Zacchaeus

My last post covered the entire chapter focusing on the “A” words.  When I first read Luke 19, the first story about Zacchaeus made me sing “Oh, Zaachaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he!  He climbed up in a Sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see!  For the Lord he wanted to see.”  I remember this much of the song from my early VBS days.  My focus today will just be on Zaachaeus.

All we are told in Luke was that he was small in a stature and a tax collector.  Researching “who was Zacchaeus” shows that he was more than a tax collector.  He was the chief tax collector in Jericho, a major city on the West bank of the Jordan River.  Zacchaeus, which means “pure”, was a descendant of Abraham yet he was not well liked due to his profession.  Most tax collectors were viewed as thieves or cheats, and Zacchaeus was no different as all accounts state he was a rich man.  The region was rich with a product known as “balsam” (sap to us) used for medicinal purposes.  With the balsam production, the tax collected was higher than in other nearby regions.

We read in our text, And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.   Zacchaeus must have heard about Jesus and wanted to see who he was.  I am assuming given his stature, he must have climbed trees before to get a better view.  We know he climbs this Sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus.  Little did he know what would happen next!

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

No preparation.  No warning.  No way to expect this turn of events!  Zacchaeus seemed to be prepared to host his guest.  Grumbling, moaning, disbelief from the crowd ensued.  How could Jesus leave with a “sinner’?  What was Jesus thinking going to Zacchaeus’ home?  Yet off these two men went.  I wonder what Zacchaeus was thinking?  “Oh no, now I’m in trouble!”  Or was he thinking “maybe this is my way to salvation?”  Who knows.  He was overjoyed to have this guest in his home!

As the story unfolds, Zacchaeus immediately repents and seeks salvation.  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Another story of Jesus’ power, influence and healing over this “sinner”.  If the Lord appeared and wanted to come to your house, would you be prepared?  What would you say?  What would you do to receive salvation?

The “A” words

Today’s chapter Luke 7 is yet again filled with so much to unpack.  Four very different messages for us to digest piece by piece.

AMAZED – In this first part of Luke 7, Jesus is the one who is amazed.  A centurion is panicked over his committed servant.  It is obvious the centurion cares so deeply for his servant that he asks for Jesus’ help.  He must have been desperate to seek Jesus’ healing but then changes his mind.  He feels he is not worthy of Jesus’ healing power.  The centurion may have felt guilty, realizing he was using his power over people in the wrong way.  It does not tell us why type of centurion this man was but back in that day, a centurion typically ruled over an army and thus was all powerful.  Jesus understands how he is feeling and is “amazed” at him.  It is as if Jesus is feeling the transformation of this centurion.   “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

AWE – The second story is one of great sadness which turns to joy.  Jesus is entering the city of Nain.  A widow’s dead son is being carried out of the city to his burial place.  The mother has experienced sadness given she is already a widow and now has lost her son. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Jesus, seeing her great sadness, immediately helps.  He stops, he places his healing hand on the bier and heals the dead son. “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God.  We all can feel the grief of this mother who is then overcome with joy as her son is raised.

AWESOME – John the Baptist.  God sends his messenger ahead of Jesus to prepare the way, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  These verses are awesome as John and Jesus have not met each other.  John is sending messengers to try to find out more about Jesus.  They obviously didn’t have Facebook or LinkedIn or Google to search and seek more information like we do today!  They used the good old fashioned way of word of mouth, sending others to investigate, ask questions, bring back the truth.  Was Jesus the promised Messiah?  If he was performing all this healing, he might be, but how would John know?  22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Jesus then uses this time to preach to his followers. 28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”  He wants everyone present to understand John.  He may appear to be a wild man, but he is so much more.  He is the messenger for Jesus and plays such an important role in the story of Jesus’ time on earth.  The story does not continue in this chapter but we know that John and Jesus soon meet at the Jordan River where John baptizes Jesus.  Awesome!

ANOINTED – As we reach the fourth and final story of this chapter, we have a completely different setting.  Jesus is invited in to a Pharisee’s home for dinner.  As he enters, a sinful woman is overcome with emotions.  I see her tears as representing her release of her sins and her recognition of all the things she has done wrong.  She is meeting the awesome Jesus and is feeling less than worthy to the point of weeping.  She uses her tears to clean his feet as she feels this is the least she could do for him.  She then cleanses or anoints his feet with perfume.  He feels her repentance and grasps her need for forgiveness. 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Jesus uses this scene to teach the Pharisee a different way to look at people, through is eyes.  This woman may not have been worthy of the Pharisee, but she was worthy of Jesus.  She believed, she confessed, she demonstrated her faith and is saved.

As I read these four very different stories and examples of faith, it reminds me to keep my head up, looking and searching for God’s word and messages in my daily life.  Sometimes we have many stories in our days and in our weeks.  Are we looking for God’s healing word?  Are we taking advantage of healing or helping others?  Look for the “A” words in your day today.

The Fig Tree

Mark 11

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree

20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”[d]

Today’s reading is one of those lessons I now know more about than I did before we started the Bible Journal.  Yes, I heard this lesson of the Fig Tree back in Sunday School but I didn’t truly understand the meaning.  Over the course of the last two years, I have written on the Fig Tree twice.  It is one of my favorite posts for two reasons:  1) I learned to unpack Jesus’ stories and parables and 2) it shows Jesus as human.  So much symbolism is shown in today’s reading.  If we look at the full context of Mark 11 and into the readings of the coming week, Jesus has much on his mind.  His “triumphant entry” is made is the city on a donkey.  He cleanses the temple.  He is challenged as unbelievers are surfacing.  He knows his death awaits him.  As we put the Fig Tree parable into context, I did go back to my first post on this topic and pull a few fig facts and key message points.

Did you know?:

  • Fig fruit is one of the popular fruits enjoyed since ancient times.
  • The fig tree is native to temperate regions of Asia Minor or Turkey, and today, grown as an important fruit of commerce in the eastern Mediterranean climates, USA, and Spain
  • Fig fruit is low in calories. 100 g fresh fruits carry only 74 calories.  However, they contain health benefiting soluble dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and pigment antioxidants that contribute immensely towards optimum health and wellness.
  • Dried figs are an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. In fact, dried figs possess higher concentrations of energy, minerals, and vitamins. 100 g dried figs provide 249 calories.
  • Furthermore, research studies suggest that chlorogenic acid in the figs help lower blood sugar levels and control blood glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus (adult-onset) condition.

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/fig-fruit.html if you want to learn more.

In Mark 11: 12-14, and also in Matthew 21: 18-22 Jesus sees the fig tree up ahead and was looking forward to tasting that sweet treat. He saw the leaves and assumes it will be bearing fruit, but once he arrived, he is disappointed. The tree was barren. Even though it was out of season, he was mad. He cursed the tree, which could be viewed by some as a show of his power. Typically he used his power to perform miracles, but this time, his power has the opposite result of harming a living thing. It was the only time he cursed something and it withered immediately.

We see Jesus use parables, miracles and teachings to make his disciples and followers think. We have to unpack his messages as they often have double meanings or can be interpreted differently. In this story, the fig tree has leaves, which outwardly shows growth, hopefully signifying fruit. We can liken this vision to people. People in Jesus’s time and also today, outwardly appearing to follow God, saying the right thing, going to church, but inside, the opposite is happening. They do not believe. They may say they are Christians but deep down don’t live up to God’s word. Or what about the opposite:  they have faith but don’t follow through. “Faith without good works is dead”.

Going back to the story of the Fig Tree, if I had been following Jesus and saw the Fig Tree wither, I would have shook with fear. Would Jesus now start performing this type of act or even take this type of approach with non-believers? What does he mean by this act?

What do you take away from this story? What would he want us to do? Believe, have faith, follow, perform good works, follow the commandments. To me, it is about being a Christian through and through. Not faking it for appearance sake, but living the life day in and day out as a follower of Christ.  God does not want us to fake it, and he also does not want us to wither away.  He will protect us.

 

Jesus is Crucified

Matthew 27

Today’s reading is familiar to all of us.  Jesus is delivered to Pilate.  The crowd choose Barabbas.  Pilate delivers Jesus to be crucified.  Jesus is crucified, died and is buried.  We know this story.  The disciples also knew this story as Jesus himself predicted his death many times.  In Matthew along, we read:

Matthew 16:21–28 says that Jesus “from that time”, i.e. on a number of occasions, Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed …”.

Each time Jesus predicts his death, the disciples do not believe that this event will happen.  Jesus tries to continue to teach them new things.  Matthew 17:22–23 as follows:

He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.[10]

Then, the third prediction in the Matthew 20:17–19 discusses his crucifixion:

Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

The fourth prediction in Matthew is found in Matthew 26:1-2 immediately precedes the plot made against him by the religious Jewish leaders:

“As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Yes, the disciples did not want to believe.  As their leader, friend, hero, they wanted to listen but not really hear what Jesus was predicting.  How could this happen?  When?  What could be done to stop this horrific event?  Yet, as Jesus is foretelling his fate, it appears to the reader that he is calm, almost matter-of-fact.

We also read further into Pilate’s thoughts.  Pilate sat in judgment of Jesus.  I always think about the attitude of each man in this situation.  Pilate tried to push Jesus to talk.  He prodded him to save himself.  Yet, Jesus would not say much.  He just repeated what Pilate said “if you say so”.  Pilate must have been a bit irritated with Jesus for not engaging in the conversation.  He saw that Jesus was at peace with what was going to happen.  Pilate could have released Jesus, but he did not.  He turned the decision over to the crowd.   He gave the crowd the option to release him.  As Pilate lead Jesus out to the crowd, he may not have anticipated the reaction.  The word “crowdsource” comes to mind.

crowd·source
verb
  1. obtain (information or input into a particular task or project) by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet.
    Now of course there was no Internet back then, but this crowd seemed to feed off each other.  They could hardly hear Pilate.
    21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

    As we know, Jesus is mocked, spat upon, crowned with a crown of thorns, bruised, and crucified.  There is so much to today’s reading!  What a turn of events.  Jesus is preaching and teaching, healing and feeding thousands.  Then, things turn, for him and for his disciples, for Pilate and also for the crowds who may have even been following Jesus!  Crucified, died and is buried.  How crazy.  How awful it must have been even if he predicted his own death, and all of these events happened in such a short time frame.

Two thoughts as you move from today’s reading into your daily life:  1)  Count every day with friends and family as a blessing as you never know when things might take a turn for you or your family; 2)  Be thankful Jesus died on the cross for us, to save us.

 

Faith and Healing

Today’s reading is Matthew 15.

As I read today’s verse, I was moved by the healing power Jesus provided the people, both Israelites and Canaanites, during his time on earth.  We are offered so many examples of his healing power and the faith people had in him.

In our first Faith and Healing example, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus asking for healing.  The picture of a panicked mother comes to mind, fully exhausted dealing with her daughter.   25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

She does not know what else to do and appears to be at her wits end.  She needs her daughter to be healed.

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

She is crying for help.  She is pleading, trying to draw his full attention by saying “Son of David”.  Jesus in turn does her her plea for help, yet he does not offer healing right away.  He instead questions her faith and questions her further.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

But she continues saying even the dogs need crumbs.  Even if this woman and her daughter are feeling as if they are not worthy, they still have faith and need Jesus’ healing.  Jesus sees her faith and heals her daughter.  Relief.

In the next story of Faith and Healing comes in the form of feeding the 4,000, no, not the 5,000, the 4,000.  This story is not as well known but a strong reminder of Jesus’ powerful time on earth.

30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

It must have been a wonderful seen as person by person, he offers healing power.  He offers healing to each person.  This story does not show discerning between who “deserves” the healing and who doesn’t, he openly offers his healing.  He must have seen or felt the strong presence of faith in the crowd, almost as we do sometimes going to church and feeling the power of the congregation in song and praise.

Jesus then turns to his disciples and shows his compassion.  He knows people have traveled far to receive his blessing and healing.  He does not want to turn away the hungry and he doesn’t.  This time, he has seven loaves of bread and some fish:

“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”

35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 

As we look for healing, we can count of God.  He may make us demonstrate our faith such as the Canaanite woman before he heals us, but he does heal us.   He also has compassion and provides the bread (fish) and wine we need through his body and blood offered through communion.

In the last few weeks, I have seen people in need of healing:  a concussion on the soccer field, a friend having sinus surgery, one son struggling with his path, and my ongoing journey with my mother’s failing health.  Faith and Healing.  Two powerful words for us to remember as we face life’s every day bumps.  May you remember God’s healing hand and to have Faith in his actions in your lives.

John the Baptist

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

This past weekend, I had the joy of attending church at Highland Park United Methodist in Dallas, Texas.  I was moving my oldest back to college and always take advantage of attending this church when we visit.  HPUMC is a thriving community of churchgoers, including long timers and college students.  We are always amazed at the outstanding choir and at all the baptisms.  Each time we attend, multiple children are being baptized and welcomed into the church.  As we attended this week, it was a refreshing moment to hear these words from the minister, baptizing each child, five in total.  Certainly a renewal of all our own baptismal vows and a reminder of the responsibility we hold as Christians to raise our children and these newly baptized children up in the word of Christ.

Today’s reading, Matthew 3, highlights a key moment in Jesus’ life on earth.  John the Baptist leads the way:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[a]

John’s  “baptismal font” is the Jordan River.  He baptizes the people as they confess their sins.  He calls for them to repent.  He continues to preach the word not in a temple but out in the wilderness.  He message is simple, and he is not fancy about this event.  We are told his clothes were made of camel hair.  Yet, he was given such an important job.  He is baptizing the people.

“I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire.

As we move further into the reading, Jesus appears.  John the Baptist believes Jesus should be baptizing him; he is a bit taken aback (as we would be too!).  Yet Jesus asks John to fulfill the scriptures and baptize him.  We all have a vision of these two people standing in the Jordan River.  John about to baptize Jesus.  What a emotional and wonderful moment it must have been.

Continue reading and we find the symbol of the dove.  “…and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

So much meaning is represented in these two verses.  We see the spirit in the vision of a dove and then we hear God praising Jesus and saying he is well pleased.  As we tie together present day baptisms with today’s reading, it gives me peace knowing baptism has given us the gift of repentance.

As I was writing my post, this verse came into my mind.  “Let you light shine before others that they might see your good deeds and give glory to your father who is in heaven”.  It is Matthew 5:16.  Certainly speaks to me as a natural follow on to our own baptisms and discipleship this week.

The Jews and the Gentiles

Acts 13:  42-52

In today’s reading, we have two very different groups of people.  As Paul and Barnabas are teaching, the focus is shifting to the Gentiles and away from the Jews.  As we read this story, we can picture a mass of people, “the whole city”,gathered.  There are opposing forces.  The Gentiles are grasping the word of God.  They are believing what Paul and Barnabas are saying.  They are “coming alive”.  They are joyful.  You can hear them cheering and rallying.  They are believing in eternal life.  They are hearing “these things”.  I interpret “these things” to be the word of God and his teachings.  Paul and Barnabas are preaching, teaching and spreading God’s word.  They are true disciples for the Gentiles and are showing them the way.  What a wonderful scene we can envision in this story.

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

On the other side, we have the Jews.  They are starting to oppose the word.  They are turning away from Paul and Barnabas.  The word “scoff” is used to describe their actions toward the Gentiles.  We read about the Jews’ “jealousy”.  They are definitely struggling and may not know where to turn.  They are not cheering and are rallying against God’s word.  They are misinterpreting “these things” to represent what they want to become.  How sad to see them turn away.  Why do they feel they cannot follow?  How did they become so filled with this jealousy?  God does not want them to turn away.

As we view these contrasting styles of what I will call “group think”, it appears easy to me to sway with the Gentiles.  However, in the moment, it may not have been that easy.  The Gentiles were certainly on a upward path and staying true to God’s word and course.  Do we do that in our every day lives?  Or do we turn away, being filled with jealousy?  The next time you are confronted with a situation of contrasting styles, which group will you follow?  Or will you be the leader and stick with your beliefs, morals and values?

As you carry on your day, may you be filled with the positive feeling of the Gentiles.  Don’t let negative feelings take you away from God’s word!

Footsteps

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

As we look at today’s first verse, what are we being asked to do? Follow Jesus. Follow his example. Walk in his footsteps. Love others as he loves us. This is quite a challenge! We think we are following Jesus by being in his word, performing good deeds, attending worship, helping others and generally being a good person. However, it is much harder to perform, especially in this complex world. Every day, we take footsteps and we take missteps. Missteps that lead us away from God’s word and his wishes for us. We become distracted. We lose our focus when we get “too busy”. A bit humbling as it happens to me for sure.

As I reflected on my own actions and today’s word, I thought about how to change the distractions that take us away from God. No quick fixes here. Certainly we as Christians can love one another just as Christ loves us. As Rachel posted yesterday, God looked on us with love and we need to offer that love and grace to others.  Additionally, we could and should be offering up sacrifices. What if we all spent a bit more time each day trying to walk more closely in his footsteps. Would we have an impact on the world we live in? I think we would and could. If we impacted one person each day by showing extra love, maybe they would impact another person. It is a small thing yet could have a big impact.  Love and grace.  (Imagine the wave in a stadium!)

Most of my time reflecting on today’s reading has to do with verse 1 and following in his footsteps.  I envisioned a morning walk in solitude.  My footsteps being small inside of God’s large footsteps.  Footsteps are part of my walk on God’s personal path for me.   For each of us, even if we stop to smell the roses or happen to step on a thorn along the way, God is still guiding us, prodding us and showing love and compassion for us. As we take steps in our daily lives, we are trying to move forward on a Christian path. We are walking. Sometimes we try to run, but oftentimes we are throttled back to a walk, at God’s pace.  On our walk through our days we have the chance to be looking up and out, not down at our own footsteps. Are we walking for our own pleasure or are we following God’s path? If we look up and out, we won’t miss the impact we can have on the world, showing love and grace.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a]

As we walk down this path and further into today’s reading, we are being warned to always be watchful, guarding against temptation.  Are we walking on a cliff hoping we don’t misstep? Are we imitating Christ or getting caught up in gossip, foolishness and deceptive words? Do we misstep into greed? To receive this inheritance of the kingdom of God, we should not become distracted. We need to walk in God’s light.

In today’s reading, Paul simply asks us to walk in God’s footsteps, to follow his word, to imitate him, to show kindness and love to others just as he shows it to each of us. Be like God as you go on your walk today!

 

 

 

 

Are you a sheep?

Are you a sheep?  Or are you a goat?   Matthew 25: 31-46

When you read today’s bible verses, did you categorize yourself as a sheep or a goat?  I could definitely be a better sheep than I am right now as there is more I could be doing to give back of my time, talents and money.

As we dive into the beginning sentences, the vision painted for us is a mass crowd with God dividing us into two camps:  sheep on the right who will be redeemed and saved and goats on the left who will be condemned and lost.  The reading shares with us the characteristics of the sheep.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’   The “king” or God was not talking about himself.  He was referring to others in the world.  Did you give food to those in need?  How about those who were thirsty or needed clothes or needed help or even a hug?  If you see a homeless person on the street, do you walk by or do you give him or her something?

As I was evaluating options, so many ideas came to mind.  We can always find avenues to perform charitable acts such as serving in a soup kitchen or volunteering at an organization.  Each year at work, we have one day everyone serves.  Various events are organized in big cities and we are expected to attend and serve.  Here is Bloomington, we have worked at Home Sweet Home Ministries, sorting clothes, books, shoes, etc.  The day serves as a way to give back to the community and i s a wonderful way to serve others with your colleagues.  You walk away at the end of the day feeling very fulfilled.  My self check based on this reading is that I should do more of these types of volunteer activities as well as doing more for others.

Timing was perfect for today’s reading for me for another reason.  My son Jonathan (14) is currently in Ripley, Tennessee for his first church work camp experience.  He went to Fellowship of Christian Athletes trip in 8th grade in Missouri with Kingsley Jr. High and loved it.  Then, for whatever reason, when work camp rolled around last year, he did not go last year.  Upon return and throughout his youth group this year, he heard from his friends who went how much fun they had so he plunged right in this year.  They typically are assigned a work group with other churches so you meet new people.  At night all the work groups get back together for fellowship.  As we prepared for the trip and loaded his “work bucket” you could see he was excited but also slightly anxious.  His older brother Matthew (17) who participated when he was a freshman assured him the experience would be both fun and rewarding.  Certainly something he would not regret or forget.  Jonathan is a kind-hearted young man and I know God will allow his good nature and helping hands to show through as he gives back.  I cannot wait to hear the stories!

As you go about your week, hopefully you take the time to be sheep even if it’s “welcoming” or saying hello to a stranger on the street!

Psalm 138

Stay in YOUR Lane

Matthew 20:  1-16

What a great way to start our day!  In this story about “laborers” or every day workers, we are reminded of the real world.  The workers who start at 8 or 10 or 12 or 5 or even 7 all received the same wage.  Does that seem fair?  No.  In our every day lives, does everyone receive the same wages?  No.  Do some people at our same level who might do less work receive the same wages?  Yes.  Such is life.  “Unfair” as it may seem, it is that way.

I love this story as it reminds us that God treats each of us as individuals.  He does not necessarily give more to others than to us.  He treats us as individuals, the distinct and unique individuals he created us to be.   It may seem that he gives more to others, but why are we comparing ourselves to others anyway?  What counts is our servitude and attitude to God, not how we compare to others right?  If he called us all to Heaven today, what would he say about us as individuals?  He wouldn’t just take those with the most years being Christians would he?

I have a friend named J***** whom I have known since before I had children.  Throughout the years, we have stayed in touch as her youngest boys are the same age as my oldest.  We have been through tough times together and bonded over being “single moms”.  When the boys were in fourth or fifth grade, we had an issue with school friends (I can’t really remember what it was about now which means it probably wasn’t that critical?) and were discussing it one day or lunch.  She was asking about how she should handle an issue with other parents.   Should she call to tell the parents what she was seeing and hearing?  I said “you know I just try to stay in my lane”.  The point was I was overwhelmed at the time and was making choices over what I thought was a burning platform and what I just decided wasn’t my business.  We still remind each other of that phrase “stay in your lane”.  If it doesn’t pertain to you and doesn’t directly affect your children, don’t worry about it or be anxious about it.  When I read this parable today, those words came to me “stay in your lane”.  Can you really control how much the master pays others?  If you get upset, will it change anything?  If we see others receiving more than us in the form of money, happiness, travel, etc. should you worry about it or think “how unfair”?  Not really.  You can’t do anything about it.  All you can control is your lane or yourself.  You can make a difference in how you react to the situation God has given you whether it is exciting, not what you expected, or disappointing.  Really you can’t even control yourself; it is God’s plan right?  He decides your path and you can decide how you react.  If you are handed your “denarius”, how do you handle it?  Are you respectful and say thank you?  Or do you pout and say “it’s not fair”?  Great reminder to all of us to work on ourselves, our reactions to situations and our thankfulness to God for what he has already given us.

Psalm 126