Apr 15

April 15, 2014

read | Matthew 20:21

“And He said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to Him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’”

My husband (RO) loves the show Seinfeld. We own every episode, and every season on DVD. And we have watched them many times. Now I know for the younger generation, Seinfeld might be a show that is part of the “Stone Age.” But WAY back in the 1990’s, Seinfeld was “must see” television viewing on Thursday nights. This was pre-DVR. (There was a thing called VCRs, but who wanted to watch it on that if they could catch it live?)

There was an episode called “The Betrayal” which captured one of the many brilliant facets of the show, and what made it relevant “must-see-TV.” What the episode was about is not important, but how the episode was aired is what I am going after. The entire episode was played in reverse. In other words, the show started with the final scene, and then sequentially went backwards. It was a backwards narrative. The writers of the show literally “flipped the script.”

Now for those of you not in the entertainment world, the term “flipping the script” refers to this idea of turning the tables on the viewer by reversing or changing existing positions in a situation. It’s simply taking a story with a certain expectation, and doing something unexpected with it. The dictionary defines it as “doing something unexpected or revolutionary.”

In the passage above, Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, when the mother of two of the disciples (James and John) approach Jesus. She simply asks that when Jesus establishes His Kingdom on earth, that her sons get a place of honor and decision-making within the new “regime.”

The disciples have been hearing Jesus talk about this “Kingdom coming,” and they are anticipating this with great excitement. It would mean that someone other than Rome would be in charge. Not only would Rome not be in charge anymore, but a Jew would be in charge. God’s chosen people would be back in control, and could get back in the business of “making things right” in the world.

Jesus goes on in the passage, acknowledging the logic of their process, and reminds the disciples of the method and style of leadership in the current culture: power and position.

The request wouldn’t be odd or unfamiliar to the hearers of Jesus’ day. And it is not unfamiliar to us today. We operate with a similar mind set don’t we? We seek popularity, power, and position in our jobs, school, or friend groups, so that we can “make things right” in this world. Let’s be honest, what we really mean is we want to make things the way we want to make things. Right?

But then something interesting happens. If you keep reading in verses 26-28, Jesus pulls a Seinfeld: He “flips the script” on the disciples. He basically says, if you want to be in a position of power and influence in the Kingdom of God, you need to be a servant. You need to become a slave. You need to become last. THAT was revolutionary.

Jesus gave us fair warning earlier in the book of Matthew when He said: “Blessed are the meek” (not the powerful). “Blessed are the poor” (not the rich who hoard). “To have life, you must give yours up” (you don’t want me to explain this one).

Being part of His “upside down” Kingdom means “flipping the script” in regards to our pursuits of position, power, and popularity. It means changing things up on the people around you. It means showing humility instead of arrogance. It means giving away the things that have been given to you. It means doing something unexpected. Something revolutionary.

So now, where were you hoping to be seated?

– Dr. Mindy Coates Smith

Apr 14

April 14, 2014

read | Matthew 20:20

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, and kneeling before Him, she asked a favor of Him.”

Jesus invites us to “ask,” as a beggar asks for alms; to “seek,” with the same intensity as we do when we misplace our wallet; and to “knock,” as incessantly as we do when we lock ourselves out of the house and our spouse is upstairs getting ready for bed.

And He promises—what? “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

The mother of Zebedee’s sons, Salome, decides to take Jesus up on this offer. Matthew tells us that kneeling down, “she asks a favor of Him.” The Gospel of Mark describes it a little differently: “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want You to do for us whatever we ask.’” Mark 10:35–37

Now there’s a bold request, never mind what the actual “favor” was. It seems like it meets the litmus test—these guys certainly wanted to be near Jesus, though their timing to get great things for themselves wasn’t so great.

So, what kind of special “favors” are we asking of Jesus? Maybe for Him to get us that new job for which we just interviewed? Or, how about that elusive parking spot when we’re circling Nordstrom in the mall? Maybe it’s all about recognition, like the sons of Zebedee seemed to be seeking. If you’re like most of us, we on occasion let such worldly desires occupy our prayer requests. Should we?

I proffer this similar verse for guidance:
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” John 15:16

Faithful following is costly, and servant-hood is our great calling as followers of Christ. Just like the sons of Zebedee, Jesus chooses us to bear fruit, and as we do, the Father will then hear and grant our prayers. So perhaps a good place to start is to ask God that we might be used as servants in His Kingdom.

And then, be specific in the “favor” you ask. Have faith that Christ has heard you, and praise Him. I love the saying, “When praises go up, blessings come down.” Finally, be patient—and listen well.

– Mike Mizrahi

Apr 13

April 13, 2014, Palm Sunday

day of rest: reflecting on today’s sermon

read | Matthew 18:23–35

“‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’”

Apr 12

April 12, 2014

read | Matthew 18:35

“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

At a convention with their wives, two businessmen who had been roommates in college crossed paths. They sat in the lobby all night talking. They knew they would be in trouble with their wives. The next day they happened to see each other. “What did your wife think?”
“I walked in the door and my wife got historical.”
“Don’t you mean hysterical?”
“No, historical. She told me everything I ever did wrong.”

Un-forgiveness is more subtle than most sins. It’s sneaky. It crawls into your spirit so innocently that you don’t know it’s there until it really “has you.” It’s also more common than most sins. We all battle it from time to time. Even though we may not stumble over the “bigger” sins, lack of forgiveness seems to affect more of us. And it’s also more dangerous. It may not cause overdoses and car accidents, but it will divide churches, families, marriages, and nations. Un-forgiveness has been called the cancer of the soul. Unchecked, it will eat us alive.

Jesus shows us what a lack of forgiveness will do to us. He compares un-forgiveness to a prison. Un-forgiveness is a self-inflicted prison and a self-induced torture. It is a ball-and-chain of our own making. No matter what anybody did to us first, forgiveness or un-forgiveness is our own choice.

Years ago I heard that holding an offense against someone is like being a jailer, while the offending party is in the jail. You’re keeping them in there. You alone have the key to let them out, but you won’t, because of what they did to you. The problem is, since you’re the jailer, you’re stuck there too. Yes, the person might be behind bars, but you can’t go anywhere either. The only way to set yourself free is by letting them go, too.

It’s as if in vs. 35 Jesus says, “I wish to address you (second person singular). I want this message to be personal. I want you to place yourself within this parable. What does this parable mean to you? Are you a forgiving person? Do you hold grudges? Can you pray, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors?’ Are you merciful? Do you forgive others just as God has forgiven you? What does seventy times seven mean to you?” This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. (vs. 35)

Frederick Buechner writes, “…God’s forgiveness is not conditional upon our forgiving others. In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just Fair Warning, and in the second place our un-forgivingness is among those things about us which we need to have God forgive us most. What Jesus apparently is saying is that the pride which keeps us from forgiving is the same pride which keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.” (Wishful Thinking, HarperOne, 1993)

*I am indebted to Emil Brunner for some of his insights into this parable. “The Merciful King and the Unforgiving Servant” in Sowing and Reaping: The Parables of Jesus (London: Epworth Press, 1964).

– Rev. Bill Crawford

Apr 11

April 11, 2014

read | Matthew 18:32–34

“Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.”

My own family seems to be where I’m tested the most—where I can give the least grace and thankfully can receive the most forgiveness. I am so grateful that I was raised in a Christian home and had examples of grace and forgiveness right from the start. In my teenage years, I was sitting in security at Target, freshly caught from shoplifting make-up. The heavy footsteps came up the stairs, the door opened, and of all people my DAD was there—in the middle of a work day to pick me up. The tears of shame rolled down my face and in that moment my Dad walked over and hugged me and just said “I love you.” There was forgiveness, there was grace, AND there was quite a bit of accountability (community service hours and having to go to court and say “guilty”)!

Do I always extend grace to my family even though they have given it to me in huge ways? I can be the first to lose my cool. This verse reminds me that God hates the fact that we don’t recognize how much He’s done for us. God despises that He’s done so much, and we can’t embrace being His child because of our own stubbornness and blindness…we actually choose not to receive God’s grace. We’ve received HUGE forgiveness, and we don’t offer that back to others enough. Today—think about how you can give that grace back in some small way. God gave us everything including His Son; let’s recognize that, turn around, and give that grace back. Kingdom Living does call us to forgive…and to forgive we need grace. For that we need each other to hold us accountable.

reflect:
We rejoice greatly in the grace of God but did you know that grace is not only a gift but also a teacher. What does grace teach us? It’s “God’s redemption at Christ’s expense.” Paul said in Titus 2:11–14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave Himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

respond:
What do you need to learn about grace?

To whom in your life do you need to extend forgiveness and grace? And who can hold you accountable to do so?

– Kathleen Neary

Apr 10

April 10, 2014

read | Matthew 18:29–31

“Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.”

Have you ever watched the show “Hoarders”? It’s a reality show (no longer running) that followed the real-life struggles of people who are compulsive hoarders. Simply put, “Hoarders” highlights people who have trouble throwing things away or getting rid of stuff. So they just keep it. They hold onto it. Ultimately, it overtakes their lives. The life they live now revolves around the stuff they hoard, and it takes its toll on them, their family, and their friends. They become imprisoned to the things they hoard. (Go YouTube it and see for yourself.)

In the parable we are looking at this week, it seems that Jesus is pretty serious about the concept and practice of forgiveness. The parable talks about a slave who owes a great debt to the king. When the slave asks for more time to pay the king back, the king does not take him up on his offer. Listen to what the king does:

“Out of pity for him (the slave), the lord of that slave released him and forgave him his debt.” (Matthew 18:27)

The king of the slave DID NOT allow the man more time to pay back the debt! In fact, the king completely forgave the debt of the slave!! The slave asked for “patience and time” to pay back the debt, and the king decided to cancel the debt altogether!! He freed the slave!

But later on, the recently freed slave finds himself in a position to offer forgiveness to a fellow slave who owes him a debt. But instead of demonstrating the same forgiveness that was offered to him, he decides to become a “hoarder” and demand to be paid back in full. When the king hears about this, he becomes angry and goes and takes the former slave, and “hands him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.” I’m not sure what that looks like, but one thing is clear, Jesus is serious about concept and practice of forgiveness in His “upside down” Kingdom.

I think the reason Jesus takes the concept and practice of forgiveness so seriously is because he knows a valuable insight to the Kingdom of God: to not forgive is to be a “hoarder.”

A couple of weeks ago, we talked with some students about the concept of forgiveness, and we showed a clip from the show “Hoarders” to illustrate what holding onto forgiveness does to us. When we hold on to grudges or anger or resentment or bitterness towards other people, it is like a build up of junk and trash in our hearts. We hold on to that anger. We hold onto that grudge. We hold onto that bitterness. Ultimately, it takes over our lives. The life we live now revolves around our being wronged by someone else, and it takes a toll on us and the people around us. We become imprisoned to our un-forgiveness.

Through forgiveness, we are able to let go of that anger and get rid of the junk in our hearts that God doesn’t want us to hold onto. To put it another way: we are set free.

As we approach Easter, and the ultimate act of forgiveness, what “un-forgiveness” are you holding onto? Who do you need to forgive? Yourself? What steps do you need to take to clear the junk of un-forgiveness out of your heart and life?

Which brings us back to “Hoarders.” Some episodes end with people choosing to release and let go of their things. All their junk is loaded into giant trucks to be taken and thrown away for good. And some episodes end, sadly, with people choosing to stay in their own “hoarding prison.”

What will you choose this season? (If it matters, there are some trucks waiting for you and me outside.)

– RO Smith

Apr 09

April 9, 2014

read | Matthew 18:23–28

“For this reason the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’”

The slave in this passage comes out from the presence of his master and grabs a slave who owes him and tells him to pay up. This seems a little strange since he has just been forgiven a huge debt. But I wonder if his reaction might have been because of something like this…

His mind was reeling with the scene that has just played out. He had been pleading for his life before his master. In utter humiliation, he had begged for pity to save himself and his family. He could still feel the shame and desperation clinging to his every pore. Then he sees this other slave. He thinks to himself, if this slave had given me what I was owed I wouldn’t have had to be forgiven so much. I wouldn’t have been so much in the wrong and felt so ashamed. So he grabs him and demands that he pays him back.

Now, of course, the problem is he is forgetting the crucial fact that his master forgave him. He’s free. But when it comes to forgiveness, I think that is often the case with us. Someone has hurt us, legitimately caused us real damage. In some cases, maybe if they had given us what was owed we wouldn’t have messed up our own lives so terribly. Or maybe we would have been freer to do good. But when we get in the place of focusing on what was owed us, we forget the crucial fact of our own story: we are free.

Think about that for a moment. We are free! And it’s a type of freedom that no one can take away. Every sin we have ever committed is forgiven. And as much as we have already used God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace, there is still more. In fact, the supply of forgiveness we have from God is inexhaustible. It will never run out. Any other relationship in the world would have come to an end by now, but not with God. No matter how often we fail, He is right there. Running to us like the Father in the Prodigal Son parable. I believe the knowledge of this love and forgiveness is the only way we will ever be able to forgive and let our fellow slave go. We can only forgive to the extent we know we are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have been forgiven much.

May God keep His mercies on our minds so that we may extend them to others.

– Heather Brumley

Apr 08

April 8, 2014

read | Matthew 18:21–22

“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’”

“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” If you are like me, you find yourself saying these words far too often. We are quick to ask for forgiveness, but most of us find it much harder to forgive. Our human nature resents being slighted or offended. We get hurt and angry when someone wrongs us, which causes a relational, and sometimes physical, distance.

We are created in the image of God. Separation and estrangement are painful and contrary to God’s nature. This is why we feel compelled to seek reconciliation and restoration with God when we sin. But when another person wrongs us, our fallen nature takes over and we respond by pushing them away. As Christians, however, we are called to forgive. How ironic, then, that the word “forgive,” in the Greek, literally means “to send away.” But what is left behind or abandoned is not the person who offended us, but our own feelings of hurt. Forgiveness is a reflection of God’s mercy towards us, not a response to the request by the person who offended us.

The word “forgive” is used over 50 times in the New Testament. Matthew uses it more than anyone. Other than this passage, the most familiar passage in Matthew containing the word forgive is in Chapter 6, in the Lord’s Prayer. Most every Sunday we recite, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Other translations and denominations use “trespasses” or” sins”. God’s forgiveness of our sins is coupled with our forgiveness of others.

Both in the Lord’s Prayer and in these verses, Jesus explains the importance of forgiveness to His disciples. As He hangs on the cross and exclaims “Father, forgive them,” He further reveals the necessity—and result—of forgiving those who have caused harm. Through forgiveness, God’s power and authority over sin and death is established.

On the surface, Peter’s question asks simply for clarification of Jesus’ earlier teaching in verses 15 and following. But Peter was an impulsive and impatient man. He knew that the rabbis say to forgive three times. By suggesting seven times, Peter indicates his willingness to go even further than what is required by the Mosaic Law. Jesus realizes that His answer to the question “How many times?” needs to address both the actual question and Peter’s implied question, “When is it enough?” The answer “seventy-seven” (or “seventy times seven” as found in other manuscripts) indicates that the Law of Love demands that we forgive beyond our ability to remember.

We all are in need of forgiveness. We all also need to forgive. God has forgiven us and remembers our sin no more. We are called to forgive beyond our ability to remember how many times we have extended forgiveness to someone.

Ask God to bring to mind someone you need to forgive. Then, extend yourself to that person and offer them forgiveness, not because they have asked for it or deserve it, but because God calls us to forgive one another.

– Steve Madaris

Apr 07

April 7, 2014

read | Matthew 18:15–20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.”

As Christ-followers we are called to “agreement,” symphoneo in the Greek, from which we derive our word, symphony. Imagine how one dead piano string dampens the resonance of the other strings so that they are unable to sound together. So it is when a member of our Church family lives outside of our LORD’S Kingship, missing the mark and so not sharing in the prize of Kingdom living. Jesus urges us to acknowledge the estrangement produced by sin and to win back our lost one by presenting an overwhelming argument—first alone, then with others, and then by the Church body itself. Those who neglect to obey our LORD, declare allegiance to a kingdom other than His. Those of us who choose to accept His Kingship gather by two’s and three’s in Jesus’ name, and His Spirit is there in our midst. As we “sound” together in symphoneo, with no dead strings to dampen us, the Father in heaven will hear us and will bring into existence all that for which we have asked in agreement.

prayer:
Father, grant me compassion for ____________ (insert name) who is missing the mark and so not sharing in the prize of Kingdom living. Give me courage to present an overwhelming presentation to regain ______________ (insert name) back from estrangement caused by sin, as you taught. LORD I accept Your Kingship over my life. Jesus, thank You that as I meet in Your name with __________________ (insert names of Christians with whom you meet and pray) You are in our midst. Lord bless us with unity as we gather that we would sound as one and You would hear us; bring into existence that for which we ask in agreement with your Kingdom rule. In Jesus name, Amen!

–  Sharon Spooner

Apr 06

April 6, 2014

day of rest: reflecting on today’s sermon

read | Matthew 8:23–27

“And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’”

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