The Measure of a Mustard Seed

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:31,32).

What is America’s tallest mountain? Largest lake? Largest city? Most populous state? If you answered Mt. McKinley, Lake Superior, New York City, and California, you’re part of the proof that Americans pay attention to big things. We live in bigger houses, eat larger meals, and work longer hours than almost any other people in the world.  We tend to live by the maxim, “Bigger is better.”

But Jesus takes the “less is more” approach.  He says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Have you ever seen a mustard seed? It’s so small that you could hold thousands in your hand. Why would Jesus tell us this? Because it’s possible to be so focused on what looks big and impressive that we overlook him and his blessings.

It’s a common mistake. At first glance, there was nothing big or impressive about Jesus. When he came to establish his kingdom, he arrived as a child of a poor girl in a conquered country. He was born in a barn. He grew up in an obscure village. His followers were nobodies. He never wrote a book or held a high position. He never lived in a palace or even a house of his own. After a few years in the public eye, he was killed on a cross like a common slave. On Good Friday he looked small and powerless.

The measure of a mustard seed is not its tiny size, but the huge plant that it grows into. In the same way, the measure of Jesus’ humble life and death is not how many people missed its meaning at the time, but what he accomplished. By his perfect life and his innocent death, Jesus has freed the world from the guilt of sin. When Jesus rose from his humble grave to conquer death on Easter morning, he proved that what seems small and weak can be amazingly powerful.

Countless millions who have put their trust in him have become part of his eternal kingdom. What about you?

Build on Solid Rock

Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24,25).

If you had to evacuate your home because of rising water following severe storms, imagine how difficult it would be to return and assess the damage: muddy floors, moldy walls, and worldly possessions headed for a dumpster. It would be emotionally devastating to observe the physical destruction that the waters caused.

Jesus told a story about building on a location to avoid destruction. He compared a wise builder and a foolish one. The foolish builder built his house on a nice sandy stretch by the water. It was a beautiful place to live, until the storm hit. There was no defense against the rising waters—a complete loss (maybe even a loss of life!). In contrast, there was a wise builder. He built his house in the hills; he spent the extra time and money to firmly position it on solid rock. It was worth it. The building remained high above the flood waters and stood strong against the wind.

Jesus’ short story speaks volumes for our lives. He wants us to think carefully about the foundation on which we build our lives. It needs to be strong when life’s storms strike.  When the company is downsized, we want strength to keep a positive outlook. When conflict loosens family ties, we want tight knots to hold it together. When we’ve really messed up, the guilt must not sweep us away. When bad news comes, there needs to be rock-like endurance to get us through.

There’s much advice today about successfully building our lives: build up a network of reliable family and friends, develop more of a positive attitude, get different forms of insurance for rainy days, and pursue proven avenues of achievement. But in the end, they’re all “sand foundations.” The storms that overwhelm human hearts and hopes are far too violent. We need something stronger to build on.

Jesus tells us to build our lives and futures on the solid rock of his word. It takes some time and effort to build that way, but Jesus says it’s worth it. Hearing of his sacrifice on the cross brings us the lasting peace that we’re forgiven. Hearing that Jesus rose and ascended to rule over all things gives us firm hope in the midst of life’s uncertainties.

Don’t build your life on shifting sand. Build on solid rock. That’s Jesus. His teachings give you the strongest foundation for life. Confidently build your life on him.

Canceled Debts

Jesus said, “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42)

One day Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a religious leader named Simon. He was a member of the group called Pharisees that believed their good works made them worthy before God; they didn’t believe that they needed to be saved from their sins. There was an unexpected guest at the gathering—a sinful woman, a prostitute. She had come to honor Jesus by pouring expensive perfume and even her own tears on his feet. Simon was upset that Jesus was welcoming the praise of this sinful woman. He thought that if Jesus really knew who she was, he would not even let her touch him. The truth is that Jesus knew that she had lived a sinful life. He also knew that her joyful tears were born of his forgiving love for her.

So Jesus told a story to teach Simon and us a lesson about forgiveness. There were two men who were in debt. One of them owed a money lender about three years’ worth of wages. The other owed the same money lender about 50 days of wages. Neither was able to repay, so the money lender graciously canceled both debts. Jesus posed a question: “Now which one of them will love him more?”  Simon answered correctly that the one who had the larger debt canceled would love the money lender more.

Jesus’ short story speaks volumes for our lives. We all have a huge debt that we cannot pay. We cannot make up for all the sinful things we do, not by doing more good things or by doing less bad things. We cannot cancel the debt of sin by anything we think, do, or say.

But God saw our desperate need and loves us so much that he canceled our debt of sin. He did that by having his Son, Jesus, pay it completely for everyone. The price he paid was his death. As the sinless Son of God, he was able to take all of our sins on himself and suffer their punishment for us. By his death, he canceled the debt of our sin. Three days after he died, he rose from the dead to prove that his sacrifice counted for all of us.

Searching For What Was Lost

Jesus told this parable, “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10).

My wife works with a lady who buys her lottery tickets every now and then. One day, a rumor spread that our local grocery store sold a $100,000 ticket. We both thought, “Are we winners?” How would we spend it? Then I said, “Honey, where’s the ticket?” After a brief panic, and a 20 minute search of the house, we found it. The ticket was a loser.

When we lose something that we hold to be valuable, we search for it frantically. That’s what Jesus described in this short story about a woman searching for a coin that she lost. Without Jesus you and I are like that lost coin. Our lustful thoughts, hurting words, and loveless deeds—everything we think, say, or do that fails to be perfect—are sins that separate us from God. How frightening to be lost in sin!

Thankfully, though, there is good news! Jesus came “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). God sent Jesus to find us and reconnect us to God. Jesus did that by loving us so much that he paid for all our sins by his death on the cross. That’s how much Jesus loves us!

Jesus searches for us and finds us. The angels in heaven rejoice! Jesus comes to us through his Word and takes away our fear by comforting us with the forgiveness of sins. He assures us that he has made us dearly loved children of God. Through Jesus, heaven is our inheritance.

God loves us so much that he stopped at nothing to find us and save us from eternal separation from him in hell. Through Jesus, we have the gift of eternal life, which is a whole lot more valuable that winning the lottery. How fortunate we are! We will never be lost again when we cling in faith to Jesus, our Savior.

Like heaven’s angels, we can rejoice over all that Jesus did to find us and give us life with God.

Love of Father

Jesus said, “The son got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

He was homeless, smelly, and almost starving to death. But the worst thing was that he knew it was all his fault. He thought his father was cruel and overbearing; there were too many rules. He wanted freedom. He wanted to have fun, but his father was all about responsibility and hard work. So, he asked for his share of the inheritance. He didn’t care about the farm; he just wanted the money. As soon as he got it, he left. He could finally do what he wanted to do. But it didn’t take long and all that money was gone—partying is expensive. Those he thought were his friends left as soon as he ran out of money. He was all alone and miserable. He had two choices, and neither seemed pleasant. He could continue as he was and hope he could scrape enough together each day so that he wouldn’t starve to death, or he could go back home.

He headed for home. He was prepared to grovel, to ask to be just a hired hand on his father’s farm. But he didn’t get the opportunity to do much groveling. As soon as his father saw him coming, he ran out to meet him. He hugged and kissed him, and gave orders for a huge celebration in his honor. The rebellious son had expected a cool reception. He had expected an “I told you so.” Instead he got what he knew he didn’t deserve: a joyous welcome home.

You and I are that young man who rebelled against his father. We have all rebelled against our heavenly Father. We have considered him to be cruel, and overbearing, and having too many rules—someone who doesn’t want us to have any fun. We have all separated ourselves from him and broken his commandments. Our consciences tell us that he is angry, that we deserve whatever pain or suffering comes our way. Could our heavenly Father still love us? Could he still welcome us to his eternal home in heaven?

Jesus’ story about the disobedient son in Luke 15:11-24 is a short story that speaks volumes for our lives. It assures us of God’s love and our heavenly home. Our heavenly Father loves us so much that he punished his obedient Son, Jesus, in our place so that he can welcome us as his dear children and heirs of eternal life. Instead of giving us what we deserve for our rebelliousness, he gives us what we don’t deserve: complete forgiveness in Jesus.

Take a Closer Look

Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 13:44).

One of North America’s biggest diamond mines was discovered in a very unlikely place—in the far north of Canada. Up until a few years ago you couldn’t even give the land away. Composed almost entirely of granite covered by a glacier, it has some of the world’s harshest weather and sparsely populated countryside. But at times some of the most worthwhile things come to those who look past the exterior and take a closer look. That’s wise advice.

Jesus had similar advice in a story he once told. It was about a man on a walk who found a valuable treasure hidden and buried in a dusty, dirty field. An ordinary field is definitely not the backdrop Hollywood would pick for a movie about a hunt for buried treasure. There is nothing glamorous about a dirt field, and that’s just the point. The man would never have found the treasure had he not taken a closer look beneath the plain surface.

It’s easy to miss things. Jesus didn’t have the most glamorous life. He was born in a barn beside a Bethlehem hotel with a no vacancy sign out front. He worked with his hands as a carpenter and spent most of his life around common people. Nothing special, you might say, just like that dirty, barren little field. But wait, take a closer look.

When you dig below the surface of Jesus’ simple lifestyle, there is a great wealth of treasure. At Jesus’ birth, angels sang him lullabies and kings brought him presents to mark the entrance of the Savior into the world. Some of those common fellows with whom he hung around became his disciples, bringing a message of renewal and joy to the world. By his death you are given forgiveness for every missed opportunity and failed attempt—and from the guilt that comes along with them. What is more, by Jesus’ rising from the grave you are given the treasure of life forevermore in the joy of heaven. And every day of your life you don’t need to worry or be afraid because Jesus promises to watch over you and provide for your needs. Now those are true treasures!

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The Perfect Pearl

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45, 46).

When someone you love is celebrating a birthday or another special occasion, you try to give them the perfect gift. But what makes your gift perfect? Is it perfect because it’s unique? Is it perfect because it fits the personality of the individual for whom you bought it?

What if you find the perfect gift only to discover that it’s beyond your budget? Would you sell your car, your house, everything you own to obtain THE perfect gift?

Jesus once told a parable about a pearl-dealer whose goal was to find the perfect pearl. When he found it, he sold all that he owned so he could buy his treasured find.

The perfect pearl represents the message of salvation found in the Bible. This message is perfect because it tells us everything we need to know for this life and the next. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and deserve God’s eternal punishment in hell. But the Bible also says that Jesus came to take that punishment. Because of Jesus our sins are paid for and forgiven!

This message is not only perfect; it’s one of a kind. There are plenty of places you can look for the answers to life’s questions, but the only place you’ll find the perfect pearl is in the Bible. The Bible appears to be like any other book, but within there is a precious message that exceeds everything we’ve known. It’s like the person who pries open an ordinary oyster shell and finds a glowing pearl nestled within that’s worth more than any other.

A pearl in an oyster shell! That’s often how God works. He comes to us in unlikely places to give us his love—places like a barn where the Son of God was born to be the world’s Savior, and a cross where Jesus willingly gave up his life to pay for our sins and win us a place in heaven. This message is God’s priceless, perfect gift for us!

Real Wealth

Jesus told this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop . . . he said, ‘ . . .  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God”(Luke 12:16-21).

“I need money!”
“How much money do you need?”
“Lots! Start with one and keep adding zeros till I say, ‘Stop.’ ”

Did you ever have a conversation like this? At times we dream about being very wealthy. What would we do? Quit our jobs? Buy a new car? Travel?

While it is fun to dream, the reality is that we are richer than most people in the world. Yet we may not feel rich, even though we have almost everything for maintaining a fairly comfortable lifestyle.  So why don’t we feel rich?

The main reason is because there’s something wrong with all of us. We have a sinful nature. It likes to twist things around in our minds so we constantly want more. And when we get more, our sinful nature still isn’t satisfied.

Jesus illustrates this in a story about a farmer who had a bumper crop one year. Instead of giving away the surplus to feed the hungry or to proclaim how generous God had been with him, he thought only of himself. He planned to build bigger barns and take life easy. But soon he died. All his accumulated wealth went to someone else, and he had to face God.

Acquiring a lot of wealth in this world is finally worthless without Jesus. He is our real wealth. The Bible says, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus, the eternal Son of God, left heaven and humbled himself to become a man. He bore the punishment of our sin, including the greed that lurks within our sinful nature. The result of his poverty is that we are freely given the riches of forgiveness and life with God.

When we think about our lives, we have so much for which to thank God. Though we may not have all the worldly riches of our dreams, we have real wealth in Jesus!

Facing Final Judgment

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:31-33).

No one likes to be called a goat. It usually means that someone has made a mistake costing his team a game, or his company lots of money. Feeling like a goat is an uncomfortable situation.

Yet that’s exactly where many people will find themselves on the last day–among the goats. This is what Jesus taught in a short story that speaks volumes for our lives. He described what will take place in the final judgment at the end of the world.

What is the meaning of Jesus’ story? Let me illustrate. When I was a child, my family owned a pygmy goat. It was my brother’s pet. He was a cute little guy, complete with six-inch horns. He certainly showed the usual and expected characteristics of goats in that he was often stubborn, sometimes almost arrogant, and enjoyed being alone. I think it made him feel like king of the farm yard.

Sheep on the other hand enjoy being together in flocks, and they listen and follow when the farmer calls them. Gathered together in the flock, sheep find safety from the dangers that threaten them. They enjoy the peace of grazing in the meadow. If a sheep happens to wander from the flock, the farmer must go after it.

Jesus uses the distinction of sheep and goats as a picture of those who will join him in heaven for all eternity and those who will not. The picture is stark. Goats, those who turn away from the voice of the farmer stubbornly follow their own will and desires, and whose pursuits are set on worldly things, have no part in the peace of heaven.

Sheep, those who love the peace and safety the shepherd provides, will enjoy that peace and safety forever. That’s a peace and safety found not in the absence of hardships in this life. It’s a peace and safety found not in the desires of wealth. It is a peace and safety that comes from the knowledge and acceptance of sins forgiven through Jesus’ own blood.

Trusting our Good Shepherd, Jesus, we have no fear of facing the final judgment. We are corralled by his love and rest safely in his arms. Wonderfully, he leads us to life with God forever.

Keep Alert and Watch

Jesus said, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back … If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:33-37)

During the warm months of the year, ice cream trucks can be heard winding down the streets. Perhaps you’ve heard their familiar jingle coming down your street.

If you have young children, ice cream trucks pose a couple of challenges. First, you must watch for the truck in your neighborhood so you don’t miss it and disappoint your kids. Second, you have to keep alert for the danger that the truck poses. If your child runs out into the street after an ice cream truck, the results could be deadly. Keep alert! Watch!

God also tells us to keep watch. Once Jesus told a story that explained the meaning of God’s command to stay alert. He described a wealthy man heading away from his home on a journey. He has an order for the doorkeeper, “Stay alert!” The man at the gate must keep watching because he doesn’t know when the owner of the house will return.

In the same way, we don’t know when Jesus will come back from heaven. When he does, he is going to welcome those who are prepared for him. How do we prepare for his return? The one thing that prepares us for Jesus is faith. And faith comes by hearing and learning the good news of the salvation that Jesus accomplished for us.

Jesus came to die for the sinful things we have done. If you saw a neighbor’s child zooming heedlessly into the street, would you send your son into the street to get in the way of the oncoming ice cream truck—dooming your son, to save the other child?

What if that child had regularly disrespected you? Would you give up your own son for such a defiant one? God did. He had his holy Son die in place of those who have disobeyed him—all of us. When he successfully completed the work of salvation, Jesus returned to heaven. He promised that one day he will return to take all of his believers home with him.

Watch! Jesus is coming. To ignore his Word and live in unbelief will result in a horrid separation from God. Keep alert! Waiting for him in faith brings a luscious treat that couldn’t be cooler or sweeter.