“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.

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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.

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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.

“Don’t judge; that’s God’s job!”

The Parables of Jesus

March 31, 2022

Don’t judge; that’s God’s job

Luke 16:19-31

There’s an old saying I think of quite often. “Never judge a book by its cover.” I think of these words when I see someone who is homeless or in need.

I often see homeless people on street corners. When I see that they may be smoking or have really nice shoes, I say to myself, “If they can afford cigarettes or have nice shoes, they can afford food.” Have you ever done that? That is being judgmental.

When I was a full-time church worker, my students and I would deliver groceries to needy families, as I have mentioned before. There were times we’d bring the groceries to the door, and we’d be invited in. On any number of occasions, the house was nicer inside than my own. And I would say to myself, “If they have such a nice home, why do they need help with groceries?” Once again, I was being judgmental.

When we encounter the homeless and the poor, judging them is not our place. We don’t know what their circumstances are or what brought them to be in need. As I said earlier, it’s not our place to judge; that’s God’s job.

In Deuteronomy 15:11, we are charged to help the needy, not judge them.

“For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore, I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.”

This brings us to our Parable for today.

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The Rich man and Lazarus

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

 “The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So, he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire.’

 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you, a great chasm has been set in place so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”              

 Luke 16:19-31

You’ll notice that the rich man is not named. Some theologians refer to him in Latin as ‘Dives,” which means rich. The beggar is named Lazarus. It leads me to wonder if Jesus wasn’t indicating who He showed favor from right from the start of the story.

On another note, just to avoid confusion, Lazarus in this story is not the brother of Mary and Martha, who Jesus raised from the dead.

Lazarus ended up in heaven with Father Abraham. Of course, the rich man did not, so it would not be presumptuous to call Lazarus a pious (devoutly religious) man. But nevertheless, isn’t it interesting to see how one’s fortunes can change after death.

The rich man made no move to help Lazarus. He didn’t give him the scraps from his table. And, like the rich young ruler, he offered nothing to the poor. The rich man is like the farmer who was going to build barns for his wealth of crops and just sit back and enjoy life. Only to find out his life would be taken from him that very night.

The rich man’s mind and heart are also satisfied with earthly treasures. But, once again, we are shown that “You can’t take it with you.”

The rich man sees Lazarus and Abraham up in heaven. He begs for some type of help, even a sip of water. But it’s too late.

Here are two points to remember. One, Jesus emphasizes that we should use the riches God gives us wisely. One of the ways to use our wealth is to help the less fortunate

The second point pertains to something Abraham says to the rich man.

‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

Abraham is referring to the Old Testament. God says, “My Grace is sufficient for you.” God’s Grace and His call for repentance are found in His Word. This is why the call to read, learn and understand the scriptures is so important. As the rich man found out, our chance for redemption is over once we leave this world.

Don’t judge the poor; give to the poor. But, don’t presume your good works of giving and helping will save you. We are only saved by God’s Grace through our Faith in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord. So many times, we judge others. We criticize not just the poor but because of someone’s race, creed, and color. Help us to see others as you do and be servants to all. Amen.

Are You Like The Pharisee or Tax Collector?

The Parables of Jesus

March 30, 2022

Are you like the Pharisee or Tax Collector?

Galatians 5:19-26, Luke 18:9-14, Matthew 5:5

One of my favorite passages is from Galatians 5. Paul does an outstanding job of telling the people of Galatia and us how as followers of Christ, how we should live.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.” Galatians 5:22-26

The passage is pretty straightforward. If we are filled by the Holy Spirit and walking the path that has been chosen for us, this is how we should live.

Paul also gives us the flip side of the Fruit of the Spirit.

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21

Once again, this passage is pretty straightforward, isn’t it? If this is the lifestyle you choose, then the Kingdom of heaven is out of your reach.

What kind of person has the traits of the Fruit of the Spirit. I believe we need to look no further than the Beatitudes. Perhaps all of the Beatitudes are encompassed somewhat in the Fruit of the Spirit. But the one that shouts out to me is:

“Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

I looked up words synonymous with the word meek. I found words like: kind, gentle, calm, and peace. Take a look back at the Fruit of the Spirit. All of those words are there.

It’s challenging to be a Christian because God asks us to be gentle and patient and not be demanding or boisterous.

And after a rather long introduction, those words bring us to today’s Parable.

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The Story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is about how we should present ourselves when we pray. It is also about what type of person we want to present to God.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this Parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

Jesus tells the story of two people who pray at the temple. First, we hear from the Pharisee as he raises his hands to heaven and draws attention to himself. What he’s saying is,

“Thanks for making me so perfect, God; I do everything right. I give lots of money to the church, follow all of your rules, and am not like everyone else. I’m better! Amen.”

If you think about it, did the Pharisee even pray? No, he didn’t. All he did was tell God how great of a person he was. The Pharisee seems to think that God needs him more than he needs God.

Now it’s the Tax collectors’ turn. Something you might want to remember. Not unlike today, tax collectors were not liked; you might say they were despised. First of all, they collected taxes for the Romans. Secondly, they were known for skimming money off the top and overcharging on taxes for their own benefit.

The Tax Collector in Jesus’ Parable meekly stood off to the side. But this tax collector was different. He didn’t stand in front of everyone to pray because he didn’t want to talk to everyone; he wanted to talk to God. So he didn’t raise his hands to heaven to make a big show of his prayer. Instead, he was humble before God, asking for mercy.

He simply bowed his head and whispered, “God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinful man.” The tax collector prayed from the heart.

 God heard his prayer and loved that tax collector even though he was a sinner. Therefore, we need to present ourselves before The Lord as the Tax Collector did. We should always take prayer seriously because God takes prayer seriously; we should go before Him humbly (meek and respectfully) when we pray.

Prayer isn’t about how great we are; it’s about how wonderful, loving, and forgiving God is!

Dear Jesus, thank you for loving us so much you were willing to die on the cross for our sins. Help us take our prayer time seriously, always be humble before you, and ask for forgiveness of our sins. Amen

“The Unrelenting Widow”

The Parables of Jesus

March 29, 2022

“The Unrelenting Widow”

Luke 18:1-8

When I think of unrelenting people, three names come to mind. One was a living person; the other two were fictional.

The first fictional person is Captain America. If you have seen any of the Marvel movies he appeared in, you’d know he was unrelenting. He never gave up. And whenever he got beaten down, Cap would just look at his opponent and say, “I could do this all day.”

The second person is not fictional. His name was Winston Churchill. He was the Prime Minister of England during WWII. Here is a portion of one of his best speeches:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

(Winston Churchill’s address to Harrow School, October 29, 1941

That’s the type of person Churchill was. Unrelenting.

Finally, the third person is the main character of today’s Parable. She is fictional. But, Jesus brings her to life in our eyes and heart.

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The Unrelenting Widow

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town, there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

 “For some time, he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8

The bottom line of this Parable is that God wants us to be persistent in prayer. But there’s more.

As seen from his demeanor, the woman repeatedly goes to this judge, who obviously should not be a judge. Her unrelenting persistence finally gets through to Him. The reason the judge decides to give the woman justice is actually pretty humorous. In the NIV Bible, it says, “I will see that she gets justice so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

But the literal Greek interpretation is “Lest by coming she, in the end, give me a black eye.” 🙂

I guess the judge was afraid he might run into the woman in a dark alley some night and get beaten up.

Here’s the point. If a horrible judge finally listens to this woman and gives her justice, imagine how quickly God will bring justice if we keep coming to Him in prayer.

Like the disciples, God wants us to be persistent and unrelenting in our prayers about our problems, suffering, and anguish. Especially when we can no longer endure the difficulties that surround and weigh us down.

Jesus ends this story with this question.

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? When Christ returns, will His church be faithful? Will they be a people of unrelenting prayer? Or will they have given up because of all the adversity the world throws at them/us?

Once again, we come back to sharing the message of the Gospel with the world. I believe upon His return Christ, our Savior, will find a community of prayer warriors who are faith-filled with love and hope.

Dear Jesus. Let us always come to you in prayer with every problem and suffering we are enduring. As faithful followers, we know you will hear our prayers and answer them. Amen.

“The Lost Was Found”

The Parables of Jesus

March 28, 2022

“The Lost was Found”

Luke 15:8-10

In 1992, my daughter, Heather, lost her favorite stuffed animal. It was a small blue bunny. We weren’t sure where she lost it, but we were reasonably certain it wasn’t in the house.

One night after going to dinner with some friends, we walked along the sidewalk in front of a strip of stores. We were talking with our friends when we realized Heather had stopped and was looking in the darkened window of a store that was closed for the day. So I walked over to her and said, “What are you looking at, Heather?” She pointed in the window and said, “My bunny.”

Sure, enough, it was her stuffed bunny, hanging at the end of a ribbon with a note that said something along the lines of, “Did you lose me?” I don’t know the chances that someone would do that and not just throw the stuffed animal in the garbage. But I would venture to say the odds were slim. The next day, I went to the store with Heather, and we retrieved her bunny. She was overjoyed that she had her favorite stuffed animal again. B.T.W., my daughter, is now 34, and we still have the bunny. 😊

My story brings us to our Parable for today.

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The Lost Coin

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10

In Greek, the word coin means “drachma,” which is the only time we see it used in scripture. Usually, the Gospels refer to the Roman denarius. Both coins have about the same value. They are worth a day’s wage for a person.

The woman in this story has ten silver coins and loses one. She pulls out all the stops to find the lost coin. Eventually, she finds it and rejoices with her neighbors.

“The description of the woman lighting a lamp and sweeping her house confirms that she was a comparatively poor person living in a peasant’s small house with a low doorway and no windows.”

(New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition. Luke 15, Pp. 1005)

You might say that the lost silver coin is equivalent to losing your soul. Where was the coin lost? In the dirt. The dirt is the world, and all of its distractions that can pull us away from God.

The lamp, or light, is the Gospel that is there to bring us closer to God.

The neighbors who rejoice are the Kingdom of heaven itself. This woman was a sinner. She had gotten lost in the world, just as we do. But she repents her sins and amends her ways.

This is why Jesus says, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The lost coin, the lost sheep, and yesterday’s devotion about the lost son are all about repentance and rejoicing in heaven when a sinner returns to the fold.

Dear Jesus. When we lose our way in this world, we pray your word is a lamp unto our feet. May we repent of our wrongdoings and run to you open arms, where righteousness and eternal life await us. Amen.

“I Was Lost!”

The Parables of Jesus

March 27, 2022

“I was lost.”

Luke 15:11-32

Have you ever been lost? There are a couple of ways to answer that question. I believe we’ve all gotten lost while traveling, and that is one way to answer it. The other is if you have ever felt lost and helpless. I would venture to say that we’ve all felt that way.

Many years ago, and when I say many, I mean 40-45 years ago. At the time, Kathy and I hadn’t lived in Florida very long. We were visiting Disney World and got off the exit that takes you to what is now Disney Springs. Back then, it was a small, intimate shopping area called Walt Disney World Village.

I decided to take a shortcut. 😊 I thought I was following signs that would bring us to the hotel we were staying at just outside the village. That’s when the trouble began. I turned down a paved road with no signs, and suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of an orange grove.

There were orange trees on both sides of the car with fully blooming oranges. I couldn’t turn around as there was no room. Branches full of oranges were banging against the roof and side of the car. Yes, we were on a very tight dirt path, seemingly no way out. We were a bit horrified and, for some reason laughing at the same time. I continued on the path between the orange trees for what seemed forever (It was probably no more than five minutes). Then, suddenly the trail opened up. I saw a road that ran perpendicular to the path in front of us. I hit the gas, and we were slightly airborne as we landed on the road. From there, we finally found our way back to civilization. I would never want to be lost like that again.

My story brings us to today’s Parable.

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The Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son

This story is known as “The Lost Son” or “The Prodigal Son.” Here’s a definition of the word prodigal: “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.”

This is definitely a definition of the main character’s actions in today’s Parable.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his Father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.

 “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. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my Father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my Father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 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.

 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

 “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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.

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

 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his Father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But, when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

 “‘My son,’ the Father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.'”               Luke 15:11-32

We’ve all heard or read this passage many times. Take a few minutes to re-read the story and then think about these items:

Who do you think is the young Son’s Father? Who is the young son?

What was the young Son’s Ah-Ha moment that brought him back to His Father?

Why do you think the Father was so welcoming when his sinful son returned home?

Why do you think the older brother had such a lousy attitude concerning his Father’s actions?

Who do you relate to more? The lost son or the older brother?

Many of the answers to the questions I just asked you are relatively self-evident. So let’s look at the story as a whole.

One of the most exciting things about this story is that the Father is actually the main character, not the lost son. The Father is obviously a rich man who lives a lavish lifestyle. Yet he seems to handle his finances much better than his son is about to.  After he “blows” his inheritance on wine, women, and song, the young son returns.

Before his return, the young son had an Epiphany of sorts and realized he had messed up against his Father and heaven. He didn’t need to live in poverty. He could return to his Father, apologize and work as a servant if necessary.

It wasn’t necessary. When the Father sees his son, he doesn’t even listen to the scripted story his son was telling him.

Instead, the Father calls for his servant to give his young son a robe, jewelry, shoes and throws a feast in his honor, celebrating his return.

The Father approaches his eldest son and repeatedly asks him to come inside the house and celebrate his brother’s return. But, the elder son wants nothing to do with the party.

This is a story of forgiveness and redemption and a jab at the pious religious leaders of the day (analogized by the eldest son). First, the Father allowed the son to use his free will to live the life he saw fit. Then, when the young son humbly returned, the Father forgave him.

Do you see yourself in this story at all? God’s Holy Spirit has a path for us to follow throughout our lives. But, there are times we stray from the path (the lost son). Yet, when any of us return to the Lord and seek forgiveness, all of heaven is overjoyed. We are forgiven when we mess up, just like the young son. Jesus died for our sins; we are forgiven every time we mess up. Jesus’ loving arms are always open and ready to welcome us back onto the Kingdom path.

Dear Jesus. We mess up all the time. We stray from the path that your Holy Spirit has set us upon. Yet every time we return to you with a penitent heart, you welcome us back. Thank you for your love, sacrifice, and the redemption we received. Amen.

The Cost of Following Jesus

The Parables of Jesus

March 26, 2022

The Cost of Following Jesus

Luke 14:25-35; Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 9:23-26; Luke 18:18-23

“You know what a leader is without followers? Just a guy taking a walk.” That’s a quote from one of my favorite television shows, The West Wing.

It’s true. Leaders need followers, and those meant to follow need a leader. The dictionary definition of a follower is an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity.

We follow the leader. We follow people on Instagram and Tic-Toc. But the type of follower we’ll be talking about today is best described by one of my former students.

 “At its heart, followership is the complement to leadership. You can’t have one without the other. This doesn’t mean that followers are defined by what leaders are not. A follower is a leader’s counterpart, not his or her opposite.”

(Embracing Followership, How to Thrive in a leader-Centric Culture. Allen Hamlin Jr., Kirkdale Press, 2016. Pp. 4.)

Now that you understand what type of follower I’m discussing let’s look at today’s Parable. In it, Jesus says that there is a cost involved in following Him.

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The Cost of Being a Disciple

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate Father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay, the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Luke 14:25-35

In this passage, Jesus lays out some pretty strong stipulations to be a follower of His.

  1. You need to be willing to leave your family behind
  2. You need to carry your cross
  3. You need to be willing to give up all earthly possessions

After reading the passage and then the conditions Jesus gives, you might be saying, “Say What?”

Jesus isn’t saying to literally leave your family behind per se. Instead, he is saying that He and His instructions for us need to come first.

Perhaps you remember a devotion I wrote several years ago. In it, I quoted the late Lee Iacocca, former C.E.O. of Chrysler. There was a point in his life when Lee realized his priorities in life were all screwed up. So, he changed them. They read like this.

God comes first.

Family comes second.

Work comes third.

Everything else comes after that.

Perhaps you remember in the book of Matthew when Jesus was calling His first disciples:

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once, they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with their Father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their Father and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-22

Did you see what happened there? Jesus calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. What did they do? They left their nets and followed Him. They left their work their livelihoods to follow Jesus.

Then Jesus called James and John to follow Him, they did the same thing. They left their work and their family (Father) to follow Jesus.

We hear it often in preachers’ sermons. “You must take up your cross.” But, what exactly does Jesus mean by that?

Let’s look earlier in the book of Luke when Jesus says:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit themselves? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26

On the surface, it may seem that Jesus is indicating the cross we must take up daily are all the problems we encounter in life. Issues like illness, divorce, loss of a job, and the anguish of enduring the death of a loved one.

But, that is not what Jesus is referring to. Instead, He’s talking about suffering one must endure for being a follower of Christ.

Perhaps you and I will never have to pay the ultimate price of death for being a Christian. But, Jesus’ disciples all endured hardship, beatings, banishment, and death for following Him.

What about you and me. You mention that you are a Christian during a conversation, and immediately the conversation cools. Have you ever walked into a store with a Christian t-shirt on? Someone stops to read your shirt, then they look at you and say, “Oh, you’re one of those.” It’s happened to me. It’s the price we pay for being a Christ-follower.

Finally, Jesus said, you need to be willing to give up all earthly possessions. That’s a tough one, isn’t it? Perhaps you remember the rich young ruler.

“A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad because he was very wealthy.” Luke 18:18-23

Jesus came right out and told the ruler what He needed to do. But, he just couldn’t bring himself to do what Jesus asked. His earthly wealth was more important than eternity. Unfortunately, He couldn’t see beyond what was right in front of him.

Being a disciple of Jesus is not for the faint of heart. You can’t make a half-hearted commitment to Jesus. You’re either all in or not in at all.

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

Dear Jesus. When you came to earth, you were all in. You gave everything of yourself, including your life. You taught us that there are no halfway measures when following You. Let us never lose sight that following you means not just love and loyalty but sacrifice. Amen.

“We are all invited to the banquet.”

The Parables of Jesus

March 25, 2022

“We’re all invited to the banquet.”

Luke 14:16-24

Most of us have attended a banquet. I’ve been to weddings, retirement parties (including my own), and youth gathering galas. Some banquets had just over one hundred people; others I’ve been to had over 2000 in attendance.

I’ve been unable to attend a couple of these dinners when invited, usually for health reasons. But, generally, when I’m invited to a big banquet, I do my best to attend.

That brings us to our story for today.

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Over the last two days, we’ve read and discussed two Parables that Jesus told at a Pharisee’s house. Today we’ll be discussing the third.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

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

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

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

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

 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

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

 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”                    Luke 14:16-24

This Parable was told by Jesus because of what someone at the table said:

“Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

The banquet is what might be called “God’s Salvation Banquet.” Jesus is the servant sent out by God the Father to call people to repentance and faith. The guests that were invited to the banquet but refused the invite for a variety of reasons are the people of Israel, as the teachers of the law and Pharisees. The church leaders rejected Jesus. They did not believe He was who he said He was, The Son of God.

In Matthew 10:5, Jesus said,

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.”

Jesus, the servant, went out into the nation of Israel and was rebuked. Then He went back out, inviting the lame, the sick (including those with the sickness of sin), the crippled and blind. This is the same group of people Jesus referenced in yesterday’s devotion.

The servant/Jesus reports that many had come to the banquet from this group. But there is still room at the table (The Kingdom of God), so the servant is sent out a third time. Now to the rural areas where the gentiles live, many of them come to the banquet.

Everyone is invited to God’s banquet table, Jews, Gentiles, young and old, rich and poor, sick and needy. But unfortunately, many people reject Christ’s call to repent and have faith in the Gospel message of Jesus.

Those who reject God’s invitation have only what this world offers and nothing more. But, on the other hand, those who grasp onto the invite will enjoy everlasting life.

Nothing has changed. It was the same today as it was 2000 years ago. We are saved, B.G.T.F., By Grace (God’s unconditional, undeserved love) Through Faith (Our belief that God sent His only Son to be a living sacrifice for our sins, so we may live with Him in eternity forever.)

Dear Jesus. You have invited everyone to the Kingdom Banquet. Help us share Your Gospel message with others, so they may repent and have faith in you. We want everyone to join You at the banquet. Amen.

“In-reach or Outreach?”

The Parables of Jesus

March 24, 2022

“In-reach or Outreach?”

Luke 14:12-14

All churches are involved in outreach and in reach. In- reach is an event or program for your church members. Outreach is precisely the opposite. It is reaching out to the community with programs and events that will benefit them.

A lot of quibbling goes on within many churches about how much outreach should happen. Some churches give money to many different mission groups, but that doesn’t really touch their community. In my opinion, 80% of the church’s work should be about reaching out to the community.

Here’s an example of in-reach and outreach.

Outreach – When I was still in full-time ministry, my youth group would collect money and food items to deliver to needy families. As a result, I received names of families in need from local middle schools.

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, the youth and their parents would deliver bags of groceries, turkeys, and hams. This food would be delivered to about 80 families each time. Also, six times during the year, my group and I would distribute bags of food to 12-15 families in need. This is just one of many outreach items the youth and church participated in.

In-reach – Each year, during Lent and Advent, dinner was offered each week before our worship services. Of course, anyone could attend, but it was generally an in-reach event, and only members attended it.

This brings us to our Parable of the day.

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Yesterday I shared one of three Parables told while Jesus and His disciples were guests at the home of a Pharisee. Here now is the second.

Jesus at a Pharisee’s House (Part two)

“Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back, and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14

First, please understand that Jesus is not saying we should never invite our friends and family over to dinner. It’s okay to have them over. They will compliment your food your beautiful home, and at some point, they may return the compliment by inviting you to their home for dinner.

Jesus is criticizing when people strictly do good things to receive an earthly reward. We should never have a self-seeking attitude and use people or circumstances for our own advantage.

Remember the outreach food program I spoke of earlier. My youth group nor the church will receive no earthly reward for doing the outreach we did into the community. Sure, we’ll get an occasional thank you card. But, unlike the family dinner that can be reciprocated, the outreach event will probably never be returned.

That’s okay.

“Works of charity perhaps may not be rewarded in this world, for the things of this world are not the best things, but they shall in no wise lose their reward. It will be found that the longest voyages make the richest rewards.”
(Matthew Henry’s Commentary in on one volume. Zondervan, 1964. Pp. 1465)

Although we should never serve the needy or others to achieve rewards in heaven. Those who serve others as Jesus did mankind will find their reward in most cases. Not now or in this world, but instead, in eternity.

Dear Jesus. Let outreach to the needy become second nature to us. Let us never help others for our own gain. Instead, let us serve others as you did. Out of compassion, empathy, and love. Amen.