Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Parable Of God


The Gospels are full of what we have come to call Parables. The word itself was not used until the mid thirteenth century. The word originated with the French, but it was based on the Latin word: Parabole (comparison). We commonly define a Parable as a short earthly story using everyday events to convey a heavenly meaning.

Jesus used many comparison stories to convey heavenly messages. But even in the telling, Jesus had deeper meanings than the disciples understood. Jesus meant things that many preachers and teachers still don’t understand.

Matthew thirteen records an important comparison, a story we call the Parable of the Sower. In the story, Jesus describes a farmer who sows seed on three types of soil. In the explanation, Jesus describes the soils as three different kinds of people.
Most teachers read the story from the soil’s perspective (man). But what if we look at the story from the sower’s perspective?

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up” (Matthew 13:3-4).

I have heard so many explanations of this portion of the story and even used them myself.

“It was difficult to cultivate good soil, and to plant the seeds only in the right place.”
“There were no set roads like we have today. People often walked straight through a piece of land where the farmer planted his crops. The paths became packed and hard, and some of the seeds inadvertently fell in those paths.”
“The farmer wasn’t concerned about where he threw the seed, he just needed to get his crop planted.”

All of these explanations observe the story as if we were only talking about a farmer. But how does the story look if we observe the first half of the parable as a spiritual story as well? What if we called the first half, The Parable Of God?

God is the farmer. That part of the story we understand. But God has a plan, which is much deeper than our understanding. In this case, however, Jesus gave us the application before he shared the story. The application is found in Matthew 6:26. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Let’s be honest, God does not do anything haphazardly, indiscriminately, or by accident. He is intentional, acting according to His plan. From the parable, we come to understand that God provides for the innocent, and the unaware. Our God even provides for the crows and the vultures. This covers a range of people, from who have no knowledge of the scripture to the predators that want to snuff out the gospel.

“Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away” (Matthew 13:5-6).

These verses bring me to Luke 17, which records a time when Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus did an amazing thing, willingly entering a leaper village.  There he met ten lepers who called out for his help. Jesus healed all ten, sending them to the Priests to be declared clean. Jesus went on his way, entering Samaria. While there, one of the lepers returned to give him glory. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:17-19).

One returned, having faith that made him well, turning him into good soil. Nine however lived among the thorns, and gave Jesus no glory. Did he take away their healing, and return them to their illness? No. Their healing was real, but without faith, they remained poor soil where weeds were able to choke out what little they did gain.

The point is that God intentionally provides for the skeptics, scoffers, and mockers. He still provides for the haters, and those who stand against the gospel. He is fully aware that they will not return to him, yet he provides the necessary ingredients for life. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45).

The explanation of the parable found in Matthew 13:18-23, challenges us to test our own heart. What kind of soil are we? Are we open to God’s leading, allowing him to produce thirty, sixty, and even one hundred fold. Or, are we looking at those in the thorns, and on the path, wondering how they get ahead, while we struggle. If this occurs in your heart, then remember the point of the first half of the story. God provides, purposefully, intentionally, and lovingly to all people. Remember, the time will come when the sheep and goats will be separated, and judged, but that time has not come. Until the time comes, God will continue to provide for every creature on earth.

Before leaving this post, accept the challenge to read, and pray, through Psalm 73, a song written by Asaph, David’s choir director. Allow God use his questions and observations to help cleanse and restore you to the most productive of soils.
”Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
 Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence;
For I have been stricken all day long
And chastened every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.
When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.”
Psalm 73

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hey God, Are You There?

“There was a time, Genesis informs us, when God and Adam walked together in the garden and conversed as friends. Nothing seemed more natural for Adam than to commune with the One who had made him, who gave him creative work, who granted his desire for a companion with the lovely gift of Eve. Then, prayer was as natural as conversation with a colleague, or a lover. At the moment of the fall, for Adam and for all who succeeded him, God’s presence grew more remote, easier to doubt and even deny.
For most of us, much of the time, prayer brings no certain confirmation we have been heard. We pray in faith that our words somehow cross a bridge between visible and invisible worlds, penetrating a reality of which we have no proof. We enter God’s milieu, the realm of spirit, which seems much less real to us than it did to Adam.”— Philip Yancy, Does Prayer Make Any Difference?
This quote describes the place where many find themselves in their prayer life. Since God seems to be in some otherworld location, it is easy to ignore any prayer time, easier to doubt and ultimately to challenge his authority. Our prayers move from seeking and listening, to delivering shopping lists and making demands for God to fulfill. We have turned the master into the slave.
I am certain that much of what is taking place in this world is happening to deliberately mock God. When visiting the Grand Canyon, I watched people ignore warning signs and inch closer and closer to the edge of the chasm.  They say, “I got this. Nothing is going to happen to me. I have it all under control.” Well society is doing the same thing, edging closer and closer to the chasm of destruction. And in all of this, we are saying, “We don’t need God. We got this.”
Can we not accept that the very chasm itself is proof that God IS still involved in the world? Yancy, goes on to say that we should stop looking down on God as though he is smaller than us, and start looking up at the majesty and glory which can only be found in him. He is not there to do our bidding. We are here to do his. When we begin to live this way, then prayer will once again become the natural conversation that Adam enjoyed.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Opportunist

            While sitting in a grocery store parking lot, my eyes were drawn to a man in the next row of cars. He was pushing his cart of groceries while chatting away on his cell phone. When he reached his vehicle he let go of the cart and opened the trunk to put his purchase in it.
            Apparently the conversation was more intriguing than his groceries because he kept his back turned with his groceries, which remained about two feet behind him. While the man’s focus remained elsewhere, a large black crow landed on the handle of the grocery cart where he had easy access to the bag sitting in what would normally be the child seat. The crow immediately stuck his head into a bag and started pecking at whatever food he could reach. The brazen bird pecked away for close to a minute without catching the attention of the man on the phone. When the man finally finished his conversation, he turned to his right. At the same instant the bird flew off to the man’s left, and was never in the line of sight. As I watched the event, I was struck by how much of an opportunist that crow was. He had become skillful at robbing people of their food then escaping without notice. People have no idea there is a problem until they arrive home, and even then they don’t understand what happened to the food in their bags.
            Satan is like that crow. He is opportunistic, entering into our lives and destroying all he can while our back is turned. We pay so much attention to the things we consider important while living our lives unaware that Satan is pecking away behind our backs. We may turn, but when we do, he has disappeared, leaving only the destruction that he caused.           The Bible likens the devil to a lion. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”(1 Peter 5:8). Sometimes the devil devours a person all at once, but more often he destroys us in little ways. We view the destruction as bad luck, or someone else’s fault but it is really the devil pecking away at our lives. Like the man in the parking lot, when we turn to our right, Satan moves to the left, and we never realize what has actually happened. He pecks at our character, chips away at our beliefs, and attempts to shred our faith. He pecks at our heart and if we never turn, he continues his pursuit until we no longer desire to live for Jesus.

            This is why Peter urges us to be serious about our faith, aware of what is going on in our lives, on the alert for the spiritual losses that are happening around us. We need to maintain vigilance over the things that really matter, and let the less mportant things take care of themselves.  Our spiritual lives are far too important to turn our back only to let Satan ruin things for us.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Part Of Isaiah 9 We Skip Over In The Christmas Story

With the Christmas holiday, the prophecy found in Isaiah 9 becomes a key topic in churches throughout the world. We love to read those glorious words,
For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)
The promises of the scripture give us strength as we ponder the power of the birth of Christ. We love to discuss what we are saved to… but we often miss the power of what we are saved from.

This week, Isaiah 9:4-5 captured my attention. It is a powerful text and deserves our attention. To grasp it’s meaning we must create a mental image of battle. Picture an army engaging in battle during the Isaiah the prophet’s lifetime. Soldiers walked great distances to reach the battlefront. Drones, bombs and grenade launchers were not available. They relied on Arrows and swords to defeat their enemy. Because of this, the soldier wore heavy armor complete with heavy breast plates, helmets, metal arm and leg protection, and armor coverings on their boots.

Movement of any kind could be painful, binding and pinching the skin. While the battle was raging, the soldier sweat profusely, cuts and scrapes could not be avoided, and shear exhaustion was the result. When soldiers withdrew from battle, their clothes would be drenched in sweat and blood. Their bodies were covered with sores, even if they escaped injury by enemy sword. Additional injuries were not dealt with until the day’s battle was over. This often added a great amount of extra blood, which soaked the soldier’s clothes. When they were finally able to retreat, even their boots were filled with sweat and blood. The next day, the soldier did not have a suitcase full of clean clothes. What they had on the previous day was what they had to wear that day. It is a gruesome picture but an accurate description of battle.

Sin has so many similarities to the picture of battle. We never enter into sin thinking that it will leave us bloodied, soaked, and exhausted. But, think about the actual effects of sin. Addiction, financial ruin, broken relationships, loss of health, and separation from all we hold dear are the real results of sin. Day in and day out we must wear the same garment of sin, and each day we are robbed of more of our existence, until there is nothing left to give.

The good news is that Christ came to offer salvation.
“For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,

you have shattered

the yoke that burdens them,

the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor.”
Isaiah 9:4 NIV
When we accept Christ, the yoke of sin is shattered. The rod of our oppressor is broken. The bar across our chest and shoulders that carries the weight of guilt and shame is lifted from us.  The yoke of Christ replaces the yoke of sin. “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" (Matthew 11:29 NASB).

Why, after having the yoke of sin removed, would we want to have the yoke of Christ placed on us? It is for our own protection. Jesus said that if a demon is not replace by something else, it will just go and get ten more, and the problem will be even worse. Once we are safely in the yoke of Christ, he is able to carry our burden, and keep us from being recaptured.

Now, here is where this victory has its profound effect.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle

and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,

will be fuel for the fire.”
(Isaiah 9:5 NIV)

The King James Version conveys the picture of this verse beautifully. “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise.” What a great picture of a life in sin. But when the silence of redemption comes, our bloody, smelly garments are rolled up, and thrown into God’s consuming fire along with our worn out boots.

The Voice presents verse five like this:
It’s true. All the fabric of war will go up in flames:

the troops’ heavy boots that stamped us down and their blood-soaked garb

Will all be burned beyond recognition or use.

There will be a new time, a fresh start.”

When we come to terms with what we have been saved from, the picture of what we have been saved for becomes all that much sweeter. We like to downplay sin as simply an error in judgment, or a poor choice, which we can walk away from any time we want. But look at the real effects of sin. We see it in broken lives, destroyed families, crushed hearts, and shattered lives. The yoke of sin is a burden that crushes us. We need help if our lives are to get any better. It is because of this that Isaiah wrote:
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
 And the government will rest on His shoulders; 
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, 
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
 The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”

(Isaiah 9:6-7 NASB)