A One-Man Parade

April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday

A One-Man Parade

Luke 19:28-44

Parades are fun to watch. I generally watch Macy’s Thanksgiving parade every year. But my favorite is the Christmas Day Parade at Walt Disney World

In 1983, my wife Kathy and I got up at about 5 a.m. and drove to Disney World from West Palm Beach to watch the Christmas Day Parade. The temperature at parade time (10 a.m.) was 27 degrees. It was so cold the poinsettias were drooping.

Disney has their parade come up Main Street on Christmas day instead of down Main Street. So we had a perfect view along the parade route and even saw Regis Philbin, who was the man on the street for ABC’s coverage.

After the parade was over, everyone started going further into the park. But Kathy and I had lunch reservations with some friends in Epcot, so we headed the other way. It was challenging to get through the crowds of people, but we did and made it to lunch.

The following day, we were having breakfast at the Polynesian Hotel. I had brought the complimentary Orlando newspaper down to the restaurant. Kathy was looking at the lifestyle section, where she found a half-page photo of the parade. She handed the newspaper to me, and something caught my eye as I perused the image.

I said to Kathy, “There’s us.” Sure, enough, it wasn’t hard to pick up out of the crowd. We were the ones going the opposite way from everyone else, and Kathy had been wearing a white coat with a fur collar. So there we were, with me holding her hand, leading the way as I pushed through the crowds to leave the park.

Here we are 39 years later. We still have that newspaper, and we are still avid Disney fans.

*******************************************

Jesus was also in a parade on what we call Palm Sunday. But He rode on a donkey, towards Jerusalem, for a very different reason.

“And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now, they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:28-44

Allow me to highlight a few points from this passage for you.

  • Jesus’ followers who were praising Him and welcoming Him as He rode his colt towards the Mount of Olives were fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9.
    • “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
    • That Prophesy was right on the money.
  • The people didn’t understand that Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom.
    • As we know, He came to die on the cross for everyone’s sins. His sacrifice will open the gates of eternity for everyone.
  • Unfortunately, the people of Jerusalem and the Pharisees were not looking for what Jesus brought to them; love, forgiveness, and peace. Instead, they were looking for a warrior King on a White Steed to lead them to victory over Roman rule.
  • And so, Jesus cried for Jerusalem. He knew what would happen in the not too distant future to His beloved city.
  • Jesus’s words, “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation,” were a prophecy.
  • Jesus was describing the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The city would fall because the people did not recognize who He was and what He was about to do for them. Sacrifice His life so that we may live.

Parades can be fun, like the ones at Disney World. But this parade on that first Palm Sunday was anything but fun. Instead, it announced Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem one last time. He was there to fulfill the prophet’s prophesy of a savior and save the world from itself.

Dear Jesus. Sometimes it seems it’s easier to believe in You and what you did for us on the cross because we live on this side of history. Help us to never forget your sacrifice. Thank you for giving us the opportunity for eternal life through your death and resurrection. Amen.

His Word endures forever

The Parables of Jesus

April 9, 2022

His Word endures forever

Matthew 24:32-35

The Evergreen tree you see above is in front of our home. I planted it there in 2007. It was in a large pot. The tree had been given to us as a gift before we left my last call in Fort Myers, FL.

I left it outside for a few months. It was drying out and looked horrible. So, I decided to plant it next to our mailbox. I never fed it; I just let nature take its course. The Evergreen is now about 15 feet tall. Most trees in Florida are green year-round, but this tree has a deep tone that contrasts with the other trees. It’s incredible what God can do with a weak little shrub taken from a pot and planted in the ground.

My story leads us to today’s Parable.

*********************************************

Jesus tells us several stories about fig trees throughout the Gospels. However, this one is quite different than the others.

The Parable of the Fig Tree

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it (24:33 Or he) is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.Matthew 24:32-35

Interestingly the majority of trees in Palestine are Evergreens. The other two prominent trees are almond and fig. Both the almond and fig trees blossom in spring, the almond in early spring, and the fig in late.

As the last tree blossoming tree, you can use it as a barometer that summer is coming soon. Jesus uses this fact as an analog. Some theologians say this Parable describes the second coming of Christ. Others say it is more likely that it alludes to the destruction of Israel by the Roman in 70 A.D.

Let’s briefly look at two things Jesus says in this Parable.

“Truly, I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

This statement indeed seems to be pointing to the destruction of Israel. Jesus says that the present generation will not pass away until “these things happen.”

Then Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

Of course, these words could be a foretelling of the world’s end. But I like to think that He is speaking about the strength of His words.

The Gospel message, Jesus’ Words can endure anything. Let me leave you with this story that took place during WWII.

“Toward the end of WWII, downtown Warsaw was virtually leveled. On the main street only, the skeleton of one building remained standing. Many devout Polish people considered it something of a shrine. It was the badly damaged headquarters of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Word on the only remaining wall were clearly legible from the street: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away.”

(Peoples Bible Commentary. Matthew. G.J. Albrecht and M.J. Albrecht. C.P.H. 1996. Pp.353)

Christ’s love and Word endure forever.

Amen

Have you discovered your Gift?

The Parables of Jesus

April 8, 2022

Have you discovered your gift?

Matthew 25:14-30

I enjoy watching the television show “America’s Got Talent.”

ASGT could be called a variety show. But it’s much more than that. We live in a world that recognizes the talents of actors and actresses, singers, and sports stars. But where do you celebrate the accomplishment of line dancers, magicians, acrobats, and mimes?

ASGT celebrates all sorts of gifted people from every walk of life. Yes, ASGT does feature some singers. But it’s a special show where an 11- year-old female ventriloquist can win the grand prize of one million dollars. (Check out Darci Lynee on YouTube.)

People from various walks of life, all with different gifts, hmmm, that sounds like a Parable.

********************************************************

The Parable of the Talents

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, (25:15 Greek five talents… two talents… one talent; also, throughout this Parable; a talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wage.) each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

 “After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So, I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So, you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.

 “‘So, take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have, will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

A lot is going on in this Parable. The basic idea behind it is something I wrote about in several of my earlier Parables devotions. It’s about utilizing the gifts God gives you. But, it’s also about the consequences of not using them.

A man going on a journey (Jesus) calls His servants together (that’s us). He gives each of them talents (money). These talents are also Spiritual gifts that we are given while Jesus is gone.

You’ll notice that each servant received a different amount of money to watch over, each according to their ability. Jesus understands that each and every one of us is different. So, the Holy Spirit gives us gifts according to what we can handle.

Two of the servants doubled their master’s money, while the other did nothing. Those two were rewarded, with their master saying the same thing to both.

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The third servant had the gift He was given taken away from him. He was thrown out of the master’s property (Kingdom).

As I mentioned earlier, each of us is given at least one Spiritual gift by the Holy Spirit to use. That gift might be teaching, preaching, caring for others, or even hospitality. Please understand this, if we do not utilize our God-given gift(s) to further God’s Kingdom, it will be taken away from us. That gift will be given to someone else to use. God will, will be done, with or without us.

Did you happen to notice what is missing from the Parable? A deeper conversation about how we should handle money. I believe there is an underlying meaning when we read that two of the servants had doubled their master’s money.

We are to be good stewards of all of God’s creation. And that includes the money he allows us to have. We are good stewards when we purchase groceries for our family, give to the poor, and tithe at church.

Every God-given gift leads to one thing. Spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ across the globe. So use your talents to do just that, don’t waste them.

Dear Lord. Your Holy Spirit has bestowed gifts upon each of us according to our ability. Whatever our gifts may be, let us always use them to glorify your name by spreading the Gospel. Amen.

Are You Prepared?

The Parables of Jesus

April 7, 2022

Are you prepared?

Matthew 25:1-13

For those of you who are married, do you remember your wedding day? Honestly, mine is a bit of a blur after almost 48 years? But, here’s what I do remember:

My best man and groomsmen and the maid of honor and bridesmaids were waiting and greeted Kathy and me at the altar.

One of the bridesmaids fainted at the altar.

We danced at the reception to “our” song, “Time in a Bottle.”

Some great memories. I’m sure if I sat with Kathy and talked with her, I could come up with more.

The best part? We’re still together through many ups and downs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That brings us to today’s Parable.

*********************************************

Today’s story is another Parable from Jesus about being ready.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:1-13

When Jesus uses the word virgins, for us today, we would probably say bridesmaids. The lamps would most likely have been torches wrapped with oil-soaked rags. That type of torch would require you to add oil to it every so often; that is why the wise virgins brought extra oil.

What was the occasion? These women were to be part of a wedding processional as the groom brings his bride home.

All of the virgins fall asleep waiting for the bridegroom. As I said earlier, the wise ones were prepared because they had brought additional oil for their torches. But unfortunately, the foolish ones had to go to the store to purchase more oil. By the time they got back, the groom had arrived, and the banquet doors had been shut. Therefore, they missed the finale, the marriage of Jesus and His church.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a story of being ready. You read that all 10 virgins fell asleep while waiting for the groom. This is analogous to you and me awaiting Christ’s return. We don’t know when He’ll return; we just know he will.

Five of the virgins were prepared with extra oil. How can we be prepared for Christ’s return? Jesus isn’t saying we have to constantly be looking up to the heavens for when He will return. Even Jesus said,

“But about that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

 I sometimes imagine God the Father turning to His right, looking at Jesus, and saying, “It’s a go! Today is the day.”

So how can we be prepared like the five wise virgins?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it. We must be about the work that Jesus gave us to do. We are to go and make disciples of all nations.

Each of us has been given at least one spiritual gift by the Holy Spirit. We must discover what it is to better serve the Lord and His calling.

I genuinely believe that the Holy Spirit gives us unique gifts, and at times He takes them away or adds new ones.

For 25 years during my full-time ministry, my title was Youth Minister. But my gift was teaching and leading.

Now my gift has been changed. Sure, I’m still teaching and perhaps even leading by example. But now, the Holy Spirit has given me the written word to communicate the Gospel message. I use this gift as often as I can.

If you don’t know what your gift is, ask God to enlighten you. Then use that gift and all you are to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Be faithful, love the Lord, and share the Gospel. That’s how you prepare.

Dear Jesus. We don’t know the day or hour of your return. But we have faith that you will. So, help us be ready while spreading Your Gospel story so all of the world may be prepared for your return. Amen.

Will you be on the Right or Left?

The Parables of Jesus

Will you be on the right or left?

April 6, 2022

Matthew 25:31-46

My Grandson is twelve years old. When he was younger, he had a bit of a problem with direction. Notice, I did not say directions; I said direction.

He is a great kid, and I love to be around him. My Grandson is an avid reader, loving, caring, and highly empathetic. He is also very organized.

His direction problem went like this. “Grandpa, where are the plates?” My reply, “In the cabinets to the right of the sink.” “Grandpa, I don’t see them?” So, I would get up, and inevitably I would find him looking in the cabinet to the left of the sink. This went on for several years. “Hey buddy, pick up that paper on the floor to your left.” And, He would look to the right.

Keegan doesn’t mix up his lefts and rights anymore. He knows where they are.

This brings us to our Parable for today.

**************************************

Although this story is a Parable, Jesus doesn’t mix words here. Instead, He gets right to the point. This story is not a simile or analogy. Instead, He is laying the facts before us in the form of a very logical story.

The Sheep and the Goats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, this is a story about the end times. All nations will be gathered together for final judgment. Don’t let Jesus’ emphasis on works make you question your understanding of salvation.

Good works, such as giving to the poor or visiting someone in the hospital, do not secure our salvation. However, when we are in a right relationship with God, we will want to naturally serve as Jesus did.

Ephesians 2:8-10 explains it best:

“For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The goats on the left of God are not convicted because they didn’t serve their fellow man. They are non-believers who didn’t help their fellow man.

Even James, in his epistle, talks about works:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-17

Did you notice that James reiterates what Jesus says in today’s Parable? He talks about people being poorly clothed and lacking in daily food. So what’s James’ point? How can you be a faithful Christian if you don’t help others as Jesus did?

Jesus healed, Jesus, fed masses of people, drove out demons and washed His disciples, feet.

How can we claim to be in a right relationship with God when we don’t follow His example?

So, it begs the question. Will you be on the left or the right?

Dear Jesus. You taught us to be a servant to all. Help us follow your example as we live by faith and do good works in your name. Amen.

Separating God’s Catch

The Parables of Jesus

April 5, 2022

Separating God’s Catch

Matthew 13:47-52

I guess everyone has a favorite fishing story. Although I’ve never fished using a net, I have caught many fish in a short period of time.

Although I’ve told it before, this is my fish story from Chapter one of my book, “Adventures in Youth Ministry.”

“When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I lived in Chicago. Now once in a while, my Dad would take me fishing at a place called Montrose Beach. I would use a fishing pole. I would cast with a worm on a hook.

But my Dad would troll fish. First, he’d take this small anchor attached to a long rope, swing it over his head, and throw it out into the lake. Next, my Dad attached a metal pulley to the rope with a long line. The pulley system also had fish hooks on it. Dad would bait the hooks and slowly let the line down in the water. The entire contraption was attached to a metal pole about six or seven feet tall that he would stick into the sand. A small bell was at the top of the pole attached to the rope. If a fish would “hit” one of the hooks, the bell would ring, and then slowly, he’d pull the pulley line in. But guess what? He rarely would catch any fish that way.

One day, my cousin Sam called my Dad and said, “Uncle John, we should go fishing up at this lake I found in Wisconsin; the fishing is excellent.” My Dad worked long hours in the construction industry during the week. So, he didn’t really relish the thought of driving almost two hours to a lake in Wisconsin early on a Saturday morning. So, I was shocked when he told me we were going fishing in Wisconsin with my cousin a few weeks later.

When we arrived at the lake, my Dad rented a boat with a small engine on the back of it. It was a yucky rainy day, but we headed out anyway. After getting in the boat, I’d estimate we only went out about two or three hundred feet from shore. After we anchored the boat, we baited our fishhooks with worms (my Dad’s fishing line actually had two hooks about a foot above each other).

No sooner did we put our lines in the water than it started raining really hard. We had a big tarp in the boat, so we covered ourselves with it. But guess what happened just after we surrounded ourselves with the tarp? The fish started biting. A lot!

We all caught a fish simultaneously, and my Dad hooked two on his line. We pulled our fish in, and as soon as we put our poles back in the water with fresh worms, we all caught a fish again. This went on for about thirty or forty minutes. It was so much fun and funny at the same time. We took off the tarp and kept fishing in the pouring rain. We laughed throughout the entire experience because we couldn’t bait our hooks or pull the fish in fast enough. Of course, once we reached the shore, we separated the good and bad fish. Especially if they were too small. Those we threw back in the lake.

You know what? If my Dad hadn’t listened to my cousin Sam we would never have caught all those fish, would we?”

My fish story brings us to today’s Parable.

************************************************

The Parable of the Net

 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” Matthew 13:47-52

This Parable is similar to the story, “The Parable of the Weeds. However, in today’s Parable, the fishermen pull up a jam-packed fishnet. They then took the good fish, put them in a basket, and threw the bad ones away.

In the Parable of the Weeds, a man had sown good seeds. But, at night, his enemy sowed bad seeds in the same field. So, the man who owned the field waited until the good and bad seeds had grown. Then he and his workers separated the wheat from the weeds at the harvest. First, they put the wheat into barns. Then they took the weeds, bundled them, and burned them.

When Christ returns, He will separate the true believers from the non-believers. But, until He returns, everyone has the same opportunity to repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness and salvation they need.

Jesus asks His disciples a very pointed question in verse 50, 

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. And they answered that they did. If they had said no, then Jesus would have explained the Parable to them as He had in the past.

Finally, let’s look at verse 52 again.

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

When I read this, I got the feeling Jesus was pleased that His disciples were finally “Getting It.” Before you can become a teacher, you must be a student. Jesus had been teaching these students, His disciples, for nearly three years. Although they would fall away when He was arrested, at Pentecost, they would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Who would compliment the knowledge Jesus had already shared with them. He would be an encourager and guide for them to continue Christ’s work.

Here’s my final point. The house owner from the Parable is an analogy for a disciple. The new treasures and the old are the new ideas and things Jesus has taught them. The old is the Old Testament story, filled with God’s creation and prophesies of a Savior. Jesus was the fulfillment of those prophecies. He is our Savior, who died on a cross for our sins, and overcame death by rising three days later.

Now get out there and be fishers of men and women. 😊

Dear Jesus. We need to continually learn about and grow closer to you. Please open up the scriptures for us so we may better share your promise of eternal life with others. Amen

Is it all about Him or you?

The Parables of Jesus

April 4, 2022

Is it all about Him or you?

Luke 16:1-15

I’m sure you’ve met them. I’m talking about people who believe it’s all about them.

It’s the person who will stop at nothing to get the promotion that comes with the corner office. It’s the guy who makes a lot of money but never thinks once about giving any to charity or the needy. And those “Mean Girls” at your school who believe it’s all about them and you’re not good enough to be part of the “It” crowd.

Suppose I asked 50 people who read this devotion today. I’m sure they’d all have a different story about people who always make their lives more important than others.

It’s okay. Just remember, don’t be a me or I person; instead, be a Him person.

This brings us to today’s Parable.

*********************************************************

Being shrewd to excess can make you a me or I person.

Dictionary. Com’s definition of shrewd is:

“Having or showing astute or sharp judgment in practical matters, sometimes at the cost of moral compromise; cunning or tricky.”

I believe the part about moral compromise and cunning defines the main character of today’s story.

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So, he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management because you cannot be manager any longer.’

 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

 “So, he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

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

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:1-15

After reading today’s Parable, you can see that the Shrewd Manager was one of those people I spoke about earlier. He was all about me, not Him. Obviously, he had been skimming money off the top from his boss, the rich man. When he got caught, all he could think about was how he could make life better for himself.

He had his master’s debtors lower the amount they owed him, so they would like him. The rich man commended his manager for being shrewd. Not for being shrewd in his dealing with his money, but for how he maneuvered the debtor’s so he would look good.

The manager in this story reminds me of the prodigal son. He, too, was very free with money he hadn’t earned. But, as Jesus says later in the Parable, the manager is a person who could not be trusted with a little or a lot.

In verse thirteen, Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Jesus was telling His disciples to be wise with their money and use it to glorify God. In many parables we’ve read, wealthy people were self-serving and never thought to give to the poor and needy. If we do this, then we are serving money, not God.

Finally, once again, Jesus aimed His final comments at the Pharisees who were present.

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”

Money and our treasures are temporal; they are of this world. Therefore, we should never worship the world; only God is worthy of our service and worship.

Dear Jesus. Help us to keep our priorities straight. We know we should not worship things of this world, yet there are times that we do. May your Spirit guide us to use the earthly wealth you have blessed us with as a blessing to others. Amen.

What kind of Tenant are you?

The Parables of Jesus

April 3, 2022

What kind of Tenant are you?

Matthew 21:33-44, Isaiah 1:1-5

About 30 years ago, friends of ours purchased a rental home. They felt it was a good investment for themselves. In addition, they could make money from the rental, and there was a good tax write-off involved for them.

Between any landlord and renter, there is always an agreement signed. Usually, they do a background check on the wood be renters. If they pass that background check, usually there is a deposit of first, last, and one month’s rent.

Generally, there is a promise in the signed agreement. For example, suppose the rented home or apartment remains in good condition, and the renter doesn’t break the lease. In that case, they will receive their rent deposit when they leave.

Over several years my friends had several renters in the home they owned. When a renter left, it always meant going in and cleaning and repairing the house. Needless to say, the renters did not receive their deposit back.

On one occasion, my friends had to ask the renter to leave because of the poor condition of upkeep on the house. After they moved out, my friends found the home in horrible shape, having to put several thousand dollars into it for repairs. Eventually, they sold the property.

That brings us to today’s Parable.

*************************************************

After my friend’s experience, I always promised myself I would never be a Landlord. In today’s story, a landowner rents out his property. He finds out that his tenants are very greedy and self-serving.

The Parable of the Tenants

 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

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

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

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

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

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

the Lord has done this,

and it is marvelous in our eyes’ (21:42 Psalm 118:22,23)?

 “Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.” Matthew 21:33-45

The best way to keep this Parable in perspective is to read the passage from Isaiah that Jesus borrows from.

I will sing for the one I love

a song about his vineyard:

My loved one had a vineyard

on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones

, and planted it with the choicest vines.

He built a watchtower in it

and cut out a winepress as well.

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,

but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now, you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,

judge between me and my vineyard.

What more could have been done for my vineyard

than I have done for it?

When I looked for good grapes,

why did it yield only bad?

Now I will tell you

what I am going to do to my vineyard:

I will take away its hedge,

and it will be destroyed;

I will break down its wall,

and it will be trampled. Isaiah 1:1-5

Let’s begin with the final verse of the Parable from the book of Matthew.

“When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.” 

This Parable is not directed at the people of Israel or Jesus’ disciples. Instead, Jesus is talking about the religious leaders of Israel, the chief priests, and Pharisees. And they knew that He was talking about them.

Let’s break the Parable down. The landowner is God. The tenants are the Jewish leaders. The servants who were sent to retrieve the landowners’ share of the crops are the prophets of the Old Testament.

The Jewish leaders rejected God’s prophets for generations. Their job was to grow the Old Testament church. They were supposed to encourage people to grow in their love and faith in God. Instead of bringing people to repentance and dependence on God. They consistently rejected what the prophets had to say. They were supposed to encourage people to grow in their love and faith in God. But that never happened. Even though the prophets carried God’s very words to the leaders and people.

The landowner’s son, of course, is Jesus. This Parable took place just a few days before Christ’s death. He was predicting what was going to happen to Him. And Jesus forewarned them that because they were plotting to kill Him, those very plots and schemes would bring down judgment on them.

Jesus expects us to follow through on His words, whereas the church leaders of His time did not. So it’s our job to spread the good seed of the Gospel and watch people grow in the faith, unlike the grapes in the Isaiah passage.

Let’s not waste time because we don’t know how much time we have. Instead, let’s join together and grow God’s Kingdom bringing His Word and love to the lost.

Dear Jesus. Let us never be like the tenants in today’s Parable. Instead, we pray that your Spirit guides us to share your Gospel story or love and redemption with everyone. Amen.

“It’s the Heart that Counts”

The Parables of Jesus

April 2, 2022

“It’s the Heart that Counts”

Matthew 21:28-32

About 15 years ago, I presented a children’s message based on today’s Parable. I did my best to update it so that kids could relate to it.

“Today, I want to tell you the story of two boys. I want you to listen carefully to figure out which one listened to his Father.

Now the Father in this story had a big job for his sons. He wanted them to pick up and clean their rooms.

First, the Father asked Jim to pick up and clean his room. Here’s what Jim said, “No! I won’t! I don’t want to!” And off Jim went to play.

Then the dad called Mike over, “Hey Mike, come here for a minute; I want you to do something.”

“Okay, dad!”

“I need you to pick up and clean your room!”

“Okay, Dad,” Mike said, but he didn’t clean up his room. He went out to play instead.

Well, about that time, Jim felt pretty bad; he thought about what his dad had asked him to do and felt sorry for saying no to his dad. So, he went inside and began to clean up his room. (He listened to his heart)

But Mike kept right on playing. “I conned dad,” he thought to himself. “He thinks I’m cleaning up, but it’s more fun to play outside.”

HMMMMMMMMMM!

Which of the two boys did what their dad wanted them to?

That’s right, Jim did.

It didn’t make his Father happy when Jim said no, but it did make him happy when Jim was sorry and did the work later.

Sometimes we do the same thing. We say, “I don’t want to,” when we learn what God wants us to do.

But later, we realize – or change our hearts, say we’re sorry, and do what He asks.

This brings us to today’s Parable.

**********************************************

The Parable of the Two Sons

 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later, he changed his mind and went.

 “Then the Father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For, John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” Matthew 21:28-32

You’ll notice that I didn’t change much from the actual Parable in my children’s message. Instead, I gave the sons names to make them a little more real and changed the work to something most kids hate. They were supposed to clean their rooms.

Jesus uses the two sons as an analogy for two groups of people in Israel. The first group is the tax collectors and prostitutes, and I would dare to include the homeless, widows, and poor. For this group of people, John’s words burned within their hearts. So they listened to John the Baptist, repented of their sins, and were baptized.

The second group was the Pharisees, chief priests, and church elders. They had no use for John the Baptist and his teachings, and now they felt the same way about Jesus.

So therein is the answer to the question of the two sons. Which of the sons or groups did the will of the Father? It’s self-evident at this point, isn’t it? The first son and the first group. The tax collectors, prostitutes, and economically challenged heard the call of John the Baptist to repentance.

That’s why it’s so crucial for us to spread the Gospel. It’s our job to expose people to the Grace of God and the redemption offered through Christ’s death on the cross. B.G.T.F. (By Grace through Faith)

Dear Jesus. There have been many times when we have declined your call. Let us always listen for your voice as we spread the Good News of the Gospel to the World. May your Holy Spirit guide us to those who have ears and hear. Amen.

“That’s Not Fair!”

The Parables of Jesus

April 1, 2022

“That’s Not Fair!”

Matthew 20:1-16

Did you ever split a candy bar with a sibling or friend? One of you would take the candy and snap it in half. Generally, you would look at the two halves, and if you were like most kids, you’d hand the small piece to your sibling or friend. Then there was the inevitable cry of, “No Fair,” because you had kept the large portion of the candy bar for yourself.

Someone at work gets a promotion when you’ve worked there longer. No Fair! The men in your office get paid more than the females do for the same job. No Fair! (That one is ridiculously not fair.)

There are plenty of things that happen in our lives that we can say are unfair. Sometimes they are, while other times, perhaps we’re just jealous.

This brings us to our Parable for today.

**************************************************************

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius (20:2 A denarius was the usual daily wage of a day laborer.) for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

 “About nine in the morning, he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So, they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon, he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

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

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

 “So, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:1-16

On the surface, this story does seem a bit unfair, doesn’t it? Some men worked all day, others half a day, while others only worked an hour. Yet, they all were paid the same. Unfair?

Actually, it isn’t unfair at all. The vineyard owner told the early workers what the pay was, and they accepted. It was only after everyone got paid the same did they complain.

But the owner of the vineyard is just that. He’s the boss, and he can payout as much as he wants to whoever he wants, no matter how long or hard they work.

In the Parable, “Jesus points out that God deals with us on the basis of His Grace and love instead of on the basis of what we think is fair and just. If we complain about His generosity to others, we despise Grace.”

(Peoples Commentary Bible, Matthew. G.J. Albrecht and M.J. Albrecht. Copyright 1996, C.P.H. Pp. 284)

Sometimes it’s difficult for us to let go of our human values and egos. We can’t compare ourselves to others. God has a big heart and offers His Grace to everyone.

Who’s, is everyone? I mean everyone. It’s the guy on death row who ask for forgiveness and repents. The person didn’t believe in God’s Grace, repent and know Jesus as his Lord and Savior until he was an adult. (Lee Strobel, the writer of “The Case for Christ,” comes to mind.) And it’s the 80-year-old on their death bed in hospice care, visited by a minister asking for forgiveness and repents of their sins.

God’s Grace is all-encompassing. Whether you’ve been a believer all your life or not until the end, God’s Grace still is there for you.

No Fair? I think not. In God’s eternal Kingdom, His Grace is available and fair for all.

Dear Jesus. So many times, we get caught up in thinking we’re better than others. We look at life through a lens of favorites and reviled. Help us remember we are all the same in Your Father’s eyes, and His Grace is available to each of us, no matter where we are in our lives. Amen.