Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Parable of the Lost Treasure Examined

A few years ago a military vehicle collector named Nick Mead was browsing on eBay of all places, looking at rare military vehicles, and he spotted one that interested him. It was an Iraqi tank, type 69, in wide use in the 1980s but today considered obsolete.

In any case Nick Mead was able to trade some of his own military equipment for the tank, costing him about $40,000. Pretty expensive right?

After the purchase Mead and a friend were examining the tank, and opened the diesel gas tank to find gold bars hidden inside. There were five gold bars weighing twelve pounds each. When examined, the gold bars turned out to be worth about 2.4 million dollars.

It was believed that the gold bars had been pillaged from Kuwait, during Iraq’s invasion of the country in 1990.

Mead didn’t know about the hidden gold in the tank, but if he did, I bet he would’ve paid a lot more to get his hands on that tank.

Does anyone remember the story a few years ago, about a man, Richard Kirby who purchased a sofa from the Restore in Owosso here, and later discovered over $43,000 in it?

But Kirby when he found the money, he is quoted in saying, “The Holy Spirit just came over me and said, ‘No, that’s really not yours,’” Kirby said.

Godly man, he also said, “It belonged to them, and I’m glad I was able to give it back to them,” Kirby said. “As a born-again Christian, I want to do what Christ would want me to do, and I think that’s what he would want me to do.” This was back in Jan 2020.

In any case, this theme of finding hidden treasure of great value relates to our parables for today, and we’re looking at two parables, very brief, only three verses here.

It says this, from Matthew 13:44-46 “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.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

In both our examples today, Nick Mead and Richard Kirby didn’t know there was hidden treasure in their purchases. But they were blessed to find such treasure.

But our parable is a bit different. In the parables today, we see a man, and perhaps he’s out working in a field, or maybe he’s just taking a walk. And he sits down under a tree somewhere, and something catches his eye.

He begins pulling away the dirt and brush, and realizes there is a great treasure hidden under the tree. He hides the treasure and leaves.

He checks with the city and finds out the land is for sale. So he takes his current house, sells it, takes all his possessions, sells all of it, and takes the money and buys the field, where the treasure is hidden. And he is blessed.

What’s going on here? The parable tells us, again, this is yet another aspect of what God’s kingdom is like.

Pause, I want to review here for a second. Because we’re starting to get a bigger picture from the parables so far, about what God’s kingdom is like. Let’s take a look:

The Parable of the wedding feast taught us that the invites have gone out to anyone willing to come in their wedding clothes, the righteousness of Christ.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins taught us that we have to be watchful and ready for the return of Christ the king, watchfulness and readiness is vital, or we will be shut out.

The Parable of Counting the Cost taught us to be cautious to realize we’ve set out on a lifelong journey and we’ve made sure we know the cost is high for being part of God’s kingdom. We face many trials and difficulties, even death on the journey.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep tells us that God’s mark of being at work in pursuing people is often sorrow and suffering and lostness. This often draws people to god, isolation and lostness in life.

The Parable of the Unforgiving servant taught us that a central truth of God’s kingdom is the requirement for believers to radically forgive their enemies.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son taught us that the Father’s deep desire is for us to return to Him, no matter what we have done.

And last week the parable of the sower taught us that the state of the soil of our heart will determine how we respond to the gospel.

Amazing, so many truths at work, Open to all, Watchfulness, Carrying our cross, lostness leads to God, Forgiveness is central, God ready to welcome us home, and God’s view of our hearts.

Is it starting to form together in your mind, how the machinery of the Kingdom of God works? That is the goal here. To see the truths of the parables begin to mesh together in our minds and hearts, so as we see the world, we see the world through the lenses of the teachings of Jesus, here is how God’s system works as he draws humanity to himself. What are the rules and guidelines? How should I live? Here it is in the parables, piece by piece, we are piecing it together.

Let’s continue.

How does the treasure fit into understanding God’s Kingdom system? I think this parable is pointing us to our need for a radical, total, complete, indeed outrageous response to the gospel message.

When the man discovers the treasure in the field, the entire course of his life changes. He doesn’t hold on to anything. It all goes. He sells everything, house, car, DVDs, computer, motorcycle, snowmobile, furniture, everything goes out the window so he can make this purchase and gain this treasure.

This is a completely radical response to a situation in his life. In the same way, when we discover the truth, that God is really real. That Jesus Christ is a real person, who really lived, and really gave his life for us on the cross, and is really resurrected and died to give us eternal life, it should transform our entire lives. We give up everything for it. Everything. Everything in our lives change completely.

We give up everything for this new golden treasure we’ve found. And it is a golden treasure beyond imagining, do you really understand just how important this treasure of Christ is that you’ve found?

Most of you probably don’t really understand just how valuable what you’ve found it is.

You will, one day, when you stand before God on judgment day. You’ll realize on that day just how important it was that you became a Christian. You’ll realize after a few hundred years in paradise, in the New Jerusalem, just how valuable it is and was, that you gave your life to Christ completely.

Do you know who understands this the most? Sadly, the people in hell right now understand this truth completely. They know now, just how much they’ve missed out on. And they all wish day and night that they had one more chance to give it all to Christ. But it’s too late.

And the millions of people in paradise right now, they know, and are so grateful, that they gave their lives to Christ. Because they’ve received their reward.

It’s a great reward. It’s really real to me. It’s not just a cloud off somewhere. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s real. It’s so real to me I’m already planning things I’ll do in the next life. I’m planning hobbies, and creative endeavors, and things I’m going to do there. Because it is real.

So our response to the gospel of Jesus Christ should be give up everything else. To put God first in everything. We will not regret that.

From Isaiah 45:3 “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Similarly, in the second parable, we see a merchant going from place to place examining jewels and jewelry and beautiful gems and diamonds. Its been a lifelong search for him. And one day at last, he finds the perfect gem, a priceless pearl. He sells everything, his house, his cloths, his car, his stocks and bonds, and he buys that pearl.

It's the same spiritual truth. Forsake everything else and give it all to Christ, turn your life over to Christ, and let Him lead you perfectly in everything. That is the proper response to the gospel.

Why is Jesus telling us this? I think because we could respond to the gospel in the wrong way. We could respond in a lukewarm way. We could respond by, well, coming to church, because, well, it makes me feel better, and well, my parents did it, and I like it. Or just kind of show up on Sunday here and there, but we don’t really read the word of God, or pray during the week or share our faith with our friends and neighbors. We respond in a lukewarm, worldly way, almost as if well the church is just one little part of my life, one of many parts, but it’s just one thing among many things.

That is the wrong, wrong, wrong way to respond to the kingdom of God, and we will miss the Kingdom of God system entirely if we respond that way. We’ll miss it. I don’t want to miss it. So respond today, like the man who found the pearl of great price. Respond like the man who found the hidden treasure in the field, let Christ transform your entire life. Let your faith be the center of your life. Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else you need will be provided to by Him afterward.

These two parables we could’ve probably studied first, at week one of this series, because it’s all about our initial response to hearing the gospel. How should we initially respond to it?

In fact, I bet if we categorized the parables of Jesus, we could probably take them and put them in order from entry all the way to end times return of Christ. That’s how detailed the parables are, when we combine them together to understand the system and rules and guidelines of the sacred Kingdom of God program. Fascinating. So as we continue in this series, remember, in your mind, I want you taking these concepts one by one, and putting them together into a system. And as we continue maybe we can put together a hand out that starts to link these ideas together into one big picture of how God’s kingdom works. That’s the goal. Amen.


Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Call to Christ-Like Controversy: Do you have the Guts to be Unpopular?

There are many challenges in serving Christ, but dare you be unpopular for Christ? This is the challenge we face from time to time. 

But, many a time, we come across a moment, when we are called to be unpopular for Christ, and we sidestep it. 

But there is no honor in such a thing, to sidestep that which we are called to. Will you take a stand, even if it means harming your future prospects? Will you take a stand even if it means others will tarnish your good name without cause?

We all by instinct attempt to avoid such scuffles and certain low spots. Yes we do. We get a nervous feeling at the thought of such a scandal. Our instinct is to bolt in the opposite direction.

However, more often than we might realize, we're called to controversy. Yes, called to controversy. 

Jesus our messiah himself constantly found himself in controversy. He rarely sidestepped it. The ultimate controversy was of course the cross. So we as his followers, like Paul, Peter, and the disciples, are also called to controversy, just as the Apostle Paul constantly found himself in controversies and popular disagreements. 

Now this is difficult for us, because the organizations and movements in which we serve very often seek to avoid controversy at all costs. Controversies can blow up in the media, controversies can cost donation dollars, controversies can harm churches. However, the right controversies, in the name of Christ, are a blessing in disguise, more often than not. So we must walk a difficult road between these dangers of the people around who may mob us, and the people above us who may excuse us from the ranks. Dangerous roads indeed. 

Controversies are like singularities in system theory. A small controversy can cause a massive effect. In the universal system, the stars and planets and space, a gravitational singularity can affect space time itself. We are called to controversies, I've seen it in my life time and again, a controversy is stirred, and I plunge into it, at Christ's call. And the singularity erupts, affecting hundreds of people around it. It is ugly, vicious at times, contentious, polemic, and yet once through to the other side, as the singularity closes, everything around it has been affected. And some have fled further away from Christ and rejected the truth of that moment, but some have drawn closer to Christ through it and received the truth with great joy. That is what happens in a true Christ-controversy. Time and again when Christ spoke to the crowds, some received his word, others rejected it and fought against him.  That is what happens in controversy.  

But with all things, there is a balance here. We are not called to contrive unnecessary controversy. How will we know the difference? Christ, in prayer, will show us how to proceed.

But make no mistake, should you avoid a controversy, for the sake of your own prospects and good name, which Christ is certainly calling you into, you are just as guilty as one who stirs an unnecessary controversy.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Hebrew Word Study: Racham, Love is complete when Returned

“During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ's commands. Then they came together.

Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, "What did you do then?" "We were just one," he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.

When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ.” -Our Daily Bread, October 4, 1992.

You might say that the expression of their love for one another in community, took love from being on the page, to love being something real and complete.

Many of us know about the classic “four loves” as four different words for the word “love” from the Greek language as translated into English in the new testament. These are phileo, storgi, eros, and agape; Agape being the idea of sacrificial love, God’s perfect love for His people.

There are also several different words in the Hebrew for love, such as ‘ahav which means love, racham which means tender mercies, dodi which means beloved in regard to spousal love, and ra’ah which means brotherly love or friendship.

But it’s difficult to translate between Hebrew and Greek. It’s not like you can match these words with the Greek words and make it work somehow. It’s more complicated than that.

Most scholars believe that during the time of Jesus, the Jews did not speak Hebrew or Greek, in fact most scholars believe their spoken language was Aramaic. In fact, part of the old testament, Daniel and Ezra, was originally written in Aramaic. And it’s possible that the source texts for parts of the new testament, like the gospels was originally in Aramaic.

We’re looking at two scriptures today, which are John 3:16 and John 21:20. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

And John 21:20 says, “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them.” -John 21:20

In John 3:16 the word for love is translated in Greek as agape. But how would love in john 3:16 be translated into Hebrew? Well, in the LXX, the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “agape” love is translated as ‘ahav which is the generic term for love in Hebrew.

Are you with me so far? Agape love in Greek is translated in the LXX as ‘ahav.

So in John 3:16, we see the Hebrew word best fitted to this form of love is ‘ahav.

Now, in John 21:20 the word for love is translated in Greek again as agape. However, in the Aramaic translation of the Bible, which is called the Peshitta, it’s translated as the Aramaic word “racham” which is identical to the Hebrew word “racham.”

All this to say, that the love expressed in John 3:16, is different from the love expressed in John 21:20.

Are you with me? For God so loved the world he gave is Son, is different from the love expressed in “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Now the big question is why? Well, if you look in the original Greek and Aramaic of John 21:20, it’s actually better rendered as “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who followed Him.”

Isn’t that interesting?

So when you look at the different between ‘ahav love and ‘racham’ love, the difference is that in John 3:16, this is God’s love for the world, and it expresses a love that it not necessarily mutual. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus. And this is a one way love. A love that was not necessarily retuned to God. ‘Ahav is expressed in this context as love from one source, not returned.

But in John 21:20, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who followed Him, is a completed love, a full love, Racham love, which is love in it’s complete form, because it is love that passes from one source, to the receiver, and the receiver returns that love to the source. And apparently, that process of love given and love returned, is actually what makes love real, complete, and what it ought to be.

That is extremely fascinating to me. Love can’t really be love unless it’s given by one to another, and then given back one to another. One way love is still love, but you might say, it’s incomplete.

As the author of Hebrew Word study says so well: “Love can exist if it is not returned, but it cannot sing until it is shared.”

Chav turns into racham. Think of when you had a crush on someone. That was one way love. And it’s kind of lonely isn’t it? Now, think about someone who you had a crush on and they also liked you. It became something very special then.

And I think perfect love is expressed, in a married couple who last the test of time:

“You can see them alongside the shuffleboard courts in Florida or on the porches of the old folks' homes up north: an old man with snow-white hair, a little hard of hearing, reading the newspaper through a magnifying glass; an old woman in a shapeless dress, her knuckles gnarled by arthritis, wearing sandals to ease her aching arches. They are holding hands, and in a little while they will totter off to take a nap, and then she will cook supper, not a very good supper and they will watch television, each knowing exactly what the other is thinking, until it is time for bed. They may even have a good, soul-stirring argument, just to prove that they still really care. And through the night they will snore unabashedly, each resting content because the other is there. They are in love, they have always been in love, although sometimes they would have denied it. And because they have been in love they have survived everything that life could throw at them, even their own failures.” -Ernest Havemann, Bits & Pieces, June 24, 1993, pp. 7-9.

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God so loved the world but the world did not love him in return. In fact when the messiah came most rejected Him. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. One way love.

God’s love is really made complete, when we respond to God’s declaration of “I love you” by replying to God: “I love you too.”

To understand the very depths of God’s own heart is to understand this eternal truth: God is love, and His deepest desire for us is that we would choose to love Him in return.

Have you told God today that you love Him? You have the power to give joy to the heart of the God who made the universe, simply responding to His love by saying: I love you too.

My reply to God’s love is this: I love you God! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Assertive Submission: How to Balance Meekness and Boldness

Being a leader there are many philosophical concerns that I wrestle with: Where does my emphasis belong? How do I balance all my responsibilities? How do I balance evangelism and discipleship?

But recently, here is the question on my mind: What is the appropriate balance between speaking out and staying silent? What is the balance between submitting to leaders and taking a stand for truth?

There are two approaches that I find to be the most common, one is the career climber, second is the outspoken partisan. In my particular corner of leadership, I find the career climber much more common than the outspoken partisan, but they do both exist. 

Often I ask myself, which direction ought I to tend toward? I've found myself about 7 years back, more so along the lines of the outspoken partisan. 

I share my perspectives openly. I advocate for the viewpoints I hold. I don't hide much of what I believe, because I believe strongly in it. And at times I've taken it too far. Many know of the outspoken partisan, and it's a precarious position, it can lead toward outright rebelliousness, or self-expulsion.

There is also the climber. The climber is not as much of a believer. They say the right things to move up. They develop relationships for the purpose of using others toward gain. Their primary goal is, how can I fulfill my ambition to power? How can I prove my importance? They will take positions that are popular, refuse to make waves even when they ought to, and generally do whatever it takes to gain more authority. They are the ultimate every-person.

This same sort of dichotomy appears in politics, in both parties, you have politicians who are true believers, they really believe in the principles and policies of the platform, think of someone like Ted Cruz, or Bernie Sanders.  Similarly, you have politicians who are climbers, they are not as much believers as they are climbers, they will repeat whatever the public desires at the moment, think of someone like Nancy Pelosi or Mitt Romney. 

Which are you? A believer? Or a climber? There are also extremes, in both directions that I see. You've got the outright rebel, on the one end of the spectrum, we've all met this person, they are so opinionated, and so rebellious, they don't last long in any organization, they can't even survive in most small groups, their opinions and rebelliousness drive them out. They stand alone, in refusing everything because eventually they find someone or something that disagrees with them, so they rebel and flee out of whatever it was they were a part of. 

There is also the coward. The coward is the extreme climber, the do anything, and say anything, to get what they want. They won't speak up on any issue. They will agree with whatever their superiors say or do, no matter how wrong it is. They will even attack and attempt to destroy those who speak truth to power. They are zealots, not of the organization or the belief system, they are zealots to get what they want, and anything goes. They will destroy people, climb over people, step on people, and ruin people's careers to get what they want. Often times, this blows up in their faces as they fumble about trying for power, that they end up canned, or sent out somewhere remote to be left. They often end up just as alone as the rebel. 

So, thinking to myself, and my own beliefs, and my own adherence to leadership, and the principles of the organization, what does the perfect middle point look like?

What does a biblical Christian do to hit that perfect spot, between rebellion and cowardice? I don't want to be a climber, I don't want to be a partisan, what is the right balance here?

After much consideration, I believe the correct position of the mind is assertive submission. 

Contradiction? I don't think so.

The scriptures are littered with extremes that balance each other perfectly in the word: Grace and truth, Love and Justice, Assurance and Watchfulness, Mercy and Judgment, and so on and on it goes.

So, therefore, I must be assertive to speak up for the truth, but also submissive to my leaders and the organizational structure. I must be bold as a lion, and submissive as a soldier to his officer. This is the sacred balance to maintain. 

Consider the example of Christ in the garden. In Luke 22:42 Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Jesus submitted to the order of authority, even when it meant something that seemed completely unjust, that he would die for the sins of the world, sins he did not himself commit. But Jesus submitted to the Father's will, and so he won the victory. 

The chain of authority is very important to God, apparently. We see again in Hebrews 13:17  "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Not only that, we see we are to be in submission to human authorities as well, not just Christian authorities. It says in,  1 Peter 2:13-14: "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good."

This is radical submission, much more radical than we would expect. But there it is.  

On the other end, we see radical outspokenness. We see John and Peter before the Sanhedrin, Acts 4:18-20: "Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”"

These were their spiritual leaders. And they were respectful when spoke to them, but they politely refused to stop speaking about Jesus. 

We see a dispute between two leaders in Galatians, and Paul speaks up boldly, to the man Jesus called the rock on which he would build his church, and the man he asked to "feed my sheep."  

From Galatians 2:11-14, "But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul was outspoken. He challenged a leader, in public. We are called to do the same, boldly, also with submission. 

That is the sacred balance, assertiveness and submission. 

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