Friday, March 24, 2017

Parable: The Landowner

In the early 1960’s we lived on Tyler Street in Mangum, Oklahoma.  It was in a small, wood-framed white house on the corner.  Across the street was a large, brick house.  The bus would stop in front of our house on school mornings and the kids across the street would ride the bus to school.

I was not allowed to ride the bus.  Believe it or not, it was not because of something that I did.  It was because our house was in the city limits and the house across the street was not.  It was actually closer to the school but not in the city limits.  The family across the street had plenty of money.  We had enough but nothing extra. 

Here is another believe it or not.  We only had one car and my father left early in the morning for work.  So every school day, I watched the kids across the street get on the bus and a few minutes later, my mother put me into a taxi bound for school.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I didn’t have to worry about the family budget.  I’m sure my parents were not happy about the absurdity of the situation.

Eventually, we moved 5 miles east of town and I rode the bus too, but the situation on Tyler street never seemed fair.  We quietly went on with our lives until the situation had changed.

Today, you can hardly breathe in public without someone being offended or crying “unfair!”  Somebody has something better than me and I want it—no, I deserve it as well!

The baseball player signs a contract for a measly five million dollars a year.  The team was taking a chance on an unproven talent.  Then he has a break out year.  Now, he is holding out for more money.  The five million a year seemed like a good deal when he put his name on the paper, but now it doesn’t seem fair to him.

Why would five million not be enough?  Really, with some strict budgeting, you would only have to eat Ramen once or twice a week, or never.

It’s not enough, because somebody else just got ten million dollars a year.  Now, five million seems like you’re working for peanuts.  Let’s not forget that you get to play a kids game and get paid for it.  Today, my salary numbers would be low for anyone who thinks they can play ball.

A long time ago, Moses came down the mountain will a list of ten really important commandments.  When you get to the end of the list there is one that says, “Thou shalt not covet.”  It is followed by a laundry list of everything that you neighbor has.

As we consider today’s society, the last might just be the first as far as broken commandments go.  That’s speculative and beyond measurement.  You can’t really break just one commandment. Usually, you have broken one of the first two if you break any of the others. 

Thou shalt not covet has surely been among the top most offended commands, at least in this country.

What is it about us that desires something, not because we need it, but because someone else has it?  Our car runs well but it is not as pretty and nice as the new models and surely doesn’t have all of the features. 

The girls who check me in at the dealership when I go to get the oil changed on my truck always ask me the same thing.  Are you going to drive this until it falls apart?

My answer is always the same.  That’s the plan.  I know that my answer doesn’t fit the model of this world, especially this nation where there is always something to covet.

Jesus has been painting a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s sort of like a paint by numbers.  Fill in number 2 with blue.  Some go at the top and others at the edges.  Next, fill in number 5 with yellow.  There are few of these in the center and one or two in a corner.  The other numbers and colors will eventually make a fine picture that will hang in the Louvre or on the family refrigerator.

And so, little by little, we have been given a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven through a variety of parables.  We know that there is a kingdom in which we may live now.  It is composed of disciples.  These disciples share the light and love and good news of our Lord.

It is a kingdom that is meant to grow not only around us but within us as well.  It is a kingdom that for this age exists in the midst of sin and evil and death.  One day those will be gone, but in this time the kingdom and things opposed to the kingdom share the same real estate.

For those who have eyes to see, it is a kingdom worth giving up all we have to be a part of it.  It’s like finding buried treasure.

This kingdom has a single currency.  It is mercy.  Mercy is the currency of the realm.

Jesus had been teaching in parables, with direct instructions, and with some other figurative methods.  The theme that we see time and again is that the last will be first and the first will be last.  It is an interesting provocation that being first in this world does not grant you commensurate status in eternity.

Jesus had an encounter with a rich young man who thought he was doing well as far as following the commandments went, at least until his talk with Jesus.  Jesus told him to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come and follow him and he would be complete—perfect if you will.  This young man went away sad because he was rich in this world.

Jesus makes the point to his followers that it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  When the kingdom of the world seems to offer everything that you want, it is so hard to believe that a kingdom where you are not first and not the center of all things could really be better.

Jesus reached for hyperbole again, saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

This got the disciples to wondering if they were part of a hopeless cause.  Do the best that you can and be lost anyway.  They asked Jesus just who could be saved.

He told them that anyone who wanted to get right with God on their own was out of luck.  That was a bridge too far.  It was a pipe dream.  That surely took the wind out of their sails.

But with God—with God—all things are possible.

Peter, knowing that the disciples did not fall into the same tax bracket as the rich young man who went away sad, asked Jesus, “What about us?  We gave up everything to follow you.”

Paul would later say that eye has not seen and ear has not heard what the Lord has in store for those who love him, but Jesus gave these few men a glimpse.  In addition to live eternal, they would have authority and be given hundreds of times what they gave up.  At the renewal of all things—when perfection comes in earnest—their reward will be so great that they truly cannot imagine it now.

So we come to this next parable about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a landowner.  About 6 a.m. he went to the place when men hung out to get hired and hired a bunch to work in his vineyard.  The rate was one denarius a day.  How much is that?  It was a fair rate for a full day’s work at that time.  These are not white collar jobs.  The landowner was hiring laborers.

The landowner came back about 9 a.m. and hired some more, offering to pay whatever was fair.  He came back and hired more with the same offer at noon and 3 p.m.  He even came back an hour before quitting time and hired some more workers.  No mention of pay was made.  The land owner just said to go work in his vineyard.

It was five o’clock somewhere—in fact it was five o’clock there—but these men we not headed to happy hour.  They were still hoping to be hired and they were.

When the work day was done, the landowner told the foreman to pay the workers beginning with those who were hired last.  I would think these last workers were surprised and likely very delighted at what they received—a full day’s pay.

Once word of what happened filtered to the back of the line, expectations went wild.  If those who only worked an hour received a full day’s pay, what will we get?

The answer was that they received a full day’s pay as well—exactly the amount for which they agreed to work.  But they were not happy.  Others received the same amount for less work.  Some didn’t even have to work in the heat of the day.  This was unfair!

Some of the offended workers wanted answers from the landowner.  He gave them questions instead.

  • Isn’t this the amount to which you agreed?
  • Can I not do what I want with my money?
  • Are you envious because I am generous?

Those questions are a bundle of answers in themselves—choices, sovereignty, generosity.   How can you be upset when you get exactly what you bargained for?  Would you want someone else telling you what to do with your money?  What does it say about us when we get upset over someone’s generosity?

Let’s go back to coveting.  Coveting steals being content with what we have.  Now, if we don’t’ have enough to meet our needs, we don’t covet.  We work.  We earn more.  Coveting seldom strikes when we are working to meet our needs. 

Coveting strikes when we have enough to meet our needs.  We are working for our daily wage but suddenly or over time, it just doesn’t seem to be enough.  We see somebody getting more or more for less effort and we want in on it.

In our commercialized society today, especially in America, we see newer, faster, shinier and our coveting nature kicks in.  The more that we think about what others have, the less content we are with what we have.

Make no mistake, God wants to bless us with what we need and something extra to bless others.  With few exceptions, we are not called to be poor or live in poverty.  If we follow Jesus and seek God’s kingdom with all of our very being, God will grant us things out of his generosity that the godless think they must have.

But coveting gets us off course in our race of faith.  It weighs us down.  We have been to this place many times.  If it gets in our way or is weighing us down in our discipleship, we must cast it off.

This is a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is a message for disciples striving to live in that kingdom now, but what is it that we should discern?

How about there is no coveting in the kingdom?  We have what we have based on the generosity of the Lord.  Can the sovereign Lord not give to each of us as he desires?

We are talking about living in this kingdom now with sin and evil and death still hovering about us.  We are talking about living in this kingdom now when the world beckons you to cry “unfair” at every chance you get.

We are talking about living in a kingdom in this age where we must surrender our own expectations to the way of the Lord.  We must stop believing that what the world has to offer is somehow better than what the Lord has provided.

There is one more subtle complaint from the workers.  It doesn’t deal with work or pay though both of these factors elicit the complaint.  What is this additional complaint?

You have made them equal to us.

We are better than those people.  We’ve earned what we have.  We are better.

In the paradigm of the world, the workers are exactly correct.  They are on the mark.  We live in a status oriented world.  In some countries the distinction is more distinct, but make no mistake the world regards some people as better than others.

But such a model does not hold up in a kingdom constructed from grace.  Being better than another disciple in a kingdom where all have fallen short, yet have received forgiveness and mercy is foreign to the foundation of the yoke of our Master.

Who will sit at the right and left of our Master is for the Father to grant, not for us to earn.

By way of a short rabbit trail, consider this parable in the context of the Hebrew believers wanting the Gentile believers to be circumcised and follow at least some of the Law of Moses.  The Gentiles didn’t show up at 6 a.m. and have to work through the heat of the day; yet, here they are entering the Kingdom of Heaven just like God’s own people.  It’s food for thought.

The parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a landowner who:

·     Goes out at all hours of the day to find men for his purpose.
·     Promises those he hires to give them what is right.
·     Is generous with what he has.

Will we let our greed get in the way of God’s generosity?  Will we covet something that we don’t actually need just because somebody else seems to be getting a better deal.
Where in all of the laws and commandments is the one that says, we should compare ourselves against others or what others have?

Where in the rules for righteous living is the directive for comparative metrics?

Do we desire eyes to see as the Lord would have us to see or are we forever on the lookout for what else is out there that I might want?

When will we be ready to set aside our covetous nature?  The answer to this one is simple.  We are ready to set it aside when we truly desire to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.  If we really want to live in this kingdom now, we must check our covetous baggage at the door.

Consider the circumstances of this parable in the kingdom of the world.  People hired at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. and all paid the same wage at quitting time, which comes at 6 p.m. gets you what?

In the kingdom of the world, nobody is going to show up looking for work until 5 p.m.  The landowner will never get his crops in.  Grapes will rot in the vineyard while workers will want twice the pay for their one hour’s work.

The parable models the Kingdom of Heaven, where sovereignty and generosity go hand-in-hand.  In the previous parable, we noted that mercy ruled in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Given mercy by God, we are to practice mercy with others.

While not specified in this parable; we should consider a similar application of generosity.  We are the beneficiaries of God’s generosity.  Should we not practice generosity with others as well?

What a kingdom this is where both mercy and generosity are the order of the day.  Who would want to live anywhere else?


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Parable: The Unmerciful Servant

Peter and Thomas asked good questions.  Sometimes we beat them up two millennia later as if everybody knew that, but they asked good questions.  The other disciples should have been so bold.

In this instance, Peter asked Jesus just how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me.  Peter proffers the answer of 7 times as an answer worthy of a follower of Jesus.  He probably thought this number was high.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice shame on me was not modern wisdom.  Peter is probably thinking, sin against me three times and you have pushed the limit, but because Jesus is always expecting more out of us, I’ll say 7 times.  Besides, 7 is a godly number.  That should impress Jesus.

Jesus responded, not 7 but 77 times.  Some translations read that you must forgive your brother 7 times 70 times.  This is an important distinction for those who are into modern day metrics.  Maybe you can load forgiveness into you Fitbit or smart-phone.  But what do you put in?  Is it 77 or 490?

The answer is that you forgive your brother or sister a whole bunch more than you thought possible.  I’m sure that 7 times seem huge to Peter and 77 times seemed beyond belief.  Who could forgive that much?

Jesus told yet another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.  This time we at least get a king in this kingdom parable.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who was settling accounts.  One of the king’s servants had accrued an incredible debt, one that he could not repay.

Think about your mortgage, car payments, insurance payments, medical bills, student loans, and monthly bills all being due in full today.  Despite the godly guidance that warns us against significant debt, many are in a whole bunch of debt and can relate to the servant’s dilemma.  It’s all due now! 

The amount given is 10,000 talents.  This is not $10,000 but something much greater; probably a million or more (perhaps much more) in modern equivalent.  It was a whole bunch and the king demanded it.  It was his right to ask for his money back whenever he wanted it.

The servant could not pay and so he and his family were to be sold into slavery to pay for the debt.  That sounds harsh, but this action goes by another name—justice.  This was the justice of the day. 

The king dispensed justice.  His actions were indisputably right and proper.  You can’t pay; you get sold to pay what you owe.  That was justice.

The servant asked for more time—be patient with me and I will pay it all back.  Give me more time.  Actually, it was probably more like please, please, please give me more time.

The king did not grant more time.  He cancelled the debt. 

This is mercy.

What is the appropriate response to mercy?  Thanksgiving and praise are surely at the top of the list.  For those who know what’s coming, living a life of mercy would surely be the most thankful response one could give to receiving mercy.

The servant departed this encounter.  He should have been walking on air and sing praises to the king, but he encountered a fellow servant.  Instead of telling him what a wonderful thing that just happened to him, he remembered that this other servant owed him money.  It was not much but he wanted it now.

The other servant couldn’t pay and so he started choking him.  The servant who had just been forgiven a million-dollar debt was outraged that his fellow servant could not pay back the fifty bucks that he owed him.

Despite his fellow servant’s request for mercy, he had him thrown in prison until he could pay the debt.  Why was he not sold into slavery?  Who was going to buy a slave for 3 months?  The local prison could rent him out as a staffing agency or the servant’s family could come up with the money.

Despite how we might feel about this unmerciful servant; justice was done.  The man owed him money and he couldn’t pay, so it was off to prison.  Justice was done.  The choking part was a bit overboard, but sending the man to prison was appropriate justice for that time.  Justice was done.

There were witnesses to this justice—fellow servants.  As it turned out, they felt it appropriate to report this to their master, who was also the king.  That did not sit well with him.

He had the servant whom he had just forgiven brought back to him.  He declared him to be wicked.  He told him that he was merciful to him in response to his request for mercy.  In his anger, the king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he could repay the debt.  Ouch!

The parable didn’t say that his family had to go with him, but ouch!  This is severe, but this is justice.  The king reinstated the debt.  Kings can do just about whatever they want.  They are sovereign and justice was dispensed.

The parable describes the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of a king who by all rights can dispense justice but who desires mercy.  To live in this kingdom, we too must desire mercy.  Mercy rules.

Do we want to be accountable for our every debt or do we desire mercy?  To live in this kingdom, we must receive mercy and give mercy.  There is no other currency so valuable.  Mercy triumphs over justice.

At the end of this parable, Jesus reprimands the disciples.  He is admonishing them as if they were the unmerciful servant.  If you want to live in my Father’s kingdom, then get your hearts right.  You must be able to forgive from the heart.  Mercy, not rules or justice or even an eye for an eye will get you into the kingdom.

Love, mercy, and forgiveness are more than words; they are the divine nature of citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  For us to follow Jesus and live in his Father’s kingdom now, we must surrender our hearts to him.  Like the potter with the clay, our hearts must be re-shaped into hearts of mercy.

Considering this parable, do we desire justice or mercy?
Do we desire to live in a kingdom of justice or mercy?
Are we ready to seek justice or mercy in our relationships with our brothers and sisters?

Are we ready to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness in his mercy or would we rather get there by being judged for our compliance and adherence to all the rules?

Jesus told those who would follow him that his yoke was easy and his burden was light and that we are to come and learn from him.  One of the first things that we should learn is forgiveness.  We must learn mercy.

This living by mercy is not new business on the agenda.  What does God require of humankind?  Think to the words of the prophet.  We are to seek justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

We seek justice but we love mercy.  We are to love mercy.

We might think that forgiveness is hard.  It is so hard to forgive those who have wronged us, but the burden that we carry seeking justice for those who have hurt us is so much heavier than the easier load of forgiveness.

Jesus tells us that if we want to live in this kingdom then we must learn forgiveness.  It must become our first nature.  God’s heart desires mercy for us and that we have mercy on each other.  There is no other formula within the Kingdom of Heaven.

Forgiveness is perhaps the area in which so many Christians are still doing the hokey-pokey with going all in on the Kingdom of Heaven. 

I put my forgiveness foot in.  I take my forgiveness foot out.

Jesus is saying that is all or nothing in this forgiveness stuff.  Love, mercy, and forgiveness are the keys to citizenship in this kingdom.  If you want to live there now, it is going to take some serious growth, but we are blessed to grow in God’s grace. 

We probably won’t get there all at once.  Some do, most have to work at it.  When it becomes more difficult to forgive than we think we can handle, think beyond the 10,000 talents that the servant owed the king in this parable to the even greater debt that we had incurred by sin.  It was much more than we could ever pay but the debt is paid.

It was paid in blood because God desired mercy for us over anything that we could ever give him.  He desires that we know this mercy so well that it becomes our nature.  Mercy will mean more to us than justice.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for many—for most.

To receive mercy and not give mercy is wickedness holding us back from living in the Kingdom of Heaven today.  Cast off everything that is holding you back in your race of faith.  Our inability to forgive is holding us back in our race and keeping us out of living in God’s kingdom right now.

The problem is that we can come up with so many reasons not to forgive—and they are good reasons.  They are valid reasons.  They make perfect sense in a world where justice is more valuable than mercy.  But’s that’s not where we want to live.

Now, we would like to see justice prevail in the world.  Laws and justice and a general order about things seems desirable.  It is.  Laws and rules and protocols help keep us within some generally civilized boundaries and help us to function as societies.

That’s the world that we know and we hope has some sanity to it.  Occasionally, it even seems to seek God’s wisdom, but we are called to more than what worldly models have in store for us.  We work to make the world a better place because God gave us gifts and talents to do that, but if we are to live in his kingdom now, mercy must be more important to us than the standards of the world.

Mercy must reign in our lives.

It is already God’s standard for our relationship.  Let’s make it our standard for dealing with each other.

Because we live in God’s kingdom now, our standard is mercy.  Our standard is mercy.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Parable: Like a Net

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, a mustard seed, like yeast worked into the dough, like hidden treasure, and like a merchant who was seeking a fine pearl and found it.

We live in the kingdom here and now even though evil and sin surround us.  It is meant to grow within us and around us.  To the one who is wise, it is so valuable that someone would give up everything to obtain it.

When most people hear the word, kingdom, they want something that they can find on a map with boundaries or borders.  Jesus gives us a kingdom of perspectives and character and ways that are not of this world.                                                                                                    
This is quite an interesting kingdom and Jesus makes it all the more interesting by saying the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  This is not just an ordinary net, but something similar to what we would call a seine today.  It would be dragged through the water until it reached the shore, collecting fish from the bottom to the top of the area swept by the net.

The fish would be dumped onto the shore and then be sorted.  Good fish in the basket.  Bad fish thrown away to be burned in the fire.  I guess nobody had any cats at home that might have eaten the bad fish.  If we were to get allegorical, we would be the fish; but we are not going to do that.  It’s bad enough to be compared to sheep, but I think I would rather be represented by a sheep than a fish.

It doesn’t matter if you are a good fish or bad fish, you still get caught.  You either end up in a basket or in the fire.  Except in modern fishing stories about the one who got away, things never come out well for the fish.  Here it’s scorched or in a basket on its way to a sushi bar.

Heaven is not a fishy smelling basket and hell is not discarded fish on its way to the fire to gnash its teeth.  A fish gnashing teeth—now there’s an image for you Sunday morning.  The analogy in the parable is first to the net.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was put to its intended use and did its job—it caught all kinds of fish.

The Kingdom of Heaven described here is the kingdom at the end of the age.  Much like the wheat and the weeds that will grow together; the good fish and bad fish will live together and be collected at the same time and then be separated.

It is about the end of the age.  The kingdom that we can enter now will transition into one where sin and evil are no longer in play.  There is not much more than the basket for the good fish in this parable so we should not extend the analogy too much here, at least as far as trying to figure out what heaven looks like.

And we can’t really glean too much about the outcome of those who have been separated from the good fish other than their outcome is not desirable at all.  Separated is bad.  

Burned in the blazing furnace is worse.  Weeping and gnashing of teeth means that even if you could fake being a stoic all through this life when reality hits home and you are facing eternal separation from God, nobody can fake it at that point.  There are not going to be any stoics in hell.  They will fall apart and cry and cry out when they realize they rejected the truth.

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, angels did the harvesting.  Here Jesus has men casting a dragnet but we see that angels are the ones who ultimately separate the wicked from the righteous.  It is good that we understand that God has the logistics of the end of the age covered.

We could just sit back and be glad we have this glimpse of the end of the age, but we need to consider the thing to which Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is like a net.  It is cast and dragged and it collects fish.

This net is the gospel and we are the fishermen.  While we don’t judge believers, or condemn them as a bad fish; we are part of the instrument by which men will be separated.

God desires that none perish and he has sent men and women—followers of Jesus—into the world with the gospel.  God’s desire is for all to come to salvation through the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, but Jesus gives us this parable and perhaps some insight into the fact that God’s desire for salvation for all may not be fully realized.

He longs for it.  He has sent us into the world to spread the simple means of knowing life and life eternal in Jesus Christ; but some may still not respond or just outright reject God’s love.  God is love and he will never stop loving us but some just won’t respond.

We could use this parable like parents use Santa Claus about mid-November.  He’s watching.  You had better be good or you will have to live with that old X-Box for another year.  That doesn’t work in May, June, or July.  Kids know that Santa sleeps through the summer and it’s not really what the parable is about either.  It’s not a you had better be good or else lesson.

It is a reminder that God will judge his creation and the only thing that will put us and keep us in his favor is the blood of Jesus.  There will be a sorting, a separation, and God will judge.

We could just wait until that time to get serious about being a disciple.  It is the blood of Jesus and our profession of faith that brings us to salvation.  It is not our good works.  What’s the hurry about getting into this discipleship stuff. 

Park me on the back pew, encase me in glass, and don’t break it until Jesus comes back to have his angels put me in the basket with the good fish.

So, do we just say, “That’s cool and thanks for the look at the end times; I’ll be on the lookout,” and move on to the next parable?  We could, but we should consider that Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a net.  There is more to the parable, but we are the ones who cast this net.  We are truly fishers of men.

The angels will do the separating for God at the end but we cast the net.  We take the gospel into the world.  The part of this parable that applies to the followers of Jesus in the here and now is the casting of the net.  That part is underway and it continues.

While the parable is offered in the context of the end times, our mission from now until then is spreading the good news of life in Jesus Christ.  The casting of the net should change the outcome, the catch, the harvest.  We are blessed to be a part of God’s plan.  He has included us.  We are his disciples and we have our assignments.  His yoke is easy and his burden is light but we do have our parts.

Part of God’s good plans for us includes the casting of this net.  His plans for good includes us sharing these wonderful words of life as a disciple living in his kingdom.

The casting of the net is God’s love manifested in and through us.  We cannot be content just to be a good fish in a basket if we are to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.

We need to understand, as we did in the parable of the sower, that our net gathers all kinds of fish.  The sorting is not done now while the net is in the water.  That part comes later and that is not really our part.  In the parable, the fishermen separate the fish, but Jesus makes it clear that when we are talking about people, judging is not our job.

Like the sower who scattered seed everywhere, we do not discriminate which fish we collect in our net.  We cast a broad net.  Our eyes do not yet fully see as God’s eyes do.  We get better with each step of discipleship, but we are not quite there yet.    In fact, many Christians suffer from the Blindness of the Pharisees.

God’s love for his creation and his desire to have it reconciled to him is evident in the blood of Jesus given for us at Calvary.  But we as disciple of Jesus are to reach the ends of the earth with this gospel of life, life abundant, and life eternal.  We are to cast this net everywhere.  Sorting comes later and is not our job.

So I ask, are we equipped and ready to take this gospel to the world?  Are we prepared?

Some people believe that they are ready moments after being saved, knowing very little about what it means to be a disciple.  Others have studied the Bible for years or decades and still don’t think that they are ready to witness and share Jesus with others.

There is an interesting piece of conversation at the end of this parable in Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus asked his followers if they understood all of these things.  The disciples, having finally received a parable about fishing, replied in the affirmative.

Yes!  We got one!  I’m sure that some of the disciples thought it might be time for Jesus to turn a big vat of water into wine and celebrate.  They got one that Jesus didn’t have to explain.

But Jesus is still teaching.  The person who has seriously studied God’s word and has become a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a house who has treasure old and new.  In the margins of your Bible next to verse 52, write Saul of Tarsus, and contemplate these words and this man sometime this week.

They apply to more than Saul who we know better as Paul, but he epitomized these words more than anyone that I can think of; perhaps, with the exception of many who hear and read this message.

How much have we studied?  How many commentaries have we read?  How many devotions have we gone through over the years?

There is potential energy in the understanding of God’s world but to realize kinetic energy, we must put those words into practice.  We truly follow Jesus.  We live as his disciple.  And if we have studied the word of God and have chosen to follow Jesus, we are thoroughly equipped to cast that net.

In fact, we are purposed to cast that net.  We have treasures old and new.  So many of you are so well prepared to cast this net.

If you are ready to share the gospel but don’t feel equipped, partner with someone to share the gospel while you engage in serious study.  It’s easier if you are already studied up, but don’t put off sharing the gospel even if you are just learning what it means to follow Jesus.

The net in this parable is not a one-man rig.  This is a big net and it takes many fishermen to cast and recover this net.  It takes many disciples.

These parables of Jesus were meant to impact those who heard them.  They were not just a preview of coming attractions.  They should evoke responses of discipleship in us as well.
As we continue to work our way through the parables, whenever we come upon one that is about the Kingdom of Heaven, ask the question:  What part of this parable provides direction to disciples.  There are many parts of the parables that seem to be informational but much of what we receive should provide instruction and direction to us.

If God’s desire is that none perish and the means to salvation is by faith in JesusChrist, should our motivation to share the good news not be overwhelming?

If we know that God’s desire will not be met—in our terms we would call this heartache—when one single person is lost, would we not be compelled to take this wonderful news of life in Jesus Christ with us wherever we go and talk with whomever we meet?

We are to cast a wide net.  We are to collect all sorts of fish. We do not discriminate by saying, “I’m not casting my net over there.  There’s nothing but bad fish.”

Many a church has been started and grown where self-righteous Christians have declared people unworthy to receive the gospel.  Many lives have been changed by the work of a few with eyes to see as God sees instead of living in the comfort that comes with the Blindness of the Pharisees.

We are to cast a wide net.  We are to take the gospel to all.  God’s grace is for all and as we cast our nets time and time again, we must do so with the divine heart of our heavenly Father who longs for all to come to him.  We must not grow weary of casting this net.  As you consider this parable of Jesus, take the words of Paul to help put it into action.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

We are sent as disciples who live in this Kingdom of Heaven into the world to bring good news!

We are called out of the world to be set apart from the world to be sent back into the world to be God’s love and share his good news from now until the end of the age.

We are to cast this net that is the gospel of love that we know in Jesus Christ from now until the end of the age.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Parables: Hidden Treasure and Fine Pearls

You may not know this, but I am something of an expert at the stock market.  I am an expert trader in the same way that people without children are expert parents.  Until you have children of your own, you have all the answers.  You are an expert.

Until you buy and sell stocks yourself, you can still be an expert.  One day, I may give it a try.  I have never really been in a position where I wanted to give up time that I have allocated to other things to get smart on stocks and trading and knowing when to act.  That’s my choice.

I have put money into a mutual fund where someone else buys and sells and I hope they know what they are doing.  As far as giving it a shot myself, that one remains on my bucket list as an unfulfilled task.  I understand the philosophy of buy low and sell high; I just don’t have clue what to buy low because it will soon be worth much more.

But if I did and I saw the perfect stock, one very much undervalued and ready to launch, how much would I invest?  Would I put 10% of my liquid assets.  How about 50%.  Would I be so bold as to take all the cash that I had on hand and in the bank and just go for it?

Modern investment gurus preach boldness, but never committing everything to one particular purchase.  Every investment is tempered with the fact that there really is no such thing as a sure thing.

But what if there was?

Would I take everything that I had, sell my vehicles and home, and liquidate everything that I could to buy it?  Would that be signing my own admission form to the insane asylum?

Who would do that?

Jesus had been explaining the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of things that the people knew.  A small seed that grew into a big plant told them and us that God’s kingdom was meant to grow.  Yeast working its way through an entire batch of dough helps us understand that God’s kingdom is permeating our entire being.

Jesus is explaining something that only he could explain.  The teachers of the law had never seen God’s kingdom and could not describe it.  Jesus knew it well but was talking to people who understood things in terms of the world that they had known since birth.

It is sort of like framing a house.  When you just have one wall up, it doesn’t look too much like a house and it is surely too early to start putting up sheetrock or installing the kitchen sink. 

Jesus explained the Kingdom of Heaven with many analogies.  These two parables speak to the unbelievable value of what God has in store for us when we profess Christ and choose to follow him.  They also speak of what we would give up for what is in store for us.

There are more parables that speak to the kingdom, but for now we have analogies to hidden, perhaps buried treasure and the finest of pearls.

The first of these two short analogies speaks to the kingdom being like the treasure itself.  The Kingdom of Heaven is being compared to a thing—a thing of incredible value but a thing nonetheless.

The second compares the kingdom to the merchant who is looking for a good deal on fine jewelry and finds it.  In both cases, the people involved act to procure these treasures regardless of whether they are buried or in plain sight.

It’s a good thing that I am reading this parable 2000 years later and not sitting in the original audience.  It’s not really clear if these parables are being told only to the few disciples or if Jesus has ventured outside again and has a crowd, but it’s a good thing that I wasn’t there.  I might have been chewed out by Jesus.  Why?

I would have interrupted with questions.  Why is this guy out wandering in someone else’s field?  Did he have a treasure map?  How do you just come upon a hidden treasure?

Was there a market for this fine pearl?  If you are going to sell everything that you have to buy it, what do you do until it sells?  I hope that you have some good buddies that will carry you for a while.

Part of the beauty of these parables is that in both, the person who made the discovery did extreme things to get what they had found.

Jesus used extreme exaggeration in his teaching.  Today, we would call it hyperbole.  If your eye offends you, pluck it out.  Cut off your hand if it is keeping you from entering the kingdom.  Jesus didn’t want a bunch of blind amputees.  He was emphasizing how important it was to come to know life in him.

Jesus is describing a kingdom that people would give everything they had to be a part of—a impractical approach to investing.  If this doesn’t work out, I’m busted.  I’m broke.  I’m the laughing stock of the town.  I’m not very good at begging.

What could be so valuable to risk everything we have to obtain it?  Jesus said that his Father’s kingdom is such a thing.  The Kingdom of Heaven was such a thing.  We think of heaven as being something beyond our belief and beyond this earthly realm; but we should remember that Jesus is describing a kingdom that people can enter now.

The parable of the treasure found in the field was probably a spinoff of other stories that people knew with other outcomes.  A worker or servant might find a treasure in a field.  Banks and safe deposit boxes were not the common practice.  Hiding one’s treasure may have been more common.

If a landowner died before retrieving his treasure, it would lie undiscovered when the land went to the next owner.  So when the worker discovered it, it truly was a discovery.  His earthly master told him to plow where the old owner never plowed and so he came across this treasure.  He would hide the treasure once again, get as much money as he could by hook or crook and buy the field and be the legitimate owner of the treasure as well.

The secular stories along these lines surely embraced insider trading principles and most always ended up with the person who acquired the instant wealth squandering it quickly. 

These secular stories might have been along the lines of Aesop’s Fables with some sort of moral at the end; perhaps one along the lines of easy come, easy go.

It is not like Jesus is telling a story that’s really out there; it’s just that the point of the parable as Jesus told it was what would someone give for something so valuable.  We don’t know what happened to the man who bought the field as this is not the essence of the parable.

So we return from the parable to the present day and find that the question to us is:  What are we willing to give up to have the Kingdom of Heaven right now?

Don’t think that we have had a doctrinal shift to where you can buy salvation.  We will not be singing She’s buying a Stairway to Heaven as our closing hymn.   Tom will not be selling indulgences in the fellowship hall to help raise money for church camp.

Salvation is a gift but what would we give to fully live in God’s kingdom now?  We sing I Surrender All but do we really mean it?

Do you recall the account of the rich young ruler?  It appears in Matthew’s gospel as well as Mark’s.  I actually like the one in Mark’s gospel better as before Jesus tells the man to sell all of his stuff and give the proceeds to the poor, the text reads:  Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Jesus would not withhold the truth from this man.  As much as this young man—who had a pretty solid GPA with most of the commandments—as much as he wanted affirmation, Jesus knew he needed to choose between this earthly kingdom and his Father’s kingdom.  Only the latter held life, life abundant, and life eternal.

The young man went away sad because he was heavily invested in this world.  Jesus offered something of immensely greater value but this young man did not grasp what was at stake and so he went away sad.  Paul Harvey did not come on the scene until 2000 years later, so we don’t have the rest of the story as far as this young man goes.

Consider what we are talking about here.  Salvation is free.  It costs us nothing but the Kingdom of Heaven comes with a cost.  To say what we sing, I have decided to follow Jesus, comes with a cost.  Discipleship comes with a cost.

Most of us will not be asked to sell everything that we own.  All of us are called to give up our citizenship in the world.  We are citizens of God’s Kingdom.  We reside here on earth but our citizenship in in God’s kingdom.

One day, we will live fully in that kingdom and be surrounded by the glory of God in every moment. The lion and the lamb will nestle up together like a couple of puppies and there won’t be any light switches on the wall because God’s light will illuminate everything.

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what the Lord has in store for those who love him.  We will know what he has in store for us at some point in our future but we are called to give up our roots in this world now.

We don’t have to purchase the Kingdom of Heaven but we do have to go all in to live in it now.  We have been here before.  We can be a tourist or we can be a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven while we live in these bodies of flesh and blood.

This kingdom that Jesus is framing with parables is one of disciples.  If you are following Jesus entering the kingdom that he has described will be the deal of a lifetime.  Think to the account of James and John wanting to sit at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom. Perhaps their mother wanted this more for them than they did.

Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup and undergo the baptism that he would.  Would they give up their lives for him?  Would they give up their lives to gain them?

Both said yes to those questions.

If you recall, Jesus gave these two glimpse of their immediate future.  He said you will indeed drink the cup of bitter suffering that I must endure.  You will endure the baptism of suffering that I have been given.

That’s what the disciples wanted.  They wanted to live in the kingdom where Jesus lived.  They were not asking for recliners and big screen televisions.  They wanted to be with him wherever he was.  The desire of their hearts was to be wherever their Master was.

They did not fully understand what they were saying or what was ahead of them, but their hearts desired to be with their Master and be in his kingdom.  It was worth it!

The most valuable thing that they could think of was being closer to their Master.  They had very much given up their stake in the world to follow him

I would think that Peter, James, and John had thoughts of more boats and nets and bigger business somewhere on their horizon.  I would think that Levi—Matthew if you will—had a decent individual retirement account started with other people’s money.

These disciples left their lives and surely their comfort zones to follow Jesus.  While Jesus does not use these words in these parables; they are surely in the realm of the last will be first and the first will be last paradigm with which he confounded so many who had a big investment in this worldly kingdom.

So we ask ourselves:
·     Where is our citizenship?
·     Where is our loyalty?
·     Where is our love?
·     Where is our treasure?  For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.

How much do we want to live in God’s kingdom now?  Are we willing to be the servant of all in this life?  Will we truly put God first in all things?  Will we regard others more highly than ourselves?  Can we be humble or do we seek to exalt ourselves?

Jesus is not saying that we must be poor, but we must regard everything that we have in this world’s kingdom as temporary.  His kingdom is eternal.

All of our money and wealth and things and investments in this world will stay here when we leave.  If we are wise and have lived a godly life, many of those assets will go to our children and their children as the proverb counsels.

But our treasure and true rewards are in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The question for us is do we want to be the first in this world and the last in God’s kingdom?

Perhaps the other way around is the ultimate wise investment.

Jesus proffered, what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?

I can think of no better time to examine ourselves than now.  Lent is underway.  We should desire to turn away from the world and follow only Jesus, so let’s ask ourselves a question.  I will make it a multiple-choice question.

Are we:

A)  Citizens of the world
B) Sitting on the fence undecided
C) Playing the hokey-pokey putting one foot in the kingdom then taking it out
D)  “All in” with the Kingdom of Heaven. 

If it is not “All in” then what are we going to do about it?  What in this world could hold such value to us?  What in this secular kingdom reigns over us?  Why would we not go “all in” on the Kingdom of Heaven?

There are many, many Christians getting splinters in their behinds sitting on the fence and many more singing the hokey-pokey ad nauseum.  It is time to go “all in!”

We can only serve one master.  Are we wise enough to serve our Lord and Savior fully now?  Are we savvy enough to live in his kingdom now?

Here is the crazy thing about going “all in.”  If we seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first—that means before anything and everything else—then he gives us all of the good things in the world that those who do not know God have made into their gods.

Sell whatever you have to, but buy the field.

Liquidate your assets and buy the pearl.

Know that everything we have in this world is temporary but living in God’s kingdom is forever and worth living there now.

We will be with God forever because of the blood of Jesus.  That’s a gift like no other gift in all history, but we can choose to live in his kingdom now.  We can enter the Kingdom of Heaven now.

In the many things that somehow end up on my desk, mainly because other people have held on to them for years and don’t know what to do with them, was one hand written note on a little piece of paper from the Loftiss—Hackney—Lee Funeral Home in Cordell, Oklahoma.  I think it was from 1986.

It was about a preacher who was talking about heaven and how great it will be.  The preacher was getting all worked up about how fantastic heaven would be and so he asked:  Who wants to go to heaven?

Every hand shot up right away except for one young boy.  After the service, the preacher asked him why he didn’t raise his hand.

The boy replied that the preacher had been so excited about heaven that he thought that he was getting up a load to go tonight.

There is the heaven that we all envision as the place we will dwell one day and there is the Kingdom of Heaven that is ready to receive us this day.  It is a kingdom of discipleship.

It is a place where we pick up our crosses each and every day and follow Jesus.

It is a place where we have taken the yoke of our Master and learn from him.

It is a place where we give up our very lives so that we can truly live.

It is a place called discipleship and it is worth the price.

It is the Kingdom of Heaven and we can enter now.  I think the transition to the kingdom that awaits us will be nearly seamless for those who have gone “all in.”

If you don’t already live here, come into that kingdom today.  If you have not yet taken on the easy yoke and light burden of our Master, take it today and learn from him.

Live in the Kingdom of Heaven today.  It is to grow inside of you and break out all around you and it is worth the price of admission.