In Jesus’ Words: The story that explains everything (Matthew 20:1-16)

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The following is one of the most important stories Jesus told in the Bible.  It explains our world.  It explains God.  It explains what Grace really is.  And it explains Heaven.  It is what differentiates the Christian faith from every other religion and philosophy in the world.

How many times have we wondered about the wretched person who repents at the very end of their life and gets right with God?  They lived their life carelessly, causing harm to others along the way, while we tried to follow God’s teachings all our lives.  Is that fair?

How many times do people condemn a God they don’t understand because they think that all God wants to do is send people to hell if they mess up?

How many times have we messed up?

And what about all the starving and abused children that God seemingly ignores?  Where is their justice?

Jesus had a good way of explaining things.  We should all read or think about this story from Jesus every day and apply its wisdom to every circumstance we encounter.  Maybe then we will not be so surprised when we get to eternity.

~ Matthew 20:1-16  Parable of the Vineyard Workers ~

Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!’

“He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius. Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’”

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

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The old man by the sea

20160713_134614I found him… the old man by the sea.  He really does exist.  But let me back up a little.  I just returned from a trip to Canada’s northeast corner, Nova Scotia.  My roaming imagination was full of ideas about Nova Scotia – ship wrecks (remember Titanic), superstitions, stories of Anne of Green Gables and old Victorian tales, and old churches and lighthouses covering the rugged sea coast.  And my imagination was not disappointed!  Whenever I travel, it’s more than just sightseeing for me.  I like to see the people who live there, hear their stories, and learn what they can teach us about their part of our world.  During these uncertain and sometimes fearful times that we live in, the old man by the sea taught me a lot.

Our tour bus unloaded on a small jutted island near Halifax, Nova Scotia just long enough for us to stop and take a picture of the scenery.  There were a few fishing boats, a small café, some old houses and a picturesque lighthouse.  As we walked up to the lighthouse with our cameras, there was an old man sitting on the front porch of his house that sat at the corner of the lighthouse.  We had to cross his yard to get to the lighthouse.

“Come on up!” he greeted everyone in a rusty old seaman’s voice.  He waved and smiled.  “Take as many pictures as you like.  You can walk in my yard.  Come on up and talk.”

And so we did.  Mr. Cutler was his name and he was 92 years old.  The row of small yellow houses next to the lighthouse has been in his family for generations.  With his long white beard and weathered face of an old sea captain, he sat in his chair at the helm of his front porch.  Whenever the tour buses rolled in, he would hang up a few handmade bags to sale, sit outside and greet the visitors to his island.  (My picture here doesn’t do him justice, but he is sitting in the white chair behind the pole with a homemade bag hanging on it, and the lighthouse in the background.)

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Mr. Cutler taught me a very important lesson that day.  He could have been bitter about all the loud and unruly tourists coming to his quiet island and stomping through his yard.  But instead, he embraced it and wanted to share what he had.  He knew he had something special.

Embrace Life.  It is to be shared.

For the rest of my trip through Nova Scotia and Quebec, I was quite amazed at all the churches I passed – old ones, elaborate ones, historical ones.  In earlier times, the people of northern Canada often had a hard life with harsh winters, but their faith and hope in God was very evident in a landscape dotted with churches.  It was said that the people never went more than ten miles without building a church so the families never had to travel more than five miles in either direction to get to church.  Here are some of my favorite ones that I saw along the way.

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The star constellation in the blue background of this church is confirmed to be the exact constellation on the day Jesus Christ was born.

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5-Prince Edward Island (2)

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This church with the round dome is the 3rd largest church in the world, from Montreal.

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No matter where you go, if you stop and look, you can always find evidence of
God’s Hope in the world.

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In Jesus’ Words: The Last will be First (Matthew 19:23-30)

1673225-inline-750-homeless3In these uncertain and crazy times, we always ask “Why?”  We search for truth and meaning, and at the same time question why are things so unfair.  We only have to turn on the news for a few seconds to make us feel this way.  If it were not for my Faith and my personal and close relationship with Jesus Christ, I would definitely feel uncertain and unsafe in this world.  But we have God’s written promises to assure us.  They assure us that even though mankind may fall short, all things are possible with God.  And as far things being unfair, God reminds us about that too. “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  This is very different than what we so often hear in the world.  Rest assured when reading God’s Word today.

~ Matthew 19:23-30  Possessions and the Kingdom ~

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, 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.”

When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You.  So what will there be for us?”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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In Jesus’ Words: The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-22)

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I want to tell you a modern story of the Rich Young Ruler.  Most of us have heard the story in the Bible where a rich young ruler asks Jesus what he needs to do to have eternal life.  He has kept all the commandments but feels there must be something more.  He’s right.

My story begins in a golf clubhouse a few years ago.

We’re not big golfers in my family, but my ten-year-old son at the time had taken up golf lessons, so we stopped at a prestigious golf course on our way from Georgia down to Florida while on vacation.  It was open to the public so we looked around the grounds and went inside to browse the clubhouse and gift shop.  It smelled of expensive wood and leather, with perfectly placed racks of fine embroidered polo shirts, golfing gloves and shoes.  There were several impeccably dressed young men who worked there, leisurely standing around the fine wooden accessories.  They were polite and smiled, and offered to help.  What a nice job to have, I thought to myself.  We decided to try the 9-hole golf course with our son so we reserved a tee-time.

“Excuse me,” one of the young men said, “but you must wear a collared shirt on the golf course,” as he glanced over at my son’s t-shirt.  We were a little embarrassed at not knowing the proper golf etiquette, but picked out one of the shirts from the racks.  We paid for the overpriced polo shirt and headed out to the course.

But something didn’t feel right to me in the shop.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  It almost felt too perfect, like they were hiding something.  They didn’t seem to be as they appeared, all collared shirts and smiles.  I was a little relieved once we left the golf course and continued on our way.

I didn’t think much else about it, but I never forgot it either.  A few months later we were sitting in church one Sunday morning when the preacher decides to tell a story about his friend who worked at a prestigious golf club on the way from Georgia down to Florida.  My ears perked up.  The preacher’s friend had been a very successful business man and a great family man too.  He was a good person by any measure.  With all of his wealth, he was able to retire early and buy a condo with a view of one of the best golf courses around.  He had some free time in his retirement so he began working in the clubhouse.  He enjoyed working with the young men in the leisurely job and he had all the money he needed.  To pass the time, the young men engaged in recreational drugs in the evenings after work and asked him if he would like to join them.  Almost every day they did this, and soon it became a habit and then it became his life.  He lost everything – all of his retirement money, his family, his reputation, and his health.  He came back to the preacher a very broken man.  He said he wished he had never gone there.

In Jesus’ story about the rich young ruler, it is said that Jesus cared deeply for the young man.  The man approached Jesus seeking advice, and Jesus gave him an invitation to put aside that which was keeping him from God and to live a life of freedom.  It isn’t just about money or selling all your possessions, but it is about gaining freedom from those things that can lead you into harm or keep you from your potential.  If you asked Jesus the same question, what do you think He might say is keeping you from hearing God’s voice or having your freedom?  Jesus cares for you too.

~ Matthew 19:16-22  The Rich Young Ruler ~

And someone came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good?  There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

Then he said to Him, “Which ones?”

And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

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In Jesus’ Words: Children are a Blessing (Matthew 19:13-15)

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As a mom, and especially on this recent Mother’s Day, there are no more comforting words to hear than these spoken from Jesus:

~ Matthew 19:13-15  Jesus Blesses the Children ~

Then children were brought to Jesus so He might put His hands on them and pray. But the disciples rebuked them.  Then Jesus said, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to Me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this.”  After putting His hands on them, He went on from there.

Children are a blessing in so many ways.  Whether you have children of your own or have a chance to interact with children in other ways, I cannot think of anything more precious.  Children teach us what is important in life.  They see things through a different lens than us adults.

Children are a promise of renewal.  Even though we have sadness in the world, there is something about seeing a new baby that washes over us like a wave of hope.  Jesus makes all things new and Heaven makes all things fair.  From Jesus’ own words, “Heaven is made up of children and people like this.”  Heaven is a joyous place, for the children.

One of the most important things we can do in this life is to take care of the children, teach them, show them kindness, and let them come to Jesus.  Children are naturally attracted to Jesus.  They are fresh from God.  And a mom praying for her child is a force that can change the world.feet with waves cropped

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In Jesus’ Words: Questions and Answers (Matthew 19:2-12)

jesus-christ-light-of-the-world-1401917-wallpaperLarge crowds followed Jesus, and He healed them there. Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” (Matthew 19:2-3)

If only they had known.  If only they knew who they were talking to and how the world would regard Jesus in the centuries to come.  If only they knew they were standing face-to-face with the Son of God and could ask Him anything.  Whether you believe or not, Jesus has made a remarkable impact on the last 2000 years, and I think any one of us would love to meet him face-to-face and ask our questions.  We all want the answers to life.  But even when we have them, we sometimes want different answers; or our own answers do not satisfy us.  When the Pharisees approached Jesus with their questions, Jesus knew they were not coming to seek the truth; their motives were false.

Their conversation that follows is a very controversial one today, so I took the help of a few Bible commentaries to see what they had to say.  As one commentary wrote: Jesus’ answer was not a direct one but rather an effective one.  No one could contradict his logic.  When I read the passage, I see compassion in Jesus’ answer.  Though Jesus never justifies sin, He does know our struggles and what is on our heart.

~ Matthew 19:4-12  Question about Marriage and Divorce ~

“Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied to the Pharisees, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female”. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

“Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”

He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry!”

But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Here’s a little trivia.  In the book of Job, God asked Job over 70 questions during his trials, but never directly answered any of Job’s questions.  According to the Gospels, Jesus only answered 3 out of 183 questions that were asked of him.  Yet, Jesus was often known to ask people, “What do you want?  Who is it that you seek?”

We may not receive all of the answers to our questions here on earth, but God is more interested in our answer.  Who is it that you seek?

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In Jesus’ Words: Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)

70x7This is a hard one.  When I first started studying and writing about Jesus’ spoken words, my intent was to shut out all the noise and opinions coming from the world and just concentrate for a while on exactly what Jesus had to say.  His recorded words, not anyone else’s.  Most of the time that has been very encouraging, sometimes it speaks close to my heart, and other times like this one, it can be a little hard to swallow.  I kept wanting to add a “yes, but…” to Jesus’ words when reading this next passage.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Slave

Then Peter came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

“At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

“At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.

“Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother.

70×7.  Catchy phrase, isn’t it?  I think Jesus knew it would get our attention more than just saying we are to forgive forever.  Not only are we to forgive “70 times 7”, but we are to forgive with our heart.  In other words, we are to mean it.  Sometimes we pretend to forgive the one that wronged us.  We start talking to them again, resume our lives, but it’s not 100%.  We’re still a little mad in our hearts.  Maybe it’s because they didn’t ask to be forgiven or admit they were wrong, or we know they’ll do it again.  But aren’t you glad God did not put any restrictions on our own forgiveness, no matter how many times we fail?  As someone once said, “We want mercy for ourselves and judgement for others.”

God invented forgiveness.  It comes from Him.  Forgiveness is for us, not for the other person.  It means we are free from carrying all that resentment.  We are no longer responsible for the outcome, and through the act of forgiving, we are saying that we trust God to deal with it in His way instead of our own.  Forgiveness brings us closer to God.  How can I go to God with my prayer requests and thankfulness if I am holding a resentment in my heart?  We are to cleanse all of that before we seek God’s presence.

And the best reason… forgive so that we may also be forgiven.  Once we are forgiven, we owe no debt to God.  We are free to start over.  We are clean in God’s eyes.

Is it still hard?  Yes.
Is it worth it?  Yes.

The last thing I want to do is be hypocritical when I am writing about Jesus, so in full confession, I admit I have a grudge that has been hard for me to forgive.  I have carried this burden for a couple of years now, and although it is a minor offense, it can drive wedges.

My prayer today to my heavenly Father, and every day going forward, even if it takes me 70 X 7 days, is that I can completely forgive the grudge in my heart.  I am asking God to help me forgive.  And perhaps when I do that, others I know who have been affected will also be able to forgive. Who knows where this could lead?  I’ll never know if I continue to stay in the same place I am today.

Author’s note: I held on to this posting for a couple of days while I sought to forgive.  I can honestly say I feel a lightness and optimism in my heart that I didn’t have a few days ago.  It feels good.  It is a daily journey, but God promises us that it will be worth it.

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