Who will not receive many times more ...

And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Peter's question is a visceral reaction to Jesus' declaration that it is difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. It is a reality check for all who follow Jesus expecting to be blessed with wealth. In truth following him has never been about giving to get. It has never been about being blessed or finding life in our possessions. The things that we receive from God in this life and in the life to come are spiritual and not physical - invisible and not visible.

The psalmist writes "Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!" People who follow Jesus at great cost experience a type of joy that is unknowable apart from knowing God. These experience a peace that is unknowable in the flesh and a loving acceptance that transcends their mortality. Jesus encourages his listeners, back then and today, as he teaches about the abundant and eternal rewards of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him.

Thank you Lord that you see the sacrifices that no one else can see.

Then who can be saved?

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

I have heard this issue framed this way: "The problem is not if you own things but whether or not the things own you". This man's wealth owned him and he was devastated when he heard Jesus tell him to sell all of it and give it to the poor. On the outside this man had much wealth but inwardly he was destitute. The offer that Jesus made him was good for him now and in the future. Treasure in heaven is never just about wealth in the afterlife. We can experience it today.

Interesting to hear how his listeners also reacted. I wonder if these also were owned by their things? It seems a bit strange to hear Jesus speak about the rich being saved as some sort of miracle. In a sense, it is miraculous every time a person says yes to the Holy Spirit. Yet I think that there is something special when a person, like an addict, is miraculously delivered from the chains that have bound them for so long. The wealthy can be saved with a simple yes.

Help me today Lord to let go of the things that bind me to this earth.

One thing you still lack.

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

It seems that in this first part of the story Jesus is messing with this wealthy man a bit. It is as if the Lord realizes that the man is a bit disingenuous in his question about inheriting eternal life. First, in a bit of tongue-in-check humor, he subtly asks the man if he really knows that he is speaking with God incarnate - the "Good Teacher". Secondly he ropes him in knowing that this man is one who has only kept the visible parts of the ten commandments but not the invisible.

The story gets interesting as Jesus turns the tables on him and gets to the spirit, or heart, of the ten commandments. What do you think was at the essence of "One thing you still lack"? I suggest that this wealthy man's problem was that he loved money and the things that money could buy. In essence Jesus was telling him that the commandment that he had not followed was the very first. This man's god was his money and he loved it more than he loved God.

Free us dear Lord from the love of money and the things that money buys.

For to such belongs the kingdom of God ...

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

There is something about babies that draw many close to God. Perhaps it is the wonder of birth itself that causes parents to bring their newborns to a religious service of dedication? It is as if these adult people of faith understand how difficult life can be and want their child to have all the help that God can give them. My children were but a few weeks old when a pastor held them and blessed them with a prayer of dedication. It was a sweet and blessed moment.

Jesus transforms this image of infants being brought to him into a conversation about what it takes to enter the kingdom of God. When I think about this I am brought to the realization that one does not need to understand much to enter. The image of salvation is the image of a child trusting their parents because they know that their parents love them deeply. In like manner we are called to this simple trust of a heavenly parent who unconditionally loves us.

Help me to trust you like an innocent child today Lord.

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled ...

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In opening this passage Jesus tells us that a self-righteous person is one "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt". The contrast that he paints in this parable is so compelling. The self-righteous Pharisee brags about what he does not do then boasts about the little that he does do. He speaks as though he does not need God at all. Yet the tax collector seems to only confess that he is weak and in need of God.

When I think about humility I rarely think about this tax collector. In truth I want humility to be a bit more sophisticated and religious than a man who "would not even lift up his eyes to heaven". Somehow I think that the humility I long for resembles the attitude of the Pharisee and not the tax collector. Perhaps humility begins, and maybe ends, with a cry for heavenly mercy? Perhaps it is all about how we talk to God in prayer? A new thought for me.

I am weak and in need of you. God, be merciful to me, a sinner!

Will not God give justice ...

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I have read this passage many many times and have never really noticed the word "justice" in it.Jesus not only uses the word in the parable but he then speaks of God giving justice to those "who cry to him day and night". Why do you think that he speaks of this connection between justice and persistent prayer? Possibly the only response to the injustice in this world is prayer that does not cease but causes one to rise up acting and interceding for the helpless?

The second connection to prayer in this passage is the one to faith and faithfulness. The Lord closes the parable by asking a question about faith. It is like he is saying: "Yes, I know that you believe while I am here but will you continue to believe ... will you continue to pray.. once I am gone". The hallmark of a believer is prayer. A person who does not include God into every part of their life through prayer misses the greatest of joys that this life affords.

For this day Lord, we pray for the justice that happens when your kingdom comes and your will is done.

Just as it was in the days of Noah ...

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”

Interesting to note that Jesus uses two events where God directly intervened in judgment to compare with his return. In each case a friend of God was forewarned of the event. God spoke to Noah of this judgment but no one would listen to his witness as he built the ark. Before fire and sulfur rained down on Sodom God stopped and spoke to Abraham and his nephew Lot was saved. It helps to know that God will once again speak to his friends before he comes again.

In graphic terms Jesus speaks to us of Lot's wife who disobeyed angelic commands and turned to a statue of salt as she looked back. He likens her action to those who seek to live only for themselves. He speaks in paradoxical language of keeping our lives only when we lose our lives. This speaks to me of the friend who God talks to and one he does not. Like Lot and his wife, one will be saved from judgment and the other with not. It is an issue of friendship.

Lord, you have called me friend. Help me to honor that friendship today.

The kingdom of God is in the midst of you ...

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

The Pharisees certainly embraced a different image of the Messiah than the one that Jesus offered. And they definitely saw the coming of the Christ and his kingdom very differently. I love how Jesus speaks of the kingdom as an invisible one that cannot be observed. Such is the way that the kingdom of God comes today. Yet many still desire one similar to that Pharisaical image. Embracing an unseen kingdom can be so hard if one does not engage inner eyes.

Jesus identifies himself as the Christ or the Messiah. He speaks of how he must suffer and be rejected before he comes again. Have you ever thought about the idea that Jesus came a second time to earth when he was resurrected? Or how he comes to the faithful in death? Even so there is another image that is painted in the scriptures about a Messiah who will once again come to earth as the king of all kings. In that day we all will see the kingdom of God.

I long to see your coming Lord Jesus. Open my inner eyes that I might see your kingdom today.

Where are the nine?

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

This story so engages me. What would it have been like to have been traveling with Christ and witness this spectacle? Can you imagine Jesus yelling back and forth with these lepers? Each one of the lepers obeyed his command to "Go and show yourselves to the priests" and it could be argued that the one who came back never got to a priest. What was it in the foreigner that stopped before getting to the priest? What caused him to quickly return but not the others?

Could it be that this lone Samaritan embraced the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it that commanded that a cleansed leper show himself to a priest? Could it be that he understood that praise and thankfulness were of a higher law than the Levitical law? Jesus seemed pleased that this man esteemed this form of worship higher than the other. Perhaps we would do well in our everyday lives to understand that God desires thanks more than following the rules?

Open my eyes to the many things I have to be thankful for Lord. Help me to be one who follows the higher law.

We are unworthy servants ...

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Do these few sentences seem a bit odd to you? Does knowing that Jesus said this in the context of forgiving others help? The disciples responded to Jesus' command to forgive seven times a day saying that they needed more faith. Jesus infers here that we are simply doing "our duty" when we forgive. It puts forgiveness in a whole new light - doesn't it? Yet it helps us to understand that following Jesus means that he is Lord and we are but unworthy servants.

The other aspect of these verses is the idea that we, being unworthy servants, have not done anything to earn the forgiveness of God. This very point goes against the grain of our humanness. Somehow we have grown up thinking that God has an obligation to forgive us like a bad parent who overlooks every bit of mischief their child enters into. Yet in the Lord's prayer Jesus instructs us to ask God to forgive us only as we forgive each other. It is a kingdom principle.

I repent of all unforgiveness Lord. I am unworthy and desperately need your forgiveness. I choose to forgive.

If he sins against you seven times in the day ...

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

It is a fact of life that people, even religious people, can lead us astray. Who you allow into your life, who you allow to influence you, can have disastrous affects on your life. Jesus paints a severe image of the one who brings temptations into the lives of others. And before we cast stones at the drug dealers and pimps it would do us well to remember those who cause us to disparage others because of the things that they say from the pulpit. We are all guilty.

Even so, Jesus paints another image, a bigger picture, of the way that we must respond to those who sin against us. Ever notice the disciples' reaction to Jesus command to forgive seven times in one day? They seemed to understand that a "seven times in one day" style of forgiveness required a kind of faith that they did not feel they had. Yet the Lord responds saying that it is not the largeness of faith that counts but simply the existence of it.

Lead me today Lord in ways that encourage those around me to repent, to be forgiven and to follow you.

Neither will they be convinced ...

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Yesterday I shared a bit about the apathy and indifference of this wealthy man towards a hurting man named Lazarus. In these last few sentences of the parable the man reveals that he has five brothers that he loves - interesting that no mention is made of their families. The story reminds me so much of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge and how poorly he treated everyone in his life. In the end, Scrooge was given a gift of repentance but this rich man died unrepentant.

What Jesus told this man is such a hard message. I think that we all feel like we are special and should receive some sort of miraculous invitation to follow Jesus. To that sentiment Jesus shows us in the gospels his nail pierced hands and wounded side. He invites us to say yes to the Holy Spirit's call to humbly follow him. We all want to believe that our friends will repent if they witness a miracle. Yet Christ here tells us that information is not the problem.

Help us to fully accept the gospel Lord. It is enough that you came, lived, died and rose from death.

Carried by the angels ...

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.’”

The temptation when we read this passage is to go all theological about the afterlife. When we do I think that we miss some important points. Firstly, faith or love are not implicitly mentioned but it seems that the rich man had neither when it came to how he treated this man who was in excruciating pain. This parable further reveals the state of many who are wealthy, both in Christ's time and in ours. The indifference that this unnamed man had is an abomination.

Do you not think that it was God's plan all along that someone on earth would comfort Lazarus, take him to their side and care for him? Does it concern you that this care only came after he died? Is it not a condemnation on each of us who see such people and do nothing presuming that God will care for them as if he can do it apart from us? This parable is way more troubling than any message about heaven and hell. To whom much is given much is required.

Help us Lord to care for the Lazarus' of our time. May we be more like you than the rich man in the parable.

You are those who justify yourselves ...

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
The phrase that caught the Pharisees' attention was "You cannot serve God and money." Their reaction was understandable since many of them were fairly wealthy. They had a choice - ridicule or repent ... and they chose the former. It is a sad fact of history that religious institutions hoard wealth in the form of buildings and property. One Christian denomination owns more land globally than any other organization on the planet. So sad but so true.

The phrase "but God knows your hearts" set the context for his words about "The Law and the Prophets". These who ridiculed the teaching of Christ exalted the outward performance of the law but inwardly they scorned it. I suspect that some of these very people divorced their wives because the Law allowed. This is the way of man-made religion but not of the Kingdom of God. What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. So sad but so true

I am so sorry for the times I justified myself chosing religion over you Lord. Please forgive me and renew my heart.

This man was wasting his possessions ...

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

How we deal with money says a lot about us spiritually. Our relationship with money and what it buys speaks volumes about our values and our relationship with God. In this parable Jesus communicates to us the idea that we are but mere managers or stewards and that God is the owner of all that we have. I can see him looking directly at the religious leaders when he said "you can no longer be manager" then went on to describe their dark management styles.

I have to believe that "one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much" was an indictment of the spiritual management of the religious elders. Yet we miss the message in this parable if we do not understand that it teaches us of the importance of being faithful in the seemingly little things that God has entrusted us with. Our faithfulness in small things reveals who our master really is. It is true that we cannot love and serve God if we love and serve money.

Purge me Lord of every desire for more things. Help me to be content and faithfully serve you where I am.

All that is mine is yours ...

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Act III of the prodigal's story begins (see the last two days for Acts I and II) with the return of another son. This elder brother returns from his work in the fields to the sounds of merriment and laughter. His reaction to his brother's return was so different than that of his father. He was angry and maybe, from a human perspective, rightly so. He was the one who had to take on extra duties when the young son left. How could the father throw him a party?

Though this son had never left his father he seems to have never really known the father at all. It is as if both of these sons never really knew the father's heart. One son felt that he needed to grovel to get the father to take him back while the other felt that he was right in challenging the father's love. The story paints a dark picture of humanity and a spectacular image of our Heavenly Father. We are all lost prodigals in need of his embrace.

Cause all jealousy and envy to depart from me Lord. I repent of it. Help me to celebrate with others.

When he came to himself ... they began to celebrate.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

This Act II of the parable of the Prodigal son (see yesterday's post for Act I) and the state of the young boy is changing as he begins to think of his father. What a compelling image he gives us as he rehearses words of brokenness, repentance and humility. Thoughts of shame embrace him as he considers what he has done to his father and the awful way that he has acted. His entitled and hedonistic thinking is long gone. Such is the state of one who repents.

And yet he was clueless concerning how his father would react to his return home. Does not your heart soar as the father takes off running towards his son? I am brought to tears just thinking about the love that this father had for his son. As both a son and a father I can so relate. Can you not see the ring and the robe being placed on the son? Can you not smell the roasting of the calf? Such is the image of a soul who was once dead and is now alive towards God.

No one is like you Father. Words are inadequate to describe the love that you have for us. We praise you.

No one gave him anything ...

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

This is the beginning of one of Christ's most famous parables. It is Act I of a three part play. In this Act we see the unregenerate condition of all human beings. This state of humanity is greedy and thinks only of them self. Like this young son they have embraced an ideology of entitlement and a hedonistic lifestyle. We see ourselves in the selfish demands of this son and we see the kindness of God in his father. It is like Jesus is holding a mirror to our souls.

Likewise we can also see our unregenerate condition in the callousness and indifference of the people in that far country who seemed to like the boy when he had money but did nothing to help him in his time of need. Does your heart not break for this young boy who was so hungry that he wanted to sit down and eat with the pigs? It is a stark and compelling image of all who would reject the table of our Father for the scraps this world offers.

I am broken Lord and in need of your touch. I repent. Heal me of being self centered and selfish.

There will be more joy in heaven ...

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Have you ever considered how valuable you are to God? In these stories Jesus communicates the idea that each of us is worth finding. In the first parable we see the lengths that the shepherd goes to find the sheep that has strayed away from the flock. And in the second a party is thrown over a lost coin that was found. You and I are that sheep and that coin. Like the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus spends time with us and draw us to himself.

I think that we do not really understand the heart of God when it comes to this idea of a sinner repenting. I think that we can often be a bit Pharisaical about people who are far away from God. I think that it is so easy to forget that these are "our" lost brothers and sisters. And like those religious leaders we too can grumble at God not understanding that it is his heart to be with "sinners". Would that we too would throw a party when they turn to God for help.

Lord, I confess that I am a Pharisee. Cause my heart to break for those who are lost and rejoice when you find them.

Salt is good ...

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

These last two verses in Luke 14 speaking of salt are an interesting wrap-up to a chapter that speaks of discipleship. Try substituting the word "disciple" for "salt". As we compare the two words we begin to understand the influence that discipleship is meant to have on the earth. In these few words Jesus tells us that discipleship adds flavor to the world. Before refrigeration salt helped preserve food. In like manner discipleship will cause one to persevere.

In contrast, when salt is contaminated by other minerals it loses the qualities that make it what it is. So it is when a disciple does not renounce all to follow Jesus. One cannot follow Christ except that they deny themselves and persevere in faith. It is the wise person who has inner ears that understands that the path of discipleship is one filled with obstacles and distractions. Such a disciple does not faint or lose their saltiness when trials come.

Lead me today Lord in ways that would sprinkle a loving seasoning on others' lives.

First sit down and count the cost ...

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

The story draws you in until the last sentence is uttered. How can it be that the cost of discipleship is so dear? Why is it that Jesus requires so much of those who would follow him? Can we not simply add God into our lives? Is it not possible to follow him by doing religious things like praying and going to church? Why must the cost be so high that we must renounce all? Could it be that Jesus is the true example of discipleship and to love means to sacrifice all?

The cost that Jesus asks us to count is the cost of loving God, loving our neighbor and loving our enemies. He asks us to consider in advance what we are committing to because the kind of love that he calls us to will cost us dearly. Yet who among us realized when we initially said yes to Jesus that it would mean saying no to things that stroke our ego and make us happy. In a way we can only know this kind of cost as we are confronted with opportunities to love.

Thank you Lord Jesus for showing us love that cost you your very life. Empower us to live with such love.

He cannot be my disciple ...

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. ... So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

This passage reminds us all that, while salvation is absolutely free, discipleship can cost us everything. For sure Jesus is speaking in hyperbole here - he does not actually desire us to hate our relatives.. he wants us to love even our enemies. He speaks in such a fashion to draw our attention to the preeminence of Christ in every aspect of our lives. We cannot claim to be his followers if another relationship is more important than our relationship with Jesus.

What do you think he means when he speaks of bearing our own cross? Interesting to note that he uses the word "own" indicating that the cross will look different for each of us. Biblical commentator John Gill says of our own cross that "it signifies whatever is trying and disagreeable to flesh and blood". The call to discipleship is a call to persevere in the face of adversity and trials. This call is what defines a disciple. Jesus lived it our graphically in his last hours.

Lord help us to persevere and keep you preeminent in every part of our lives. You are worthy.

They all alike began to make excuses.

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.
So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

The message of this parable had to be very clear to to the Jewish leaders who were present with Jesus. Since the days of their ancestor Abraham the Jews had an open invitation to fellowship with God. Yet so many in their history, and even those in Christ's presence, rejected the call to this intimate relationship. I wonder if those present even understood that God was inviting them, even at that very moment, to himself in Jesus?

We mistake the meaning of this parable if we dismiss it as a call to evangelization of the masses. For sure the invitation is open for everyone who will simply say yes but we would do well to remember that the initial invitees all tendered excuses and declined God's offer. In a sense we, who have been around the church for many years, can fall into that same trap. Thankfully the call remains for us to come and dine with the Master at his table of fellowship.

Help me to say yes every day Lord. Open my eyes to the excuses I give when you call me to intimacy.

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind ...

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

I think that it is very hard in the western world to receive a gift when we are unable to repay the gift in kind. We all want to be generous and charitable but very few want to be given something they have not earned or deserved in some way. Even government sponsored welfare is viewed more as an entitlement than charity for those reasons. No one wants to admit to being needy and no one wants to be marginalized as a person needing charity.

Yet Jesus says in the gospel accounts that we will always have the poor among us.. and in this passage from Luke's gospel he speaks of welcoming them into our meals and our lives. This is a difficult scripture for we in the western world. We want this verse to be all about our donations to charity and our generosity yet the verse speaks deeply to the idea of involvement with the poor. It is as if Jesus is telling us that people do not need our money but they need us.

Help me to both receive and give charity today Lord.

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled ...

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The phrase "how they chose the places of honor" troubles me. In truth it comes way to close to my experiences growing up in my 20s, 30s and 40s in the body of Christ. Not sure why but I gravitated toward, and wanted, religious power. Sadly this is an all too real commentary on church life and how people are driven to acquire fleshly power. I wonder what it is that appeals most to us about religious power? Is it people that we admire or something a bit darker?

In contrast Jesus speaks to his hearers, and to us, about the end result of humility. Even so, I suspect that few people really understand humility - in my thinking it probably looks a lot more like humiliation than I want to confess to. In my life the path of humility has been a hard one. Time and time again I have had to eat the pompous religious words that I have spoken. Being confronted by my own arrogance and judgmentalism has been life changing. I have so far to go.

Help us all to be content to sit in the lowest place Lord.

Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Dropsy is an acute disease that presents itself in swollen parts of the body due to an accumulation of fluid - Jesus would have been able to have seen that the man before him suffered from it. I think that, since the man departed after he was healed, it is reasonable to assume that the man was planted there to test Jesus in order to bring an accusation against him. Using a sick man is a sad commentary about the lengths this religious ruler would go.

What sort of competitive jealousy must have existed in this Pharisaical ruler to use a sick person in this perverted fashion? Was not this religious leader called by God to help such people? I wish that this passage was singular in history. Sadly people still use the poor and the hurting to achieve perverted goals. It is as if love had never entered their hearts. Thankfully Jesus would not be dissuaded. The compassion of Christ always trumps religious perversion.

Let compassion reign in me today Lord.

How often would I have gathered your children together ...

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

In passages like this Jesus speaks in a way that two meanings can be extrapolated from it. The obvious meaning is that his ministry would continue until that last day that he entered Jerusalem on a donkey as people shouted ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The second subtler meaning is a bit more prophetic and speaks to the day of his second coming. Some feel that the days mentioned by him are an allusion to centuries. Always interesting to ponder.

In these few paragraphs we see the courageous and loving heart of the Son of God. Unafraid of a powerful king he continues on from town to town being moved by compassion to feed, teach and heel the people of Israel. You can sense the pain in his voice as he speaks of Jerusalem. It is like he knows that the city will be the end of his days and is so saddened that the people called to be a bright city on a hill have turned to something dark and sinister.

You have called us a city on a hill Lord. Help us to shine with your glorious light today.

Strive to enter through the narrow door.

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’

I wonder what the person meant when they asked about "those who are saved"? Did they understand salvation the way that Christians do today or was the salvation they asked about referring to something more temporal than eternal? Whatever the case it is obvious that Jesus had eternity in mind when he answered. I wonder what they thought the narrow door was. The imagery of one knocking on that narrow heavenly door is a troubling picture.

It is sad to think about what Jesus says.. how many who dined with him and heard his teaching are shut out from heaven. The application for those back then was obvious. For us today it is a bit more subtle yet ever so compelling to consider the fate of those who say no to the wooing of the Holy Spirit. Sadly some today, who hear Christ's message and partake at his communion table, will experience a similar fate. These do not know God and are not known by Him.

Help us Lord to know you. Cause our hearts to bow down in worship.

What is the kingdom of God like?

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

I once heard it said that faith is all about the little things that we do when no one is looking. Like the mustard seed or a bit of yeast a small act can have an large result when it is done in faith. Consider how the shepherd boy slew the giant Goliath in the name of the Lord with just a stone. This one act of faith changed the destiny of a nation. And what of Esther's courageous act of faith as she risked her life to save her people? Amazing things have been done in faith.

This is what the kingdom of God is like. When Jesus says (describing how his true followers care for the poor) ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ he speaks of a kingdom where love is actuated by faith and people's needs are met. Like the seed and the leaven, faith is an influence that causes life to be different in a wonderful way. Apart from faith the world would be a much smaller and darker place to live.

Cause faith to arise in us today Lord. Let us sow seeds of faith, hope and love in small ways today.

Woman, you are freed from your disability.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

The hardhearted callousness of religion and religious leaders prevails unto this day. Theologies and theologians who allow rules to trump grace and mercy must break the heart of God. It is hard to imagine how the religious ruler in this story could have criticized the Lord Jesus for doing something that only God could have enabled him to do. Sadly history is filled with such stories. Heavenly movements on earth have always been resisted by fleshly minded people.

Even so, it is impossible to minimize the glory of God as Jesus called to the disabled woman to come forward. What would it have been like to hear your name called by him? Can you imagine the joy that arose in her as she felt the healing touch of God? It reminds me of the day when the inner and outer eyes of my first wife, Ellen, were opened. It also reminds me that God is not too busy to notice the pain and suffering of his children.

Help me to be aware of those who are in pain today Lord.

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard ...

I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The transition in this passage from repentance to a parable about a tree that does not bear fruit is compelling. Do you find it interesting that Jesus used three years, the length of his messianic ministry, as the time that the owner of the vineyard came looking for fruit? I wonder how the crowds heard this parable and if they caught the connection between the barren fig tree and themselves? Do you think that they understood what he was teaching them in the parable?

On a more contemporary note, do you think that religious people these days are concerned about fruits of repentance or are they happy to merely produce the colorful leaves of religious activity. I wonder if the Holy Spirit responds in a manner similar to the vinedresser in the parable? How many years does He patiently dig around in our lives spreading heavenly manure hoping that we will respond and produce the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace and patience?

Thank you Lord for your steadfast love that never comes to an end as you spread heavenly manure on my life.