The Parables Jesus Told

I love a good story, especially if related by an exceptional storyteller. If the storyteller loses enough inhibition to bring life to the characters, utilizing a wide range of inflection for the character’s speeches, the stories will not only be captivating but memorable. I have to believe that Jesus was a perfect storyteller because thousands of years later, mankind is still talking about each of his parables.

He spoke in parables to fulfill prophecy. Matthew explained by quoting from Psalm 78.  All these Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and He was not talking to them without a parable, so that what was spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” Matthew 13:34-35 Psalm 78 speaks of Israel’s rampant unbelief in Yahweh ~ in spite of the fact that He rescued them repeatedly from their enemies. God spoke openly to them, displayed His power with signs and wonders, but they missed the point that God wanted a relationship with them. He wanted to be their God but they rejected Him. Many centuries later, Jesus spoke in parables to bring judgment on Israel’s collective hardness of heart. Only those who had a true relationship with Jesus would understand its meanings.

While Jesus did perform miracles and gave many signs and wonders to prove that He was God, he spoke most often in parables to fulfill another prophecy, this one from Isaiah. “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull; and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes…” Matthew 13:14-15

What does that mean for me if I’m about to jump into the language of Jesus as found in His parables? It is possible for me to hear them but not understand them. Unbelief skews the message and makes it impenetrable.   I must ask for spiritual understanding.  The end result can be a full disclosure of this private language between Jesus and me.

Lord, I confess that I am spiritually blind unless You open the eyes of my heart. If there is anything that will compromise my ability to understand Your stories, would you reveal it to me? I want Your words to transform the complete landscape of my heart. In Jesus name, Amen

New Wine in Old Wineskins

No one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Matthew 9:17

Don’t mix the old with the new. That was the message Jesus wanted to convey when he shared two parables. The first was ~ Don’t sew a new patch on an old cloth. It will shrink and tear. The second was ~ Don’t pour new wine into an old wineskin. It will burst and render itself useless. Anytime Jesus repeated Himself, the message was important.

Wine, when poured into a wineskin, begins the aging process. As it ferments, the gases cause it to expand. A new wineskin will swell along with the wine and all will be well. However, when you pour new wine into an old wineskin, the wineskin has already stretched to capacity and will burst with the fermentation process. The skin won’t sustain any new pressure.   So what is the allegorical meaning?

When Jesus came, people assumed that everything He taught (the new wine) was to be added on to their existing paradigm (the old wineskin) of their traditions. His message, however, was that He came to change everything. They were told not to blend the old with the new.

 If I’m a religious person – and then become a child of God – am I supposed to add Jesus to my religious way of life? No way. I’m called to turn away from religiosity to engage in a relationship. One is behavioral; the other is relational and heart-driven.

I am a new creation in Christ. I’ve been saved from religion and all the trappings that accompany it. I am no longer driven by the desire to do good things because that’s just what religious people do. Piety is supposed to be far from me because I know what I am without Jesus.

When God writes a new paradigm in my heart, it is stressful. The old wineskin of past paradigms must be abandoned and I don’t let go easily. I must turn away from anything associated with old religious archetypes. Church-ianity is not the same as what it means to live in Christ. The world doesn’t know the difference and that’s my fault. I’ve blurred the lines and must show them that loving Jesus and cultivating a church culture are two different things. The first invites others to love Him too. The second invites others to conform to a religious community. Jesus had strong words for the latter and so should I.

If there is any way I have attached You to something that should be dead to me, an old wineskin, show me. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Casual Teachers

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matt. 13:52

A scribe was more than just someone who took dictation. He held a prestigious position within the Jewish community. An expert in the knowledge of scripture, he wrote it down and delivered it to the people. Jesus’ message here was this ~ A scribe/teacher has the authority and mandate to bring what is old, and what is new, out of his storehouse of knowledge and bring it to the people.

The role of the teacher is a critical one. In high school, my toughest subject was science. I thought I was just bad at understanding the concepts but when I look back, the teacher who taught it was checked out. He didn’t convey that he cared about his subject. He imparted information and I struggled to concentrate. As an adult, I’ve discovered that I like exploring the science of things. Naturally, I’m a curious person and love to learn.

Every teacher is a storyteller who brings life to what is important. Jesus did that by telling parables. He took old truths [about what the kingdom of God is like] and gave them new life by re-framing them in parable-like stories. He gave His people history and context as well as the New Covenant. There was never a more passionate teacher when He gave His life to defend it.

Where are the teachers who care to bring the whole counsel of scripture? Where are the teachers who tremble with the Word of God in their hands and feel like a horse at the starting gate on Sunday morning? I have been crying out to God this morning, “Lord, if they don’t care, the people won’t care! We won’t know our history, our legacy, and won’t embrace our spiritual treasures.”

 It is the sign of the times to see churches fall away. It is the sign of the times to see men of God lose the fire of their calling. It is the sign of the times to see the people languish for lack of knowledge. It is the sign of the times to see the Bible judged as irrelevant and boring. If the teacher doesn’t care, the student loses his way.

What do I do if I lack a Bible teacher? I engage the One who is resident inside of me. I make spending time with my inner Rabbi my first priority. Taking responsibility to feed myself and not rely on my local pastor is the ‘norm’ of far too many people. Yet, it is the only mode for their survival. Though our teachers fall away, this reality need not dictate my fate.

 Inside my spirit today resides the best teacher who ever lived. He knows the whole story, is passionate about it, and loves to be engaged to pass on what He knows. He unveils the mystery with insight, enthusiasm, and a well-chosen language formed just for my ears.

I will not starve with You inside. Thank you for teaching me and keeping my faith alive. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Poised In The Perfect Position

And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening, and he lifted up his eyes and saw and behold, the camels were coming. And Rebeccah lifted up her eyes and when she saw Isaac, she fell off the camel. Genesis 24:62-63 

Human eyesight and spiritual eyesight are far from being the same thing.  Each perceives life differently. A total stranger can stand ten feet away from me and if I am looking at him with human eyes, he may not be significant to me at all. But, that person might actually be God-sent and someone important to my future and if I was in tune with God, as Isaac was in today’s scripture, I might recognize that person as significant somehow. I’d know deep in my spirit that that God put him in my path.
One day, Abraham gave his servant specific instructions on how he was to go about securing a wife for his son, Isaac. Concerned that Isaac would marry someone in close proximity (a Canaanite woman), Abraham went to great lengths to make sure Isaac married among his own people. He sent his servant on a long journey, back to Abraham’s home country, to find a bride from his own tribe. Isaac, it appears, knew nothing about this as he worked a southern piece of land in his father’s territory, far from home base.
Isaac was a young patriarch and his connection to God was alive. He had seen God reveal Himself by providing a lamb on Mt. Moriah. How could any person ever be the same after that! One evening, as Isaac went out in the field to meditate and enjoy God’s presence, he looked up to see his father’s servant approaching with a young girl on a camel. He wasn’t expecting anyone nor did he have any idea who the girl was. But because he was aligned spiritually and in God’s presence, his whole being responded to the significance of this young woman. And as for her, she viscerally reacted to the sight of Isaac. She had obeyed God by leaving home and was also walking in the light of His favor and guidance. And don’t you love it that she fell off the camel at the sight of her future husband?
Bible study is one thing. Meditation on the scriptures is quite another. The latter centers our thoughts on God’s thoughts. It aligns us with heaven’s purposes in such a way as to enable us to recognize the movements of God all around us. I wonder how many holy moments I’ve missed because I was out of sync with the Spirit. When I fail to make biblical mediation a way of life, I not only miss the voice of God, I miss the unveiling of sandaled footprints in front of me.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more important on this day as resting in Your Word and Your presence. I don’t want to miss you. Amen

How Do I Get Some Spiritual Steam?

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Romans 12:11

Fervent.   To boil over.  To have a spirit that is radiant.  What causes that in the heart of a person?

I can appear to be fervent because I’ve learned to fake it.  At other times I am too tired to pretend.  Spiritual steam, the kind that propels a train up a mountain is hard to know how to come by.  Does reading more of my Bible give it to me?

I can learn something about WWII history, get excited, and share it passionately with others.  But that’s one piece of history and it doesn’t sustain my soul for a lifetime.  Bible study (apart from the reality of Jesus revealing Himself to my heart) is this way as well.  I can discover something in scripture, love what I find, but the excitement that facts sometimes bring will dissipate with time.  When I’m hurting, interesting facts from the book of I Samuel won’t give me spiritual fervor.

The steam needed for the long haul comes from something childlike.  Love.  When I’m tired from service, I need to go home to be loved.   When I’m beaten up by life, I need to go home to be loved.  When I’m physically weak from the pace of meeting so many needs, I need to go home to be loved.  The strongest saint retreats, comes to their Father with childlike faith and says, ‘Feed me, love me, hold me, and teach me.’  These elementary expressions of need fuel the saints we would describe as having mature faith.  Unlike what we might believe, their fuel does not come from some intellectual study of Calvinism verses Arminianism.

Deep weariness can send me to the line of total abdication.  I teeter on the edge of just giving up.  One small demand can send me over the limit.  My body won’t cooperate anymore in spite of my ‘drill-sergeant-kind-of-self-talk.  It revolts.  My heart doesn’t listen to one more internal speech to keep myself going.  Quitting seems to be the only answer.  I am afraid though that if I sink into an abyss of emotional and physical exhaustion, I won’t ever get out.  Oh, I have been there and I didn’t know what was wrong or how to heal.

God showed me.  Mature faith begins and ends with the recognition that my fuel is the love of God.  “Living Life Loved” is the fuel.   It fosters the spiritual curiosity for my studies of scripture.  While learning, I can’t stop thinking about the One who loves me like no other.

We will get tired.  When we reach that point, let’s go home.

Your love resurrected me from the pit.  A two-year pit.  I had given up, had no energy or joy, but I had not experienced Your love.  Thank you for the joy of serving You now with a fervent spirit.  Amen

I Start With Myself

Jesus became troubled in spirit and testified, “Truly, truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me.” The disciples began to look at one another, perplexed as to which of them He meant. John 13:21-22

The atmosphere at the Lord’s Supper grew tense. Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray Him. In that pregnant moment, I do not believe that each wondered which of his brothers had done such a thing. I believe a dark cloud came over each of them personally as they feared it might be them.  I believe they knew some of their own weaknesses.  After all, they had been with Jesus for three years to see the stark contrast between holiness and sinfulness.

Three years is a long time to travel with someone. Their relationship with Him was intimate. What they expected Him to do, He rarely did. What they anticipated He might say, He rarely said.  Whom they didn’t expected Him to heal, He did.  When they expected Him to honor sacred Jewish traditions, He surprised them by doing the opposite.  They had had plenty of time to understand their own sinfulness in light of the contrast.  They knew pretty quickly that they fell short of God’s glory – resident in Christ.

For Judas, the bait was money. His love for riches challenged fidelity. But for any one of the disciples, there might have been another temptation to hit home and cause them to walk away.

It is imperative that I know my own weaknesses well. Self-indulgent introspection doesn’t reveal them. Only the mirror of the Word of God does. I must let the Word judge my heart. I must accept what God shows me, and then I must allow God to start changing what I love too much that could threaten our relationship. Yes, I could easily be a Judas. I have had Judas moments.

I have known the bitter gall of failure. I have drunk the wine of self-hatred. I have questioned God’s radical forgiveness. But grace won. Failure, repentance, and forgiveness are great teachers. I remember from where I’ve fallen and, because of the grace of God, He will empower me to finish the race well and avoid a Judas kind of detour.

I don’t love others unconditionally without Your help. I can only love YOU unconditionally by Your grace, too. Challenge me and my affections. Amen

Coming Home With Words

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.  Psalm 32:5

King David is clear in today’s scripture about the importance of words in the process of repentance.    He’s not preaching a sermon to his subjects.  He’s reveals his own path back to God by letting us hear the nature of his personal prayer.

Imagine if you had a prodigal son who spurned your love and went off on a long journey.  You mourned for him, prayed for him, and waited for his return.  One day, you wake up to see him sleeping in his old room.  He gets up in the morning and says little.  It’s obvious that he’s come home to stay because he unpacked completely.  He started engaging in household routines but gave no explanation about where’s been or why he’s come back.  It wouldn’t be long until you’d erupt and say, “Look, we have to talk about this.  Where have you been?  What have you been doing?  Why are you home?”  

We can never stray from God and go back without a language of repentance and self-disclosure.  “Lord, I went away because ___________.  I’ve been off doing _______________.  My heart feels ______________.  Please forgive me for ____________.”

The only way to make a solid return is with words.  It’s not because He needs to hear them. Unlike we human parents, He knows the thoughts and intents of His children’s hearts.  We need to speak because, by speaking, we are changed.  The dam breaks and acknowledgement of our actions and feelings brings what was hidden into the Light.  The elephant in the room of our relationship with God has been acknowledged.

Words are a gift we give to God that only come back to benefit us in the long run.  When we speak words of repentance, we are bathed in forgiveness.  When we speak words of praise, we are delivered from the chains of darkness.  When we speak words that reveal our own story, we gain self-awareness.  When we speak words of faith, we surmount the barriers of unbelief.  When we sing, we push back the darkness.  Let’s take our words and live in the presence of the Lord today.

If I am wordless, I am poor.  Breathe on my tongue, Jesus.  Release my language of remorse and repentance.  Amen