Humility

At one point in the ministry of Jesus, the twelve apostles began to argue about which among them would be preeminent in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus at once recognized a perfect teaching moment and began to school the apostles in the basics of humility.

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:2-3 (NIV)

Like a child, utter dependence on our Father is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven.  This childlike reliance on God is step one.  The second step is related.  A child does not exert his own will over his father.  An obedient child complies completely with his father’s will.  Those who will be great in the kingdom of heaven are those who have totally given themselves over to the Lord.

“Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:4 (NIV)

This process of developing a childlike dependence on God establishes a connection to God that is unequaled.  Jesus tells the apostles that such a childlike dependence makes one an equal with Him.

“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  Matthew 18:5 (NIV)

Jesus was the ultimate example of this totally subservient relationship with God.  Obeying the will of His Father, Jesus went to the cross on our behalf as payment for our sins.  Jesus obediently served His Father while humbly serving all of us by paying the price for our transgressions.  The book of Mark records the final summation of this teaching:

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  Mark 9:35 (NIV)

Of course, we will never attain the awesome servant spirit of Jesus, but our mission is to spend every moment of every day making a sincere attempt.  Our life does not belong to us – it belongs to God.  His will above our own should be our focus.  How we approach every decision we make reflects our connection to this commitment to serve God by serving others.  How we respond to the needs of others is a clear indication of our total dependency on God.  If we truly trust God like a child, we will follow the path He places before us without hesitation.

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Panning for Gold

Gold panning is the process of standing in a river, scooping up some mud in a pan along with some water, and then sloshing it around until the useless material is discarded and only the gold is remaining.  Because gold is a more substantial material, it remains in the pan and does not get washed away.   Our Christian faith in much the same way provides us with the extra weight we need to be considered valuable to God.  Without the righteousness provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we would be useless to God and therefore discarded when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom.  Jesus used a parable about fishing to illustrate this point.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.”  Matthew 13:47 (NIV)

This parable is talking specifically about the return of Jesus to the earth where He will find believers and unbelievers all over the world.  Jesus will be bringing an army of angels with Him and together they will separate the good from the bad – the righteous from the unrighteous.

“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.”  Matthew 13:48 (NIV)

Like the miner panning for gold, Jesus has no use for those who have turned away and will be seeking out His followers as the precious gold that will remain with Him throughout eternity.

“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.”  Matthew 13:49-50 (NIV)

There’s no way to know precisely what the imagery of a blazing furnace and gnashing of teeth accurately depicts.  It certainly doesn’t sound inviting.  It may allude to the burning anguish one feels when they know a wrong decision has been made that cannot be corrected.  Frankly, I’d prefer never to know what the other side is like.  I’m confident my faith in Jesus will keep me from ever experiencing that kind of eternal trauma.

Like the gold miner, God is standing in the river of our lives sloshing around the mud and gravel waiting for the gold to sink to the bottom and be collected when Jesus returns.  Unlike the gold nuggets, we have a role to play in God’s mining operation.  We have a choice to make.  When we make a decision to follow Jesus, and put our faith in Him, we become more valuable than gold nuggets and become children of God – loved and protected for all eternity.

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A Fine Treasure

God had a special relationship with the nation of Israel.  These were His chosen people.  The entire Old Testament of the Bible details the back and forth negotiation between God and His chosen people.  One minute they would be on their knees worshiping Him and the next they would be in rebellion.  We learn from this that our human nature is constantly pulling us away from God.  Nevertheless, God promised the Israelites that great things would come to them if they could resist their human nature and stay true to Him.

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  Exodus 19:5-6 (NIV)

The Israelites were unable to live up to God’s high standard and eventually were punished for their disobedience and scattered throughout the world.  Of course, God has not forgotten them or the promises He made.  Jesus illustrates this point in one of His parables.

 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”  Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

From the very beginning God knew the Israelites could not live up to his standard of righteousness.  From the very beginning God knew that he would eventually send His Son to die on the cross as payment for their sins.  But God did not limit His Salvation to the Israelites.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”  1 John 2:2 (NIV)

Jesus taught through a second parable that in the same way the Israelites were bought with the blood of Christ, the Gentiles, illustrated as a fine pearl, have also been purchased.

 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Matthew 13:45-46 (NIV)

The ultimate price has been paid for our Salvation.  God sacrificed His Son so that we might be free from our sin and thereby obtain the righteousness of God.  God has provided us with a way to conquer our human nature and achieve eternal life with Him in the kingdom of heaven.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Bread Making

The basic ingredients for bread are flour, water, and yeast.  Once these elements are mixed together, the yeast is activated and begins releasing air bubbles that expand the dough.  As a result, the bread dough will expand to more than twice its original size.  Yeast makes dough rise.  Jesus used this process as a parable for the growth of the kingdom of heaven.

“He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Matthew 13:33 (NIV)

Once the yeast is mixed into the dough and begins working, nothing can prevent the dough’s growth.  The process is steady, continuous, and irreversible.  Jesus wants us to understand that Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit working from the inside out, just as the yeast works in the dough.  Like the yeast, the Holy Spirit is an invisible force that generates a profound change that radiates outward to impact our whole life.

Jesus used these graphic illustrations to help bring to life the supernatural elements of His plan for our lives.  Just like the prophets that came before Him (Psalm 78:2), Jesus used parables to reveal secrets and mysteries in a way that only His followers would easily comprehend.

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”  Matthew 13:34-35 (NIV)

When asked by His disciples why He taught in parables, Jesus essentially said that he was speaking in a sort of code that His followers would understand (Matthew 13:16).  Jesus did not want to offer these important truths to those who had hardened their heart against him (Matthew 13:15).  For this reason, we can surmise that the parables are some of the most important lessons delivered by Jesus.

Parables are like a locker room talk by the head coach intended only for team members.  A lot of inside information is provided that would be difficult, if not impossible, for outsiders to understand.  Jesus used parables to help us understand that God’s work is visible all around us in everything we do.  Jesus did not teach some theoretical doctrine.  He turned on a light to reveal the inner workings of God’s Creation.  Those who take the time to listen to His instruction will develop the ability to see God’s meticulous details constantly churning away like the inner workings of a fine Swiss watch.  Like yeast in bread, this process is steady, continuous, and irreversible.

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One Man

Christianity was started by one man – Jesus – who was sent by God to the earth to save humans from death caused by unrighteousness.  Because humans do not in themselves possess a righteous nature, they are unable to live eternally with God.  Because God loves all of His Creation, He sent His Son to die on the cross as payment for all human sins.  When we place our trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we acquire that Salvation.  When we admit we cannot achieve righteousness on our own and concede that we must completely depend on God’s grace, we are granted eternal life with Him.  This is the message of Christianity.  In the early days of His ministry, Jesus painted a graphic picture for his followers to help them understand what was developing before their eyes.

“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.”  Matthew 13:31

A mustard seed is a tiny seed that grows into a large plant.  Jesus planted this seed from which Christianity has grown.  Starting with twelve apostles, Christianity has grown to a current population of over 2 billion.  We have no accurate way to determine how many total Christians there have been since the ministry of Jesus began, but I think it’s safe to say it is at least a few billion more than the current population.  That is enormous growth! Thousands of years later Christianity is still growing.  Like the mustard seed, Christianity has flourished into a home for many.

“Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”  Matthew 13:32

This kind of extraordinary prediction could have only been made and fulfilled under miraculous circumstances.   In fact, Jesus wasn’t making a prediction at all – He was making a statement of fact.  When Jesus spoke this parable, He was already aware of exactly where we would be on this day.  If Jesus were standing with us now He would not be the least bit surprised by these numbers.  Who we are and where we are going has long been established.  Jesus is in complete control and our eternal existence is guaranteed as long as we follow Him.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Weeds

Even the best garden needs to have the weeds pulled to remain healthy.  Even the best grass seed may contain a few weeds.  Jesus taught that the Word of God is a seed that will grow the kingdom of God (Luke 8:11).  He went on to teach in another parable that an enemy would also be planting seed at the same time.  This seed planting would be an effort to intermingle the good crop with a useless crop.  This is Jesus teaching us that our world is intermingled with good and evil.  The devil is trying his best to disrupt the kingdom of God by planting weeds that infiltrate the church.

“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.”  Matthew 13:24-25 (NIV)

In this parable, the landowner’s workers ask if they should pull the weeds but he directs them to leave the weeds in place.  The problem is that these weeds are so insidious they are impossible to remove without disrupting the good crop.  The solution is to allow the weeds to grow and then remove them at the time of harvest.

“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.”  Matthew 13:29-30 (NIV)

This parable gives us an insight into the cat and mouse game being played by God and the devil.  God can destroy the devil at any time, but for reasons we may never fully understand He is allowing him to play his game.  In the end the devil’s disruption will be destroyed and the Lord’s harvest will be undamaged.

Jesus wants us to know He is allowing evil to flourish to some extent in our world; He also wants us to know that he is in full control of these weeds and will eradicated them in the end.  While there is no precise explanation as to why God has designed things to work in this way, it seems safe to assume there ultimately is some benefit for those of us who endure this cross-contamination.  Our eternal existence must somehow be enhanced by the experience of sorting through good and evil on a daily basis. Repetition is one of the best teaching tools.  Navigating around evil as a matter of routine is the kind of repetition that will likely help us develop a clear understanding of the dark side.  Apparently, the ability to easily identify evil will be useful to us in the world beyond.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Germination

The Word of God is the seed that grows the kingdom of God (Luke 8:11).  Evangelists, preachers, and mature Christians use this seed that God has provided to grow new believers that will make up the kingdom of God.  In the book of Mark, Jesus uses a simple parable to illustrate this important point.

“He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”  Mark 4:26 (NIV)

The process of growing the kingdom of God begins with a man sowing seed.  What our Lord wants us to fully grasp in this parable is the miraculous nature of the seed.  The Word of God, when properly planted, has an astonishing ability to sprout and grow committed followers of Jesus Christ.

“Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”  Mark 4:27 (NIV)

Precisely how a tiny seed grows into a large plant, flowering bush, or towering tree is beyond our full understanding.  What we do know is that the ability of the seed to produce its final product has nothing to do with us – it has everything to do with the seed.

“All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”  Mark 4:28 (NIV)

When we bring the Word of God to someone who is open to hearing the message, that person is a fertile field in which the seed will grow.  The Word of God is the mechanism that brings about the transformation.  We who sow the seed are merely gardeners spreading God’s miraculous truth.  The harvest produced is the result of seed, not the efforts of the sower.

“As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”  Mark 4:29 (NIV)

The moment a new believer blossoms into a sincere follower of Jesus Christ, God is quick to gather that ripe fruit into His kingdom.  This is an ongoing process that has been in daily operation since Jesus first began His ministry.

The parables of Jesus are wonderful illustrations of how God’s creation is full of lessons that reveal His methods, His truth, and His connection to all of us.  We don’t have to go far to discover how God works.  Step into your garden and plant a seed.  That is how the kingdom of God is being built.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Bible Study

Jesus often taught using parables.  This simply means he would use examples to paint a picture of the topic at hand.  When the disciples asked Jesus why he taught using parables, He told them it was because He only wanted His true followers to fully comprehend some aspects of His teaching.

“He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”  Matthew 13:11 (NIV)

Jesus used parables so that the complexity of His message could only be understood by true believers.  To help the disciples understand more completely, Jesus told them what is known as the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9) and then offered a clear interpretation.  This parable told the story of a farmer who planted seeds that each fell in different types of soil and yielded different results.  When Jesus later interpreted this parable (Matthew 13:18-23), he explained that the seed in the parable represented the Word of God and the different soils represented the different circumstances in which people are exposed to the Word of God.  Some hearers will not understand, some will soon forget, some will allow their life to overpower their understanding, and finally the person who listens carefully and understands the Word will greatly prosper.

Jesus wants Your Full Attention

There used to be a popular test distributed in high school classrooms that was intended to gauge how carefully students were studying the material placed in front of them.  The instructions at the top of the test told the students to read all questions before beginning.  Those diligent students who read all the questions before writing any answers would discover that the last question instructed them to only write their name on the test and turn it in without answering any of the other often ridiculous questions.  Those students who were not careful readers would spend the entire class trying to answer a list of questions that were totally useless.

Jesus is not interested in followers who take short cuts or are so distracted with other endeavors of life they are not fully devoted to His teaching.  Jesus wants the good students who carefully follow the instructions.  Jesus wants your full attention and for that reason He teaches in such a way as to leave those less attentive unprepared.   We have been greatly blessed with access to the Word of God in many forms.  It is our responsibility to take advantage of this knowledge.  God is not going to spoon-feed this information to us.  He wants us to demonstrate our sincerity by actively pursuing a comprehensive study of His Word.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Resurrection

A major turning point in the ministry of Jesus was the day the religious leaders known as the Pharisees accused him of being a tool of the devil. On this day, Jesus healed a man who was possessed by a demon.  The man was blind and mute, and Jesus extricated the demon so that he could both talk and see.  Those who witnessed this miracle were astonished.  They turned to the Pharisees for an explanation.  The Pharisees were powerful religious leaders and many would not accept Christ without their approval.  Unwilling to give up their power and control over the people, the Pharisees attributed the works of Jesus to the power of the devil.

This was clearly an illogical and misguided position to take and Jesus illustrated this with three undeniable facts.  First of all, Satan would not be interested in driving out his own demons.

“If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”  Matthew 12:26 (NIV)

Second, the Pharisees had already acknowledged other exorcists of that time to be a manifestation of God’s power; hence, they should admit that Jesus was sent by God.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Matthew 12:28 (NIV)

And finally, Jesus clearly demonstrated power over the devil by removing the demon.  Jesus could not be under the devil’s control if his actions were used to overpower the devil.

 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.”  Matthew 12:29 (NIV)

Regardless of this irrefutable evidence, the Pharisees did not change their point of view.  It was at this point that Jesus warned them that rejection of the power of the Holy Spirit that He was demonstrating, sealed their final judgment.  They were given the Word of God, followed by the manifestation of God in the form of Jesus Christ, and now this final sign – the miracles of the Holy Spirit.  There would be no further sign.  Rejection of this final sign was unforgiveable.

“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  Matthew 12:32 (NIV)

Jesus wanted those watching this debate between the Pharisees and the Son of God to fully understand the nature of the two sides.  Jesus was delivering miracle after miracle.  The Pharisees were doing nothing more than making a long list of rules and regulations.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”  Matthew 12:35 (NIV)

Our response to Jesus Christ determines our eternal destiny.  At this point in the ministry of Jesus, the Pharisees stood their ground in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.  They had rejected Christ and in essence sent him to the cross.  This was not the demise of Jesus.  This was the demise of the Pharisees.  Jesus would soon rise from the dead and take His place at the right hand of God.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

My Yoke is Light

President Bill Clinton’s birth name was William Jefferson Blythe after his father who died in a car crash.  Later in life, Clinton’s mom remarried and William Jefferson Blythe took on the last name of his step-father Roger Clinton, thus becoming the Bill Clinton we remember as the 42nd president of the United States.  It can be said that if you know William Jefferson Blythe, you know President Bill Clinton.  And if you know President Bill Clinton, you know William Jefferson Blythe.

Jesus made several claims to his deity and in one instance in the book of Matthew, he makes it clear that He and God the Father are one and the same.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”  Matthew 11:27 (NIV)

The only way to know God is through Jesus Christ.  If you reject Jesus, you are rejecting God.  The only way to know God is to trust Jesus.  Unlike Bill Clinton and William Jefferson Blythe, Jesus Christ and God the Father are two distinct individuals; however, they are also one-and-the-same.  We come to know God when we take refuge in the comforting arms of Jesus.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

When Jesus preached this message he was making a direct contrast to the burdensome rules and regulations administered by the religious leaders known as the Pharisees.  Jesus went on to talk about His yoke being light. A yoke is a wooden crosspiece fitted over the necks of two animals from which ropes are fastened to allow for efficient pulling of a plow or cart.  Taking on a yoke implies one is freely submissive and deliberately yielding to the one holding the guide ropes.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:29-30 (NIV)

Jesus wants us to know there is no long list of rules and regulations to follow.  When you take on the yoke of Jesus you are making a commitment to follow His teaching.  Jesus was able to boil his teaching down to one rule.

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14 (NIV)

That makes for a very light burden.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.