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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Parable of the Mustard Seed

 Jesus tells 8 parables in Matthew 13 about the Kingdom of God.  This one is the parable of the Mustard seed.   He tells us that the kingdom is like a man who takes this small seed and plants it and it becomes a large tree.  The Mustard Scrub would become about 10 feet tall in the land of Israel.  All sorts of birds would be able to enjoy its shade.  The birds are symbolic of different people groups.  This is simliar to what it says in Ezekiel 17:23 where the birds of the air (symbolic of the Gentiles) join and enjoy the kingdom.
    Jesus is emphasizing that the kingdom started small.  It started with Jesus coming and his calling the 12 apostles to him.  Often, the apostles faith was weak Matthew 26:41. Often they were not able to perform miracles and doubted him to the point that even Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking about the cross.  Even on the night that he is betrayed by Judas Peter is denying he even knows him.  It did not appear to have very promising beginnings with many in Jesus' day rejecting what he said to them even after seeing the miracles.
    The gospel did start off in small ways.  For example, in Acts 8:26-39, we see Philip going to speak to a Ethiopian.  He was read the book of Isaiah in his chariot.  Philip goes to him and explains what he is reading to him and he is saved.  This man is baptized and just as quick as that Philip disappears.  Yet, this man goes down to Africa and takes the gospel to a new continent.   A man who was not even capable of having his own children and would not have been allowed to worship in the Old Testament temple.
      The gospel starts off small with uneducated men, fishermen and tax collectors and people who many would consider base of the world.  Paul himself said he preached the word in weakness and fear and in trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3).   He also reminds us that God chooses and uses the base things of this world and the weak things (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).  This is so that no man can boast about what he has done for God.  But, we would realize that God alone gets the glory for what he has done.
      It success is not because of the great orator skills of Peter and Paul or John or any other preacher.  It is because of the Spirit of God and the fact that Jesus is the head of the church Colossians 1:18.  We cannot take credit for its success.  In a way, the church is a lot less successful now with all of the marketing material and resources at its disposal.   It is less powerful today in many cases because it now relies upon itself rather than Jesus.  It tries to use slick marketing campaigns,dinners and other things instead of God's people relying upon the Lord and prayer.

Sermons on the mustard Seed and the Kingdom
W.A. Criswell
Sermon Central
Sermon Notes

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Faith of a Canaanite

    It has been a while since I last posted.  Admittedly, I am going through a bit of a dry period spiritually speaking.  I really haven't felt the Lord speaking to me much personally lately.  I have been struggling to find my place at a church home in North Carolina and feel no closer to finding a church home than when I moved here.  My quiet times lately have been consistent, but God seems quiet to me lately.  Maybe that is why this passage in Matthew 15:21-28 was something that I noticed.
    In this passage, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus and asks and begs for healing for her daughter.  A Canaanite was a person who lived in the region before the Jewish people lived there.  To her initial requests, it says in verse 23 "Jesus did not answer a word."  It seemed clear to the disciples Jesus didn't want to answer her so they tell Jesus that he should send her away because she is bothering them.  Great compassion on their part.  Then Jesus says something that sounds really cold coming from him "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." verse 24. 
   I also noticed that there are several periods in this chapter and others where there are large groups of people who are healed of various diseases.  Just look in places like Matthew 15:31 or 14:35-36.  Word had spread to this Canaanite woman what Jesus had been doing and yet for some reason she doesn't bring the daughter to Jesus, but simply goes to Jesus herself. 
    And you notice in this miracle Jesus does not go to where the Canaanite woman's child is.  Much like some of the other miracles that Jesus does they never meet eye to eye.  This woman believes that Jesus can heal her daughter without ever seeing her.  And instead of being insulted by Jesus words, she is persistent.  She replies with humility to Jesus words saying "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."  Words of great faith, which Jesus then acknowledges and honors.
    This is why this story is even mentioned in Scripture.  Because it highlights the importance of this kind of faith.  This woman needs to turn around and travel back to her daughter by faith believing that Jesus' words had happened.  And we learn that it says "her daughter was healed from that very hour."  I believe this is why Jesus was silent during the early part of this interaction.  He knew this lady and knew that she would not give up easily.  This is true for us as well because there are times when requests are made and it appears that God is silent.  We should learn from this that God honors persistent, bold, humble faith.

Friday, November 7, 2014

When God Weeps

    I just started reading a book by authors Jodi Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes called "When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty".  If you don't know who Jodi is she became wheelchair bound in 1967 due to an accident.  She has become a prolific author and speaker and often speaks about suffering.  In the first chapter of her book, she talks about those who her organization helped with bringing wheelchairs and crutches to those who needed them in Africa.  She talked about those who lived on the streets and yet appeared to have a joy that so many in America are missing.
     Jodi's story is one that I ran across early on in my christian life because one of the most puzzling and profound questions in my early christian life was the problem of evil.  What I mean is, that there are some godless, evil people in the world who appear to have it all and others who bear up under unbelieveable pain and misery quietly and with a confidence in God.  You see the rich person who is fat and happy and has all the money they need in the bank and never has a day of pain.  Then there is the faithful church attender whose husband leaves her or whose children abandon her in her time of need.  Life seems horribly unfair at times in case you haven't noticed. 
     I have to admit I don't think I would be one of the solid christian people who bear up under their pain without complaining.  The Lord knows I have it pretty good compared to most of the people of this world and I complain enough already.  The writings of the psalms are refreshing to me because they don't try to hide behind a false wall of piety and hypocrisy.  The psalmist complains loudly and with conviction.  If you look in Psalm 73 you see him complain about the very thing that I just mentioned.  The unfairness of the godless in prosperity while the righteous are hungry and thirsty and in need.  The psalmist writes
    "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; . . . ."
     The psalmist goes on like this for a while and then we come to a pivotal section in  verse 17
     "Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely Thou dost cast them in slippery places; Thou doest cast them down to destruction." psalm 73: 17-18, NASV
     What I believe he was saying there is that his perspective changes on the situation when he entered the sanctuary.  He developed an eternal perspective.  He saw that the rich and prosperous in the world's eyes were getting all of their riches now.  While the righteous might lose out on those temporal riches, but their reward would come later and be eternal. 
      And so it goes.  The rich and famous are so often seen in magazines and movies, but in real life actually don't appear much happier than anyone else.  They seem to actually have just as many problems and have to deal with them in a much more public way than most of us.  They seem to have just as many divorces and family problems and other issues.  But, they are the ones who are getting all of their rewards now.  So, when this party is done then it is truly done forever for them.  It is all a matter of perspective.
     Of course, there are still many questions surrounding the problem of evil.  I can't wrap it all up for you in a small blog.  Life is messy and there are a great many questions that will cause us to ponder what God is up to at times.  Some situations that will cause us to have a crisis of faith at times and wonder if God is asleep at the wheel.  Perhaps a personal tragedy or problem in our life causes us to wonder where God is.  Again, I would repeat that the psalmist complained loudly and with passion to God.  It is right there in the Bible.  He didn't hide his complaint from God.  And God was big enough to take it.  I believe God appreciates a honest word of doubt and struggle given to him rather than a fake and false faith that has no depth.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The good shepherd

      Jesus gives us a number of what are called "I am" statements in the gospel of John.  Jesus says in John 11:25 "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies."  In John 14:6 he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me."  John 15:1 says, "I am the true vine; and My Father is the vinedresser."  John 6:51 says, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."  And then also the one I read in my devotions today, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." John 10:11
       I thought about what that means that Jesus is the shepherd.  Shepherd are meant to protect and provide for the sheep.  They guide the sheep to known places of water and grass.  They protect the sheep from wolves and bears and other bigger predators.  Sheep need constant redirection because they can become lost.  All of these things Jesus is for the believer.  I need that firm hand to guide me. to correct me, to guide me, otherwise I will end up getting lost.  The Bible clearly says that if we rely on the flesh that we will not know the way.  That the way is actually Jesus himself and if anything else is guiding you whether it be your own sense of right and wrong or your own spirit then it will mislead you.
     As sheep, I may be prone to looking at the grass on the other hillside and think that looks better.  Or somehow think that I am missing out on something because I am not chasing after the world and its riches like other people. We live in what the Bible calls the "end times" and it is clear from what the Bible says that this time will be time when many will fall away from the faith and be misled.  Look in 1 Timothy 4:1-2
     "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared their own conscience as with a branding iron." 
    This is where we are today in many churches.  The pastors and churches of today in many cases are so worried about pleasing people and keeping the giving and attendance up that they pander to the crowds and tell them what they want to hear, instead of telling them what they need to hear.  Give them pop psychology and feel good messages instead of the truth, which may at times sting a little, but is meant to correct and guide the sheep back to flock.  We all need some correction at times.
     I like how it says in John 10:4-5 "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And a stronger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers,"   The Lord calls out his sheep by name vs3 knowing all of their unique characteristics and qualities and they know him.  I like especially how it says that he calls us by name.  The idea there being that by knowing our name he knows us intimately.  He knows where we are and he knows who we are.  He doesn't just call out a single command and say "let's go", but he singularly calls each one of us by name. 
      I need to remember to keep my eyes on the shepherd and not to wander off on some wild trail of my own.  I need to remember he knows best.  Jesus says in this same passage that "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly." John 10:10.  Isn't that great.  As a believer, the true abundant life is the life where he is leading and I am following.  By following, I am missing out on nothing, but finding the real road to abundant life.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:3-4 "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all."

       So many times, when Paul wrote, he was responding to problems in churches.  The Corinthians had multiple problems and so did the Galatian church.  But, here in the epistle of Philippians Paul doesn't write due to a problem.  Rather, this is a church close to his heart and he wants to share news with them.  They are close to him and that is evident throughout this epistle.   He uses the word "joy" 19 times in just a few chapters.
       This word "joy" characterizes the feeling that Paul has when he thinks of this church.  It is a joy to pray for them.  Paul is so often characterized as harsh or demanding that we may lose sight of the fact that the bonds between him and the church are bonds of love and that joy is a primary element between them all. 
       This word "joy" is closely connected to the word "grace" and "peace" that Paul mentions in this epistle in verse 2.  He always starts with grace.  Because without the grace of God then peace and joy would not be possible.  But, because of that grace we have peace.  Just as it says in Romans 5:1 "therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."   This is a real peace that exists because of the grace that was given to us in Christ.  Because that is a free gift offered to us then we can have joy.
        I imagine the jailer that Paul met in Philippi reading these words and telling the others, "Yes, I saw Paul and Silas put in stocks in the prison.  I still remember where his flesh had been torn away from the beating that he took.  I thought he would scream in pain.  I thought he would curse me.  But, an odd thing happened that night.  Around midnight, I heard those two singing praises to God.  Then there was this huge earthquake.  I thought they had run for it, but instead they were still there.  They told me about salvation and now I have peace with God." Acts 16-24-31.
        The jailer saw first hand that the joy of God is a fruit of the Spirit of God.  It isn't something that we can manufacture on our own.  It isn't something that is simply the result of circumstances around us.  Paul and Silas weren't happy about being in the stocks.  They were sore and broken and probably extremely uncomfortable.  But, the joy of God isn't the result of circumstances.  It is rather the result of the Spirit of God working in your spirit Galatians 5:22.  It is when the Spirit of God leads to your remembrance all that Christ has done and that he loves you and died for you and overcame the grave for you.  Again, it is not the result of circumstances.
         Later, in this epistle, Paul will tell the Philippians to "rejoice in the Lord".  I see the key words there are "in the Lord".  When nothing is going right in my day, I can remember that no matter how bad things get in this life that God is preparing for me more glory and joy and riches that I cannot even imagine.  For the believer, things simply get better once you pass from this life to the next.  We have a lot to look forward to know that our Lord and Savior could return at any time, but if he does not, then we will see him when we die and all those who went before us.  All of these trials that we go through and pains.  All of the discomforts and trials and trauma of this life is temporary.   But, the riches of the kingdom of God is eternal.  This is where our focus should be.  This is what should give us joy.

Verses about joy
John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."
John 17:13 "But now I come to thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves."
James 1:2 "Consider it all you, my brethren, when you encounter various trials."
1 John 1:4  "And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete."
Philippians 2:2 "make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose."
Romans 14:17 "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."