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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

January 2019

Parable of the Leaven

Matthew 13:33 New International Version (NIV)

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

So, being that I am not even close to any sort of Biblical scholar, I definitely needed to do some research on this one. One verse, which states that heaven is like yeast, or leaven. What in the world does that even mean. Here is what I found from a little digging, and anyone who wants to comment and add to the conversation, that would be super helpful.

Throughout the Bible, leaven represented sin and the sinful nature of man. So, apparently, Jesus was saying that heaven is full of sin, right? Not exactly. Jesus knew (still knows) the sinful nature of humankind. He knew that even just a few sinful people could drag down an entire race, in this case again, humankind. But what also is true, is that even “righteous” people are still sinners too. No one, except for Jesus, is exempt from sin. Yet, all of us who have received Jesus as Savior will one day be with Him at the table. And all of that is by the grace of God through Jesus. Because of His grace, all of us sinful people can still have a seat at the table. See Romans 5:6-9.

So, even though the leaven will continue to be worked through us, and cause us to rise into sin, we still have the benefit of forgiveness by grace. Continue to pray, giving thanks to God for His grace and that He continues to mold and make you.

Source: Bible Tools

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Parable of the Mustard Seed

Mark 4. 30-32: “He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.””
As usual I like to see the scriptures from a historical view.  Too often we, as 21st century American’s try to interpret what Jesus said in light of our times, and do a disservice to them.  Thus the washing of feet becomes a foot massage, etc.  Comfort in antiquity was very different than today, and poverty was severe, not merely less than most.  They were an agronomist society, their well being depended on their crops, the health of their animals, the weather, and the effort put into the maintenance of these things.  In addition to this, Israel was a separated, segregated nation, they were the children of Israel, separated unto Jehovah.  They were steeped in the words of Moses, the psalmists, and the prophets.  They were to reject all other nations gods, and culture.  They had plaques with the words of the Torah written on them hanging on their walls by way of reminder, they had passages and psalms memorized, and learned from their priests and scribes.  In a limited literate society they remember every word spoken by their teachers.
Jesus teachings and parables were all aimed at this society, this down to earth, everyday level, understood language.  He used crops, planting, animals, nature, and common interactions to explain the spiritual.  Knowing that they knew the scriptures as well, He often referred to them to add spiritual depth to the examples.  For He was introducing to them the New Covenant as promised in the prophets writings.  
Todays parable is such a teaching.  In Ezekiel 17.23 the prophet is speaking about how the nation Israel has turned from Jehovah, and gone after other nations gods.  Adding another level of abomination to their long list of neglect.  Rather than exulting in the blessings of Jehovah and reaching out to the poor amongst them, they have stored their wealth, bought idols from the gentiles, and rejected the One whom they owed their prosperity to.  Ezekiel calls out their sin, and warns of impending judgement.  In his condemnations of their sin, he reminds them that Jehovah will pluck a branch from the top of a great Cedar, plant it, care for it, and as it grows into a mighty tree, all the birds of the air, (nations,) will come to it for shade and comfort.
Jesus draws upon this prophecy when He describes the mustard seed in Mark 4.30.   The kingdom of Jehovah is just like this tiny mustard seed, when planted, watered, and cared for, it will become larger than all the other plants in the garden and birds from everywhere will come to rest in its’ shade. 
This is a picture of the New Covenant, which is grace. John 1.14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”   The one major thing that separates Christianity from all other religion is Grace.   Which includes forgiveness of wrong doings, restoration to the fold, and everlasting life.  Jesus brought grace with Him, and we who believe have received it,  John 1.16.  Like the lost sheep in Luke 15, the shepherd does all the work, the sheep is merely lost, the sheep is entangled, all he does is let himself be rescued.  The good shepherd seeks, finds, and restores the animal to the fold, that’s grace!

 

My friends I pray that you find comfort and rest in these word’s from our master, Jesus the Messiah, full of grace and truth.  
Karl

Judgement Delayed

Luke 13:6-9

Review:  A fellow has a fig tree planted in his crowded vineyard.  He goes to his gardener wanting fruit from the tree as it has not produced any for 3 years.  His orders are to cut it down and use it’s ground for something more productive.  The gardeners reply is “Give it another year, I’ll cultivate the soil around it’s trunk and fertilize it.  If it doesn’t, I’ll take it down.”

Analysis:  The fig tree is given another year to produce after an unfruitful three-year period.  A parallel could be drawn from this fruitless length of time compared to Jesus’ 3-year ministry where He offered the opportunity for humans to repent.  When ever the number 3 is used in the Bible, it may, given the triune nature of our LORD, be symbolically interpreted.  In this example, the 3-year time period is viewed as a sufficiently long period of time, with the added year as being a more than sufficient time period.

This parable is an implicit warning for those who persistently refuse to produce for the LORD; in doing so over a “long enough” period of time they risk being “taken out.”

 

 

More Than Meets the Eye

 

Matthew 13:24-30 (NIV)

Jesus tells the large crowds who gathered to hear him teach (Matthew 13:2) a most interesting parable about evaluating other people.

Jesus, in effect, is saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  It’s wise to withhold judgement and wait to see how life goes.  Don’t listen to what the days say but instead look at what the decades have to say.  Don’t be too quick to determine who will faithfully follow the Lord Jesus and who will not.  Appearances can be deceiving.  We don’t know what the future holds, but God who holds the future does know what the future holds.

Later in this chapter Jesus interprets the parable for us (Matthew 13:36-43).

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age,and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

God knows and understands the human heart and has the complete picture and understanding of a person’s life.  We do not.  There’s some mystery; there are some aspects of the human heart and character we will miss.  Therefore, we should practice humility on evaluating other people.  Furthermore, we are not the judge of others; only God is.  Our role is to share the love, light, and life of Christ Jesus with others and leave the final evaluation to God.  This parable is reminder to us to practice humility as we share the Good News of Jesus and leave the results to God who so loved the world in Jesus.

 

 

 

You Reap What You Sow

Today’s passage:

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Matthew 13:3-9

Reading the parables (as well as some of the OT) is when I most appreciate the ESV Study Bible my sister got me for Christmas a few years ago. In case you want your own copy, I linked it!

Maybe you’re like me and wondered: Why parables? Why does Jesus have to talk in stories that sometimes don’t make sense. If you want that answer read past this verse to Matthew 13:10-13.

Now, onto this one.

Jesus explains the parable in Matthew 13:18-23. Thank you, Jesus! He says that the seeds which are sown on the path and eaten by birds are akin to when someone hears the word of God but does not understand it so the enemy snatches it away. He goes on to explain that those sown in the rocky ground are like people who receive the good news with a lot of excitement, but no sustainability (like when someone is happy to believe when things work well for them, but turns their back the second things go poorly), while those in the thorns are people who take in the Word and love it, but love the temptations of the world more. The last group is that on good soil which is rooted and sustainable.

Now, I think this parable gets into Calvinism. God is the one who orchestrates who hears and understands, right? Perhaps you are thinking if you don’t understand then God doesn’t want you to and you give up (I used to think like that).

Here’s the deal: if you are persistent in your faith and desire for Him because that’s what you want then I have yet to see someone turned away from understanding.

When I was sixteen years old I was the seed that was thrown amongst the rocky terrain. I was so excited the first time church “clicked” for me, but the moment I was teased about my faith I let it fall to the wayside.

Then I was the seed planted in the thorns. I wanted God, but I really wanted to be “normal” in the eyes of the world and so sin became more tempting than God (overworking, drinking, partying, etc…).

When none of that worked to make me “happy” I went back to God–feeling chewed up by the devil (the birds), swept away by life (the weather in the rocky terrain), and choked by sin (those thorns). Then I was finally planted in good soil.

And I would say that my harvest has been pretty great.

I want you all to realize, wherever you are in your faith journey, there is hope that you will one day be planted in good soil where you are rooted in your faith. To be honest, understanding this parable helped me in my faith journey a lot. I now look at times of trial and think to myself “am I rooted or am I allowing the circumstances of this situation to move me? If I am not rooted, how can I pray and what can I do to become rooted?” This serious self reflection has helped me so much!

I hope it helps you out just the same.

Blessings,
Karissa

Strenght​ vs. Weakness

Luke 11:21-22 The Message (MSG)

21-22 “When a strong man, armed to the teeth, stands guard in his front yard, his property is safe and sound. But what if a stronger man comes along with superior weapons? Then he’s beaten at his own game, the arsenal that gave him such confidence hauled off, and his precious possessions plundered.

This parable reminded me about a conversation we had in one of my classes in seminary. We were talking about the nature of humans and the idea of feeling secure in our abilities and strengths. Sometimes we understand these as being our strong virtues, or morals, sometimes we understand these to be the things that make us feel like we can stand and overcome anything that comes our way. Yet, temptation and weakness, at times will come our way in a way that we had not met before. It is at this time we have to ask ourselves: How can I stand against it?

This parable is a reminder that even the strong ones are going to be tested, that weakness and temptation will come our way, and we are not only to stand guard but be ready when it happens.

Today I will encourage you to remember your weakness, the things that make you vulnerable, and remember how you had overcome sin in the past. I also pray that you learn to trust not your strength in face of such temptations, but learn to rely on God’s strength, and live your life as a person that not only is prepared to face them, but also as a person that is ready to ask for help when the time comes.

Be blessed,

Bo M.

New and old…

Patches and wineskins…this parable comes from Mark 2:21-22

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”  

New patches on old clothes…new wine into old wineskins…huh???  That Jesus has an odd way of making his points yet what point is he making here?  First, what happens when you sew a new patch on old clothes then wash it?  The new patch shrinks and a tear forms in the patch and the garment.

What happens when you put new wine into old wineskins?  New wineskins are elastic – they expand with the gases given off during fermentation of the new wine.  The old wine skins are hard and unyielding – the gases of the new wine will explode the old skins.

Ok, you ask – hey Jesus, what’s your point?  Jesus is the new patch and the new wine.  Jesus “participates” as a human being in cultural surroundings and he is different.  How so you might ask – sure, you’ve read your Bible…Jesus is like the scribes in that he teaches – but his authority surpasses theirs.  Jesus honors the Torah in a way unlike the others because he is not bound by the Torah…he heals on the Sabbath.  Jesus gives of himself completely…humbling himself as a servant to others but never surrenders his divine authority.  Jesus gives himself completely to the world yet he is not controlled or captive of the world.

Devotional Thought:  The question, today, is not about whether the disciples will make room for Jesus – like sewing a new patch on or refilling an old wineskin.  The question for his disciples is whether they can step away from the everyday “we’ve always done it this way” mentality and become new receptacles for the “fermentation” of Jesus and the gospel in your lives.

 

Where is our treasure?

Psalm 133.1   “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”  This is the basis for todays parable.  Out of the crowd following Jesus someone cries out, ”Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”  Notice first off, there is no question asked, there is no true desire for arbitration, there is no desire for unity, or justice, no fairness indicated.  The man calling out has already decided what is needed, he has reviewed the case in his mind, and come to a one sided view the answer required, division of the land and possessions of the deceased father.  Understand that this is not an American setting.  This is Israel, the Middle East.  Obviously they live in a different time and culture than we do.  As in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the family lives together.  Inheritance comes with the death of the father, and is then given to the sons of the family, who should then live together in unity.  The Law of Moses states, “Thou shalt not covet.”  Coveting is wanting what you don’t have.  This man in the story wants his portion separated from his brother.  He wants.   Jesus’ response is “Man who made Me a judge or divider over you.”  (Yes, the best word used here is divider, not arbitrator.)  In true keeping with the character revealed to us about Jesus is, He is a reconciler, not a divider.  Understanding what the underlying desire is from this man, Jesus goes on to issue a voice of wisdom saying,  “Beware and be on guard against every form of greed, for not even when one has abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
Now Jesus tells a story to those listening and the man who cried out for a ruling.  “The land of a rich man was very productive”  Already we are told the man is wealthy, this may be a gift from God or the result of the talents given to him from God.  There is no fault yet assigned to this man, he is merely wealthy.  But his land produced a bumper crop, an obvious gift from God, for as every farmer knows each year is a gamble as to weather conditions, pests, weeds, etc. and produce. Now he reasons with himself, which is not the common tradition of this society.  Everyone lives in community, they may own land, but they live together.  The land is worked and cared for by family and servants, but living isolated on large farms is American, not Middle East culture. Also as we know from the Psalms and other scriptures that the men of a community gather daily, especially the leaders of the community, but not limited to, to talk, to debate, to mull over problems, to discuss dilemmas, both public and private, for hours on end. So in this story the man has isolated himself from the community, and has the discussion with himself.  His reasoning then comes from his heart, which reveals where his treasure really is.  He can’t be satisfied, no matter how much he owns.  Ecclesiastes 1.7 says “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.”  The man decides then to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all his surplus.  There is no evidence of giving to God, the temple, or the poor in this mans view of life.  His fallacy is revealed in what Jehovah then says to him.  “You fool, This very night your soul is required of you, and now who will own what you have prepared.”  
Jesus continues with,”so is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  Now the question comes to us, where is our treasure?  Are we consumed with possessions, do we care about others, do we care about the church, and Godliness?  What does God require from us who live in the wealthiest nation on earth.  “It is true that a certain amount of money and possessions are  necessary for life, but it is not true that a greater abundance means a greater abundance of life.” Kenneth Bailey.  
I add this as a note from my own personal experience, not for praise or recognition, but as a living example to what God does.  When He requires from me to give to a particular cause, need, or purpose, sometimes an exceedingly great amount to my view, He always provides the surplus.   We honestly don’t even miss the difference. God doesn’t require from us anything He won’t supply.  So my friends, it’s easy to trust Him and live according to His economy, for He loves you very much.
Karl

The Wise and Foolish Builders

 

220px-The_Leaning_Tower_of_Pisa_SB

Matthew 7:24-27 The Message (MSG)

24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Summary

A life without Christ as its foundation will fall. But a life with Christ as its foundation will withstand the storms of life.

Reflection

In my previous life, before going into the field of education, I was an architecture major at University of Illinois (Go Illini!), and I also spent some time working in construction working for a lumber company. From my time spent studying designing a building, and my time spent on various job sites making deliveries and taking measurements for the lumber company, I know that in order for a building to not fall over and collapse, there are specific dimensions necessary for the foundation that lies below the building. Just look at what we know as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was built on ground that was too soft of a foundation underground. As a result, it is off kilter by about 17 degrees. Ever see a new high rise construction site in Chicago and how deep of a hole they need to dig in order to support the building above?

This parable also makes me think of something that my dad always used to say when I was younger. He would say, “you are hearing me, but you aren’t listening to me.”

With all that is going on in this country, and world to be honest with you, it doesn’t take much to see that we need the words of the Gospel now more than ever. In Dale’s sermon on Sunday, he talked about the number of people in the world who claim Christianity as their religion. But do all of those people actually behave in a Christian manner? Just read the comments on any political post on Facebook and you will get the gist of where I am going with this. I think there are many people that claim Christianity as their religion because they have in the past, or as a child, attended a Christian church service or two. But how many of those same people are still actively engaged in reading and studying scripture and then living out those words in their lives?

I know for a fact that, although I have been attending church for longer than I can remember, and have been actively involved in church life since I was a young kid. But I also know that it wasn’t until I was well into my 20s or maybe even 30s before it finally began to sink in. You know, I would read my Bible from time to time. I would go to church as often as I could. But it wasn’t always being applied to my daily living.

Now in my early 40s, the struggle is still real, in that I am not always the best person that God intends for me to be. But I continue to work on it every day by how? By building myself from the foundation up. I am by no means a Biblical expert, but I try to read and study as often as I can. When I find turbulent times in my life, I try to remind myself of what is most important, which is definitely not me, myself, and I. Instead, I try to re-center myself with God’s word to me, to us, through scripture. Again, I am far from perfect, but I work hard at it every day. I think if more of the 2.2 billion Christians in this world would do the same thing, the world (and Facebook) would be a better place.

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