Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18:9-14

9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

S - Scripture

14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.

O - Observation

It is important to note Jesus was talking to a group of religious people who were trying to work out their own salvation. Observe the attributes of the two people in the story and see where you find yourself.


  1. Bases his standing with God on a comparison with others (verse 11)
  2. Doesn't have an honest evaluation of himself (do you really think he doesn't sin?) (verse 11)
  3. Tries to earn God's approval through good works (verse 12)

Tax Collector

  1. Is is awe of God's holiness and power (verse 13)
  2. Knew he was a sinner (verse 13)
  3. Knows that salvation comes from God and not from his own works (verse 13)

This is a parable about humility and grace. It is a challenge to religious communities who stress morality and dogma in thought, word, and action. It is a condemnation against spiritual arrogance. The parable is also powerful good news for all sinners: from those who have messed up so bad only God can clean up the mess to the person who is doing his or her best, but knows that still isn't good enough.

A - Application

Two applications exist: a) Not to compare our spiritual condition to others and base God's approval of us on that comparison and b) to live a life of humility knowing that we are nothing more than a sinner in need of a savior.

P - Prayer

Oh God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner. Amen. (verse 13)

July Bible Reading Plan

Here is the information for the July Bible Reading Plan and message information.
Thirsty: A Search for Meaning in Life
In the month of July we will be reading through the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes has some of the most profound prose in all of the Bible:
  • Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless! What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? –Ecclesiastes 1:2-3
  • The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow. –Ecclesiastes 1:18
  • For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. –Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4
  • A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. –Ecclesiastes 4:12
  • A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born. –Ecclesiastes 7:1
  • I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. –Ecclesiastes 9:11

These statements and others give us a picture of who God is and who we are. As humans we all search for meaning in life. We seek contentment and satisfaction. We try to get as much out of life as we can. But many of us remain thirsty for more. That is where God comes in. Craig will share with us three of life’s most important lessons from Ecclesiastes.

July 4 – Why Am I Here?
Ecclesiastes 1

July 11 – How Can I Be Happy?
Ecclesiastes 2

July 18 – What should I Do with the Rest of My Life?
Ecclesiastes 11 and 12

July’s Bible Reading Plan
A Study from the Book of Ecclesiastes

In the month of July we will be reading through the Book of Ecclesiastes. Each day Craig will be sharing with us a brief overview and application of each day’s reading on his blog at

July 1 - 1:1 – 1:11

July 2 - 1:12 – 18

July 3 - 2:1 – 2:11

July 4 - 2:12 – 2:26

July 5 - 3:1 – 3:22

July 6 - 4:1 – 4:12

July 7 - 4:13 – 4:16

July 8 - 5:1 – 5:7

July 9 - 5:8 – 5:20

July 10 - 6:1 – 6:12

July 11 - 7:1 – 8:1

July 12 - 8:2 – 8:16

July 13 - 9:1 – 9:12

July 14 - 9:13 – 9:17

July 15 - 10:1 – 10:20

July 16 - 11:1 – 11:6

July 17 - 11:7 – 12:8

July 18 - 12: 9 – 12:14

Independence Day

Here is my column for Sunday...

As we celebrate Independence Day today, I think it’s helpful to take a look at what we are celebrating, why we celebrate it, and where God fits in all this.

If your family is anything like mine, you will get the kids in the neighborhood tricycle/ bicycle parade, have the in-laws over for some BBQ, go swimming, hang out until it gets dark, and sit with our dog during the fireworks trying to convince her that the world is not coming to an end. Not much in there to reflect on why we get the day off.

I love history. Especially early American history. The passion of the people for independence and freedom is inspiring:
  • I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! -Patrick Henry
  • I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country. -Nathan Hale
  • We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin
  • It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible. -George Washington
There seems to be a little difference between independence and freedom. Independence means that, for better or worse, you get to make the rules. The mistakes you get to live with are generally your own. Pre-Independence, the problem was “taxation without representation”. A few hundred years later, we still have taxes: gas taxes, income taxes, estate taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc. but instead of a king in London making the rules, a majority of citizens have decided that such taxes our best for our people. We know that independence isn’t always perfect, but it sure beats the alternative.

Freedom is a little different. Someone can be independent, but not free. The young adult in her early 20s may live by herself and be independent of her parents, but she is not necessarily free. She probably has some sort of debt, a boss, and a landlord. As a country, we may make our own rules, but because of nuclear weapons, disease, oil, etc., I’m not convinced we are totally free.

There is another sort of independence and freedom that matters ultimately and it is another sort altogether. It isn’t represented by a flag, but by a cross and a cup. The flag represents freedom to worship what is represented by the cross and the cup, but at the end of the day the flag doesn’t offer the freedom that matters most: forgiveness and salvation.

In Christ,


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

Luke 18:1-8

1 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ 4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

S - Scripture

7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?

O - Observation

The window wanted justice. Justice is a deserved punishment or reward. Justice isn't a major theme in the teachings of Jesus, but it is a major theme in the Old Testament. It is a theme the disciples would be familiar with.

The persistence of the widow stands out. But the unjust judge also had a favorable response to the widow. In this parable God is not the unjust judge, God is depicted as more compassionate and fair than the unjust judge.

A - Application

It is easy to default to persistence in prayer when reading this parable. That is an important application of this text and a wonderful lesson for the Christian life.

But, another important part of this parable is discovered by what the widow asked for: justice. Justice is God's idea. Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! -Amos 5:24

The widow asked for something consistent with God's character. God doesn't promise answered prayer for prayers that are not consistent with His character. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. -James 4:3

So, 1) persistence in prayer and 2) praying authentically to discover and reveal the character and will of God are the two applications from this parable.

P - Prayer

God, I want to be consistent in my prayer life. I want to have a constant connection with you. In my prayer life, help me to go deep. I want to know your character and will. I want to reveal who you are to others through my words and actions. Help me to be persistent in seeking who you so that I may be recreated in your image and so that justice may happen in the world. Amen.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Parable of the Master and the Servant

Luke 17:7-10

7 When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, "Come in and eat with me"? 8 No, he says, "Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later." 9 And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. 10 In the same way, when you obey me you should say, "We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.”

S - Scripture

9 And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not.

O - Observation

This parable doesn't usually crack our list of favorites. It's not an obvious happy ending like the Laborers in the Vineyard or the Prodigal Son. Here are some things to consider:

  • God owes us nothing for good works.
  • Grace cannot be earned.

Jesus teaches that the reward for good works is nothing. The blessing is doing the good works. To be in a relationship with the Master and to serve the Master is the reward. In God's economy, doing the job is much more important than the salary.

A - Application

We generally expect a pay check, bonus, or reward for the work we do. This parable is in stark contrast to this line of thinking. The reward, Jesus says, is the work itself. The application is to experience joy and contentment in serving God. Brother Lawrence writes: We ought to give ourselves up to God, both in temporal and spiritual things, and seek our satisfaction only in fulfilling His will. Whether He leads us by suffering or consolation, all is the same to one truly resigned. Satisfaction is not enjoying God's creation; satisfaction is living in God's will.

P - Prayer

Lord, I often desire the things of the world. I want nothing more than to know the Creator of the world and to experience your love. Bless me and help me discover and follow your will for my life. Amen.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Listen to the message.

Luke 10:25-37

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?"

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

27 The man answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself.”

28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. 31 By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. 33 Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, 'Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’"

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

S - Scripture

27 “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself.”

O - Observation

The lawyer (it is important to note that a lawyer in these times was more of a religious leader than a civil leader) in the story wanted to keep God and marginalized people at arm’s length. He was using religion as a buffer between him and God and him and others. Religion at its best is true to its original meaning in the Latin: to bind back together. Religion at its worst builds walls between people and God and also divides people.

Jesus constantly thinks, speaks, and acts according to the dual nature of Christianity: love for God and love for all people. This dual nature is not new to Jesus, but is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures: No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:8

Jesus challenges people who live in their own small world: people whose kindness, mercy, and generosity extend only to a small number of people who are very similar to the person showing kindness. Jesus encourages people who are only concerned for family and friends to care for the all humanity.

The Samaritan could have thought to himself something like: What good is it going to do, in the grand scheme of things, for me to help one traveler? The traveler’s kindness wasn’t going to decrease the threat of war, solve world hunger, or even make a dent in the strained relationships between the Jews and the Samaritans.

In a world of great issues such as debt, war, injustice, hunger, and oppression – no issue is as pressing as the suffering of an individual.

A - Application

It’s possible that we’ve grown so accustomed to passing by on the other side of the road that we don’t see the opportunity for being a neighbor. Pray and ask God to reveal your neighbors to you. Once we discover who our neighbors are, respond to them with kindness, mercy, and love. We will be a blessing to a neighbor and we will be blessed by God.

P - Prayer

God, I want to love you with my all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I want to see people through your eyes and love others like you. Help me see the people on the sides of the road. Help me me care for them and share your love with them. Amen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Luke 16:1-13

1 Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. 2 So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’

3 “The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what? My boss has fired me. I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. 4 Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’

5 “So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’ 6 The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’

7 “‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’

8 “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. 9 Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

10 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. 11 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? 12 And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

S - Scripture

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.

O - Observation

Jesus is talking about stewardship in chapter 16. Note the words rich man, money, employer, boss, money, etc... Not being able to serve two masters, God and money (verse 13), is one of the most prophetic teachings of Jesus. Jesus stresses being grateful, wise, and faithful with the resources God has given us.

A - Application

One way for me to read this parable is as parent and a pastor. Jesus talks about faithfulness. What that means to me as a parent and pastor is praying, playing, listening, mentoring, challenging, encouraging, serving, forgiving, and loving. Being faithful each day is what God asks of me.

P - Prayer

Lord, thank you for providing resources and blessing me in so many ways. Help me to faithful with what you have given me and help me be faithful as a father and a pastor. Amen.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Parable of the Lost Son

Luke 15:11-32

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

S - Scripture

20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

O - Observation

Volumes could be written about this parable (and volumes have been written about this parable). I want to focus on the nature of God that is displayed in verse 20. The father (God) had been offended by the younger son (us). The younger son took his share of the family fortune and spent all the money on wild living. More importantly, the younger son left the father and temporarily ended his relationship with the father. The younger son chose money over the father.

All of us have some of the younger son in us. Some of us have a lot of the younger son in us. To all younger sons this is a parable of God's radical grace and forgiveness. None of us can ever find oursevles outside of the reach of the hand of our loving God.

A - Application

God offers forgiveness. Whether we accept that forgiveness is up to us. The application is to live as a person who is not burdened, broken, shamful, and guilty, but to live as a child of God who is free, whole, reconciled, and forgiven.

P - Prayer

God, I have sinned against others and against you. Thank you for your forgiveness. Help me to live as one who is forgiven and reconciled with you. Amen.

Sports and Life

Wednesday was a day of incredible performances in the world of sports. Sports are a wonderful metaphor for life.

Proverbs 24:16 – The godly may trip seven times, but they will also rise seven times.

John Isner was a very good, but fairly obscure tennis play before Wednesday. The obscurity changed when the American defeated Nicolas Mahut by a score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 in the longest tennis match in history. It was a story of two men who wouldn’t quit. They pushed their bodies, their minds, their skills, and each other well beyond what any observer thought was possible. They won’t be remembered for their outstanding tennis skills; they will be remembered for their perseverance. And so it is with life: Most of the great achievements of the world have been accomplished by tired and discouraged people who kept on working. When you get tired and discouraged: don’t quit. Keep on keeping on.

Genesis 12:1-2 – The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.”

Matt Curry kept the Texas Christian baseball season alive. The senior’s towering grand slam over the centerfield wall on a two-out, 3-2 pitch in the eighth inning highlighted a shocking, eight-run inning by TCU that erased a seemingly insurmountable Florida State lead and kept TCU’s season afloat with an 11-7 comeback victory Wednesday in an elimination game at the College World Series. It was a defining moment for Matt Curry. Abraham had a defining moment as well. And so it is with life: We all have defining moments—both good and the bad. Embrace these moments, learn from them, and grow because of them.

John 11:43 - Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

With just three minutes left in their World Cup, all the doubts about American soccer were rising again. But then, in one of the most stunning turnarounds in World Cup history, Landon Donovan scored on a lightning fast counterattack 45 seconds into 4 minutes of injury time. With the most amazing late-game moment in American soccer, the United States beat Algeria 1-0 and reached the World Cup's second round. And so it is with life: Comebacks are possible. The United States came back from elimination. Lazarus came back from the dead. We can come back from adversity, dysfunction, addiction, defeat, and pain. With God’s help, people do it all the time. And so can you.

The best is yet to come…


Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Parable of the Lost Coin

Luke 15:8-10

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

S - Scripture

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it?

O - Observation

This parable is in the middle of two other parables -- the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Son. Some argue they are not three parables but one parable.

It is interesting how the sheep, coin, and son get lost.

Sheep - The sheep got distracted. The sheep was was so preoccupied with eating grass that it got separated from the rest of the flock. We get busy and overwhelmed and then realize that we have become separated from God.

Coin - The coin was dropped. It was lost because of somebody else. We can be abused or mistreated. We find ourselves separated from God because of the neglect of others.

Son - He made his own poor choice. He thought life without the father would be better than life with the father. And he was wrong. Sometimes we become separated from God because of our own poor choices.

The word repent is metanoia which means to turn.

A - Application

An application is to meet people where they are. Many of us are a product of our environment. We live in a culture that champions busyness, we live in relationships that are dysfunctional, and we are imperfect and therefore make poor choices. As God's children we get to look for lost sheep, lost coins, and lost children. We also get to embrace them and encourage them to turn from despair to hope, from hate to love, and from sin to grace.

P - Prayer

Lord, help me to search for people who are separated from you and offer them your love. Also, keep me focused on you and help me make good decisions. Amen.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Parable of Building a Building and Waging War

Luke 14:28-33

28 But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? 29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. 30 They would say, "There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!"

31 Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? 32 And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. 33 So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

S - Scripture

33 So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

O - Observation

Jesus talks about what it means to be a disciple in this passage. His message is clear. It is not a partial commitment (verse 28 to 30). Jesus notes the foolishness of only partially following him. Jesus also mentions that the road will not be easy (verses 31 and 32) and if the road of following Christ is to be taken, total buy-in and ownership is an absolute requirement (verse 33).

A - Application

I have many compartments in my car. A compartment exists between the two front seats, the glove compartment in front of the passenger's seat, and a large compartment in the back called the trunk. Jesus notes that we shouldn't compartmentalize our lives: work, finances, family, friends, activities, neighbors, and church. We are Christ's follower in all aspects of our life: not just when it is convenient or desirable. In the short-term, following Christ can be a difficult decision. We may have to say yes to some things we are uncomfortable with and we may have to say no to things we have previously said yes to. In the long-term, following Christ is always the correct decision.

The application is simple: to bring Christ and the Christian worldview into all areas of my life at all times.

P - Prayer

Lord, I don't want to be a part-time Christian or an almost Christian. I want to follow you in all areas of my life at all times. In the areas where it is easy to say yes to you, increase my joy and let me feel your presence even more. In areas where you are less present, walk beside me and help me to say yes to you and your promises. Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Parable of the Guests

Luke 14:7-14

7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

S - Scripture

14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.

O - Observation

This parable talks about humility (verses 7 to 11) and kindness / charity (verses 12 to 14). Jesus notes that true charity is giving with no strings attached. Giving with strings attached is not charity--it is a form of selfishness. God gave because He loved; not because He wanted something in return.

A - Application

This parable challenges us to give to the marginalized in our culture. It is easy to give to people close to us and to those who can help us. It's not as compelling to give to the stranger--especially the marginalized.

This parable would be an excellent teaching to revisit at Christmas. Most of us are guilty of excess at Christmas. When our excess turns to modesty, the extra we would give to the poor, crippled, lame, and blind would bless both the recipient and the giver (verse 14).

P - Prayer

Lord, help me to give like you. I don't want to give because of self-interest. I want to give because of who I am in you. Help me to give generously to people who need what I have to give the most. Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree

Luke 13:6-9

6 Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. 7 Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

8 “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. 9 If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”

S - Scripture

7 Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

O - Observation

It usually takes a fig tree a few years to develop and produce fruit. Jesus offers the fig tree accountability (the spot in the vineyard will go to something that will produce fruit if the fig tree doesn't start producing fruit) and grace (it gets another year, another chance to produce fruit.)

A - Application

I took some time after reading this parable to think about where I fit in this story. Like everybody else I know, I have potential God has given me. I have specific talents and so do you. I have a certain amount of time and energy each day and so do you. I have people I relate to each day and each week and so do you. Here is what I thought and prayed about:

  • Am I reaching my full potential or do I have some barren branches?
  • Am I using all my talents and resources or are some of them being under utilized or unused?
  • Am I using my talents and resources for God's glory or am I keeping them to myself?
  • Am I willing to take God up on a second (or third or fourth or...) chance?
  • What practices do I need to implement to reach my potential?
  • What practices do I need to give up to reach my potential?
  • Who is going to help me produce more fruit in God's vineyard?

P - Prayer

Lord, thank you for planting me in the vineyard. I want to produce fruit for you! For the brokenness and barrenness in my life, give me your grace and healing. Give me that second opportunity to produce fruit for you. Help me manage my time wisely. Direct me in using the resources I have to do the most good for you. Help me say no to unproductive things and habits. Help me say yes to the things that matter most to you. Amen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

Listen to this morning's message.

Matthew 20:1-15

1 For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3 At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

6 At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, "Why haven’t you been working today?"

7 They replied, "Because no one hired us."

The landowner told them, "Then go out and join the others in my vineyard."

8 That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 "Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat."

13 He answered one of them, "Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?"

S - Scripture

10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage.

O - Observation

I have four observations:

1. The landowner didn’t hang up a sign and expect people to show up to work. The landowner sought out workers. He went and found them (verse 1).

Translation: God is a seeking God. He loves us so much that He relentlessly pursues us until He finds us.

2. The landowner needed more workers because there is always more than enough work to do in the vineyard (verses 3 to 6).

Translation: We live in a broken and needy world and God’s Kingdom is always in need of additional workers.

3. The vineyard is the best place to be. Who wants to be standing around on the street corner waiting for work (verse 3 - passion and purpose in life and verses 6 and 7 - self-esteem)?

Translation: Living in the Kingdom of God gives us purpose and passion for life. It also helps us to know we are loved and needed.

4. The landowner paid everybody at least what they deserved and gave most people a whole lot more than they deserved (verses 9 and 10)

Translation: God is both fair and generous. Fairness is called justice. Generosity is called grace.

A - Application

The application for me today is to invite more people into the vineyard (church) to serve alongside of the rest of us. So much work is still to be done!

Another application is to always be grateful that God gives grace and not justice. My payment when this life ends will not be based on what I did, but on what Jesus has done.

P - Prayer

God, sorry I showed up late and sorry for not being the best of workers. Thank you for your generosity to people like me. Help me be a faithful worker in your vineyard and help me invite others to take this journey with me. I'm thankful for your grace! Amen.

Father's Day

Here is this morning's column:

My life changed on May 25th, 2001. Amber and I were celebrating our fifth anniversary. Instead of a cruise in the Caribbean we had been dreaming about taking for years, we found ourselves in a small hospital room at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was that day we first met our son Benjamin.
In the past nine years, Benjamin has taught me more about God and God’s love.

  • Benjamin doesn’t concern himself with yesterday or worry too much about tomorrow. Today is where he lives.
  • He looks at the world with wide-eyed optimism and relentless hope.
  • He has an enchanting, almost na├»ve trust in a really big God.
  • He is seriously playful.
  • He is quick to forgive.

It’s no wonder Jesus tells us to become like children. (Matthew 18:3-4)

I’m also aware of Benjamin’s humanity and therefore his imperfection. And this is probably where I have learned the most about God. The pastor can stand in front of the congregation and talk about God’s love and God’s forgiveness. We know in our mind that the pastor is probably on to something. But to see a child sin and to love the child just the same after the sin than before the sin speaks to our heart because it gives us a glimpse of the love that our heavenly Father has for us.

Today is Father’s Day. It honors fathers: the good ones and the not-so-good ones. I know that some people who read this will become a father soon—for the first time. You have so much excitement and joy in front of you. I also know that some great-grandfathers will read this as well. You have wisdom the rest of us need: both from the things you would do exactly the same and from the things you would do entirely different. Part of your life can be spent helping make the rest of us better fathers.

Some boys and girls are blessed with great fathers. Others don’t have much of a male figure present in their lives. All of us men can do something about this. We can coach, mentor, lead, listen, be present, serve, play, and pray for and with boys and girls looking for a male role model.

To the fathers who read this I have two things. First, happy Father’s Day! Second, I pray for all of us fathers—that we will become the fathers that our children need. I also pray that we will find an opportunity in the next year to be a father figure for a kid who needs a father figure. In these relationships, I know we will be blessed by the children we serve and I know we will be blessed by God because God will give us a glimpse of who He is.

The best is yet to come…


Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Luke 12:16-21

16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

S - Scripture

21 Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.

O - Observation

The words "I" and "me" appear a lot in this parable. The man had more than he needed. Instead of sharing, he wanted to build bigger barns. His life was about himself (verse 18) and waiting for tomorrow (verse 19). The consistent message of God is to share our lives with others and live for today.
Verse 21 is prophetic word from Jesus urging people to put God first on our lives. Jesus saw people worshipping the stuff God created rather than the God who has created everything. Worshipping gods we have created for ourselves was an issue in the Hebrew Scriptures: But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. -Joshua 24:15 Worshipping gods instead of God remains an issue today: football teams, professional golfers, houses, cars, 401K accounts, clothes, gadgets, kids, sex, etc... Jesus emphasizes the foolishness of worshipping temporary things and not a permanent God.
A - Application

It is nearly impossible to live in the United States and not be bombarded by messages of how possessions, goods, and services will give us happiness in life. This is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. It is also contrary to our human experience. Money, possessions, and power and are kind of like drinking salt water: the more we drink the thirstier we become. Not a single person will find contentment in stuff.
The application for this parable is that I will not worship the stuff God has created. Instead I will worship God who has created the world and I will be a good steward of and share what I have been temporarily entrusted with.

P - Prayer
God, thank you for blessing me with a house to live in, a car to drive, food to eat, and resources to enjoy life. At the same time, I don't want any of these things to get in the way of my relationship with you. Help me to be thankful to you, to worship you first, to be a good steward of the things in life you bless me with, and to generously and joyfully share the resources you have given me. Amen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Parable of a Friend at Night

Luke 11:5-8

5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.

S - Scripture

8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.

O - Observation

Travellers often walked at night to avoid the heat of the day. It wasn't strange to get visitors at night. What was strange is the late night knocking on the door of a friend. Families would sleep together in the house which were usually one room. Imagine knocking on the door of a house knowing that you would wake the entire family. The host was willing to do this for some food for his guests.

A - Application

This is a parable about prayer. Specifically it is a parable about persistence in prayer. The idea of persistence in prayer is a common theme in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the teachings of Jesus.

But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." -Genesis 32:26

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. -Matthew 7:7

Here are my applications:

  1. Ask God for big things.
  2. Don't be embarrassed in asking.
  3. Keep asking until God responds.

P - Prayer

Lord, I want to connect more with you. Help me be faithful in prayer. I know I do not have certain things in life, because I have not asked you. I know at times I haven't been patient and persistent enough in asking. Teach me to go to you first. Remove any reluctance I have in praying. Enable me to keep asking and to be more persistent in prayer. Amen.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31

19 Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. 22 Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side. 24 The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’ 25 “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’ 27 Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’ 30 The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’ 31 But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’”

S - Scripture

20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores.

O - Observation

This parable is interesting because it mentions a specific person: Lazarus. No other parable mentions a specific person. Lazarus is poor, helpless, and marginalized. The other man is a man of wealth. Jesus points out that he is not just wealthy, he lives in luxury: he wears fine linen made of purple and he feasted at the table -- Lazarus waited for his scraps.

In the next world the roles are reversed: Lazarus is in glory and the wealthy man suffers. So, what is the sin of the wealthy man? He wasn't mean to Lazarus. He didn't even ask him to leave. His sin wasn't that he offended Lazarus; his sin was that he didn't do anything to help Lazarus. While the wealthy man enjoyed a life of luxury, a fellow human was suffering at his feet.

A - Application

Sin can often be thought of as doing something bad. Doing bad things is only a partial definition of sin. Jesus challenges us that sin is also doing nothing when it is obvious that something needs to be done. In this world and in our city, suffering is all over the place. People mourn, children are hungry, the elderly are sick, the criminal is in prison, the neighbor is heartbroken, etc... And many of these people are at our feet. God wants us to do something about it.

P - Prayer

Lord, thank you for blessing me. I wear purple clothes and feast at the table. In my city are people who are suffering. Help me notice them and care for them. Amen.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Parable of the Two Debtors

Luke 7:41-47

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

S - Scripture

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

O - Observation

Both debtors (translate: sinners) are forgiven of their debts. Jesus notes that the one who will be closer to him in the future is the one who has been forgiven more.

Two simple truths can be observed here:

1. Love is something that can't be earned. Love can only be given.

2. Sin must come before grace. Grace is only possible when we recognize our sin.

A - Application

The above photograph is of a debtor's prison in England. In today's American culture, we don't throw debtors in prison. Yet, unforgiven sin is burdensome baggage that many of us continuously carry. God's forgiveness is the key that will let us exit the prisons we have constructed for ourselves. The application is to accept God's forgiveness, forgive ourselves, and live as grateful people who are forgiven and forgiving.

P - Prayer

Lord, I have sinned against you and against others. At times I try to earn your approval and your forgiveness. Make me aware of my sin and let me experience your grace. Help me accept the forgiveness you offer so I can escape the prison of brokenness and unforgiveness. Amen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Parable of the Growing Seed

Mark 4:26-29

26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

S - Scripture

27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens.

O - Observation

Jesus gives us a picture of the limitations of humanity and the possibilities of God. The farmer didn't do anything to make the seed grow. He doesn't even understand it! Jesus also gives us a picture of hope. At night, in our times of darkness, God brings the increase. Just like God sustains us in days of joy, health, and strength.

A - Application

I need to daily remember who I am and who I am not. I'm a gifted person who is loved by God. I'm also quite imperfect with many limitations. God is God: loving, perfect, and unlimited. I can do more with God than I could ever do without God. When times are good and when times are not so good, I'll trust in Him for the increase.

P - Prayer

Lord, you are always working: When I'm awake and when I'm asleep. You never forget me. Help me to never forget who I am and who you are: loving, perfect, and unlimited. Help me to depend less on me and more on you. Amen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Parable of the Talents

Matthew 25:14-30

14 Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

16 The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

19 After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, "Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more."

21 The master was full of praise. "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!"

22 The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, "Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more."

23 The master said, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!"

24 Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, "Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back."

26 But the master replied, "You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it."

28 Then he ordered, "Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

S - Scripture

21 The master was full of praise. "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!"

O - Observation

This is a parable about risk and stewardship.

Life has an element of risk to it. Kierkegaard wrote: To risk is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to risk is to lose oneself. The first two servants risked what was given to them and were rewarded. The final servant didn't risk anything and ended up losing everything.

Stewardship is being responsible and resourceful with what God has temporarily given us: kids, financial resources, talents, etc... The first two servants were good stewards and were rewarded. The final servant was a poor steward and ended up losing everything.

A - Application

The dual application has to do with risk and stewardship. Risk doesn't mean carelessness. Risk means choosing faith over fear. In my life I will value safetly and security less and faithfulness and adventure more. This parable is also an excellent reminder that all goods are God's goods. We are only stewards. I will treat all my possessions, people, and talents as gifts from God that are resources to implement God's vision in the world.

P - Prayer

Lord, help me to be a risk-taker. Let me put me comfort and security aside so that I can do my small part in partnering with you in doing ministry to the world. Keep reminding me that everything I have and am is yours. At the end of the day may those words be said by you of me: "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Amen.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

Listen to the sermon

Matthew 25:1-13

1 Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, 4 but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. 5 When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 At midnight they were roused by the shout, "Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!"

7 All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 8 Then the five foolish ones asked the others, "Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out."

9 But the others replied, "We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves."

10 But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. 11 Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, "Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!"

12 But he called back, "Believe me, I don’t know you!"

13 So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.

S - Scripture

8 Then the five foolish ones asked the others, "Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out."

O - Observation

  1. Christianity does not happen because we are born in a certain place or because we know a certain person or because we keep a certain set of rules or even because we attend a certain church. Christianity happens because we live a life of being connected to God. It is about a relationship (verses 1 to 4)
  2. Faith cannot be borrowed (verses 6 to 9).
  3. Christianity is not just knowing about God. Christianity is knowing God (verse 12).
  4. Faith shouldn’t be accepted and developed at the last minute because we don’t know when the last minute will be. Faith is best accepted and developed over a lifetime (verse 13).

A - Application

We often pay great attention to certain areas of our lives: Our finances, our careers, our bodies, our houses, etc... Jesus challenges us to pay close attention to our relationship with God. The application is to make our relationship with God primary and have every other area of our lives be influenced by our relationship with God.

P - Prayer

Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Give me more faith. Keep my lamp full of oil. Help me to grow in my relationship with you. Amen.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lessons from the Fig Tree

Matthew 24:32-36

32 Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

S - Scripture

35 My words will never disappear.

O - Observation

People know that the end will come (verse 33), we just don't know when (verse 36). The word near obviously has a much different meaning to God than it does to us. Since our lifespan is quite finite and God's reign is infinite, this is quite understandable. Even though people (and pretty much everything else) have a limited shelf life, God's Word never disappears (verse 35).

A - Application

I feel closest to God when I regularly read God's Word. Consider the following Scriptures:

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. -John 15:5

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. -Psalm 119:105

Jesus says that God's Word will never disappear. The application is to invest time and energy in something that connects us to God, provides light in a dark world, and lasts forever.

P - Prayer

Lord, help me to be faithful in reading your Word. Speak to me. Inspire me. Change me. Help me to be more like you. Amen.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Parable of a Wedding Feast

Matthew 22:1-14

1 Jesus also told them other parables. He said, 2 “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. 3 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!

4 “So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ 5 But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. 6 Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.

7 “The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. 8 And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. 9 Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ 10 So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. 13 Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

S - Scripture

9 Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.

O- Observation

This is a parable about grace. Nobody deserved to be in the presence of the King. Among those the King invited were a land owner and a businessman. A land owner and a businessman were among the most wealthy and powerful in the community, but even for them, a invitation to a feast with the King was grace: an undeserved gift. It's interesting that both these men declined the King's offer of grace because one had to take care of his farm and the other had to attend to his business. Both these are non-evil tasks, but they contribute to a non-desirable outcome. Both chose something good, but gave up something great. Both chose busyness and duty over a closer relationship with the King.

After the King was rejected by some of the leaders, he invites everybody (verse 9). Grace is now available to all.

Jesus also depicts Christianity as a feast. A wedding feast for the son of a King would be as big of a feast as you would find. It would be filled with music, laughter, joy, great food, and great company.

A - Application

One application has to do with busyness. Many of the things I do are good: being a husband, dad, pastor, tutor, runner, etc... But, none of these (including being a pastor) should make me too preoccupied to accept the invitation to the King's feast. And, I will be better in all my roles by being in a relationship with the King than I would being apart from the King.

A second application is to invite others to the feast. The King tells his servants to go and invite everyone they encounter. Some people may not know about the feast. Others may know about it, but think that the feast is not for them. A simple invitation, given in faithfulness and love, can change a life forever.

P - Prayer

God, help me to say no to the good things in life so that I may say yes to the great feast - a joyful relationship with you. Never let me become so preoccupied with the things of this world that I lose the priority of living in your Kingdom. Help me also to go out and invite people to your Kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Parable of The Evil Farmers

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35 But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same. 37 “Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

38 “But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39 So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

40 “When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

41 The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

42 Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing,
and it is wonderful to see.’

43 I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44 Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”

45 When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.

S - Scripture

38 But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, "Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!"

O - Observation

The original readers would have known this was a story. Jesus was speaking to and challenging the church leaders. His challenge was that the leaders of the church were not returning fruits to God. It is also foreshadowing of what is to come for Jesus with his upcoming death.

This is a complex parable, but it has some pretty straightforward applications on the nature of God:

  1. God creates environments for people to flourish in life (verse 33). God planted a vineyard, built a fence, dug a wine press, and built a watch tower. Everything that was needed for a vineyard.
  2. God places great trust in people (verse 33). God left the area and let the people run the farm.
  3. God gives second chances when people mess up (verses 35 to 37).
  4. God is a fair judge (verse 43 and 44).

It is important to note that God wasn't being harsh on the tenants (church leaders). They made their own poor decisions and now were facing the consequences of their mistakes.

The word "nation" in Greek is ethnos which in the plural means Gentiles or people. Jesus said from now on leadership will no longer be based on position but on fruitfulness.

A - Application

So much content is packed into this parable. After reading through it a few times, the application to my life, today, is to take God up on the second chance that he offers. The tenants made the mistake of beating up and killing the collectors. God gave them another chance.

I've made mistakes and God gave and continues to give me a second chance. Whether I accept this second chance or not is up to me. I can live as defeated, dejected, broken, or hopeless. Or, I can choose to live as a person who is striving for victory, is optimistic, is in the process of healing, and is hopeful. I'll take God up on the second chance.

P - Prayer

God, I have made mistakes. Sometimes I make the same mistake over and over again. Don't let my imperfection change my view of who you are and who I can become. Help me embrace the second chance. Amen.