May 31 - Vine and Branches

Friday, May 31, 2013

John 15:1-17

Jesus is the true vine and his Father is the vinedresser … in other words, God takes away the branches which bear no fruit and prunes the fruit-producing vines so they will bear more fruit.  Now, a branch which is unattached to the vine, will bear no fruit because it ceases to receive nourishment from the vine.

This passage is filled with powerfully strong metaphors; and a few strong, straightforward sentences.  The gist of the entirety of the passage is that 1) Jesus has chosen us (vs. 16); 2) he did so in order that we bear fruit and prove ourselves to be his disciples (vs. 8); 3) that our lives and the results of our actions always point to God (vs. 8); 4) that we be filled with joy (vs. 11); and 5) that we love each other (vs. 12-13, 17).

You might find more profound insights into these verses. Please take the time to read through for yourself and see what might leap off the pages for you.

Jesus has chosen us.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “He (the Lord) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” You don’t have to do anything to earn the love of Jesus; it is already there for you.

Bear fruit.  In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul tells us what this fruit looks like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  These are the attributes of a disciple; one who has chosen to be obedient to the Lord. These are the things people should see in us every day.

Glorify God.  The Lord in Isaiah 43:6-7 says, “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” We were created to glorify God.  That is our purpose.

Rejoice. There are many times that the New Testament speaks of living in joy.  Peter says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).  Joy is different than happiness. Joy is a way of life. It resides within us even when we are sad or depressed.  Joy is not dependent on others or on our moods; it comes from an unending source.  Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

Love each other. I can not get too much of the verses from Matthew 22.  When an expert of the law asked Jesus which of the commandments were the greatest, Jesus replied by summing them up.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind ... the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).  Love God / Love Others. Fulfill the commandments.

May 30 - Good Shepherd

Thursday, May 30, 2013

John 10:1-18

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. 

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.

Create an image in your mind of a pen filled with sheep near a cluster of homes; maybe off a courtyard. It would be surrounded by a stone wall and probably would have thorny briars on top of it.  More than one family would keep their sheep within the pen at night for protection and a hired hand would be there to guard the locked gate so that thieves couldn't steal any of the sheep.

Even though, there were several flocks of sheep contained within this pen, when a shepherd entered and began calling, only those sheep who knew his voice would follow; the rest would wait for their own leader.  But, this shepherd had given names to his own sheep as well, and he knew them well enough to call them by name.  Where he led, his sheep followed.  They recognized his voice as he talked to them; calling them, leading them.  There is a relationship between the shepherd and his sheep.  They trust him to protect them, to lead them where there will be food and water and they are at peace when in his presence.

This relationship was well known to the people of Israel and they would have been able to visualize the images Jesus asked them to see.

We are the sheep.  Not only do we see Jesus as the Shepherd, we also recognize that he is the one who stands at the gate, protecting those he cares for from thieves and robbers.

May 29 - Bread of Life

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

John 6:31-38

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”

Before Jesus preached, he took a moment to correct an incorrect interpretation offered by those who had tracked him down.  They asserted that Moses had given their ancestors manna, but Jesus reminded them that it wasn't Moses who did the work, it was a gift from God.

The connection here is profound. God had redeemed the people of Israel from Egypt and rather than allow them to starve while they traipsed through the wilderness, each day he sent manna for them to eat.  They couldn't collect it or save it because the next day, what they had saved would be rotten; except on the Sabbath. Then they were allowed to collect two days’ worth of food so they could worship God rather than look for something to eat.

As their redeemer, God cared for his children, ensuring they would never go hungry.

Jesus comes as the redeemer; the Messiah.  The people of Israel are no longer in need of physical food to get them through a literal desert, but were in desperate need of spiritual food to get them through a spiritual desert.  He offered himself as the bread of life which would fill every need they might have.

What do you hunger for today?

May 28 - Sheep and Goats

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Matthew 25:31-46

Though we find the Son of Man on his throne separating people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats in this passage; one of the things we recognize immediately is that Jesus is telling us how to live as Christians in the world.

Those who will inherit the kingdom responded to the King.  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

Jesus gives us the response of the righteous as they asked when they did those things.  That is so telling.  Those who will inherit the kingdom of God did those things without thought. It was part of who they were.  It never occurred to them that the wonderful things they did for others would get them anything at all.

But, the Lord recognized the heart of each of those people and said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40b).

Now, those who had refused to do those things during their lifetime were sent into eternal punishment, while the others arrived into eternal life with the Father.

Just as Jesus transformed the commandments of the Law into two short commands – Love God / Love Others – and ensured that we recognized the importance of following God’s commands because it is within our hearts to do so; he transformed acts of mercy.  For the Jews of his time, performing an act of mercy was a task that had to be done in order to be a good Jew.  Jesus wanted his listeners to know that caring for others, when it came from the heart and not the head was important.

Love God / Love others.

May 27 - Ten Talents

Monday, May 27, 2013

Matthew 25:14-30

A man, planning for a long trip, called his servants to him and asked them to watch over his property. To one, he gave five talents, to another he gave two talents and to the final servant, he gave a single talent. He did so based on their ability.

When he returned much later, he called them in to settle accounts.  The first had doubled his earnings.  The master was elated and told him that because he had been faithful with only a little, he would now be placed in charge of a great deal.  The second had also doubled his earnings and was told the same thing.  The third, however, had buried his talent and was pleased with himself when, upon presenting the original talent back to the Master, said that he was aware the master was a hard taskmaster and in his fear, he hid the talent so he wouldn't have to face his wrath.

Well, wrath was handed out after all, because even if the third servant had simply put the money in a bank, there would have been interest.  The talent was taken from the third and given to the first and the slothful servant was cast out where there was more weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus told this story to his disciples as he was speaking to them about the end of the world and the fact that he was going to be going away from him. It is one we all should heed.

The Lord has entrusted us with much.  Fear of failure causes us to hide our talents rather than using them to bring glory to the kingdom of God. This is a very clear call to us that there are things more important than our fears.

God calls us to tell the world of His love. He’s given us the means by which to do so. They might be flashy or gain us great popularity; they might be quiet and intimate. We are called to share love; we are called to share God’s love.

Don't hide those talents away for fear that you won't be good enough.

May 26 - Ten Virgins

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Matthew 25:1-13

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 

“ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Ten young bridesmaids went out to meet the bridegroom. There would be great rejoicing when he arrived for the wedding feast. The bride was prepared and waiting at her home; the bridegroom would arrive and be escorted to the feast and the celebration would begin.

Jesus used the metaphor of the bride and groom to describe his relationship to the Israelites and later to the Church, much as God did in the Old Testament, when he called Israel his bride.  In Isaiah 54:5 we read, “For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”

When we arrive at Revelation 19, we find that the final fulfillment of history occurs at a great banquet, when Jesus Christ arrives as the bridegroom.  The Church is His bride and it is made up of everyone who has come to know him throughout history, but what of those who aren't prepared?

They will be like the ten foolish young women who didn't plan to wait; who simply assumed that everyone else would take care of them and when that didn't happen; they scurried to deal with it and were locked out of the wedding banquet.

The time is coming; we don’t know when Jesus will return, but be prepared.

May 25 - Wise Servant

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Matthew 24:45-51

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew wrote a lot about the weeping and gnashing of teeth, didn't he!  I had no idea how often this showed up in his gospel until this month, writing about these parables.

I don’t know about you, but we had a rule in our house. When Dad approached the door, everyone got busy.  If you weren't busy when he came in that door; you soon would be and you would be working on things you really didn't want to do. I believe my father had a list of things that needed to be worked on running in his head at all times; he was simply waiting for one of us to be idle so that we could be put to the task.  Saturday morning were not television watching / cartoon seeing mornings for us. At least not until we had completed the tasks Dad had set for each of us.  I generally finished in time to watch American Bandstand at noon, but not much before that.  When he was around, we stayed busy.

But, then there were those times when he had to be gone overnight … generally a Friday night and Saturday in Des Moines for some meeting. We stopped working. We woke up late on Saturday morning and did nothing. But, trust me … one half hour before he was to arrive home, everyone scurried to clean things up and find ways to look productive before he got there.

Jesus is talking to those who believe that every day in their spiritual life is a Friday night and Saturday morning without Dad around to keep them in line. When everyone was asking, “What would Jesus do?” the question really should have been, “What would we do if Jesus was here watching us?”

That’s not a bad question to ask yourself every morning as you plan your day.

May 24 - Fig Tree

Matthew 24:32-35

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

The weather has been lying a lot as of late. It promised spring and then waited … it promised summer and right now it is 56 degrees and I’m freezing.  However, all the signs are there.

We pay close attention to signs of preparation. As the leaves change their color and drop from the trees in the fall, we know that they are preparing for winter.  Activities wind down in the summer time and children’s backpacks and supplies get purchased as they prepare to go back to school in the fall.  Gifts are purchased, trees are decorated, lights are hung, carols are sun; and we know that preparations are being made for Christmas morning.  Young people send out applications and begin looking nostalgically at their lives and we recognize signs of high school graduation … commencement as they begin a new portion of their lives. Couples begin planning and preparations are made for weddings.

We are familiar with all of these different signs of preparation and so many more.  In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, Jesus finishes explaining all of the signs that will signal the end of the age; the final chapter in the story of humanity.

Like a fig tree that signals the oncoming summer, signs that we will recognize will signal the end of the age.  We will not be caught unaware; it will be as familiar to us as many of the preparations we make for other things in our lives.  We may not know the day or the hour, but we will not be surprised when it arrives.

May 23 - Wedding Banquet

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Matthew 22:1-14

A king’s son was getting married and to celebrate, he threw an immense banquet; inviting everyone they knew. The servants went out to bring people in, but those who were invited wouldn't come, so he sent out other servants and said, “Look. I've got this amazing dinner and everything is reading.  Come celebrate with us,” but people ignored him and went about doing their own thing. Others went so far as to kill the servants.  Well, the king was furious and sent out the troops to destroy the murderers. Afterwards, he sent the servants back out to the main roads to bring in as many as they could find … both bad and good people and the hall was filled with guests.

However, when the king entered the hall, he saw a man who had refused to wear a wedding garment. That man was taken out, bound and cast into darkness … where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus ended the story by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

This is another look at Jesus’ teaching to the Pharisees.  They knew what he was telling them and it made them angry.  They didn't want to hear that they might be the wedding guests who were too busy for God’s son.  They simply couldn't imagine that God would look elsewhere to find people who would be obedient to him.

Because of the covenant relationship they had with God, they were pretty certain they could get away with doing whatever they liked and he would always bail them out; even if it took hundreds of years. They were also not ready to hear that this simple man from Galilee might be the Messiah. Surely, if God wanted to get their attention, he would send someone who was powerful and charismatic.

Most people who lead groups understand that power and charisma might not come from being loud and showy. Some of the best leaders are those whose voices get quieter as the insanity in the room grows and whose charisma shines, not when they will get a great amount of attention, but when people are truly listening to the heart of what they are saying.

Jesus was that leader and he knew that there would be no way to get through to the Pharisees; the leaders of the Jews. They didn't want to hear him; they didn't want to acknowledge the truth of who he was. So, he simply told them where their behavior would lead them … to the outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And as for the last poor guy who wasn't wearing a wedding garment?  Why in the world would you come to a wedding feast for someone and refuse to respond correctly? Matthew’s reference here is to those who proclaim to follow Jesus, yet still want to live in sin.  It is obvious to everyone that they don’t mean it … in this case, the man wore street clothes. He looked and acted differently than everyone else at the feast and he was surprised to have been caught.

All have been called to the wedding feast; few are chosen.

May 22 – Landowner

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Matthew 21:33-46

In today’s parable, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a wall around it, leased it out, then moved to another country. When he sent his servants to get his fruit, the tenants beat one, killed another and stoned the third. So, he sent more servants, in greater number.  The tenants did the same thing. Finally, thinking that his son would be safe from their behavior, he sent his only son.  For some strange reason, the tenants believed that by killing the son, they would receive the inheritance instead; so they did just that.

Then Jesus asked his listeners what they thought the landowner would do. Of course they responded by saying that he would put them to a miserable death and then lease the vineyard to respectable tenants.

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:43).

It’s easy for us to see that Jesus was speaking to the leaders of the Jews, but is it as easy for us to see that Jesus speaks to us as well?

It’s easy for us to see that Jesus is speaking to those theologians who refuse to acknowledge his divinity, or even that he was a real person and spent time on earth, but is it as easy for us to see that Jesus speaks to us as well?

It’s easy for us to see that Jesus speaks to cults and anyone who disagrees with the way we interpret his teaching, but is it as easy for us to see that Jesus is speaking to us as well?

What fruits of the kingdom are you producing?

May 21 - Two Sons

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Matthew 21:28-32

There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 

“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” 

“The first,” they answered. 

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

In other words, those who become friends with God even after they wanted nothing to do with him are more obedient than those who say they are friends with God, yet show the world they are their own person.

I don’t know about you, but I know an awful lot of self-proclaimed Christians who make me nuts with their behavior.  All pious and righteous sounding on the outside, but on the inside, they are petty and negative, bitter and angry.  I would much rather know those people who have spent years living hard lives and when they honestly come to know Jesus become truly wonderful people.

One Sunday morning I saw a woman I had never met before arrive in church. Everyone else seemed to know her, but she was a stranger to me.  She was absolutely beautiful and I wanted to know her a little better.  I asked my mother who she was and Mom said, “I’m not surprised you didn't recognize her. She looked quite different last week when she went to the altar and gave herself to the Lord.” Then Mom told me her name and I was shocked beyond belief. The week before, this woman’s face told the story of a life that had been lived hard.  Everything about her was painted on, even her smile.  After her encounter with Jesus, that hardness dropped away, revealing beauty that still shines to this day.

We had a church filled with religious people who never exuded such gratefulness and awareness of the mercy and grace of God. In fact, many of them refused to accept her and were more interested in gossiping about her past than being excited for her future.  But, she found what they will always search for and never find as long as their religion is more important than having a relationship with God.

I was simply grateful that day to observe a miracle in the making, to see true transformation occur as a result of God’s grace.

May 20 - Vineyard Workers

Monday, May 20, 2013


Matthew 20:1-16

In this parable, Jesus tells us the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who hired workers for his vineyard. In the early morning, he hired a group of workers who agreed to work for a specific wage.  Several more times throughout the day, he hired different laborers to work in the vineyard, telling them all that he would give them a fair wage.  When evening came, he asked his foreman to bring the laborers in and pay them, beginning with those who were hired last.  He paid each man the exact same wage. When those who were hired earlier in the day saw that the wage was the same no matter how many hours had been worked, they grumbled; accusing the master of being unfair.  His response was simply to tell them that he had paid them exactly what they had agreed upon and that it is his vineyard and his money and he can be generous with whomever he wishes.

For many of us, we tend to align ourselves with the first workers, seeing only the unfairness of the whole deal.  We believe in working for a living and because we have worked so hard, we should receive more; it’s what the American dream is based on … work hard, achieve more.

As nice as that sounds; it isn't reality for the largest portion of humanity and it is absolutely not the reality in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus final words in this passage are; “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).

The story really wasn't about the workers who arrived early in the morning and worked throughout the day; it was about the generosity of the master of the vineyard.  God’s love is available to each of us, no matter when or where or how we choose to come to him.  One of my grandfathers had lived a wild life filled with every vice you could imagine, but when he asked my mother to pray with him and the two of them wept over his lost life, that meant the same to God as the day I chose to walk to the altar at the age of thirteen.  I won’t receive a better seat at the viewing of the last days than my grandfather; we will both be welcomed equally by God.

His generosity is overwhelming and His love for us greater still than that. Choose life today.

May 19 - Unmerciful Servant

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Matthew 18:21-35

This passage begins with Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sinned against him.  Peter thought that maybe seven times would be enough.  Jesus made the number much bigger and said he should forgive seventy-seven times.  Then Jesus began the story of a king and his servants. It was time to settle accounts.  One man, who owed ten thousand bags of gold came before the king and pleaded for mercy and for additional time to repay the debt. The king canceled the debt completely.

To celebrate this, the servant went looking for a fellow worker who owed him a hundred coins, threatening to kill him unless he paid what was owed. This fellow pleaded for mercy and time, but rather than forgiving what had just been forgiven him, the original servant had the other thrown into debtor’s prison.

Well, that news didn't take long to get back to the king, who called in the original servant and after scolding him, sent him to jail until the original debt could be repaid.

Jesus then said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

We have a lot of trouble with balance in our lives. There really isn't much worse than a former smoker or a recovering alcoholic, a person who has lost a great deal of weight or someone who has come through a great personal crisis. In light of their incredible new life, they completely forget the patience with which the world lived with them and seem to believe it is up to them to change everyone they encounter … without much grace.

Christians who came from horrendous lives prior to their moment of conversion are sometimes the worst, exacting judgment on all those with whom they used to know well.  It is easy to forget the grace and mercy that brought each of us to the point we are living right now … the gift of life we have been given as we are transformed.

Extend grace to all, forgive those who have harmed you or even moreso whom have done nothing against you, but have done something you don’t approve of … forgive.

Because if you withhold forgiveness, there is no reason to believe you will ever receive it.

May 18 – Homeowner

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Matthew 13:52

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Because we moved so often as a child, I didn't get to experience finding an old family trunk in the attic filled with treasures.  We saw our treasures every five or six years and moved them into a new home, but those stories always fascinated me.  When we moved into our home in Sigourney, though, Dad went up to the attic to lay floor down so we could store unused items up there and he discovered a treasure trove of National Geographic magazines.  Every once in a while we had gotten that magazine, but here were scores of them ready to be perused.

Getting into that attic was no mean feat. It required a ladder and a little bit of upper body strength to pull yourself through the square little hole.  The room was hot in the summer and filled with insulation, except the areas where Dad had placed plywood. Mom had made me promise not to bring all of those magazines downstairs; she didn't want them cluttering up the house.  Every once in a while, I’d get sent to the attic to find something and I’d get lost in the piles of magazines; reading and looking at the pictures, until mom called up looking for me and whatever item she needed.

The disciples had just spent time learning from Jesus about the kingdom of heaven. He explained it to them in multitudes of parables and hoped that they fully understood his meaning.  And now, he told them that they have been given enough to teach both the old and the new.

The treasure we have inside us after meeting and building a relationship with Jesus Christ is like this homeowner.  We have our old stories that help us relate to people and we have a new layer of stories and understanding because of this relationship.  Tell your stories, bring out the treasures and share them with others.

May 17 - Net of Fish

Friday, May 17, 2013


Matthew 13:47-50

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

One of my mother’s favorite phrases when things were bad was “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I’m guessing things were never as bad as they will be when the bad fish are tossed into a blazing furnace, but she got her point across.  Things were bad.

Dad was quite a fisherman. He loved nothing more than spending time walking the river on our land with a fishing pole, a pail of minnows, a net and a stringer. I remember one night when he came up to the cabin with a huge grin on his face. Rather than a stringer filled with catfish, he had a pail with a snapping turtle in it.  It scared Mom.  She wasn’t comfortable having one of those in the river where the three of us children played, because she knew that if there was one, there would be more.  Dad was fully entertained by the situation and we ended up having turtle soup.

One thing I learned from Dad was how to discern what type of fish were worth keeping once they were on my line. When he took me fishing in Canada, we were fishing for walleye. If we caught a trout, we were ecstatic, but if we caught a northern pike, only the largest and longest would do, otherwise they weren't worth the effort. Anything else went back in the lake, unless I caught a very small perch, then it just became bait.

The world is filled with different perceptions of good and bad, useful and useless.  Jesus’ disciples knew what a net filled with fish would have in it. Some would be worthwhile, others worth nothing.  Like the good crop and the weeds, some would be kept and others would be burned, but until we are poured out of the net onto the ground, we don’t know which is which.  God will make that decision. I plan to be a nice, healthy lake trout.

May 16 - Fine Pearls

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Matthew 13:45-46

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

What is your pearl of great price?  What is it that you would sacrifice everything to keep?  Is it a relationship or a treasured family heirloom? Is it your house or a car that you've restored? A cabin in the woods or a boat for the lake?

The next question might cut a little differently. What would you do if tomorrow, Christianity were to be declared unconstitutional and that you were no longer allowed to call yourself a follower of Jesus?  If you did, you would lose your job, everything you owned … the state would take it all from you.  If you continued to press forward as a Christian, you would be imprisoned and separated from your family?

What would you be willing to sacrifice?

We are so fortunately to live in a country where that is not a reality; others in the world today are not so fortunate. Christians in China, while they have more freedom now than in the past, are not allowed to worship and yet, there are many who will sacrifice everything, including a relationship with their families, in order to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You don’t have to sacrifice today, you have been a gift of freedom and the opportunity to hold in your heart the pearl of great price. Pray for those who can’t; thank God for His gift.

May 15 - Hidden Treasure

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Look at that verse again.  A man found a treasure in a field. He re-buried it, then purchased the field so that it would be his.  He didn't steal it, he ensured that no one could question whether he owned the found treasure.

Think of the time between when he found the treasure and then owned the field. How many people walked past that field knowing nothing of what had been found there.

The kingdom of heaven is like that.  A person finds it and with great joy sacrifices everything in order to have it.  But, others have no idea that it even exists.  It’s right there. In fact, the implication is that they weren't walking past the field, but walking through it.  Every day, people walked over and around that treasure, but they saw nothing.  They were intent on all that was happening around them and it never occurred to them that right under their feet, there was a great treasure.

When one man found it, he was filled with joy and ensured that he would always have it.

The kingdom of heaven is a treasure that can be found. We might stumble upon it, or go looking for it; but it can be found.  And once we find it we should sacrifice everything … all of the old parts of our lives … to have it.

May 14 - Weeds in the Field, Pt. 2

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Matthew 13:36-43

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.” 

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 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, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 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. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

After talking about the mustard seed and yeast, the disciples follow Jesus into a house and ask for a little more clarification about the weeds.  Could he really mean what they think he meant?

He did.

There will be a day when judgment comes to humanity.

There are two sides on that day; Jesus doesn't equivocate and assure us that there is a grey area for those who aren't sure or for those who might have missed out. There are two sides on that day.  The sower has sown good seed … it is found in the people who believe in Him. They are part of the kingdom of God.  The evil one, though, has sown seeds within others who refuse to believe in Him.  They will not be redeemed.

The harvest has not yet come. For now, the weeds and good seeds grow together, but the day will come when everything changes.  Sin and evil will be separated from the kingdom and burned; righteousness will shine.

Jesus meant what he said. He is the Father’s Son, come to earth to offer salvation.

May 13 – Yeast

Monday, May 13, 2013


Matthew 13:33

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

What if, no matter what, you spent a day or a week or a month, or even a year; spreading love. You chose to respond in love, to share everything you had with those who were in need, you encouraged others, you refused to gossip or slander others, but always looked for the good in them and encouraged others to do the same.

What if you were like yeast?

The truth is … we all are. Our behavior and actions permeate the community around us, whether it is online, our family, or workplace, our church; even our neighborhood.  Every single thing we do affects the world.  We don’t have to like it, but it is the truth.

A single angry word to a spouse in the morning can change their day, reflected in their actions toward others. On the other hand, words of love and support can change that same person’s day, giving them strength to stand up against the attacks of the world.

We are yeast. What we do and say and how we live changes the world in both big and small ways. Jesus told

In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus talks about the people we encounter who need clothes, food or water; who need shelter or were sick and needed help. These strangers are in front of us every day and we choose how to deal with them. We can ignore them or step forward and do something for them. We must always be aware that they are there and in caring for them, we care for Jesus himself.

The point I want to make from that verse is that we never know who stands before us and is watching our behavior.

We are yeast. We change and transform the world we encounter.

May 12 - Mustard Seed

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Matthew 13:31-32

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

When I was very young, someone gave me a pendant. It was a tiny mustard seed encased in acrylic. A reminder that something as small as a mustard seed could grow into a beautiful tree.  At that time it was also a reminder that though I felt my faith was small, it would blossom into something that could change the world.

I believe this is the hope God plants in us. We understand how seeds work, but there is still something glorious in the moment they push through the ground and grow into plants or bushes or trees.  Those tiny little seeds become something amazing.  The seed planted within a mother becomes a child and the world has hope that this child will do amazing things and make tomorrow better than yesterday.

And idea is planted in someone’s mind and from there, we find incredible inventions and glorious thoughts, we receive beautiful music and are given artistic creations that bring joy to the eyes. People create from the smallest seed planted within them.

The kingdom of God is like this because we have a Creator … a creative God.  With a mere word, He spoke creation into existence from nothing.

The kingdom of God is like that tiny little mustard seed. Jesus planted the seed over two thousand years ago and today His message fills the earth.  With every generation, more seeds are grown and flourish, growing into trees that will continue to spread. Be a seed, become a tree, spread His love.

May 11 - Weeds in the Field, Pt. 1

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. 

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”

It is not yet time. This is one other parable that Jesus will return to in order to give an explanation, but for now he simply sets it out there.

An enemy has sown weeds among the grain. When the workers are concerned and think that it is necessary to rid the field of the weeds, the owner of the field tells them that it isn't time for that. Any weeds that are pulled out at this point might destroy some of the good crop. But, at the harvest, the two will be separated; the weeds to be burned, the wheat to be stored in the barn.

It isn’t yet time to separate the two because if you pull up the weeds, you might disturb the good portion of the crop. For that matter, unless you are very skilled, when the weeds and the plants are very young, you might not even be able to tell them apart.

This is one of things that hurts my heart when I watch other Christians who judge quickly.  I have spoken with so many people who want nothing to do with Christianity because of what they've experienced with people they love.  They are the good crop, the wheat which has been pulled out of the field as Christians seek to rid their lives of weeds.  They are collateral damage.

Jesus warns his listeners to be very careful, in fact, he simply says that we should not pull the weeds from the field; that will be accomplished at the day of harvest.  It is not our job to distinguish between weeds and wheat. It is not our job to do the work of the one who will harvest the field. It is our job to care for the field; to care for everyone, both wheat and weeds and in the end; it will be God who separates one from the other.

May 10 - The Sower, Pt. 2

Friday, May 10, 2013


Matthew 13:18-23

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

It isn't often that Jesus takes the time to fully explain his parables, but in this instance he wanted to ensure his listeners clearly understood his meaning.  He had come for the express purpose of bringing salvation to his people.

Now, the Israelites were expecting a Messiah. They’d been praying for him to arrive for centuries. But, they were expecting him to arrive and when he did, he was to be riding a white horse and sweeping through releasing them from bondage to worldly domination.

He didn't quite do that and in this parable he continues to point out that the kingdom he speaks of is very different than the one they expect. This is the message of the kingdom. If you don’t understand it, you will lose it, he says.

He is bringing a message that will be received by many in different ways. Some will hear the message and instantly be overjoyed, but they have no root and before long they turn aside. The message is too difficult for them to live out in their lives.

Others will hear the message, but focus more on the problems of their small lives and the message gets lost in the morass of worries. They spend time worrying about what things look like to the outer world and how to keep holding on to the money they've made and the message of God’s kingdom gets lost and soon, it is gone.

Fortunately, there are plenty who hear the message, and think about it, they spend time learning more and create healthy lives in which the message of love then becomes part of everything they do.  This creates opportunities for others to hear and receive the message of the kingdom.

Jesus wasn't about a loud, glorious victory.  His victories are found in the hearts and souls of those who are open to him and are willing to listen, understand and respond to the message he brings: God loves you and wants a relationship with you.

May 9 - The Sower, Pt. 1

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Matthew 13:1-9

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 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.”

I have to tell you, there is nothing funnier than participating in a seminary class while studying this passage and listening as they talk about how alien the agricultural world of Jesus’ time is to us today. Wait. What?

While our contemporary farmers don’t hand sow their seed and technology allows them to plant well, anyone who lives in and around farmland knows about the tenuous grasp we have on the elements and their effect on crops.  Gardeners understand weeds and thorns and the importance of keeping the ground healthy for even small plots of land.  This world may be alien to those who live in the world of academia and those who spend their days and nights in cities, but for a good portion of society yet today, agriculture still is a prevalent part of their lives.

There is nothing I love more than watching the growing season in Iowa. I watched the drought destroy fields last year and prayed every day that rain would bring relief. This year, I wonder when the fields will be dry enough for them to even begin planting.  Our connection to the land remains very important.

It is important to understand how best to plant in order to have the greatest yield.  Planting so that wildlife and birds can eat the seed before it sprouts is useless; planting in rocky soil may seem productive, but with no roots, the crop will quickly die; planting with no concern for weeds will destroy a healthy crop. But, planting in good soil and caring for the crops will yield great things.

Jesus taught in parables … he taught in metaphors so that people would understand more than just his words, but comprehend the deeper message. There is more to this story.

May 8 - Unclean Spirit

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Matthew 12:43-45

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

This is one of those truisms that crosses into all areas of our lives.  If we eliminate a bad habit and don’t replace it with something that is healthy and good, that bad habit returns and seems to bring a million more with it.

Jesus told his listeners that, in this case, the demon left, the person got their act all cleaned up, but really didn't behave any differently, so it was with great ease and pleasure the demon returned and brought friends.

The people that Jesus was speaking to had experienced great miracles, including demon exorcism, but nothing had changed in their lives.  They observed it, but didn't participate in the life-changing reality that Jesus offered.  Consequently the judgment they faced would be immense.

Jesus is here today. He is alive, He is performing miracles in people’s lives and ridding them of the things which keep them from living full lives. Don’t ignore Him, don’t let it pass you by.

May 7 - Sign of Jonah

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Matthew 12:38-42

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

This is one of the parables that is difficult to understand. The sign that the Pharisees would receive was Jesus’ resurrection. It wouldn't have made much sense to the Pharisees or, for that matter, to the disciples at this point. They really had no idea that Jesus was going to die or rise again.  After the fact, though, these words would return to their minds and hold great power.

The next two points Jesus makes regarding the men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South refer to the Ninevites repenting and the Queen of Sheba who traveled to hear the wisdom of Solomon.  Both of these references are to Gentiles and Jesus tells his listeners that these people will judge the Israelites.

The story of Jonah and the memory of Solomon were two great points in Israel’s history and Jesus tells his listeners that someone greater than those two men is standing before them and yet they ask for a sign.

He has been healing people and performing miracles. He has spoken with great authority regarding the words of God and has perplexed the most learned of the Pharisees and they ask for a sign.

What would it take for them to believe?

Do we look for something more than what is right in front of us when it comes to our relationship with Jesus?  What sign are we waiting for?  He is right here. He is right now.

May 6 - Divided Kingdom

Monday, May 6, 2013


Matthew 12:24-30

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” 

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 

“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. 

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Any good set of parents knows that when it comes to raising children, they either stand together or they are crushed by those younger than them who insist on testing every boundary that has been set.  It never occurred to us, as children, to play our parents against each other.  Now, we could get Mom to give a little when Dad was too strict, but we knew full well, that when push came to shove, the two of them stood together.

Jesus Christ couldn't believe that the Pharisees would accuse him of being one with the demons. How in the world could he drive out demons, if he was a demon?  If there are two warring factions in the same unit, there is no strength.

But, he also made sure they knew He had come from God and if they were not going to stand with him, they weren't part of the kingdom His Father was establishing.  Why in the world would God want people coming into His kingdom if they did not accept His Son?

And though the Pharisees didn't know it at the time, the purpose of Jesus’ arrival on earth was to be completed at the cross.  That extraordinary sacrifice changed humanity and whether or not you believe, changes your eternity.

There will be a day when we are asked on which side of the line we stand. God’s house is not divided, nor should we expect it to be.

May 5 - Children in the Marketplace

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Matthew 11:16-19

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Read that passage again.  I suspect that in any given day you can apply it to people and their criticism of just about anything. We are never satisfied … with our government, with our schools, with corporations, with ourselves.  No one can do anything right – there will always be criticism.

John the Baptist came as a very holy and sedate man. He lived simply and more than likely wasn't terribly social. He preached repentance and holiness … and he was labeled as a one who has a demon. So … they couldn't handle that type of simple living without accusing him of something awful.

Now, Jesus came into his ministry and taught a very different type of love for God. One that found itself in giving and community.  He spent time living among the people who not only needed to hear his message, but were willing to listen and open their hearts to change.

He was derided for spending time with sinners; accused of gluttony and drunkenness.

Like those in the marketplace who refused to participate in anything that was offered to them, whether it was songs of joy or songs of mourning, Jesus accuses his listeners of refusing to listen to the message. Nothing was going to draw them to the kingdom of God. Nothing would satisfy them.

The thing is, both men – John and Jesus – were killed because of their unacceptable message.  When people couldn't have the gospel presented to them on their own terms, they rejected it.  When they weren't in charge of the message, they dismissed it.

Are you open to the message, no matter what it might be?  Are you open to the message, no matter who might be delivering it to you?  Are you open to hear what God has to say to you … no matter what?

May 4 - New Wine

Friday, May 3, 2013


Matthew 9:17

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Just like sewing a new piece of cloth on to well-worn cloth, pouring fresh wine into old wineskins is another metaphor for Jesus’ proclamation of his fresh look at the Law. New wine in early stages of fermentation required bags that were more pliable, as opposed to older containers which would destroy both the wine and the container.

It is difficult to see myself as a person growing older. So much of who I am comes from the life I built as a young person.  My memories of childhood and as a young adult are much stronger than those from the last ten to fifteen years, because those are the years I learned how to learn and I came to understand what my life looked like in relationship to the world.

I knew that there was nothing I couldn't do, if I chose to work hard enough, learn and apply myself. I believed that everything was possible; all I needed to do was desire it enough and I could make it happen.  I had a lifetime which stretched out in front of me and there were no limits.

In the last five years, I have returned to the classroom and rediscovered the joy of learning.  One of the things I had always wanted to achieve was getting a Master’s Degree. So, when life finally handed me that possibility, I grabbed it.  There were days I felt like I was pouring new wine into an old skin and that I might burst if I didn't slow down, but I forced the old wineskin to be flexible again.

However, there are many of those things I considered doing as a young person, that I now realize I will never do.  I don’t know that they are as important now as they were when I had all the time in the world ahead of me.  Now, I focus on things that are much more important to me and allow other things to pass by with only a little attention.

Do you notice that in this metaphor, the old wineskin was as important as the new wine to Jesus?  Both were important.  It was simply a matter of not pouring new wine into old skins.

I know what was important when I was young and I know what is important now that I’m not quite as young.  They’re very different.

May 3 - New Cloth


Matthew 9:16

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.”

Jesus said “No one” and apparently he didn't mean me, because until you learn all of the mechanics of how things work, you will try crazy things like this at least once.  It never occurred to my mother that I didn't realize I needed to pre-shrink fabric, so she didn't tell me … It made for some interesting learning episodes in my life, though.

Jesus is trying to tell his listeners that you can not force the old to accept the new.  Jesus hadn't come as the Messiah simply to affirm the Old Covenant, but he brought with him the New Covenant, one in which the rules had changed.  They weren't necessarily going to fall into line with the old paradigm.

He wanted his listeners to understand that while the original intent of the Law was in place, the methods by which it was enforced needed to transform.

We’re not much for change, it’s not something we accept easily. We don’t want to go to a concert and hear our favorite classic rock group play new tunes; we want to hear the classics we know and love.  We don’t want our favorite author to stop writing a series; we want it to continue forever. We don’t like it when Facebook changes its format, we’re comfortable with the way things always have worked. We don’t embrace new operating systems on our computers because we are so used to doing things one way.

Jesus brought change to first century Israel and he continues to bring change to our lives. He asks us to slough off our old lives and embrace a new life, to become different.  He doesn't ask us to do that one time; he asks us to continually transform into a person who loves without reservation and who is obedient to God’s will.

What old garment is Jesus asking you to set aside rather than patch up today?

May 2 – The Bridegroom is Here

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Matthew 9:14-15

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

One of the best lessons I learned when I was still young was to not spend so much time anticipating the future, either with excitement or dread, that you miss out on the present. Whenever I spend time focusing on future events to the point that I no longer pay attention to the present, I am reminded of that lesson and slow down, then reconsider where my focus should be.

Christmas Eve was always difficult at our house. We would come off a very trying Christmas season where all of us had been running ragged trying to get school events fit in and church programs managed. It seemed like it was one thing after another and our family simply went into high stress mode until Christmas morning, when the excitement of gift giving and then a day of quiet was at hand.

By Christmas Eve, it was difficult to focus on anything other than Christmas morning.  But, we would eat a quick dinner and head to church to prepare for the service that evening. We were all involved in some way or other, whether in a choir or handbell choir, singing in small groups or accompanying the service, reading a scripture verse or lighting candles.

It would have been easy to shuffle through the Christmas Eve service and hurry home to get some sleep before waking early the next morning; but something always happened for me. Whether it was singing carols with people who meant the world to me, or listening as people read the powerful story of Jesus’ birth, or hearing the same stories Dad had told for years in his sermon; I settled and took in the moment.

Today, as much as I remember Christmas morning, I remember those amazing Christmas Eve services.  The excitement of gathering together with friends, chattering and greeting each other before the service started and finally the lit candles flooding sanctuaries with light, extinguished as we quietly left and returned to our homes.

Jesus had come to be with us.  We remembered that moment when He arrived on earth and it was enough that we were with him and he was (is) with us.

Experience the moments fully.