Each week we will offer a reflection on our current series, Piercing the Veil. These reflections will draw us deeper into the parables of Jesus which invite us into a deeper way of encountering the Kingdom of Heaven.
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THE WISE AND FOOLISH BUILDERS
Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:46-49
In the previous few chapters, the book of Matthew records Jesus’ teachings on how to live in the ways of the Kingdom. He then records three parables in a row that emphasize the difficulty but also the wisdom of following these teachings - the Narrow vs Wide gates, A Tree and Its Fruit, and this parable: The Two Foundations. Similarly, the book of Luke places this parable right after the Beatitudes.
As Jesus teaches us in these parables, living in the ways of the Kingdom does not come easily. The path often looks more difficult and few others will be taking it. Many will proclaim to know Jesus without actually following his ways. But in the end, it is the wisest way to live.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to live in certain ways because he is difficult to please and desires to kill our joy. Jesus commands us to live in these ways because they are the best ways FOR US. They build a foundation in our life that give us a strong place to stand in the midst of all that life in this fallen world will throw at us.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about foundations. I live in a little cottage that is about 100 years old. It has stood the test of time. Recently, it faced a new test - heavy construction just a block away. The whole little house vibrated for months as heavy machinery prepared the land for new development. And now, cracks are forming in the walls. This little house had a strong foundation that faced many storms. But after all this time, it’s foundation has literally been shaken.
I feel like this little house. I had a strong foundation. I have been walking in God’s ways for many years. But the last few years have shaken my foundation to the core. As I began to let the ways of the world slip in and as my faith in God’s goodness and care for me began to erode, cracks in my life began to show up.
I am coming to realize how much of an ONGOING journey it is to keep a strong foundation of following God’s ways. It is easy to think of a strong foundation as something that is laid once in the early years of our faith. But living in God’s ways is a continuous effort. We must shore up and pay attention to that foundation to stand the test of time.
- Stacie F.
- What is the foundation for your life? Is it built on God's ways?
- Can you think of times in life where following God's ways ultimately was the wisest and best thing for you though you may have wanted to follow the ways of the world?
- Does your foundation need shoring up? Are there areas in your life where you have begun to stray from the ways of the Kingdom?
- Praise God for the strength of your current foundation, thank Him for the way He has guided and directed you this far.
- Ask God to show you if there are any ways of living, thinking or feeling in your life that may be threatening your foundation.
- Confess to God anything He shows you and ask Him for His wisdom on how you should live.
THE PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT
When reading this parable I think it’s important to know that according to Jewish tradition, forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary. Peter asks Jesus if forgiving someone seven times is enough, which is pretty generous given the context. Jesus tells Peter to forgive not seven, but seventy times seven, which is pretty much indefinitely.
For myself, and I assume for many of us, there is a desire to have a simple formula. We are just like Peter, asking God for a definite answer, for a parameter to live and even forgive by. But the beauty of the kingdom is in just how different it is. The servant in the parable asks for patience, but instead he is released from prison and his debt is completely erased. His master is moved with compassion and changes his circumstance. This is a reflection of the way Jesus forgives us, something far beyond and so much better than what we asked for. He doesn’t just let us off the hook, he sets us free and completely erases every debt.
We are beggars and choosers—begging for forgiveness from God and others, but choosing to withhold it from others when we feel justified to do so, when we feel like their wrongdoing is far too great. But that isn’t what Jesus calls us to. He call us to forgive our brothers and sisters from our heart.
It’s really easy for me to keep track of “debt” but when I choose to lean in to Jesus and his heart, I cannot help but be challenged and changed. Forgiveness is life-giving, whether we receive it or give it, and I refuse to keep settling in complacency and missing out when I can be a part of kingdom work, setting free and forgiving.
- Dawn L.
The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. Matthew 18:27
- What role has forgiveness played in your life and how has it shifted your circumstance?
- How does the lens of forgiveness allow you to see Jesus?
- Can you remember a time when you withheld forgiveness instead of choosing to forgive?
Thank the Lord for how He has forgiven you and meets you with compassion every day. Ask him for a heart that is open to receive and give forgiveness.
THE PARABLE OF THE UNFAITHFUL SERVANT
“Whatever our addiction - be it a smothering relationship, a dysfunctional dependence, or mere laziness - our capacity to be affected by Christ is numbed. Sloth is our refusal to go on the inward journey, a paralysis that results from choosing to protect ourselves from passion. When we are not profoundly affected by the treasure in our grasp, apathy and mediocrity are inevitable.” - Brennan Manning, “Abba’s Child”
This statement hit me across the face like a pillowcase full of bars of cheap soap a couple weeks ago while I was vacationing in France. I had taken Manning’s book with me as a way to stay the course of “personal development”, but I didn’t expect to be handed to keys to my own existential crisis like this.
A significant part of my journey to awareness and growth these past two years has been recognizing that, in my desire to avoid pain and struggle, I have numbed myself to life in all its facets. I want to be unaffected by the negative aspects of being a human being, but the ways in which I protect myself scatter the beautiful bits of life as casualties as well, not least my intimacy with Jesus. I’m slowly realizing that I can’t pick and choose what I will be affected by if I truly want to experience the “life more abundant” that Jesus promises us if we let him in, if we give over everything we are and trust him.
“Sloth” is the perfect way to sum up my bad solution to my problems. It is paralysis by busyness and distraction, not necessarily a lack of activity, that defines sloth for me. I take my eyes off the prize and go about doing things that may not be important, that may (gasp!) actually be counter to the desires of my Lord. Perhaps I haven’t beaten up my fellow servants, not literally at least, but I have certainly succumbed to lesser desires to numb myself while sitting comfortably in the house of God. The irony of my default mode of operating is that my desire to remain unaffected cuts me off from passion that can only be found in pursuing the kingdom of heaven and being about my Master’s business.
Perhaps Peter, like myself, knows at some level what he’s really asking Jesus when he inquires, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” Those of us who take for granted that we are “in” should sit up in our seats at this question.
To wake up to my own life, to come alive because of Christ within me, is to expend the energy necessary to stay awake, diligent, and expectant. To invest, to risk it all to take hold of Jesus. There’s is a significant chunk of me that knows this to be technically true, but doesn’t feel it. My journey of faith is to allow what I know to be true to become a lived-in reality. Only then can I experience the beautiful backwards mystery of the kingdom expressed in this parable: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” Only then can I find myself brought to life by my Jesus!
- How have you been distracted away from the Master and his household? What have you convinced yourself is so terribly important that it needs your attention?
- Have those things brought you life more abundant, or have they actually drained you more of your passion?
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Do you trust it’s worth it to have much asked of you? That the reward, Jesus himself, outweighs your desire to be unaffected by life?
Ask the Lord for new vision of what it means for you to be a servant in his household. Take hold of the image of the master of the house stooping to serve you.
Confess and repent of your slothful distractions that have caused you to ignore Jesus’ coming to you. Ask him to give you new disciplines to stay alert and expectant.
In the story and parable of the two debtors in Luke 7, Jesus wields his wisdom in a way that beautifully and masterfully reveals how attentive he is to where we are, in our relationship with him. The story and the parable both contain two people that are seemingly very different from one another, but somehow, the Kingdom of Heaven manages to forgive them all.
I hate to admit it, but I identify with Simon in this story and his self-righteousness. Simon perhaps thinks he is open to Jesus (he’s convinced himself at least); after all, he did invite Jesus to his house and wants to hear what he has to say. Knowing where Simon was on his journey, Jesus still comes to his house and engages with him. He is undeterred by his spiritual walls and judgements. He even speaks to Simon’s inner judgements with a tone of mercy and forgiveness. And at the same time, Jesus allows the woman to express her gratitude for being forgiven by him. The parable reveals the grace and mercy our God has for the righteous and self-righteous through forgiveness.
The craziest and best thing about this story: the power of forgiveness. The redemptive power of forgiveness is a salve for our souls. The redemptive power of forgiveness is "a profound spiritual dynamic that only he can provide: Experiencing Jesus’ love and forgiveness has the unique power to change your heart and transform your life. Religion could never do what Jesus’ love and forgiveness did.” —Xenos Commentary
Reading this story in Luke reminds me of the wonderful feeling that happens when a debt is removed from your life. We received a ridiculously massive hospital bill last year, and after a 9 month fight with our insurance company and the hospital, the bill was reduced by over 70%. During those 9 months though, we were left feeling hurt, taken advantage of, and the system had failed us during an already difficult transition into parenthood. At the end of our battle, when the lady said they were reducing our bill, I physically felt a weight lift off of my shoulders that I hadn’t even realized was there. The burden of debt being lifted, is something that Jesus does for us through forgiveness; and it’s something that we are to do for others. Becoming more aware of the power of forgiveness gives us the opportunity to reveal Jesus right where we stand.
- Loi H.
- Confess the ways you haven’t forgiven others recently and talk to Jesus about your reasons, the logistics, etc.
- Meditate on the roles grace and mercy play in the act of forgiveness.
- What does it look like to forgive well and be forgiven well?
THE RELENTLESS KINGDOM IS OF IMMEASURABLE VALUE
This Sunday we spent some time learning more about the Kingdom. The Kingdom that is relentless and forward moving. The Kingdom that costs us something and is always worth it. The Kingdom that invites us home.
The Kingdom of God.
This week, be encouraged to sit with Abba Father. No pressure to say the right words or seek ambitious prayers. Sit with Him. Press into what He has for you. Thank Him for the Kingdom!
- How has God given me value?
- How has God welcomed me home?
- Where do I see evidence of the kingdom advancing around me?
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. 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.
THE WIDOW AND THE UNJUST JUDGE
Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem teaching the disciples about the second coming, when he moved into this parable on prayer. He tells the disciples a story about a widow who persistently asks an unjust judge for justice. His desire is to show them to pray and not lose heart.
So often in my journey in caring for my dad since his stroke last year, I have felt like the persistent widow. Interactions with doctors, medical administration, insurance and financial institutions alike left me feeling like it all rest upon my shoulders to get them to act justly. Justice only came if I persistently and continuously chased it down.
Often, I have heard it taught that like the widow, I am to be fervent and persistent in praying. Sounds good, right? But on a deeper level, it’s easy to believe that like my interactions in the journey of caring for my dad, it rests upon my shoulders to convince God to act on my behalf.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
This parable is not about the similarities between us and the widow, with instructions to be like her in persistence. It is about the contrast between God and the unjust judge. Unlike the judge, God is willing to come to our aid. Unlike the judge, God is just and will act justly for His people. Unlike the judge, God will act quickly on our behalf.
Jesus ends by circling back to the topic of His second coming. The question He leaves us with is “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” While perseverance is certainly a virtue, Jesus looks not for persistence, but faith. Faith that God is willing to come to our aid. Faith that God is just and will do what is right. Faith that God will act quickly on our behalf. It is only from a position of faith that we can pray and not lose heart.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know… what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Ephesians 1:18-19
- Stacie F.
As you examine your heart, do you find this kind of faith there? When is it easy for you to believe God? When is it difficult for you?
Do you have areas of unbelief about God’s character, desire, ability or timeliness to act on your behalf? Where might those have come from?
How does the reality that God desires to act quickly on your behalf affect you? How might this change the way you pray? How might this change the way you do life?
Ask God to help you with any areas of unbelief.
Pray with faith over areas of life where you really need God to show up. Practice believing Him to come through for you.
THE LOST SHEEP
Luke offers us a few of Jesus’ parables in this portion of his story that are meant to challenge the religious elite of his day to recognize that God was welcoming in the least among them to participate in the Kingdom of heaven. The Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son all shows us the way God values us regardless of our status in society - that we are beloved and worthy of pursuit.
The Lost Sheep in particular illustrates how, no matter how far we wander from the fold, God will do everything He can to chase after us and bring us back. Many teachers will point out that sometimes shepherds in the days of Jesus would even break the legs of wandering lambs so they might learn reliance and trust - that they might come to know the shepherd’s voice over time by being carried everywhere by him. Seems there maybe be more to say here about our own journeys with God than the surface would suggest!
I had that all-too-familiar season of wandering when I first launched out on my own in college. It was a revelation and a breath of fresh air to realize I had control over my time and resources (what little they were when I was 17!), and I very quickly ambled away from the things of God in the name of self-discovery for a good year-and-a-half. There wasn’t any major crisis in my time away from God; rather, I came to the slow realization over time that a piece of who I was at my core was not being tended to. I felt like my arm had gone all pins and needles from disuse for too long. I knew I was going to have to come back to Him to find restoration of what I didn’t know I had lost. Looking back, I can see it was as much God wooing me back to him as it was me making a resolution to return.
When I came back to church and to practicing my pursuit of God, I found that He had breathed life into so many pieces of the faith I had grown disenchanted with because I was overly-familiar with them, having grown up in the church. What was old and dusty became the water of life that revived me and brought me back on course. In a way, I received back what I had always possessed, but now it was true and genuine because I had experienced something of life without my Good Shepherd.
- What did wandering away from home look like in your story? In what specific ways have you seen God pursue you? Thank Him for His pursuit of you.
- How does it make you feel to know that all of heaven rejoices when you come back to the fold? Are you able to receive that kind of special attention?
- Who do you know in your life that may be a wandering sheep currently? Ask the Lord how you might help them bring them back to the fold.
This parable is a difficult one. We are at the end of Jesus’ longer diatribe covering four chapters of Matthew that is an indictment against Israel and her rebellious ways. Jesus is speaking in apocalyptic terms about the end of one age and the beginning of another, inaugurated by his crucifixion and resurrection. It may be especially important to notice in the midst of his parables and prophecies in these chapters, that he tells his followers, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34). One way of reading this section of the gospel is to understand that Jesus was prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem, and Jewish culture as it existed, because of rebellion against the Roman Empire. We know historically Jesus’ prophecy came true in 70 AD after the Romans lay siege to the city and burned it to the ground. There may be a second layer here that speaks to the end of time, but at the least we must read Jesus’ words in their historical setting for the first century.
The two sets of virgins reflect the female personifications of Wisdom and Folly found in the proverbs of the Old Testament. The inherent meaning is pretty self-evident - the foolish girls weren’t prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom, and with him, the invitation to the party! We can almost imagine this parable being a second scene to the one we looked at this previous Sunday in Matthew 22:1-14. Like that parable, there are those who are ready and waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, and those who, for whatever reason, aren’t willing to make themselves ready - either because of self-righteousness or laziness. It’s a tragedy that their complacency meant they missed the celebration.
What can this mean for us, 2000 years after the destruction of Jerusalem? It’s not too much of a stretch to see that we also live in turbulent and confusing times. It would be all-too-easy for us, like the five foolish virgins, to be lulled to sleep by numbness, fear, or conforming to the surrounding culture. If we fall into apathy in our own day, we too might tragically miss the amazing move of God as his bridegroom son comes to celebrate with us.
- What does apathy feel like in your life? What triggers you to fall asleep or distract yourself from what really matters in life? What are your coping mechanisms for dealing with fear or numbness? Confess these things to the Bridegroom, knowing his desire is for you to be ready when he calls.
- How can you be more disciplined this week to be prepared and stay awake? What disciplines might be the best ways to keep you sharp and anticipating God’s move in your day?
- Paul also challenges us to stay awake: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2). The more we learn to see what God is doing, the more we are thankful. The more we practice thankfulness, the more we are able to see. Take time to practice watchfulness for the hand of God at work, and thank Him for it. Ask for eyes that see and a mind that’s awake.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Our first parable reflection is, from my vantage point, perhaps the most important passage in scripture to understand the heart of God. The story of the prodigal son, his father, and his older brother seems to stretch over the full narrative of scripture while also appealing to each of us on a deeply personal level. Every detail Jesus weaves together in this family drama seems to be perfectly articulated to open us to a story of pride and resentment, wandering away, and the invitation to come home.
This parable is the focal point in our community for engaging with our three primary values: intimacy, identity, and purpose. The way Jesus tells the story properly aligns these pivotal biblical truths - when we prioritize intimate connection with Father God, we learn to inhabit our identities in Christ as sons and daughters, and our purpose as the Spirit-led Church becomes a natural overflow of loving relationship, the same kind of relationship we invite the world to step into.
This week, I want to encourage you to listen back to the three messages from our VALUES series that used the parable of the Prodigal Son as a platform for intimacy, identity, and purpose. These are linked below. Be prayerfully asking the Lord where you might find yourself in the story, and where the invitation is for you to come home.