THE LAST WILL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST WILL BE LAST

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus gives us an interesting parable.  He tells of workers who were hired at different time during the work day.  Some worked the entire day, and the last ones hired worked only the last hour.  All the workers were paid the same amount regardless of how long they worked.  The ones who came to work last were paid first, and the ones who worked the longest were paid last.

I knew a man who was 82 years old when he came to Jesus.  He was a delightful man who then took pleasure helping out at his church. At the age of 89 the Lord took him home.  I also knew a young man who was diagnosed with aids and shortly thereafter came to the Lord.  Two years later, the Lord took him home.   These two people are now experiencing eternal life in the presence of the Lord.  On the other hand, I have known people who have spent almost their entire long-lives serving the Lord. They are now experiencing eternal life in the presence of the Lord. 

Notice that they have all received the same reward. Those who were saved for a short time and those who were saved for a long time all have eternal life.  The promise of God is eternal life for all who believe.  There was thief on the cross next to Jesus who believed shortly before he died.  He received the same promised reward. 

Jesus often taught us to look at eternal things; however our physical existence is finite, so we tend to see things with that perspective.  Our self-centered nature is another factor in how we look at events in our finite world.  So when we were in school and the teacher directed us to line up in alphabetical order, but she then allowed the last in line to go first.  Those who were used to being first felt cheated.   

In school, we all got to go regardless of who went first.  I think that gratitude comes into play here.  We should be humbly grateful for what is given to us and not envious that someone else got to go first.  In verse 16 of Matthew chapter 20, Jesus ends his parable with these words, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  The Message translation calls this the “Great Reversal”.  Jesus wants us to be thankful for the great gift he has provided for us and to not be concerned about who gets there first.

GRACE

(Matthew 11:28-30) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I’ve listed below a definition of God’s grace.  This definition describes God’s grace that is given to us.  In our Scripture from Matthew, Jesus is telling us the way to God’s grace.   We first come to him.  Grace is there for us, so all that is necessary is to come to him.  God’s grace is freely given to us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus recognizes that we are weary and burdened from trying to work out life on our own, and he wants to give us rest.  He tells us that it is safe to come to him, for he is gentle and humble in heart.  We can trust him with what he requires of us.  He is not going to smash us with his big hammer or chain us into slave labor to work off our sins.  He simply wants to give us rest for our souls. When we receive his grace, the yoke we take on is easy and light, and it is given to us that we might learn from him.  He gets in that yoke with us to lead and guide us.

We should often remind ourselves that God loves us, that he is merciful to us, and that we who have come to him have found favor with him.  His desire is to build a loving, eternal relationship with each one of us.  We are his children, and he will not abandon us.

Referenced from the Encarta Dictionary:

Grace – The infinite love, mercy, favor, and goodwill shown to humankind by God.   

JESUS OUR BELOVED TEACHER

I’ve been currently reading and writing from Matthew chapters 5-7 which is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount.  I have always struggled with Jesus’ words in this part of Matthew because I fall so short of what he says I should do.  However, recently I’ve come to a different way of looking at his teachings.

I was a classroom teacher for a number of years.  My students ran the spectrum of grades from A’s to D’s, yet from my own experience as a student, I know that grades don’t always reflect what a student actually learns.

When I first started school, my brain was not ready for school type learning. I was therefore too slow at learning to fit in.  I was handicapped, and my grades suffered. I felt unable to be successful in school, so I was not what you would call a well behaved student. But it turns out that I did learn.  I was a poor reader till after I dropped out of high school, but somehow during my formal schooling, I learned to read. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching his disciples the godly way to live. He knew that they were handicapped by their sinful nature and their cultural training.  Jesus though, being the perfect teacher, patiently taught and retaught them.  He loved his students and gave them everything including his life so they could learn a better way. 

I now look at Jesus’ teachings as ongoing lessons for us his disciples. Jesus is affording you and me the same love and patience the disciples received. He is our teacher, and he is aware of our handicaps and limitations.  As we read and reread his lessons, we are, over time, able to apply them to our lives.  We all learn at different rates, but we are on the same path moving step by step toward becoming more like our teacher.  Hence, we trust his love for us, and we work our way through life’s learning experiences.

I am also reminded that we have a resident tutor helping us along the way, for he has given us his Holy Spirit to guide us.  We are well equipped to become more like Jesus.  We just need to trust him with the whole process.  I pray that we will not become discouraged, and we will remember to stay close to our beloved teacher.

FORGIVENESS

(Matthew 6:14-15 MSG)

In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others.  If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.

We live in a world full of sin.  We are each contributors to this bank of sin.  Jesus, the Son of God, took all this sin upon himself and gave his life to put this sin to death. The blood Jesus shed on the cross has covered our sins.  Jesus went through all of this so that God our Father could offer forgiveness to all who would believe.  This is the good news of Christianity.  We can be forgiven of all our sins.

I believe, therefore, all of my sins are forgiven.  Now that I have received forgiveness, Jesus tells me that I should offer the same to those who sin against me.  I didn’t do anything to earn God’s forgiveness, so I conclude that those who sin against me don’t have to earn my forgiveness.  I should give it freely.

Now, let’s take a moment to look at unforgiveness.  Unforgiveness is a burden – just like sin is a burden. It ways upon our souls, distorts our judgements, and hurts our hearts.  There is a reason that Jesus wants us to forgive others.  It frees us from that burden – just like God’s forgiveness frees us from our burden of sin.

God our Father wants us to be free.  He went to a lot of trouble to provide us freedom.  Unforgiveness puts us back in the mire, and we lose what God wants for us.

For further reading see “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35.

CHRISTMAS MAGIC

Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem

(Luke 2:6-14)  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

            And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

            Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

            “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

                  and on earth peace to those on

                        whom his favor rests.”

You hear a lot of talk about the Magic of Christmas at this time of year.  Webster’s definition of magic includes the term “supernatural”.  Christmas is definitely supernatural.  In Luke chapter 2, we read about the birth of Jesus and those who are involved in this one-time event. Think of it, a virgin gives birth, angels appear and give glory to God, and the Savior of the world is an apparently helpless child lying in a manger.  This is real magic; not a slight of hand or an illusion, but God’s kind of magic for it is supernatural.

In our everyday natural lives, we at times experience God’s supernatural intervention.  Someone receives salvation, unexpected generosity, supernatural healing, answered pray, or God’s unforeseen provision.  At Christmas time, we tend to expect these “miracles”.  Of course, God is always at work in our lives, but there is something magical about Christmas.

What could be more magical than the coming of God’s son to save us from our sins?  God’s way of doing this is supernatural, miraculous, and magical. Perhaps Christmas magic is rooted in our hearts because the miracle of salvation has come. 

 I pray that you have a happy and content Christmas celebration, and that the magic of Christmas will be with you throughout the New Year.

MY NEED FOR JESUS

The other day, I was driving along in traffic heading to pick up my granddaughter Elizabeth from school.  Traffic was not too heavy, but the traffic lights were not cooperating.  I was running a little later than I’d planned, so the urgency to get there made me a little impatient.  I was on a mission to get the little one to a play date with our next door neighbor‘s children.

My impatience grew as I encounter red light after red light.  Of course, the many driving errors I encountered helped to build on my self-centered interest in getting there quickly.  As a retired driving instructor, I also noticed every other driver’s errors.  This added to my growing frustration.  Other drivers became obstacles to my mission, and my attitude towards them was not kind.

I arrived at the school finally and picked up Elizabeth.  I fastened her in, and we were ready to head for home.  I reached the main road and we were rolling, but unfortunately not at the speed I anticipated.  On a road where the speed limit is 55 mph, and most often everybody is traveling at 60 to 65 mph, a utility truck ahead of a long line of traffic was traveling at 45 miles per hour. This felt like insult to injury.

It finally dawned on me that perhaps God was trying to get my attention.  My attitude was bad.  I was not where God would want one of his children.  I began to ask God for forgiveness, and apologize for the unkind place in which I was operating.  That’s when I was reminded that Jesus died for my sins.  Jesus died because I can’t keep it together.  I was overwhelmed to tears.

God took the opportunity of my bad attitude to give me a deeper understanding of why Jesus died.  I was washed anew with the realization that I cannot live without his amazing grace.  The truth is that every moment of every day I need what Jesus did for me.

When I think of the amazing, miraculous event that Christmas signifies, I am filled with awe and wonder.  For all the people who have ever walked the earth, God has made a way for us to enjoy eternal life with him.  He has loved us enough to die for us so that this could happen.  Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to receive God’s wonderful gift of eternal life.  All other gifts pale in comparison.   

THE PLAN OF GOD AND OUR EVERYDAY LIFE

In the first chapter of Matthew, he presents us with a genealogy from Abraham to Jesus.  Each of the people mentioned in this list were just like us going about everyday life.  In all the ups and downs of life, we are all unaware of our specific part in God’s plan.  Yet those mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy are all in the linage of Jesus. 

In his genealogy, Matthew calls our attention to four couples.  These couples are: Judah and Tamar, Salmon and Rahab, Boaz and Ruth, and David and Bathsheba.  They each have their stories recorded in the pages of the Old Testament. 

The story of Judah and Tamar is found in Genesis Chapter 38.  The story of Salmon and Rahab is found in the book of Joshua chapter 2 and culminated in chapter 6 verses 17, 22 and 25. Salmon took Rahab as his wife. His name is not mentioned in the Joshua story, but Matthew’s list confirms him as the father of Boaz.  The story of Boaz and Ruth is found in the book of Ruth.  It’s a great story.  The story of David and Bathsheba is recorded in 2nd Samuel Chapters 11 and 12:1-25. 

The everyday lives of these couples, and all the others mentioned in Mathew’s list of forbearers, played important roles in God’s plan.  Some of them were of Hebrew descent, and some were not.  For three of the couples, sin was obviously part of their story.  Still, they all played a part in the coming of Jesus.  In the course of their everyday lives God brought about his miraculous plan for the salvation of the world.  God’s plan is not finished. 

In our everyday lives, we are living out our part in God’s continuing plan to bring others to salvation.  In the midst of this chaotic world, let’s share the wonderful story of the true meaning of Christmas to all who will listen. Who knows what part our everyday lives may play in God’s miraculous plan.  

THANKSGIVING

 Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs,

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his;

We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;

Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Taking time to give thanks refreshes our view of life.  No matter what we have or don’t have in the way of material blessings, we can give thanks to the Lord.  I have noticed that when I focus my attention on who the Lord is, the things of this world lose their intensity, and I find the peace and comfort that comes from knowing him.

I pray for each of us that we can set aside time to thank the Lord for who he is and experience his peace and comfort. Have a joyful, loving time of thanksgiving.

THE RIGHT TREASURES

 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves brake in and steal.   But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

I have on occasion allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to win the lottery.  Just visualize new cars, houses, the latest computers, cell phones that take great pictures, extravagant vacations, the fastest internet connections, eating out at the finest restaurants and all the things that go with these luxuries. In the words of the above verses Jesus is offering us a clarifying perspective. 

Jesus explains the futility of concentrating on earthly treasures.  They are temporary and can be easily lost, whereas, treasures in heaven are safe and last forever.  We can focus all of our thoughts and energy on earthly treasures, or we can focus on our eternal life in heaven.  This earthly life last for a few short years.  Eternal life lasts, well, forever.

Jesus paid a dear price for us to have the option of choosing between the kingdom of this dark world, and the kingdom of heaven.  We can choose the temporal or the eternal.  The temptations of this world are strong, but the things of this world pale in comparison to the things of God’s eternal kingdom. 

OUR PART

There are nearly 8 billion people currently living on the earth.  I am not responsible for their salvation.  I come in contact with a number of people throughout the week.  I am not responsible for their salvation.  You might ask whose salvation am I responsible for.  My response is nobodies.  Jesus carried the full responsibility for the salvation of the world.  That includes everybody who has ever lived on the earth.

(John 14:6) Jesus Answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me.”

(John 6:44) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.    

Jesus and his Father have born the full responsibility of saving the world. As Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.”  So what is our part?  Do we have any part?

(1 Corinthians 3:5-9 MSG) Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter?  Servants, both of us – servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master.  We each carried out our servant assignments.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow.  It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.  Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages.  What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving.  You happen to be God’s field in which we are working.

Yes, we have a servant’s part.  As we walk with Jesus, he leads us for his purposes to bring others to him.  We help others to know and understand what he has done, but their salvation is in his hands.