Monday, May 30, 2022

OH NO! It's GONE! Parable of The Lost Coin

"Or what woman, if she had ten drachma [two days’ wage for a fieldworker] coins, if she lost one drachma coin, wouldn’t light a lamp, sweep the house, and seek diligently until she found it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost.’ Even so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner repenting.”  (Luke 15:8-10 WEB)

Now, the two parables in Luke 15 that we have explored, the Prodigal Son and the Lost Sheep, are spoken by Jesus in this setting: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'”

The NIV Study Bible says that when you eat with people, you are recognizing them and accepting them. This is the reason for the muttering: Jesus is acknowledging the very people that the Pharisees and teachers disdain. What's interesting is that Jesus shares three parables with a common theme: Something/someone valuable is lost, then found and then celebrated over.

Three is the number of perfection in the Bible. It is little wonder that Jesus tells us the same idea three times—these stories deftly illustrate God’s perfect love for us.

We have looked for the son to come home and the sheep to be found. Now, let’s look for a coin.

Fill in the blank: You could have lost your contact lens, your iPhone, your keys or your mind, for that matter!

The world you live in skids to a halt when you have lost something. Now, is that something just any ol' thing? Not usually. The sound of screeching brakes occurs when you lose something valuable.

How often do we not value something until it is lost? To quote an old 60's song: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." So true. But valuing goes both ways: Our prodigal son didn't value his father's love until he was eating pig food. But the father valued his son immensely and waited patiently until the son returned. The older brother in the parable didn't value his younger brother nor his father's love. But the father valued the older son and made everything he had available to the older son.

The shepherd with the lost sheep valued it and was willing to leave the other ninety-nine to find the one. He then returned to the town and wanted the people to rejoice with him. Seeing the joy in the shepherd's face perhaps made them go home and look with renewed joy in what they had. Sometimes, others' loss reminds us of what we have and how we should value what we have.

A woman has ten silver coins. One goes missing. Does she say, “No worries. I still have the other nine.” No.

The floors of ordinary people in Israel in Jesus' day were made of dirt. People with money had flagstones. The windows were few and light was minimal. No matter what her economic status was, finding a coin in a dimly lit house would not be an easy task.

So, let's listen in to what our lady is doing right before she notices the missing coin…

I want to make sure that my money hasn't gone missing. There are thieves out there who want to steal what I have. Each coin is worth day's wage and one less coin means a day's work for nothing. I will pull out the coins from their hiding place--I will never tell where they are!--and I will sit at the table and start counting... What? Is that neighbor's dog barking again? Wait a minute! Don't move! I have lost a coin! Did I drop it? When I was pouring the coins out onto the table just now, did one roll off? Oh no! Wait, calm down. I can't see it! The light is terrible in here. Let me get the lamp and start hunting. Oh, the floor hurts my knees. But I bound and determined to find it...

Do you see it? Each coin is as valuable to the woman as the next, because each coin represents a day's labor. How did it fall to the floor? What happened to it? Does it really matter how that the coin got lost?

Her concern is not because she miserly. It's because each coin represents her labor. We don’t know what her profession is, but imagine losing your paycheck. She just can’t go to her employer or back to the marketplace, and asked to be paid again. There is no safety net in the first century.

She has worked hard for each coin. Now, once she calms down, she has a plan of action: Light a lamp and start sweeping. Two ingredients are needed here for the search and the ultimate restoration: light and cleaning away of dirt.

Jesus Himself provides what we need for restoration. He is the Light we need to see our way in the darkness. He calls Himself "The Light of the World," (John 9:5) implying that our earthly room is dark and needs illumination.

But with light comes revelation of just how dark the world is and how covered in dirt it is. Here He "sweeps," looking for each valued person, who struggles in the dirt of sin and pain. He searches for us, "carefully" as does our lady. He looks in every corner, desiring to return us to the safety of His keeping.

Satan is a thief, always on the prowl and wants nothing less than to steal us out of our fellowship with God. Each one of us is valued. How do we know this? We were "bought with a price." (1 Cor. 6:20) Jesus Himself did a day's labor on the cross, paying once and for all for our freedom, not because we are so good and wonderful, but because He values us.

A coin has value because a government assigns an amount to it. Jesus' death is the ultimate assigning of value to you and me: He paid our debt of sin with His life and will continue to search for us until we return home. Home is His Father's kingdom.

The heavens resound when a sinner comes home. Jesus doesn't give up on us...nor did our lady. She kept searching until she found it. She didn't jingle the money bag and just focus on the ones already in her possession, ignoring the one covered in dirt. Both are important: the ones in the bag and the ones in the dirt.

Remember the muttering religious leaders listening to Jesus? Jesus is saying that all of His Father's children are important. The ones in the "bag" need to rediscover their compassion for the ones in the "dirt." Why? 

Because you, religious leaders, are valued. You are not valued for how good you are at church. You are not valued for how much you tithe. You are not valued for how much you obey the rules. You have been assigned value by the One who "minted" you. His image is stamped on each of you and on each of them...yes, even those "sinners" over there.

What about those "sinners" listening to Jesus as well? 

You, yes, know how much dirt covers you.  I am reaching down and offering to lift you out of the dirt.  Please don't roll further under the chair. Accept My offer of restoration. Allow Me to cleanse you of that dirt and when you join the others in the bag, rejoice!  Heaven does! 

Finally, notice how the woman celebrates her finding of the coin. All of her friends and neighbors are invited in to join her! Heaven rejoices when one sinner is found, because that person realizes that lying in the dirt of life is not what a loving God would have us do.  The kingdom's doors swing wide open when we realize who we are--sinners.  We hear the songs of angels when we accept Who He is--our Savior.

One of the words in Hebrew for “covenant” is “lovingkindness.” Lovingkindness is how God deals with us: He is willing to send His very Son to fulfill and be the New Covenant.

Just the father looked for his son, the shepherd for his sheep, and the lady for her coin, God never stops looking for us.

Both the prodigal son and wandering sheep choose to leave home and go their own way. God will not impose His lovingkindness on us; it is not for a lack of trying. He calls to us every day we are here, but we have to listen and respond. We are not an inanimate coin, lying in the dirt with no awareness. We have been created to choose, and God encourages us to choose wisely:

Behold, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and evil. For I command you today to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your God may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce to you today, that you will surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you pass over the Jordan to go in to possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants; to love Yahweh your God, to obey his voice, and to cling to him; for he is your life, and the length of your days; that you may dwell in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.  Deut. 30:15-20 (WEB)

Just as the children of Israel, standing before the Promised Land, were given a choice to serve and be blessed or turn away and face dire consequences, we too choose how we will respond to God and His love.

Do you see yourself as valuable to Him? “Oh, yes, I do!” is perhaps your response. 

But, do you live as if you are valuable?

Do you respond, “No, not really.” So, do you live as if you are not valuable?

Either way is missing what is important to God. You are important to God. These parables show that even humans beings, as flawed as we are, still search for valuable things or people.
  • The father did not say, "Well, he’s gone. Nothin’ I can do about it. Time for a beer.”
  • The shepherd did not say, “Well, it’s only one sheep. It was kinda dumb anyway, so no loss.”
  • The woman did not say, “Yeah, money’s valuable, but I got enough. One coin ain’t gonna get me off my chair and scrounge around in the dirt. If it shows up one day, fine. But I ain’t gonna put myself out.”
If the people acted this way, we would be horrified due to their lack of compassion for something/someone other than themselves.  God is love. He thought of us so much He sent His Son to die for us. But, I can hear you saying, if God is so loving, way is there such pain?

The prodigal son went out into a world that is abusive, exploitive and manipulative.

The sheep went out into a world that is dangerous and filled with predators.

The coin fell into the dirt of the earth.

My point? The world, handed over to Satan in the Garden of Eden, is a dirty place, filled with the consequences of sin.

Good things happen to bad people.

Bad things happen to good people.

But, God is not absent from His creation. He didn’t say, after Adam and Eve sinned:
  • “Well, they are exiled from the Garden and there is nothing I can do about it.”
  • “It’s only two people. They were kinda dumb anyway, so no loss.”
  • “Yes, creation is valuable, but I am not going to leave My throne to scrounge around in human flesh and sully Myself in earth’s dirt.”
Heaven forbid. God did say,
  • “My children are exiled from My presence. I will bring them back.”
  • “Even one child lost is an affront to My love.”
  • “I will step out of the courts of Heaven and wrap Myself in their flesh. I will walk on the dirt, be mocked, betrayed, spat upon and killed. My love will show them that I will never stop seeking My children.”
Amen:  "I once was lost, but now I'm found."  That is what Jesus was seeking to point out to His audience and to us:  Being lost need not be a status, but a stepping stone. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

I Wonder Where I’ve Wandered? The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Here we go!

“Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7 WEB)

Let's set the scene: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" 

Stop right there. Jesus is a fascinating and yet irritating presence to the religious leaders. They watch in horror as the riff-raff of their community flocks to Him and listen to His words that seem to be cool water in a dry land for such thirsty people... They can't fathom why a rabbi would associate so freely with people who are so obviously disgusting to them and, of course, must be to God too.

What are the leaders probably thinking? 

We strive every day, God, to be good. We do all of the rituals You require and we even go above and beyond that. We work for You! Do You notice, God? Are You aware, with all due respect, of how much we strive? And then comes this hayseed from Nazareth, who seems to gather, without effort, those whom You despise. He seems comfortable with them--their smelly clothes, their dirty faces and their despicable habits. They seem to love Him. Love? You want order and obedience. Love? It’s not necessary. Love? We would rather be respected. Only we, O Lord, truly understand You.

What are the people probably thinking? 

We try every day, dear God, to be good. We tithe from what little we have and yet, in the faces of the leaders, we see nothing but scorn. No matter how much we strive, we see the utter disgust in their faces. We know we are so unworthy to even call upon Your Name. You seem so distant; but this Jesus seems to bring You so close, we can almost hear Your voice. Maybe Your voice is His. He doesn't notice our dirty clothes and ragged faces; we know we are not pleasant to be around--the leaders have made that plain enough. And yet, when we look into Jesus’ face, we see kindness, openness, and a sense that You do care for us, warts and all. Yes, our hands are dirty, but this Jesus is willing to clasp them and look in our eyes. We feel the scorn burning into our backs from the eyes of the leaders; so we just keep our gaze on His face...Are we seeing Your face, dear God, as well?

Everyone listening knows about sheep and how, if not watched carefully, the sheep will wander. How often did an errant sheep wander into town, because some shepherd's afternoon nap went on a bit too long? How often did a panicky shepherd come running into town, asking the townspeople if they had seen his sheep?  So, everyone could understand the wandering of a sheep and the fretful reaction of the shepherd. Isn't interesting, though, instead of talking about a shepherd out there, Jesus brings His audience into the story: "Suppose one of you..."

Yes, you: Mr. Obstinate Pharisee.

Yes, you: Mr. Scorned Tax Collector.

Yes, even you, Mrs. Despised Poor Woman.

Everyone is invited to imagine themselves in the place of the shepherd.

Now, Jesus poses a question. A shepherd doesn't just fret over the sheep. He needs to get a move-on and go out and find it! He will not rest until he does. The other ninety-nine are safe in the flock. The wandering one is subject to all kinds of dangers: wolves, falling into a ditch, being stolen... How many times had one of the townsfolk come across a sheep whose shepherd had not been able to find it, and found its body was rotting in the sun?

Everyone could picture the shepherd searching high and low for the sheep, having left the care of the other sheep to the other shepherds. He is focused on finding the one sheep. Why?

Each sheep is valuable. There is safety in numbers, but not value in numbers. Each sheep is as valuable as the next. No one sheep is inherently more precious than another. The shepherd knows each sheep and cares for each sheep's welfare. 

The shepherd doesn't say, Hey! I still have the well-behaved ninety-nine. They are staying in the flock, obediently grazing where I have told them to. What's one missing? Next spring, there will be more lambs to replace it...No big deal.

Far from it.  Our shepherd finds the sheep and puts it on his shoulder--"joyfully." He doesn't chide it, yell at it or condemn it for wandering away.

Do you notice that, Pharisees? Do you catch that, everyone?

Yes, it is always preferable to stay obediently in the flock, following the shepherd's direction. But, what if someone wanders away?

What if YOU wander away? Would YOU want to be yelled at? Would YOU want to experience scornful looks and judgement about how stupid YOU were for wandering away?

Wouldn't YOU want a joyful Shepherd scooping YOU up, placing YOU on His shoulders joyfully and triumphantly marching into town to tell everyone of YOUR rescue?

Doesn't the sheep know already of its inadequacies? The burrs in its wool, the scratches on its legs are reminders enough of how wandering off is not wise. The "tax collectors and sinners" are all too aware of how wandering off is not pleasant. No one has to remind them of that. Scornful looks and their own condemning hearts provide enough shame. 

The flock is content...perhaps too content. Perhaps they take advantage of the shepherd’s presence.

In a way, that’s good: they are so secure in his care that they graze in utter safety and assurance.

In a way, that’s not good: they are so secure in his care that they forget his diligence and willing sacrifice to make sure that they are utterly safe.

It's those who wander off that need God the most and feel His loving balm the most when they are recaptured by His love. Heaven rejoices! Why? Because the sheep knew it had strayed. It is willing now to come home with the shepherd and be restored to the flock.

Jesus looks at the listeners. Many of them have heads lowered, knowing that they have wandered from the Shepherd of their souls. Yet, in their troubled spirits, hope flutters--I can be forgiven and Heaven is rejoicing as I do!

Many of them are looking at Him, flummoxed. I am in the flock, obedient, and yet I am not in love with the Shepherd, only with my own goodness. Do I need to come home too?

Jesus' eyes scan the crowd. Are you willing to come home? Will you join Heaven and rejoice as others do as well?

I, the Shepherd, will never stop looking for His wandering sheep.

Jesus will press on with the next two parables--the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son, driving home the point of God values each one of us. His love extends forgiveness to each one of us. Yes, Heaven rejoices over the returned sheep, but do we, as the other sheep, open up our hearts as well?

Why wouldn’t the shepherd go out looking for that sheep? It’s a given. Why? The Shepherd deliberately goes out to find us because that is who He is: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) He couldn’t do anything else. He will look for every sheep that wanders away. Period.  His covenant driven love for us means that even if we wander away, He will come looking for us. He will keep looking, for He has bound His heart to ours.

Once He has brought us back into the fold, how will we be treated? Perhaps as we come back into the flock, we will get scornful and judgmental looks from the other sheep.  

The Shepherd accepts us, based on our repentance, which is simply agreeing that yes, we wandered off, and yes, we regret our actions. His response? “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.…” (Romans 8:1)

Our place in the flock is secured, based on His relentless love. He secured our freedom because of His love for us:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

But…once we are back in the flock, we cannot bring up our wandering. He has forgiven us and “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12).

But…once we are back in the flock, the other sheep must accept us as well. Maybe they didn’t wander off…this time. But as they would like mercy when they return, so too must they give mercy when another one returns. Why? Look at the name of the pen we all are in: “Better Than The OK Covenant Corral.”

Do you listen to the sounds of Heaven drifting down when you return to the Savior of your soul? Is there any place He can’t find you? Walk through Psalm 139:1-18 & 23-4 (WEB) and realize with David that you are never beyond His loving reach. He is always there, ready to heal, forgive and strengthen you.

Yahweh, you have searched me,
and you know me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up.
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
but, behold, Yahweh, you know it altogether.
You hem me in behind and before.
You laid your hand on me.
This knowledge is beyond me.
It’s lofty.
I can’t attain it.
Where could I go from your Spirit?
Or where could I flee from your presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in Sheol, [the place of the dead] behold, you are there!
If I take the wings of the dawn,
and settle in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there your hand will lead me,
and your right hand will hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me;
the light around me will be night”;
even the darkness doesn’t hide from you,
but the night shines as the day.
The darkness is like light to you.
For you formed my inmost being.
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to you,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful.
My soul knows that very well.
My frame wasn’t hidden from you,
when I was made in secret,
woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my body.
In your book they were all written,
the days that were ordained for me,
when as yet there were none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is their sum!
If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand.
When I wake up, I am still with you…
Search me, God, and know my heart.
Try me, and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the everlasting way.

The Lord, my Shepherd, is always watching over His sheep.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Knock, Knocking at Heaven's Door: The Parable of the Widow, Part II

The purpose of this parable was that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint…”  So, to use the KJV’s word, why do we “faint”?

Well, our focus is on our prayer… 

·       Not being answered

·       Not being answered in the way we desire

·       Taking way too long

·       Being overtaken by other needs

Well, what is the focus of the parable?  The focus is on the judge’s character, not on the widow’s prayer or the circumstances surrounding her.  Jesus sketches out the judge’s character, but not that of the widow or of her complaint. 

Our focus needs to stay on the Father’s character.  Think of prayer as a way to get to know God better.  Prayer is more than a recitation of our needs, which He already knows.  He desires fellowship with us, and prayer is that place of meeting.

Remember the Tabernacle in the book of Exodus?  This temporary structure was ordained by God to be built to very specific instructions, while the children of Israel were living in the desert.  It was portable and it could be taken from place to place.  Once it was set up, God’s presence came down and resided in it.  It was called the Place of Meeting.  That is what prayer is, a place to meet and get to know God.  Yes, He, like the judge, knows of your life, its challenges and your needs.  But, the heart of God longs for interaction with you, not just a quick reminder that what you’ve asked for hasn’t come about yet. 

We do not faint because our faith is in God:  

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.  He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:2-4)

Our faith is not in our faith:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast… (Eph. 2:8-9)

Our faith is not in our words: 

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:26-7)

Our faith is in God. Read those passages that speak of His character. God is the very opposite of the judge in the parable: He is utterly reliable and regards us as His children.
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