A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Matthew 13:30-32 "The Kingdom Is Like... (part one)"

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it?  It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds,  but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”

 As far is recorded in Scripture, Jesus only used the phrase "born again" one time;  He only used the term "ecclesia/church" three times.  But Jesus used the term "Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven," over 100 times.  It is interesting that modern evangelicals (which includes me) have developed a full, well-thought-out and fully articulated theology of the universal need for people to be born again and attend church -yet we still have such little understanding of the Kingdom.

Obviously, Jesus was passionate about the Kingdom.  It is the subject He spoke of most often.  Even after His resurrection, according to Acts chapter one -during the time between when He arose from the dead and whne He ascended to heaven, He was teaching them about the Kingdom of God.  There is something meaningful -even critical -that we need to grasp if we want to be on the same page as Jesus.

This is a complicated subject and trying to define exactly what Jesus is talking about is a little like trying to nail jello to the wall.  Perhaps this is why so often Jesus used parables to describe it.  Maybe it is not really important that we have an orthodox theology of the Kingdom that we can put in a little box and file away so we can pull it out when asked and say, "Yes, I know all about the Kingdom of God, Let me give you some Scripture references."  Maybe it is more important that we have an internal, intuitive, profound, visceral understanding of the Kingdom.  Not something we can easily define and debate; rather, something real and natural to God's people -something almost instinctual -something we know and live.  So, Jesus doesn't ever really define the Kingdom, but He often describes the Kingdom.

Here in Matthew 13, Jesus has a series of short parables that say, "The Kingdom of God is like...."  I think our job is to not over analyze, but to simply ask, "In what way is the Kingdom like that?"

How is the Kingdom of God like a mustard seed?  In what way is the Kingdom like a little tiny seed that gets planted and grows to be a large shrub capable of housing birds and small animals?  I'm sure it means more than this, but I think it means at least this:  In God's Kingdom, the insignificant are valued and the marginalized find dignity.  God takes our meaningless lives and gives us meaning.  We matter.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Matthew 13:24-30 & 36-43 "We Can't Do God's Job"

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his
field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where
then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.   At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

 We don't have to guess what this parable means because Jesus explains it to His disciples.  He tells them that the man sowing good seed is Himself.  The good seed represents Kingdom people, and the weeds are unrighteous people sown into God's field by the devil.  The harvesters at the end of the age are angels sent out by God.

The point Jesus is making here is clear and important.  In any church -among any group of Believers, there are going to be some who truly love God and who are Kingdom minded people; there are also going to be some wrong minded people who are not truly serving or seeking God.  Many Believers assume and even defend the idea that it is our job and our duty to search out (and weed out) sinners in the church -it is our job to hunt down heresy -it is our job to protect God's honor -it is our job confront and eliminate any wrong doctrine.  God said, "No!'  Seeking out heresy and confronting sin is His job.

We can't do God's job.  The sad reality that we see played out in churches every day is that when we try to do God's job, people get hurt.  I don't mean just a little hurt -I mean when we take the role of heresy hunter/sin confronter, people are spiritually wounded, sometimes eternally.

God is perfectly capable of defending His own honor.  God is able to deal with sin and heresy.  God protects His own.  In fact, God is the only One who can effectively deal with sin because in Jesus He has, literally, dealt with sin.  Sin is forgiven.  Jesus died and rose again.  That is Good News!  Sin is no longer the problem -the problem now is that people (in spite of sin being forgiven) do not choose to love God.  And often the reason people do not choose to love God is because they do not see God's love lived out among His people.  Our "job" is not to confront sin; our job is to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength -and love others as we love ourselves.  As we live out this life of love, God is honored, Jesus is lifted up, the works of the devil are destroyed, walls come tumbling down, and the Kingdom grows.

In the end, God will sort out the wheat from the chaff and the good grain from the weeds.  That's His job, not ours.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Matthew 13:10-17 "Closed Eyes And Hard Hearts"

His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.  That is why I use these parables,
   For they look, but they don’t really see.
     They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

       This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
   ‘When you hear what I say,
      you will not understand.
   When you see what I do,
      you will not comprehend.
   For the hearts of these people are hardened,
      and their ears cannot hear,
   and they have closed their eyes—
      so their eyes cannot see,
   and their ears cannot hear,
      and their hearts cannot understand,
   and they cannot turn to me
      and let me heal them.’

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.  I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it."

 At first reading, this seems to be Jesus saying that He intentionally speaks in riddles so that people can't comprehend what He is saying.  This, however, is not at all the case.  Jesus points out that by speaking in parables the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah were being fulfilled, but then He also plainly tells us why He speaks in stories and metaphors to begin with.  "To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.  That is why I use these parables."

Those who love Jesus and want to learn from Him will not have difficulty understanding what He is teaching.  On the other hand, those who mock Jesus or are simply trying to manipulate His teachings for their own ends, will never be able to grasp the depth and importance.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 2, Paul says a similar thing:  "For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life."

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is exactly this: life and wisdom to those who love God and are sincerely seeking Truth -and at the same time, foolishness and death to those who refuse to hear.  The choice is in the heart of the hearer: life or death / foolishness or wisdom -we actually get what we seek.