand that this is what will be true. Despite the discouraging images as the world will see the kingdom of God, there is an understanding from God’s perspective that is very different. Do the disciples realize that regardless of setbacks, hardships and difficulties, the treasure is going to be obtained, and that the pearl is purchased by Christ? Did they know that the wheat and the weeds, the good and the bad fish will be separated at the end of the age?

Their reply was, “Yes.” If they have fully understood these things, Jesus said they will be like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. They will never give up, for despite the difficulties and opposition, they know there are always new and old treasures to bring out. If treasure here is equal to the treasure of the fifth parable in the hidden treasure, then there will always be new and old treasures coming forth; new people for whom Christ died to be brought to Him as Saviour and also established believers to be nurtured and brought to maturity in their walk with Christ.

There are no grounds for disillusionment or disappointment if we see things from the perspective of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is always confidence, always hope, always new treasures and always something to do. If we see the kingdom of heaven, not through the eyes of the world, but through the eyes of God, and submit to the Lordship of Christ, we are going to shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for these wonderful teachings. I pray the kingdom of heaven is seen through Your eyes, drawing new treasures to you and strengthening established believers. Thank You, Lord.

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