Saturday, May 27, 2023

Spiritual Warfare: Romans 1 & 2

After pursuing the parables, I would like to tackle spiritual warfare.  I researched this topic intensively six years ago, and I believe it is time to talk about it again.

We are in a time where the spiritual battle is intensifying.  I don't think anyone who is a follower of Jesus would disagree with me; we are seeing a nation careening in its inability to hold onto Biblical morality and is in grave danger of derailing altogether. 

Every generation has faced trying times, to be sure.  But as Christianity is being increasingly marginalized in the public arena, a kind of insanity is taking over.  I could blog on and on about the why's of this; I rather spend my time discussing the spiritual ramifications of disregarding God and His ways, and how we as a country are losing our way.  Many people like to invoke Romans 1:26-27 as proof-texts, and how the practice of homosexuality is the cause of a nation's decline. 

Not so fast.  Romans 1 & 2 chronicle two worlds:  pagan and Jewish. Paul is looking at those who do not know God and those who do and he finds sin in both camps. Romans 1 & 2 are a description of how both camps have failed and how Christ is the only solution.  

Romans 1 & 2 describe how sin comes to permeate a group of people, creating spiritual blindness. Paul speaks from personal experience--he was utterly spiritually blind, thinking that God was honoring his persecution of early Christian church--and when he was knocked off his donkey, he heard, "'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?'” (Acts 9:4)  He was blind until he was filled with the Holy Spirit, (Acts 9:17-18) and with a fresh vision (Christ-centered, not Paul-centered) and God's power, he would turn the both the pagan and Jewish world upside down.  

Hence, in Romans 1 & 2, he is diagnosing the spiritual condition of both camps, and wants each camp to recognize that while the causes of their spiritual condition are different, the net result is the same:  Both need the cleansing work of Jesus. 

So, our first stop of what a spiritual battleground looks like, will be Romans 1 & 2--the whole chapters,  not just a few verses loaded like a cannon, so we can send a Biblical cannon ball over the ramparts of the non-believers' castle.  

Spiritual warfare is not Satan running around tempting everyone to be evil; it's way more subtle than that.  It is the process of deception--that wrong is right and that we should determine how to live by our own faculties.  Sound familiar? This was exactly the way Satan ensnared Adam and Eve: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

So, with us in charge in our fallen flesh, Romans 1 & 2 are the results of our deceived thinking.  These chapters paint a picture of what a culture steeped in its own definition of good and evil looks like.  These chapters also chronicle how a culture can fall deeper and deeper into sin, all the while celebrating its "enlightened thinking" over the "narrow" precepts of God's Word.

In other words, Satan told us we could be like God: rich with knowledge and pursuing our own seemingly liberated way of life, in control and filled with power. (Satan is also assassinating God's character here, by implying God's power is something we could  handle.  Why shouldn't finite creatures possess infinite power and wisdom?  It would be like putting an F14 engine into the Wright brother's wee biplane; if something like that could even happen, the net result could only be destruction.)

Humans possess power to be sure, but it's a counterfeit power, and without God's standards measuring our behavior to His Word, we are deceived and consequently seek to deceive others. The result? "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12)

OK, stage set.  Paul, like an Old Testament prophet, proclaims God's Word as the only antidote to the plague of sin and death that is upon the people: 

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' (Romans 1:14-17) 

There's the standard for how we should live.  But, wait, there's more:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20)

The first step in moral decline is the suppression of the truth.  Not any truth, not yours, not mine, but God's.  Pure and simple.  Instead of eating from the Tree of Life, we take the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and go our merry way--into our own deceived thinking about what is right and wrong, all the while not only denying God's truth but suppressing it.  How do we suppress it? By not role-modeling it with our behavior and not teaching it with our words. By not living it. 

How does this suppression happen? 

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles." (Rom. 1:21-23)

Step Two: We either don't acknowledge God, or if we do, we lack gratitude for His provision and kindness. Result? We are useless in how we approach life, for our thoughts circle around ourselves, our ways, our provision, and we studiously ignore the One who made all of this even possible. Our hearts are filled with darkness, for we have forsaken His Word: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path" (Psalm 119:105).  

We lose our way.  Jesus commented, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:21-23). 

The result? We make idols. We replace God with our interpretation of godliness, holiness, and His Word.  The pagans chose animals; we choose money, sex, power, control, education, politics--you name it.  If we love something, we tend to worship it, and if we worship it, it's an idol.  Because we are deceived, we actually think these replacements will give our lives purpose and meaning, and make us happy.  Isn't happiness the end goal of our lives?  That, right there, is one of the most pernicious fruits of our deception and leads to all kinds of miseries.  

So, in summary, a suppression of the truth leads to idols.

That, right now, is where we are at in America. We are all guilty of this, and none of us can boast of our moral superiority. But Paul cries out: "What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" 

We are serving the flesh here in America, and there is only one way out:  Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

From the Banquet to the Battle: Luke 14:25-33

Jesus had just finished His parable of the great banquet (explored in my previous post) and ends with these words: “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:23-24)

Makes sense, doesn't it?  If those guests who are at the top of the guest list choose not to attend the king's gracious invitation to join him, he will call others to come and in and dine.  

Jesus keeps going after He finishes this parable and introduces another.  He is driving home the point that every banquet ends, the morning comes and it's a new day.  The world's cry is heard right outside the banqueting hall, and the guests who have basked in the glow of this generous King will be expected to go out and be generous with those around them.

In other words, the guest now becomes a disciple: a dedicated follower of the King.  So here is the next parable: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’"

OK, Jesus.  That is true.  There is nothing more pathetic than unfinished building project.  It stands as a mute testimony to folly: the person ran out of money and didn't plan the project well.  Was the tower too big for his budget?  Could he have scaled back its size to fit his budget or did his ego say that he could build anything?  That no cost was too great for his ambition?  Then, half way though, with the money  and the workers gone, the man has to face reality:  The building now is a monument to his mismanagement.  Earlier on, if he had sat down and meticulously planned out the cost of the building materials and labor versus his resources, he would have known the size of his project.  Then the tower would have been a testimony to his humility and his planning.  Makes sense. 

Jesus uses another example: “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace." 

OK, Jesus, now this goes from the personal (building a tower) to a much bigger enterprise:  waging war.  It is the prerogative of kings to wage war, but throwing away lives on a foolish campaign is reprehensible.  The king has to look beyond his own ambition and consider the lives of his soldiers.  He knows straight up that the opposing side is twice as big.  He has that intel already.  He has to consider how seasoned (or not) his soldiers are and if this is a God-ordained war.  In the Old Testament, many a time the Israelites were out-numbered and face superior armies, but if the Commander of the Lord's army (Joshua 5:13-15) was involved, number and size didn't matter, right?  But he realizes, for whatever reason, this is a conflict best settled by negotiation, not by arms.  So, his delegation is a testimony to his humility and his planning. Makes sense. 

Then Jesus delivers the central answer to these parables: "In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."

Wait a minute, Jesus?  You have taken us from guests to builders of towers and kings who wage war. Huh?  A guest at a banquet is way more appealing, but being a builder?  Does that mean we have to use our time, our energy, and our resources to build something new?  It will be something everyone will see, and it will be a testimony to our humility and our planning, because we are about the King's business.  It will take work, and it won't be a solo project--we have to gather other guests, and work together for a common cause.  Some people may still ridicule it, but it will stand.

War, really Jesus?  Gathering troops and marching out?  OK, yes, we are surrounded by those disgusting Romans all the time.  Their form of warfare is rape, pillage and plunder.  Yet, You seem to be calling us out to face the enemy, not delighting in his destruction, but offering peace.  The enemy is greater than us numerically, but our King wants peace first.  The delegation He sends wants to talk, settle differences and show that the kingdom of God is not built on conquest and destruction, but on  humility and respect. 

That is discipleship, then Jesus?  It's building a kingdom where nothing was standing, and confronting our enemies with peace and reconciliation. Hmmm. I need to go and think about this--I have to give up my building projects (that which satisfies me) and reconsider wanting to lash out at my enemies.  I have to consider a new way of approaching life.  Wow.  Lots to think about.

Exactly. I heard a man many years ago say that one of the reasons so many fall away from Jesus is evangelists and preachers only share the benefits of conversion (eternal life with Jesus, avoidance of hell, peace and healing) without any of the costs (ridicule, having to turn away from sin and a willingness to lose your life in order to gain it).  That has always stuck with me.  

Following Jesus has never been easy, especially when the world starts to clamp down and marginalize the Kingdom of God.  In Jesus' day, the world told His followers they must either choose to worship the Emperor, and deny Christ, or face the arena.   

Later it would be either following a corrupted institutionalized church, or face the stake. 

Later it would be following an evil leader and government, or face imprisonment, torture and death. 

Later, it would be following an increasingly secularized society, or face ridicule, censure and lawsuits.

The banquet hall has two doors, one in which to enter and fellowship with the King and another to go out into the world, bearing His word, peace and kindness--a delegation of disciples wanting to offer the Prince of Peace to those who are seeking war. 

The cost of following Him must be considered before we leap into calling ourselves disciples of His.  But if and once we do, we need to follow whole-heartedly, for the times, they are a-changin'. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Banquet: Swing Wide Open the Doors! (Luke 14)

What comes before a parable really sets the scene for what story Jesus will tell.  

Luke, Chapter 14, starts off with Jesus at the house of a Pharisee. Luke tells us that Jesus is "being carefully watched." The Pharisee clearly wanted to see Jesus up close and personal.  If you invited someone to dine with you in the ancient world, you didn't just share a meal with the person, but you were extending the hand of friendship.  I think the Pharisee may have mixed motives--he is curious about this person from Galilee who has swept the crowds off their feet.  He is also deeply concerned that Jesus is running around blaspheming God every chance He gets--by claiming He is performing miracles, and telling those crowds of His intimate relationship with God. 

Perhaps the invitation was given by one Pharisee and his guest list consisted of many other Pharisees, who who only came to "dine," and all the while they were watching Jesus like hawks.

First up:  a miracle.  A man who is swollen is present.  Jesus asks the guest if it's OK to heal on the Sabbath; they don't say a word.  Out in a bustling crowd, the Pharisees were able to make all kinds of comments about Jesus, perhaps out of earshot of Jesus and the person He was healing.  But here, in this intimate setting, any comments they would make would be heard, so they remain silent. They are not willing to engage in any arguments that they view are beneath them; while they are not desirous to have the crowd behind them, they don't want to lose what little support they have by being overly mean and callous.  

Jesus heals the man, answering His question with action.  Then the meal is about to be served, and all the guests are jockeying for position.  Do they want to be close to Jesus, to lean in and ask Him questions that they are eager to ask, but cannot do so in front of their peers?  Do they want to sit next to this "prominent Pharisee" (Luke's word) and score some holiness brownie points in his company?  

Whatever is happening, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the people that humility is always the right move, because if you grab a seat that you are not to sit in, and you have to be asked to move by the host, you will be humiliated.  Then He says, "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That is Kingdom of God code for if you see the needs of others and step aside, God will see this and will invite you to sit with Him--for He is the ultimate Host.  

Then, He turns to the host of the meal, and admonishes him to not to invite just his social circle, for he will be asked in kind, and so on, back and forth.  That circle will be closed to anyone outside it. Instead, Jesus tells him to go out and invite those who cannot repay him: the blind, the lame, the weak and the poor.  His reward will be when the graves open, the trumpet will sound and those who loved others will rise, clothed in righteousness. 

"When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.'"

Hold on.  It's as if this guest was giving a hardy "Amen," to score some points with the guests and Jesus.  This person is saying

Of course, the righteous will resurrect and I (just sayin') will be among those who will rise!  Allelujah!

Hmm.  I wonder if Jesus' parable might have been a bit different if this person hadn't so boldly and egotistically (just sayin') proclaimed that he or she was going to, no doubt, be there. Let's keep going. 

"Jesus replied: 'A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, "Come, for everything is now ready."

'But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, "I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me."

'Another said, "I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me." 

'Still another said, "I just got married, so I can’t come."

'The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame."

'"Sir," the servant said, "what you ordered has been done, but there is still room."

'Then the master told his servant, "Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet."

Wow. Here is Jesus, at a banquet, having already let the host know that a true banquet, in terms of the Kingdom of God, has all sorts people involved, not just friends and family of the host.  On other words, the banquet should be an expression of love for the whole human family--not just the "decent" folks.  I think Jesus may be trying to clarify just who the "righteous" will be at the end of the age resurrection.  

The man in the parable invites many guests. The guest list is drawn up consisting of those closest to the host's family--the inner circle in the community.  The guests equally saw themselves as part of the inner circle, who probably expected an invitation because of who they were. 

But they didn't value the invitation--they had a I'm-too-busy-with-other pressing-matters response. 

Let's listen in: 

Yes, I know.  I heard about the banquet.  It was only last month I went his house--beautiful but a bit gaudy.  Anyway, I just landed a deal on a bit of real estate I have been looking at for a long time. It finally hit the market and I snatched it up.  I am going to go and see it and of course, it's the same day as the banquet.  You've been to one banquet, you've been to them all.  Just tell him I can't make it, because that is the truth!  Do I want to make it?  Hmmm. Nah.  

Man, just check out these oxen.  Finest anywhere.  I am going to plow faster and more efficiently than my neighbors, and next harvest time, I will be sitting pretty.  Barns full of grain and money jingling in my pocket.  That's my future and I like it.  A banquet? Oh, no.  Not today of all days.  I want to make sure I got a good return on my investment.  Just tell him I can't make it--I make it some other time. (Not really!  I will be too rich to be going to a banquet!  I'll be the one throwing 'em and I will be the talk of the town!)   

Really?  A banquet today?  He has so much time to throw one, and now, of all days, he picks the day after my wedding day.  Really?  Didn't he know about my wedding?  Is he being so inconsiderate as to steal my thunder so he can have his banquet?  He can have one any day, but it's not every day I get  married!  Thanks but no thanks. 

Now, the host in the parable decides that if his banquet doesn't merit a joyful and gratitude-filled response of, "Yes, honored host, we will be there!" and the guests make excuses because they are too mired in their world, and not enough in his, then the host will expand the guest list to include, yes, you guessed it, the ones who will never make anyone's guest list!  "Those people"--the kind that no self-respecting Pharisee would ever even consider having over for a nosh.  

In other words, the humble who will sit in the lowliest of seats, who would never presume to come to a banquet (the man healed by Jesus didn't stay to dine) and who are out and about in a cruel, uncaring world. Yet, even after those people are ushered into the banquet hall, there is still room!

The host commands that the servant go beyond the city walls, into the highways and byways, and invite those who wouldn't even consider being asked to come to this host's banquet--who may not even heard of him until the invitation is given.   

In other words, you and I.  We were not the Chosen Ones; we were grafted onto the olive tree (Romans 11) and we are the beneficiaries of the Jewish faith--we didn't even know there was a banquet to go to until the Host, the Son of God, invited us.  

I am truly sorry for those, who, for whatever reason, have not responded to the invitation.  But there is always time.

For now. 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Sinned Much, Forgiven Much: Luke 7:36-50

This is a rather short parable. It distills Jesus' actions towards an outcast in His society, and reminds us that "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:7, NIV)

Let's set the scene:

"When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them."

Whoa.  A Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner.  Hmmm.  Is this genuine? 

Hey Jesus!  You are always surrounded by such crowds that I really want to talk with You, one on one, in a small intimate setting. Come have supper with me.  To dine with someone, as You know Jesus, is not just eating together, but a demonstration of true friendship.  I do want to be your friend.

Or, is it...

I want to get this Jesus away from the crowds, so I can see what makes Him tick. So much is said about Him.  I want to see for myself.  I am extending the invitation of friendship, but I am not sure I really want Him as my friend.  I am confused about Him, for my fellow Pharisees excoriate Him on a regular basis.  Who is He, really?

Whatever the motivation, Jesus accepts the invitation and reclines at table with this Pharisee.  Were the disciples there?  They are not mentioned either, but that doesn't preclude them from being there.  Jesus was invited, and was it assumed that the disciples would come along?   

But, suddenly, there is an uninvited guest.  She found out that Jesus is in town (gossip amongst the townspeople?) and she makes her way there.  What is she thinking?

I know who I am.  I am sure the Master does as well.  Leave it to Simon to tell Him about me as soon as I show up.  I know.  I am unclean, and entering the dwelling of a righteous man (two strikes against me right there--righteous and a man) and walking in.  I have heard of the Master--His kindness, His willingness to forgive, and His gentle touch on those who need it most.  I don't care what anyone says.  I am going in.  Let Simon be surprised. I don't care.  I wonder: What will the Master say to me?

I find it interesting no one bars her from coming in.  But because she came in from behind Jesus, beyond the oil lamps' light, was she not noticed in the shadows?  Being in the shadows sums up this poor woman's life.   

Oh, there He is.  His presence is so sweet, and He doesn't turn around angrily, even though Simon is shocked beyond words.  I need to do what I came to do before Simon demands I leave.  Yes, I know how I earned the money to buy such expensive perfume. But its sweet aroma dances with Jesus' sweet aroma.  I cannot help but cry. I am so unworthy to even face this precious Man.  I will anoint His feet as I stand behind Him. Oh, I cannot help but cry.

Simon is mortified.  Did he offer, as a good host, to wash Jesus' feet, or was he so excited to have Jesus in his house (where he could pummel Him with questions) that he forgot to play the host? Did he have a rather hurried greeting and just wanted to get down to business by questioning Jesus?  

But this woman, this outcast, anoints His feet with this fragrant perfume, acting out of utter love for Jesus. 

I have no towel, no way to wipe His feet.  I try to wipe the tears from my eyes, but they just come.  I know, I know:  I will use my hair, to wipe His feet.  I know, I know, this not how it is done.  But nothing today is how it's done in my world. 

Let continue with the Biblical narrative:  

"When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.'

Jesus answered him, 'Simon, I have something to tell you.'

'Tell me, teacher,' he said.

'Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?'

Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.'

'You have judged correctly,' Jesus said."

Jesus went to the heart of the matter:  One heart was hardened with self-righteousness, and one heart was hardened with self-loathing.  So, Jesus uses this story to illustrate that those whose debts (sins) are, by their estimation, rather small, may not rejoice at the forgiveness offered to them.  Those whose debts (sins) are enormous, will never forget how it felt when they were released from such a heavy burden.

Neither person had the resources to pay the debt back; the moneylender was under no obligation to release them from their debts; he did so out of love and compassion, and wanted to see them be free.   

Jesus uses the word, "judge" and I find a double meaning in that:  A pharisee was called on all the time to make judgments and ruling, and he has, in this instance, judged correctly, in his world. 

But is Jesus intimating that he has judged correctly in a new realm, the Kingdom of God, which Jesus has not stopped proclaiming since the start of His ministry?  In other words, Simon has seen how much more liberating it is to have so much forgiven.

Then, to drive the point home, Jesus turns towards the woman, (she is behind Him) and then inquires of Simon: 

"'Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.'

Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.'

The other guests began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?'

Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'"

Can you imagine how this woman felt, as she headed home?  Did she run, skipping and laughing all the way and not caring one iota about those staring at her?  Jesus released her from her enormous debt, and gently bids her adieu.  She now leaves as a child of the Kingdom of God.

Simon?  Well, his guests have their knickers in a twist.  What did he do?  

We don't know, but when he laid his head down that night, I am sure that he felt the weight of his sin as he had never done so before:  being in God's presence has a way of reminding us of how short we have fallen.  Yet, also being in God's presence urges us to lay that sin down and to rise up free and forgiven.

I would like to think Simon was one of those people who got it. 

Friday, April 7, 2023

Christmas and Its Secular Cousin: Easter

Let's be honest here.  Christmas is now a holiday in a parallel universe.  You can have a tree, pretty ornaments and lights, colorful decorations, beautifully crafted outdoor displays and indoor decorating and lots and lots of shopping for the "perfect gift."

There you have it:  Christmas without Christ.

The universe this "holiday" (as described above) occupies is one of enjoying all the trimmings, without any of its deeper meaning. It's been rebranded as a time of gathering together families and friends; eating and drinking merrily and then going home with an armload of gifts.

Many people will be standing in a line at Walmart soon after, seeking a refund for a gift that they really didn't want, but made a big deal over it to Grandma days before.  Why keep a gift from someone when it's all about what you want?  The after Christmas sales will lure buyers with even better deals than all the pre-Christmas sales did.  

There you have it:  Christmas without Christ.

People drive by a church's nativity, with lighted plastic figures in it, maybe noticing it, maybe not.  The real destination is those neighborhoods alight with Disneyland-like decorations that wow and amaze the cars' passengers.  

Then comes Easter a scant few months later.  Now Easter has joined it holiday cousin in the parallel universe of secularized holidays.  Eggs, bunnies, chicks, wreaths, ham dinners, gift baskets and  gathering together (without the guilt-tripping that Christmas brings if you can't make it).  

There you have it: Easter without Christ.

The message of Christmas, Immanuel's ("God with us") invasion into a sin-steeped planet, and Easter, where Immanuel took on that very planet's sins, bore them, shed His blood over them, and gave freedom to those who ask Him, is the core of Easter. 

But that message is lost to the ruler of this world's endless effort to drive Christianity to the margins of Western culture.

Once something is marginalized, it is far easier to eliminate it.  That is what I am seeing today. 

Society tolerated, for a long time, both aspects of the holiday to coexist:  You could have the tree and gifts, but you could also go to church and sing carols about the Messiah and the Three Wise Men. 

This was the Christmas of my childhood.  We had the tree, gifts, but there was something deeper, something more meaningful, that gently lingered in the air throughout the festivities.  I didn't grow up in a Christian family, but the Christian aroma of the US in the 50's and early 60's permeated the holiday and gave it a sweetness not seen in the guilt-tripping and greedy holiday of today.

Even when I was young, Easter was harder to celebrate, given the enormity of the crucifixion, even in a nation that still saw Christianity in a positive light. My friends all got Easter baskets, filled with candy and toys.  My parents did not participate in that; they obviously saw that such things somehow collided with Easter's true message. 

Now, Easter is lost, right along with Christmas.  I use Walmart as a gauge as to the secularization descent; every year, less and less Christian-themed items are featured in their multiple aisles of Easter stuff.  The other day, I didn't see really anything.  I live in Idaho, which is not an exactly a hotbed of progressive thought; but alas, money must be made, and all of the secular frou-frou is far more profitable than crosses and "He is Risen" plaques. 

Easter is ugly compared to Christmas.  Everyone loves a baby and what is more endearing than a mother holding her little son?  There's that manger with its cute animals, adoring parents, wee baby and  those great men who show up in lovely robes, bearing gifts. 

But Easter is ugly: It has crowds shouting, "Crucify him!" and the beating, tortures and mockery of a Man who just stands there, knowing this is why He came.  He talks to the Roman governor, who at least has a modicum of curiosity.  He is silent before a corrupted king, who mocks Him. 

Neither man saw Immanuel: He was lost in their politics, their hatred and their blindness to the workings of God.  The ruler of this world was in hysterics, and Holy Week was going to end just the way he wanted it to:  with death, destruction and defeat.  

The cross made the ruler of this world rejoice, for the Light of the World had been extinguished.  This ruler had triumphed in the Garden of Eden and he was going to triumph again. 

But he was wrong. Dead wrong. 

The Light of the World prevailed!  Easter is glorious, as we push away the eggs, bunnies and all the things that obscure and demean it.  The cross, the shroud and the empty tomb declare, "Immanuel!"

We cry in response, "Death:  Where is your sting?"  

The grave is not final; there is life and that abundantly, to be found in Immanuel--for truly, by asking Him into our hearts, God is with us.  

Let this video draw you into Easter and its message of redemption and hope that is in Him, and because of Him:

Friday, March 31, 2023

Adore What You Store (Luke 12:13-21)

This is a moment when Luke puts us smack-dab in the middle of the crowd, listening and watching Jesus.  Jesus is telling the crowds in the previous verses that they are to avoid the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  These are the role-models of the day on to how to walk and talk like a true child of Israel.  But Jesus says to not follow them; no longer would truth be hidden under the cloak of tyrannical religion--it will be shouted out, on the rooftops, by the people who are standing in the crowd, not just listening to but believing in Him.  

Then Jesus addresses their unspoken fears of going up against the spiritual leaders of the day. God is able to preserve their souls even if the leaders have them killed. They must not believe for a moment  that God has forgotten them if the heavy hand of the leaders strikes them--He knows even the number of the hairs on their heads.  If they fall, like a sparrow to the ground, God will know and be there through His Holy Spirit to comfort them and take them home.  

Jesus encourages them not to be afraid when they acknowledge Him publicly. He says that acknowledging Him before the world means that you are acknowledged in heaven.  Those who disown Him will likewise be disowned in heaven.  If people bash Jesus, that sin will be forgiven.  But those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven--they have crossed a line from unbelief to a stone cold hardened heart that wants nothing to do with God and His Spirit.  

OK, Jesus. We get it, we think. You want us to put our faith in You and not allow the intimidation of the Pharisees to quash our baby faith in You. They are the ones who are in trouble if they continue to behave the way that they do, but even if they repent, You will forgive them as You are offering to do with us. You want the truth to be shouted out and if that cancels out our life in the community, You will come and comfort us. If it costs us our literal life, You will come and comfort us. You will also come in the time of our need, when we face our accusers, and put Your words in our mouths. Oh, hey, wait a minute. There's a guy making his way through the crowd, with a look on his face...

"Someone in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." 

"Jesus replied, 'Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?'

"Then he said to them, 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'" (Luke 12:13-14)

OK, Jesus. This is a twist. How are we to get on in this world, where our security and place in the community will be threatened by our public stance for You? Shouldn't we stash some money away for our security? We might lose our jobs! Be exiled from our town! Hounded after and driven from place to place, all because we told the world that we follow You! Trusting Your Spirit to embolden us before the authorities is one thing, but we must eat and clothe our children!

"And he told them this parable: 'The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops."

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

Hmmm. OK, Jesus. When You really want us to lean in, listen well and try to understand the deeper things of God, You go into parable-mode. So, the man who own the field is not an average guy who suddenly gets a windfall. He's already rich. He's already got means. He should be looking out for others, right, Jesus? Isn't that what You tell us, to be concerned with widows, orphans and those who struggle and have next to nothing? But, we getting the feeling, in light of that young man who wanted his brother to hand over some money to him, that this parable will not be a rubber stamp on our belief that money provides our security--it's our Father, right, Jesus? 

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21). 

OK, Jesus, we see a pattern here:  Rely on God in the midst of persecution; the hard times; and in the abundant times.  You will be in all of our circumstances, and we owe You gratitude, not a fearful or possessive attitude demonstrating a hardened heart. Wait!  Shhh!  He's telling His disciples something.  I'll bet they'll get nailed (pun intended) harder that we will!  Their worry and concern is even greater than ours!
"Then Jesus said to his disciples: 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  

"Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'" (Luke 12:22-34)

OK, Jesus, we think we get it:  Whatever we store, we adore.  

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Who's At My Door? Do You Know What Time is It? (Luke 11)

Let's set the stage for this parable:

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.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:1-4)

We all know the Lord's Prayer--a beautiful example of how we should approach God.  First, reverentially:  His name is sacred, His Kingdom is eternal and He is the One to whom all blessing and honor should go.  Then, we approach Him humbly: Seeking His merciful hand to be extended yet another day, for our sustenance, so that we may go out and be a witness of His love and grace.  But, wait!  Before we go out and share Jesus, we must make sure that His living water may flow out of us unimpeded.  What restricts or hinders altogether the flow?  Sin, unconfessed and hidden away out of shame and conceit.  So, we ask Him to forgive us.  Lovely first step.  

But, in His light, we see light and now we recall those who have sinned against us:  all the ugliness, unkindness, soul-wrenching unloveliness that raged out of someone and knocked us off our feet. But with His Spirit released into our souls, and with sin's ugly stain washed white, we are able to forgive in His power alone. But as we go out, hearts ablaze and mercifully reaching out to others, help us to resist the temptation/testing (same word in the Greek) and keep our eyes on Him.  He will deliver us from evil with His love for us.  We affirm who God and who we are in Him by affirming He is still at work in the world, and in us. 

But once Jesus taught these God-fearing Jewish lads how to pray (they knew how, but not like they witnessed Jesus praying!), He moved into a parable to see how wide their sails were open to catch His wind.  Or were they just listening, and not really understanding?  So Jesus goes into parable-mode, where they have to dig deeper and seek harder His meaning.  In other words, after the teaching comes the final!

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity [yet to preserve his good name]* he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:5-8)

I have never really understood this parable.  Isn't it odd that someone has a friend, who just shows up, and he goes to another friend, and asks for three loaves of bread, because he doesn't have any to feed his guest. 


Let me get this straight.  You have no food in your home; you've got a friend who shows up at midnight (!) and you have to ask your other friend for not just one loaf but three.  Hmmm.  Seems like Chaos Central to me.

Now, to add insult to injury, this supposed other friend won't even answer the door.  It's locked, and he's all snuggled down in bed and his kids are asleep.  In other words, back off boogaloo--your problem is not my problem.  Then we come to find out that the friendship isn't so important to him--he's not going to help this needy friend and get up.

Hmmm.  There is one and only reason for this man to get up and help his needy friend:  his reputation.  His needy friend knew exactly where to go to find (lots of) bread at an odd hour; he didn't go knocking on random doors in the neighborhood. This needy friend knew this man had a bounty of bread, and could spare the loaves no matter what.  

So, even though the friendship is not motive enough, how others will think of of this man matters.

The needy friend also had the gumption, the chutzpah, the boldness to come pounding on the door.  Why?  He knew his friend had bread to share, so he left his house, pounded on the door, and then explained his circumstance.  He then stood, and listened patiently while his friend groused.  Did Mr. Needy leave?  No.  He kept standing there.  Mr. Needy knew his friend cared about his reputation, and would, after some delay, rally to his cause. Mr. Needy wouldn't relent until his need had been met. 

So here's the equation:  Bold Request + To the One With Resources
                                      = Request Granted Based on the Giver's Character

Why?  Because the Giver wants those around Him to know Him as a Provider, a Resource, One whose Name is to be known throughout the earth.  Let's "fit" the Lord's Prayer into this parable:

Our Father in Heaven                            
The man is at his house, with a reputation of bounty 
Hallowed by Thy Name   
The man's reputation is of the utmost importance 
Thy Kingdom Come          
The man's home is available, right here, right now
Give us our daily bread                         
This man has resources:  enough bread to give away 3 loaves!
Forgive us our sins                                
The needy man is seeking forgiveness for the imposition
We forgive those who sin against us     
Mr. Needy needs to forgive his friend showing up so late and inconveniencing him 
Lead us not into temptation                   
Mr. Needy would rather not face such dilemma of waking up one friend to help another again

No, it's not a perfect one to one correspondence, but Jesus is making an important point:  Even here on earth are those whose name, whose reputation, means something and that person will act, even if the person would rather not.  

The person's name is tantamount to their character. 

Now, up the ante, and picture our Father. He is in heaven, His home, but He will hear the knock on His door as you offer Him a fervent prayer, any time, day or night. No one knows when catastrophe will just show up at your door, but now you hurry to your Heavenly Father's house and start pounding/praying for His mercy, His provision.  You are lovingly bold as you approach Him, not because of who you are, but because of who He is.  His name, His character is revealed throughout His word, and now it is being revealed in Jesus as He tells this story.   

Our Father is known for not ignoring knocks on His door, having plenty of bread, and has a willingness to hear our cries.  We don't enjoy unexpected "guests" to show up unannounced (a test!) but our Father is always at home and will give you what you need.  

Jesus pushes this a bit further:  "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13).

Wow!  We are fallen, yet when our children are in need, (in this case, asking for food) any loving father would not give his child the opposite--he will not give snakes and scorpions.  God will not give us venomous, harmful and cruel responses to our cry, our need, our pain.   

We may confuse want with need, but even then the Father is measuring and distributing kindness and mercy.  His Holy Spirit longs to come in and dwell within us, empowering us to walk in love with the Father and everyone else. 


*NIV text note 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Parable of a Tiny Seed: Get Growing!

 Let's go!

"He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come'" (Mark 4:26-29).

Interestingly enough, only Mark records this parable.

Jesus compared Himself to a grain of wheat: "And Jesus answered them, saying, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal'" (John 12:24).

Jesus sees the potential that is contained in a seed. He knows of its amazing hidden power to grow beyond itself. Jesus' death, like a seed, contained the hidden power of the Resurrection, which would not be made evident until Jesus was put into the earth, into the tomb. 

The Kingdom of God is no different. It must be planted and then its amazing power will be released.

You open an apple, and in its heart, in its center, is a group of seeds. Small and black, they look nothing like an apple or an apple tree. They certainly do not look like an orchard. So, in effect, it takes faith to take these seeds outside and plant them in the ground. 

Why faith? Because they look nothing like what they contain. They show no power. They show no growth. They are merely a handful of black seeds in the palm of your hand. For now.

That's where this parable tells of Jesus and His Kingdom, "A man scatters seed on the ground." The man scattering the seed is Jesus, but He is also the seed itself.  

Jesus came to earth with nothing to recommend Him. He was poor and from the boondocks. Philip was so excited about this Man, Jesus, but look at Nathanael's reaction: 

"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote-- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' 

Nathanael said to him, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' 

Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'" (John 1:45-6)

The seed was also the message.  Jesus scattered the message of the Kingdom into the hearts of His followers. The seeds sat in their hearts for awhile, while He continued to teach them and show them the mighty power of God.  His message of hope, that later His death, burial and resurrection would verify,  took root in the hearts of those who were willing to listen and obey.  The seeds grew because Jesus was all too aware of the power contained in the message.

Why? The message was of His Father, the Almighty God: "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me" (John 12:49-50). 

The words, the message, the seeds: the power contained therein is of God Himself, and can produce an abundant harvest in the life of a follower of Jesus. 

Seeds grow and produce a harvest. Jesus' ministry grew and produced a harvest. But even more so, His death and resurrection released a power that now we as believers possess: "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you." (Rom. 8:11)

Did you catch that? We have the same power living in us that raised Jesus from the dead! Whoa! Now that's good news! You may see yourself as a wee seed. God sees you as a field of waving grain, able to feed many. How so? The same Power that raised Jesus--the Father in heaven--raises you to new life and His abundance.

Maybe you see yourself as a seed. 

Jesus sees an orchard.

Maybe you see yourself as a seed packet in the garden section of a store. 

Jesus sees a beautiful garden.

Maybe you see yourself as a pine cone, lying in the dirt below a tall conifer.  

He sees a mighty forest.

Maybe you see yourself as one insignificant person. 

He sees His child, set to work by His power and His message of love.

See yourself as He sees you, and in the power of His Son, get growing!

Friday, February 24, 2023

Busy While You Wait: The Sheep and Goats

Here we go!

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46)

Matthew in Chapters 23-25 chronicles an interesting series of parables as we come to the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, warning the crowds and His disciples not to be like them in any way. He mourned for Jerusalem, knowing what will befall it in the future. His disciples, astonished that anything will come against the mighty City of David (after all, God's house is there!), asked Him to elaborate on the coming destruction and what will precede His return.

He tells them the signs to look for and how the future will be similar to Noah's time. People will be focused on their daily lives and will ignore the warnings until this future "flood" will come and sweep them away.

Jesus subsequently starts a series of parables, underscoring the preceding discourse. He talks of the "faithful and wise servant" who serves his master faithfully, even though the master is not around. He contrasts this with a "wicked" servant, whose self-serving behavior betrays his supposed love for his master.

He then talks of the ten virgins. Five are completely prepared to meet the bridegroom. He contrasts these with the five who didn't care enough to be ready for him.

If Jesus told the crowd and His disciples not to be like the Pharisees (who are the supposed local role models for Godly living) then who should they emulate? These parables unpack that question beautifully: Love and serve the Master and Bridegroom out of reverence and love, and act as if each coming day will be that Day! Don't behave out of fear and duty.

Love is the calling card of this new Kingdom. The older Kingdom with its Temple, sacrifices, and priests will be fulfilled by a new covenant. This will be the New Covenant of Jesus' blood. He will enter Jerusalem as the final sacrificial Lamb. God will be fully satisfied by what His Son will soon do.

The Temple will be demolished by the Romans in 70 AD and the Jewish people will be scattered to the four winds. But this New Covenant will sustain and supply the Kingdom of God will everything it needs: faithful servants of God, empowered by His very own Spirit.

The Temple of God will be these new believers, as they come to be indwelt by His Holy Spirit. The Sacrifice will be His Son. And the priests? Us.

Next, Jesus talks of three men who were given talents, and were expected by their departing master to use them wisely, multiplying what they have. The one fellow who buries his talents, because he considers his master harsh and unforgiving, is castigated for acting out of fear and selfishness.

Onto the next parable, the one about the sheep and the goats.

The sheep are sheep because of how they acted. They relieved the suffering of others, especially those whom the old order--the Pharisees--despised: the hungry, the naked, the foreigner, the sick and the criminal. While the Pharisees stood about, debating the minute details of the Law, dressed in glorious attire and sought to silence Jesus, those who really knew His Father were out and about, meeting the needs of the people who needed God the most.

The goats are goats because of how they acted. They saw the need. They weren't ignorant of the hungry or the naked. What they refused to see was that their Heavenly Father wanted to use their hands and feet to push His Kingdom forward. They were too busy debating, parading and masquerading as if the Kingdom was on their terms. They could do what they wanted, when and with whom they deigned to be kind with, and that was good enough. Right?


All of these parables boil down to one key truth: while you are waiting for Him to return, serve others. Love others as you love Jesus. Prompted by His Spirit, be willing to be His hands and feet in this needy world.

Know your Master well by reading His Word and spending time with Him. Thus, you will serve Him out of reverence and love. Duty and fear have no place in this Kingdom.

You'll be so busy doing Kingdom work, His return will happily catch you by surprise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Hey Sister, Can You Spare Some Oil? The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Here we go!

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." (Matt. 25: 1-13)

Jesus has just discussed about how leadership in the Kingdom of God is characterized by "servantship." He describes a person who is dutiful in love and commitment whether or not the master is present. This person serves out of love for the master and for his fellow servants--pure and simple.

Love is the hallmark of a Kingdom servant. The "job qualifications" for such a servant is outlined by Paul so wonderfully in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. God's love for us was made manifest in the giving of His Son:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

Commitment is equally important, and comes from love. Love is the attitude such a servant takes because he responds to the great love lavished on him by the Master. Commitment is love put into action.

Love says, "I will be there for you."

Commitment says, "Hold on! I'm coming!"

So, Jesus moves from His servant parable in Matthew 24:45-51 to the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25. The servant parable shows how love is our attitude. This next parable shows how commitment is love in action:

OK, we could talk about being prepared for that momentous day when He returns. Yes, the parable illustrates that. But why be prepared in the first place? The other five ladies went with the first five. They at least brought their lamps. That was worth something, right?

Yes, only if a servant's motivation is to appear prepared.

In other words, the servant is acting as if love for the master drives what that servants does. The servant appears to love the master. But Jesus isn't about appearances. He is concerned about the heart and its ultimate motivation. He is asking in this parable:

Are you doing just the minimum for My Father--do you just grab the lamp but figure you'll get the oil later? Do you think, Hey, I am doing my duty. That should be enough.

Are you doing what you can for My Father--grabbing the lamp and the oil and waiting in eager expectation for the Son? Do you think, Hey, I am ready no matter when He shows up, because I love Him.

Love is the sustaining factor. The Bridegroom may be awhile. It is our love for Him that means you come prepared with whatever is needed to further Kingdom work. If you bring a lamp, you need to bring the oil. You can't be light if you serve Him out of duty. Your love is the oil--it keeps the light burning in the darkness and lights the way for others.

In the parable, when the bridegroom appears, all the ladies were asleep. I like the tender touch here--Jesus recognizes that in our weakness, we may grow tired and perhaps take a snooze. Our flesh is so weak.  Remember how the apostles on the night Jesus was arrested fell asleep?

But, if we know we are weak, then His strength is manifested in us and our love drives us to grab His hand and get going. We don't allow our weakness to be the excuse for self-pity, which leads to inaction. "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:9)

Wake up; don't wallow up. Grab your lamp and oil. The Kingdom needs your light.

Our love for Him, united with His strength, will yield joyful servants in His kingdom. It will end, yes, with a wedding feast. That's why Jesus used a wedding feast to illustrate what His arrival will be like!

One more observation about this parable: All the ladies woke up with the announcement of the bridegroom's arrival, but not all were ready. We can't rely on our pastor, our mom or dad, our whatever, to walk as servants for us. There are no grandchildren in God's Kingdom: only sons and daughters, who have made the choice to be His own. We can't borrow from others.

What would we think of a best man who grabbed a bouquet from the flower girl at a wedding and presented it to the bride as if he had bought it for her?

We would scowl at him and say, "You knew you were the best man. You knew that you were responsible for bringing a bouquet to the bride. You knew all of this before the actual day, for the bridegroom told you when he asked you. Do you think the bridegroom will not notice how careless you are, by trying to pass off that little girl's bouquet as your own?"

Bingo. Jesus, in His parables and teachings, is the Bridegroom instructing us as to what to do and what to bring as His day approaches. We are to bring love and commitment to what He asks of us. We gladly go out and do it, even if we get tired now and then.

Isn't it interesting that at the end, when the door is shut, and the five ladies ask to come in, the bridegroom says, "I don't know you." Duty, guilt and obligation are not substitutes for knowing and serving Him.

Our servant's heart is created the day He enters in. With His Holy Spirit, He gives us a heart of flesh for a heart of stone. We love Him, wanting to know Him better at the end of the day than we did at the beginning. His mercies are new every morning, so we start afresh as servants each day. We put feet to our love by being committed to Him and His kingdom.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Don't Be a Fool School: The Wise and Faithful Servants


"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  (Luke 12: 42-48)

Jesus excoriated earlier the Pharisees for their willingness to burden people with rules that they themselves do not follow. He presented His case against them as "woes," telling what they do and how this doesn't square with what the Scriptures say.

He then leaves the Temple. His disciples excitedly point out the beauty of this structure to Jesus, joyful at seeing the permanency of God's House.

The disciples are looking for something that pleases God in all of this. Jesus has effectively dismissed the religious leaders as non-viable leaders in God's kingdom. The disciples are saying, If the religious leaders are not worthy servants in God's house, then let's look at the Temple itself, and be thankful that God's house stands! Here is something we can be proud of, right, Jesus?

Jesus, in response to their confidence, says that every stone will be "thrown down." The Temple itself will be dismantled.

They all walk up to the Mount of Olives and gather around Him. I am sure while they were walking, the disciples were disconsolate; how could this beautiful Temple, God's own house, not forever stand?  How could this be? By the time they are able to sit down, and ask Jesus to explain, their hearts are very troubled, but open.

Jesus explains what signs will precede the end. He gives His disciples information empowering them to not fear and to continue what He has begun. The Temple, the religious leaders and what they see will all soon disappear.

So, who will carry on God's work on this earth? Who will staff and run what You have begun, Lord?

Jesus then teaches, by way of several parables, what a citizen of God's new kingdom will be as the old order passes away:

Willing to have a servant's heart ("The Parable of Wise and Faithful Servant")

Willing to get ready and stay prepared for His arrival ("The Parable of the Ten Virgins")

Willing to use whatever God bestows to further His Kingdom ("The Parable of the Talents")

Willing to serve God by serving the "least of these" ("The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats")

To be an active member of the newly arriving God's Kingdom, your status is one of a servant. But, you have a choice of what kind of servant you'll be.

Class is now in session.  Listen up, students. Please open up your Bible to Luke, chapter 12: 

The faithful servant will: Take care of the other servants, even down to serving them their daily bread. This servant will be attentive to others' needs, making sure that they are taken care of, so they can go out and do the work that the master requires. This servant isn't obedient just when the master is watching or is in residence. This servant is dutiful all the time, doing what is necessary all the time and cheerful all the time. Why? Because this servant, heart and soul, wants to please the master. That is the servant's only motivation.

This servant lives out a key element in the Kingdom: You serve the Master by serving others.

The Pharisees served God, but in reality, they were serving themselves. Their motivation was one of personal aggrandizement. They wanted the accolades of others, and their service to God was a means to that end. Serving God alone was not enough.

A true servant serves God because it is extension of that servant's love for Him. Love alone is enough to serve. Why? Because the servant knows the Master deeply and thus loves the Master deeply. Service is based on a relationship, not an obligation.

The master, seeing the servant's love played out in selfless service, hands over his possessions to this servant. He trusts the servant without reservation and likewise the servant to the master. Mi casa su casa: All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.

Now, let's look at the foolish servant.

His love for the master wanes as the master is away. It's a kind of proximity love: I love you when you're around, because it meets a need in me. When you're away, I look elsewhere. My love is not based on who you are but on what you can do for me. So, with you away, I am in charge. I am not acting on the master's behalf; I am taking the reins of the master and acting as if I am the master. So, I will beat offending servants, not take care of them. I will go where and when I please. Besides, the master is taking his sweet time...Why can't I?

Because this servant is so busy serving himself, he won't notice the signs. The master's absence has caused this servant's heart to grow cold. And hard. This servant is not just hanging out idly; he's actively beating his fellow servants and getting loaded with a questionable crowd.

But the master does return. He is appalled by such hypocritical behavior. The master hears this servant's heart: Hey, yeah, I am your servant, but I while I like the title, I do not like the responsibilities. I am serving myself, because I tried the servant thing, and that grew boring. The other servants didn't appreciate all my hard work on your behalf. You didn't appreciate all my hard work, either. I should get something out of this service thing. I like it when the other servants shrink away in fear, and act as if I am the master. It's good to be king.

Sounds like the Pharisees, doesn't it?

Leaders in this new Kingdom will be servants who wash others' feet and give of themselves wholeheartedly. They will do so for one reason: their love of God.

The fate of this foolish servant is a "place with the hypocrites." Pride will be traded in for tears, and disobedience for regret.

The Temple will soon be gone. The old order of sacrifice will soon be gone.

The new temple will be each servant's heart, a new house of God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The sacrifice will be Jesus on the cross, and His death will satisfy God's demand for justice for all time.

Class dismissed.

Now, go choose.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Save the Date! The King's Wedding!

Here we go!

"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.  

Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.'  But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.  

Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.'  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.

He asked, 'How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?'  The man was speechless.      

Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'  For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:1-14)

This parable comes right after the two parables about the two sons and the landowner. Jesus first addresses His authority with the parable of the two sons. At first, the one son will not heed his father's wishes, but then changes his mind, and goes about his father's business. The second son says the right thing--that he will be obedient--but then he isn't.

Then Jesus ups the ante by talking of a landowner, who leases his property to some tenants who, because they are farmers, seem to be the men for the job. But the tenants refuse to allow the landowner to collect what is rightfully his: the harvest. He sends his son, thinking he will be received respectfully; instead the tenants kill him, trying to steal his inheritance.

Now Jesus goes one step further, and shows upon whom the Kingdom of God will be built. The Kingdom of God is an invitation. No one is forced in; no one is bullied in. No one is shamed in; no one is cajoled in. You are simply invited. Everyone knows what a wedding banquet was like in this 1st century culture! Think of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle. Dancing, singing, drinking, fine food and joyful fellowship all around, and all because two people are uniting in marriage. Their union is a visible reminder of how God sees us: He wants us to join Him in a lovely union, creature to Creator, with singing, dancing, and a sense of having been invited to something deeply special.

So, this king has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out the invitation earlier. Now, he sends his servants out to let the invitees know all is ready and to head on down.

But, the original invitees refuse to come. Why? Do they see the occasion as special? Do they respect the king enough to want to be a part of what he is doing? Do they value the king's son enough to make their appearance and support him? They knew this day would come; yet, they refuse.

Perhaps the invitees are not fully aware of how ready the banquet truly is. So, the king sends out some more servants with instructions to be very specific about how ready is ready: The meat is a-steamin' and the ice is clinking in the glasses as the drinks are being poured. Someday is here. Come on down!

But the invitees have more pressing matters--one goes out to his field and one goes over to his place of business.

The day is here already? Yeah, I know the king's son would show up one day, and ask his dad for a wedding party, but not today! I am too busy! Wish him well, but I just can't be bothered.

Then it gets ugly. The rest of the group are not just busy; they harbor murder in their hearts. Why? Their hatred of the king and his son has lain under the surface for a while, and now it comes boiling up in murderous rage.

The king's son, huh? Who does he think he is? What, we're supposed to stop everything and run gushing to him? Hey, we got lives. We got obligations. This king's son expects way too much from us if he thinks that he's so important that we will just drop everything and show up. Besides, you say you are the king's servants...How do we know that? Any losers could just show up in rented costumes and start throwing their weight around, acting as if they're special 'cause they're on some kind of mission. Sorry, boys, but such arrogance deserves a take-down.

Next thing you know, the servants are killed.

The king then takes action. He sends in his army and gives them a right royal rubbing. Their city fares no better.

Everything the invitees had invested in, their fields, their businesses and their arrogance (they were so sure of themselves) is gone. He destroys "those murderers." The king will not be mocked. It was one thing to refuse the invitation. It is another thing entirely to kill the representatives of the king. Simple refusal, while regrettable, is not a capital offense. Refusal based on anger and jealousy that leads to murder, THAT justifies the king's wrath.

So, what to do? The king sends his servants out to gather new invitees... Anyone and everyone is invited. The servants went and brought in the "good and the bad" and the hall echoes with laughter. The king comes in to see his new guests. He notices one person, not attired correctly.

This would imply that the good and the bad managed to go home first, and out of respect to the king and his son, got into their Sunday best. They didn't just show up. They were shocked no doubt to be invited to such a glorious affair. Their shock soon converted to respectful behavior and they arrived, attired in humility and joy.

One guy, though, slipped in. Was he invited like everyone else? Well, he seems to know about the banquet. He shows no respect, gives no honor to the son nor his father, the king.

He doesn't respond to the king's question of how he got in. He is "speechless."

Does this guy think that because the invitation is given far and wide, that it is no big deal? In other words, because the king extended it to "those people"--the sinners, the cast-aways, the failures--why should dressing up matter? It's, well, those people!

He shows no respect for the king, the son, and his guests.

The Kingdom of God is filled with those whom the King invites, and they deserve respect. Not because of who they are, but because of the One to whom they belong.

These new guests walked in humbly into the banquet. They had enough love in their hearts to be considerate of the king who called them, and the son whose wedding they celebrate.

The king already displayed his wrath on those who murdered his servants; he also displays his wrath on those who may accept his invitation, but don't show him or his son the respect they rightly deserve. Just like the son in the parable who mouths his obedience and then doesn't do it, this guy accepted the invitation and then acts as if it is no big deal.

Obviously, the King is God and He extends His invitation to all. He will not tolerate disrespect nor disobedience. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus, jolly and happy to everyone, regardless of what they do or think. This parable reminded the Pharisees and all of us that God is merciful and just.

His mercy swings open the doors to His kingdom, and He invites all near and far to enter and rejoice in Him and His Son.

His justice closes the door on those who reject Him and on those who consider His provision as insignificant.

Jesus, as He tells these parables, is nearing the cross. The banquet His Father will host will serve His Son's body and blood as the meal. Jesus is warning His listeners not to take any of this lightly.

He is telling us, as He nears His return, the same thing: the doors are swinging wide open to all that hear Him and accept His offering of forgiveness and grace. The doors will close to those who chose to ignore or belittle His invitation.

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Grapes of Wrath: The Landowner and His Son

Jesus clearly loved storytelling.  He knew that those who really were seeking would be curious enough to hang out and listen to what He had to say.  Those who were looking for an excuse to dismiss Him or find some phrase or teaching to condemn Him, would listen just long enough and leave.  

Parables are a kind of "sheep versus goats" kind of moment.  So, here we go!

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. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 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.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ (Matt. 21:33-40)

Jesus' authority is under fire by the religious leaders. He uses two parables to explore His authority and Who He is.

The first one concerns a father of two sons. (I covered that in a previous blog.)

This second one concerns a vineyard. The landowner, who can do what he pleases with his land, decides to plant a vineyard. Jesus earlier talked of new wine into new wine skins. He will use the wine of Passover to announce the arrival of a new covenant, which is His blood, soon to be shed upon the cross. So, using a vineyard as a place of encounter is not surprising.

The landowner plants the vineyard and then in order to protect his investment, he builds a wall around it. He sets up a watchtower, from which the vineyard can be guarded. It also provides a place to stay.

Now, he could have stayed, but he placed his investment in the hands of the "farmers." He didn't rent it to just anybody; he rented the vineyard to people who knew what they were doing. It would have been irresponsible to do otherwise: The vineyard would have suffered from their ignorance. They would have then feared the return of the owner.

So, from the outside looking in, the landowner hired the right folks for the job. Right?

The gloves come off the day he sends his servants to collect the fruit. Uh-oh.

Remember: He has the right to send anyone whom he chooses to collect his fruit from his vineyard.

The servants come in the name of the landowner to collect what is rightfully his.

The welcome is anything but. The reception is shocking: The servants are met with violence and death.

Why such brutality? Perhaps the tenants were not doing their job. They had the knowledge yes, but they were disobedient. They probably had very little to show for their efforts. The vineyard was not yielding fruit the way it had when the owner left it to them.

What have the tenants been doing? Going out and leaving the vineyard unattended and in disarray? Is the vineyard full of weeds? Are the grapes no longer robust and the wine is lackluster to say the least? Whatever the state of the vineyard was, they are guarding a secret: They have been disobedient tenants.

They would have welcomed the servants and shown them around the vineyard with a sense of satisfaction that it looks much the same as it did when the landowner left, if all had been in order.

Something is wrong.

The landowner, by all rights, could have come storming in and demanded justice for his three servants. But he decided to give the tenants a second chance. This is exceedingly generous.

The next group of servants he sent were treated just as abominably.

The landowner decides to do a curious thing. He will send his son. He believes the tenants will respect his son.

Interesting. Perhaps the angry tenants were responding to these men who showed up in the landowner's name out of mistrust and skepticism.

Who are you and what are you doing here? Right. You represent the landowner. OK, pal, and I represent the Queen of England. You're servants. How can I trust what you say? Where are your credentials? No, your word is not good enough. We were called to take care of this place and we're not handing over the goods to just anyone. The landowner trusts us and gave us dominion over this here vineyard. Yeah, we know it's not ours, but the landowner has been away for awhile. So, we're kind of the owners now, if you think about it.  But if you think we're just gonna hand over the fruit we've labored over, you got another thing comin'. Did I mention Levi here is a blackbelt?

The landowner believes that his son will be seen by the tenants as trustworthy enough to collect what is rightfully his father's.

Wrong. Not only do they seek to kill him right off, but they want to take his inheritance. They want the vineyard all to themselves. If there's no son, then there's no one to leave the vineyard to...The landowner will be forced to leave it in their hands. They don't kill the son in the vineyard. They take him somewhere else. 

How thoughtful.

Hey!  Get a load of that son! All smiles, thinking his daddy will protect him. Ha. He comes in his own name, and thinks we'll just fall into line and hand everything over. Right. But we can't kill him here. We'll drag him out to the back forty and let him have it there. No one will see him. No one will find him. He ain't gonna come back, is he? When the landowner finally shows up--if he ever does--we'll just say we don't know what happened to Sonny Boy. We'll say he never came here. A bunch of  no-nothings  claimed to come in your name, Mr. Landowner, but we made short work of those losers. We'll stick to our story: We did what we did for your sake, Mr. Landowner. 

It was all for you, Sir.

So, at the parable's close, Jesus asks His audience that when the landowner returns, what should be the fate of these tenants? Their response is very telling: 

"'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,' they replied, 'and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.'" 

Reasonable. In other words, their utter irresponsibility takes away their privilege of being tenants, and others shall come in and share in the harvest.

Interesting. We need to give the religious leaders credit for their insight. But intellectual prowess is not what the Kingdom of God is built upon. It is built upon Jesus and His work. Jesus immediately takes their response and focuses the discussion back to its origin: By what authority does Jesus do what He is doing?

He responds: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

In other words, the very ones who should know the Christ, because of their vast knowledge of the Word of God, are the very ones who have missed the Son. Sad, but so true: knowledge is not enough. 

A sincere heart that seeks God earnestly is what He rewards.

Now, at this point, the leaders could have engaged in a conversation to pursue truth and see what this Jesus was all about. But, if you are sincere about the truth, you have to be willing to pursue it to where it leads. The truth sought by a seeking heart will lead to Jesus, His work and His divinely appointed authority.

The leaders' reaction illustrates their hearts: "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet."

Whoa. They were not interested in pursuing whether or not Jesus' claims were true. They weren't interested in the Kingdom of God. They wanted him out of the way. Period. They wanted to arrest Him and whisk Him off to some jail, where He would languish and not be heard from ever again.

But the parable speaks a deeper truth: Jesus is claiming to be God's Son. How do the tenants react to the landowner's son? Death.

The leaders' hearts will continue to harden to the point where they will ask the Romans for the death of the Son. The end of Jesus' earthy ministry was coming, and sadly these leaders will, out of jealousy and hatred, be involved in ending it.

But, the Good News is: Fruit will come. The Kingdom of God will come. Salvation in His name will come.

The Bad News: The very Temple that the leaders so cherish will be torn down stone by stone by the Romans who earlier had helped the leaders destroy Jesus. The Romans will turn on the Jews and many of them will be thrown to their deaths from the Temple ramparts in 70 AD.

The Kingdom of God is built on His Son as the foundation, with His sacrifice to be the cornerstone. The vineyard will have new tenants whose hearts will open to truth, to the Truth.

Blessings on you, dear readers, and I wish you a very Happy New Year!  

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