“Just Say The Word…”

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Jesus *said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” [Matthew 8:5-10 NASB]

This portion of Scripture is particularly memorable for me. It always reminds me of when I first “accepted Christ” and really began digging into the Bible for the first time. Being raised Catholic and staying a part of that church until my conversion at age 25, I remember my astonishment when I realized this was the verse we Catholics would utter as a response, when we would take communion. We were taught to say, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof (a reference to the roof of our mouth, as we took the communion wafer which was believed to be the body of Christ), but just speak the word and my soul will be healed.” I remember thinking, “That’s interesting. This verse has nothing to do with communion at all.” But, I do see the point they were making with that response, even if it might be a bit of a stretch to apply it in that way. Yes, we should confess our sins and be forgiven of them, before we take communion. That, I believe, is biblical.

But, what I want to focus in on, here, is two things. First, let’s look at the words of the centurion who basically said, “There is no need of You, Lord, to travel to my humble home to heal my servant. I am not worthy of that. It is enough that You just speak the words, right here and right now, and my servant will be fully healed.” That is pretty incredible, is it not? This centurion had never met Jesus before, but he believed in who Jesus was, so he trusted that just the words of Jesus, alone, were powerful enough to heal the servant, even though Jesus was not physically with the servant at the time. Pretty bold statement, I must say, and it certainly appears that Jesus was very impressed, as well.

Although, we should not be surprised. There were other instances, in Scripture, where just the words spoken by Jesus Christ caused miraculous results. In fact, a little later in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we see another example of the power and authority of the spoken words of Jesus. Remember when He calmed the stormy sea?

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He *said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”  [Matthew 8:23-27 NASB]

Jesus rebukes the winds and the sea, and they obey His command, becoming “perfectly calm,” it says. Even His disciples asked, “What kind of man is this?” I would say the keyword, there, was “man.” Was He just a man, or something far greater? It seems that even the disciples, at this point, had not fully grasped who Jesus was.

Also, if we look back at the very first chapter of the Bible, we see yet another display of the power of words causing miraculous results. But, who was speaking this time?



Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. [Genesis 1:3-4 NASB]

What is interesting in this passage, is that it says God was doing the talking here. God was “speaking the world into existence,” as we have been taught. He didn’t have to build it, or bake, or somehow glue it all together . No, He just commanded the light to “be” and it was. So the very Word of God was able to cause things that “were not” to “be,” just like that. Nothing more and nothing less. Is it any wonder, then, that people are skeptical of the biblical accounts of creation? Is it any less surprising that the disciples and people who heard Jesus speak with this kind of power, were equally skeptical? It just does not make logical sense, does it? Was He a magician or a sorcerer, or maybe even some kind of a scam artist, staging these events? It certainly would not have been the first time that someone tried to trick them into thinking they were god-like or had supernatural powers.

But, I think there is one more very important piece to this puzzle, one that we haven’t talked about yet. And we find it, interestingly enough, in the very first chapter of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. [John 1:1-5 NASB]

Hold on a minute, now. The Apostle John is making two incredibly bold statements. He is saying Jesus Christ IS the Word of God and has been from the beginning. And secondly, he was saying Jesus was also God in the flesh. So Christ was both God’s Word and fully God, Himself. But how can that be? Wouldn’t He have to be either one or the other? 

Well, let’s see, back in the neighborhood where I grew up, there was a Catholic school named  “Incarnate Word.” The name implies that God sent His Word to Earth, with all the power and authority of God, Himself, and allowed it to take on human form in Jesus Christ, being born of a human mother and the seed of God, thusly making Him fully God and fully man. And if all that is true, then John’s claim that “the Word of God was God” makes perfect sense.

Aren’t the words a person speaks considered to be part of that person? Have you ever tried to disconnect yourself from something you said? Doesn’t work too well, does it?  So, yeah, I do believe the name, “Incarnate Word,” explains it all quite well. A little later in John 1, he writes, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh (human) and dwelt (lived) among us.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up. 

Then comes the Apostle Paul, who adds yet another brick to the wall:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [Colossians 1:15-17 NASB]

You got it. Paul is saying that not only is Jesus the Word of God, and God in the flesh, He is also the One who created everything and the “super-glue” that holds it all together. Well, that explains how God was able to say, “Let there be light,” and BAM, there it was. God created everything through the power of His Word and Jesus Christ is, in fact, His Word (which is every bit as much God as the one who spoke it). No wonder Jesus was able to rebuke the stormy sea and it obeyed Him. No wonder He was able to say, “Be healed” (from a distance), and the centurion’s servant was made well. He created it all.

Nothing is impossible with God, the Bible says, and what is even more incredible is that this centurion believed Jesus had the same power and authority, as well. He believed. Period. And that brings us around to the second thing I wanted to focus on from this story. I think it is called “faith.”

Jesus pointed this out at the end of the story by saying,  “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” And I believe it makes the words of Paul, from Romans 10, much more impactful now that we know that the “word of Christ” is actually the “Word of God,” Himself.

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” [Romans 10:17 NASB]

The question that comes to my mind from this story should be an obvious one.

We have the Bible. Six thousand years of writings that were penned by men, believed to be speaking on behalf of God Almighty, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And as believers, we have been given that very same Spirit to teach all things and bring us remembrance of all that He said to us (John 14:26).

So, if God’s Word says it…why don’t we believe it?

Or, if we say we believe it, why don’t we apply it?

Does God have to actually appear to us and say, “O, ye of little faith,” as He did with the disciples (before they finally got it).

Lord, I hope not. I pray He would grant us all the faith of this centurion.

I would love to be so pure of heart, so full of faith, that I could say, “Just say the word, Lord. That’s good enough for me.”

May it be so….not just in my life, but in all of yours, as well.

Have  a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.

And may GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!

BOB PALUMBO

The Heart Of The Matter

This past week, during our Men’s Group discussion, we were talking about a video we just saw called “Follow Me” by Andy Stanley. One of the men asked about this idea that, “If we are to truly follow the Lord, we are to forsake everything else, give all of our earthly possessions away and focus all our efforts on seeking God and spreading the Gospel.” He asked further, “Is it wrong, then, to have a nice house, a nice car and to provide good things for our children?” He said, “It almost sounds like we should be willing to leave our homes and families behind, quit our jobs and just serve Christ with everything that is in us, trusting Him to take care of our families in our absence. Is that really what God is asking us to do?”  

Those are great questions, ones that I have struggled with myself, at times. But, before I try to come up with some sort of “uber-spiritual answer,” here, I think a we should take a closer look at what Christ said to His disciples regarding these matters and see if there might have been some special circumstances in play, back then, or did He really mean for us to forsake all else and follow Him, at the expense of everything that we hold near and dear.

Here is the portion of Scripture Pastor Stanley was teaching from:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. [Mark 8:34-35 ESV]

First of all, I have to say that if you believe God is specifically calling you to “sell all that you have and follow Him,” and you have prayed sufficiently about that and received godly counsel and confirmation that God is indeed leading you to do that, then that is indeed what you should do without hesitation. As we saw with the disciples, Jesus would call them by name and command them to physically follow Him, from that day forward. They left behind families, businesses, earthly possessions and never looked back. This was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who was calling them. How could they say, “No.” Their services were needed, right then and there. Jesus was only going to be with them for a little while and they were about to change the world, literally. What was more important than that?

But, let’s go back and look at one key part of that verse, before we move forward. Jesus said, “..let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Wait…who’s cross are we to pick up? Our cross, not His. What is my cross? What is your cross? I would say, “whatever God has specifically burdened you with.”  He is speaking about individuals.  Their self-driven life is whatever is in their own hearts and mind to do, apart from God. It is pretty much what the world is preaching today. “Unto thine own self be true.” “Whatever feels good, do it.” What would you be doing, right now, if you did not have responsibilities like a family, a job, or pressures from other people to be and do certain things. I see that as what Jesus was talking about when He says, “whoever saves his own life.” It’s doing your own thing, pleasing yourself…come what may.

So then, I would say that what Jesus meant when He said, “take up his cross,” would be whatever God specifically calls you to do, for Him. It might be selling all your earthly possessions and becoming a missionary for Christ. But, it also might not be. Your cross is whatever God gives you to do. Were you called to be married, have kids, go to school and pursue a certain career with your gifts and talents? All of those things can be godly burdens, or crosses, that we might be called to do for Him. Look what Paul wrote in Colossians:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:17 ESV]

Is the Apostle Paul telling us to disobey God, by pursuing things other than committing our lives fully to the ministry? Of course not. We can serve God and bring Him glory in many different ways. We are to serve Him wherever we are. That is why it so important to prayerfully consider our options and ask God to lead us and guide us through them. He is to be “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path,” as David wrote in Psalm 119. I believe there is a plan, designed by God, for everyone’s life. Mine is not yours. Yours is not your neighbor’s and none of us are called live the life of Jesus. Only He could do that. But, as Paul taught us, we are to bring Him glory in whatever we do, so help us, God.

So, the Lord has blessed you with a great career and you have a nice home, a nice car and you go on two nice vacations every year. Are you somehow dishonoring God by not selling it all, quitting that job and going into full-time ministry. I don’t know. Has God specifically called you do that? If so, then, yes. But, if not, are you serving Him (or yourself) where you are? Only you know what God has spoken to your heart, through His word, through prayer or other means of revelation. We are to constantly be “inclining our ears to Him,” should He call us into action.

And, then, should you sense that God is leading you to step out and do something outside of your normal “comfort zone” (oh, I don’t know, like writing a book or something…lol),there are two key words that apply in those situations. Are you “available?” And are you “willing?”  In your heart, you may say “use me, Lord, I’m available.” But, if He answers that prayer with an opportunity that seems to be “more than you bargained for,” are you “willing” to jump on that horse and ride it as best you can, trusting Him for the results.

God knows if you are truly willing or available. He also knows, even if you don’t see it, what you are truly capable of with His help. The verse below is from when Samuel went to find a king for Israel. He knew He was to go to Bethlehem, to see a man named Jesse who had eight sons. After Samuel had seen seven of them, all great looking candidates, God had said, “No,” to all of them. He asked Jesse if there were any others. Jesse said, “Yes, a younger one, but he is out tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Bring him to me,” because the Lord had said the following words to him:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 ESV]

As it turned out, the younger son was David, God’s chosen one. Maybe he didn’t pass the “eye test” or meet the age requirements, as the other sons did, but David had all the necessary skills and abilities God was looking for in a king. He was available and willing to do whatever the Lord led him to do, even if it was squaring off against an undefeated champion of the Philistines who was three times his size. 


David’s response?  “Put me in, coach. I am ready to do my best and I will trust you with the outcome, win or lose.” When God looked at David’s heart, He saw one that was not only courageous and fearless, but also one that was fully devoted to Him. So much so, that David is often referred to as “a man after God’s heart.”

It really isn’t about what we have or don’t have. None of it belongs to us anyway. Here is what that eighth son of Jesse, young David, wrote on the subject, after he had become the King of Israel:

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1 NASB]

David was given a palace, servants and great wealth. He didn’t appear to be guilty about it, either. The key question is…”Are you willing to commit all that you have (your talent, your wisdom, your money, your possessions and your will) to the work He has for you to do?” Or are you going to make those “things” the center of your life?  Will your possessions be your source of joy and happiness? It is truly a matter of the heart. Who are you, when you boil it all down, a seeker of self-fulfillment…or a seeker of God? It’s pretty hard to be both…just sayin’.

When Jesus gave His famous Sermon On The Mount in front of thousands of people, most of whom He had never met and many who were not pleased with what He brought to the table to begin with, He said the following words:

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [Matthew 6:31,33 NASB

It all starts and ends with “the attitude of our hearts.” No matter what I might say or do, God knows the intentions of my heart. There are no misunderstandings with God and He will never be fooled by hollow words or deeds. He sees right down to the very core of our beings.

And that is how we will be judged, when God says He will “give to each according to what they have done” (not talking about salvation, here, that is based on the blood of Jesus Christ, plus or minus nothing), He means we will be judged based on the intentions of our hearts, not what we say or do. We can lie with our lips, or try to fool people with “good deeds.” God knows better. The question will be, were we available and willing to use whatever blessings we have received for His glory? Or were we just making a name for ourself?

Like it said in that first verse we looked at, “He who saves his life shall lose it.” Are you holding on to your own self-driven dreams and agendas? Or have you committed everything to Him, for His glory, in your “heart of hearts?”

God knows the answer to those questions, whether you and I honestly do or not?

If you do not, I would make it a priority to find out, with God’s help, ASAP.

These are eternal questions that, sooner or later, demand an answer.

BOB PALUMBO

Precious and Few

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” [Matthew 7:13-15]

Isn’t it interesting that right after this short little parable about the straight and narrow way, Jesus instructs those who were listening to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, meaning the false prophets, and we were just talking about that. The last sentence in the above snippet is not actually part of the parable, itself. But I thought it fit in with the flow here, so I included it. I wasn’t thinking, when I mentioned wolves in sheep’s clothing (at the end of the last chapter) that the next parable on the list would bring us right back around to these wolves, again. I like to refer those instances as “divine guidance.” No, I did not really see this coming, at that point. But God did. I’d like to take credit for the smooth segue, but I cannot. Thank you, Lord.

Many times, when I sit down to write, I have no idea what I am actually going to end up writing. Oh sure, I have a general idea of the topic and how I want to explain it. But, along the way I get inspired by maybe one tidbit or another and that leads to a story, an illustration or whatever hits me at the moment, so I write it down. Then, when I go back and proofread it, it might seem to be more like something that someone else wrote, not me.

I believe that is how the Holy Spirit works in all of us, not just me, if we will only allow ourselves to yield to it. King David expressed the same sentiment when he wrote Psalm 45 to explain his amazement at how God inspired him to write down what was in his heart and share it with others so we could still be moved by his works centuries later.

 He wrote:

My heart overflows with a good theme;

I address my verses to the King;

My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

[Psalm 45:1]

 That is one of the joys of writing for me. I am never quite sure what is going to come out. The Holy Spirit is the One who leads, all we can do is try our best to follow. In fact, the word “inspiration” is derived from “spirit,” which comes from the Greek word “pneuma.” And pneuma can also be interpreted as “wind” or “breath.” So yes, I believe inspiration comes from God, whether it is to write a song, paint a picture or write a book.

And I believe it is also by divine guidance that you have this book in your hands at this moment in time, because as the Bible teaches, all of our days are numbered in advance. Nothing happens purely by chance and God is in control of every tiny detail, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. So, I would not take it lightly. I believe God has led you to read this book for a reason, and it has nothing to do with me being the author. Trust me on that. God has a much greater goal in mind. His goal is apprehending your heart.

ZOOMING IN

 One of the gifts that a truly good storyteller possesses, is the ability to leave you with that one key phrase or one key statement, that stays with you long after the story is over. Jesus most certainly had that ability and used it quite often. Let’s look at the first portion of this parable. The part about, of all things, the width of a gate. C’mon now. That could not possibly have any spiritual relevance, could it?  I mean, it’s just a gate.

Well Jesus said, regarding the gate that leads to life (meaning eternal life), “…there are few who find it.” Uh-oh. Wait a minute. Is He talking about me? Where is the cut-off? How do I know if I am in, or I am out? Thousands of people were gathered on this hillside, listening to what started out as a somewhat inspiring message. You know the opening part of this sermon well, no doubt.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

All generally positive and uplifting stuff. I am sure most of the folks were feeling pretty good about themselves for a while there, and why not?  Jesus was sharing a message of hope, mercy and redemption.

But not long after that, reality sets in as the same teacher who was shining light into their hearts only minutes before, now seemed to be “raining on their parade.” And long after they left and headed for home, they probably forgot all about the warm and fuzzy parts, and were left with just this nagging image of a narrow gate that only a few would be able to find. What does it all mean?


It seems this tiny story, about a narrow gate, near the end of a lengthy sermon on a hillside near Jerusalem over two thousand years ago has become, not only for those who were present, but for you and I and all who read the Gospels, a matter to be wrestled with. Certainly, not ignored. Is that what they mean when they say a story is a “cliffhanger?” I’d say so. This one certainly left some people hanging.

It seems Jesus is pointing to holiness and purity of heart, as the way to enter the narrow gate, if I am reading this correctly. But at the same time, isn’t Jesus the one who would eventually die for the sins of the world, offering forgiveness to each and every one of us? That sounds more like the wide gate to me. If everyone is forgiven, wouldn’t you need a very wide gate?

And right back around to “the kicker” we come. No, you only need a gate wide enough for those who “find it”. Remember, not all lost “sheeple” want to be found. Some are quite happy being lost, I presume, rather than being herded around by some shepherd. Some like to “come and go and do as they please.” They do not see any real benefit to being controlled or fenced in. Plus, they fail to recognize the dangers of not being protected from their natural enemies. Their focus is only on the “here and now” and finding the best grass to eat. And that makes them easy prey, not being aware of their surroundings and the dangers that lurk about, be they physical dangers or spiritual ones.

Hence, the need for a shepherd, hopefully a good one. And when it comes to gates, the narrow one, especiall, few are those who find it. But, those who do, they are precious in His sight.

ZOOMING OUT

Sometimes questions only lead to more questions, especially when it comes to matters of faith and God and the proper way to interact with Him. I sometimes wish that, in this day and age, we had the ability to gather on a hillside and listen to Jesus face to face. I would think that would make it all much easier to digest, wouldn’t you? But, it doesn’t seem that was the case for those who were right there with Him. Sadly, for many, it only led to more confusion and created more frustration. It seems that maybe they were looking for the answers they wanted to hear. But, the Lord had no intention of tickling ears. No, He never took the Dale Carnegie course on “How to Win Friends and Influence People,”

Rather, He only spoke the things He had heard His Father say and He only did the things He saw His Father do. He was not interested in compromising His message to lure people in His direction and His intent was not to destroy the traditions of the Jewish faith, as some surmised He was intent on doing. After all, He said He came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it.

His only goal was to reunite fallen people with the One who made them, by simply speaking the truth in love. He wanted them to focus more on what was ahead than on what was behind them. Jesus knew that people cannot change their past, but they can most certainly change their future. He also knew they would never change if they were content to follow the masses, go with what’s popular or become too comfortable with the old cloth or the old wine that we talked about earlier. The “mounting question” being raised by this parable was about holiness, sanctification and being willing to leave the old ways behind and embracing the new.

Jesus Christ introduced the world to an entirely new way of “being holy.” In days gone by, it was believed you were holy only if you followed the Laws of Moses perfectly and completely. But, knowing we all fell short of that, the priest would offer up a sacrificial lamb, once a year, for himself and the sins of all the people. Sure, it was ritualistic, but it seemed to suffice. The people understood it.

Jesus became that lamb, once and for all time. The yearly offering no longer needed to be made. And being holy was no longer about obeying all the religious laws (which was humanly impossible). Holy meant “being separate, set apart for God,” It meant turning from your old life, from following the crowd or trying to earn your own salvation. It meant fully putting your trust in Christ and the blood that was shed as full payment for all the sins of mankind. Past, present and future. Being holy now meant accepting God’s mercy and turning from the powers of sin and self and submitting to the Holy Spirit. It meant, as they say, to “Let go and let God.”

The answer to all these “mounting questions” was Jesus Christ.

He, alone, is “the gate” by which we all must enter through, as He taught us in John Chapter Ten. 

Nothing more and nothing less.

 

The Advantage Of Height

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:14-16]

ZOOMING IN

Just one verse after Jesus compares us, as believers, to something that forms deep below the surface of the earth (salt), yet emerges from that darkness as something both valuable and flavorful, He now is taking us to “higher ground.” Isn’t that just like our Lord? A limitless God who understands the earthly limitations we constantly must contend with. And, of course, He also has full knowledge of both extremes, height and depth, since He created every inch of it, from to the toppest top, down to the bottomest bottom.

Hills were used for all kinds of things over the centuries. Armies preferred to build their forts on higher ground. It allowed them to more quickly see if an enemy was approaching. I’m sure you have heard the term, “uphill battle.” So, obviously, you did not want to be the army charging up a hill to engage your enemy. You would much rather be the ones charging down the hill from a fortified location. We would only have to look back in our own history, to World War II and the Normandy Invasion (or “D-Day” as we call it), to fully appreciate the disadvantage that lack of elevation causes on the battlefield. The Allied forces, over 150,000 strong that day, were said to be like “sitting ducks” as they had the unenviable task of fighting their way up from the water’s edge on the beaches of France, to overtake the German fortifications on the surrounding hillsides. Our troops eventually gained control of those areas, taking that part of France back from the Nazis, mostly due to the sheer number of the invading allied forces. But, many thousands were lost in the battle along the way.  

“Higher Ground” is not just desirable for waging war, or just the name of a classic Stevie Wonder song. It is also the best place to build a lighthouse. With regards to the horizon, a lighthouse situated on higher ground would be seen from much farther away by approaching ships than one which was built closer to sea level. That is also why some lighthouses are taller than others, of course. The taller the better, unless you were the one who had to walk up those steps everyday. There were no elevators back when many of those older lighthouses were built.


There has always been another interesting perception, when it comes to the height of certain things like a lighthouse or a city, or the lack thereof. It had to do with the term “city on a hill” being thought of as a virtuous city or one that had flourished to the point of being admired in some ways. A person of “high morals” is generally preferred over someone of low moral standards and I think it is from this perspective that Jesus shared His thoughts about a “city set on a hill” and how it is not easily hidden.

When we are given a position of prominence or authority, whether in the political realm, the church or even in a workplace or family, once you achieve an elevated status in one way or another, the spotlight (or cameras nowadays) is always on you. Things you may have been able to get away with before, are now out in the open and fair game, as they say. It goes with the territory, so be careful what you wish for, if you are intent on climbing that social ladder.

Higher status means higher visibility, and that also comes with the need for more accountability. Jesus certainly understood that. An interesting dynamic, here, is that on one hand this man who claimed to be the Messiah, or from God, seemed to be suggesting that the religious hierarchy the Jews used to gain power and influence for themselves had run it’s course. Now that God had sent His Son to be the mediator between God and man, as it says later in 1 Timothy 2:5, there was no longer a need for a high priest. Jesus, now, is the only high priest we will ever need, much to the dismay of Caiaphas and the others who were greatly troubled by the radical claims He was making. So, you might think He would say that being a “higher up” was not always a good thing.

But on the other hand, our Lord seemed to be encouraging those who were gathered on that hillside that they should desire to be someone that others look up to, people of virtue and people who shine the love of God on those around them. He implies, here, that God does not shine His love on us or bless us, just for ourselves, but that we might also be beacons of light and love to others, as a lighthouse on a hill. We should not keep it hidden or to ourselves. It is like the words of that classic Reba McEntire song, “Love Isn’t Love (‘til you give it away).” So simple yet, so profound.

That’s the Master Storyteller at work, is it not?

ZOOMING OUT

As I step back from this parable and take another look at it, this time from the frame of reference of the “big picture”, I am quickened by another peculiar part of this little story:

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16]

If I am reading this right, it sounds like He is instructing us to feel free to let our own light shine before people in such a way that they may see how good we are. That doesn’t sound right. It is not like Him, in my mind, to encourage us to “put on a show” for others in such a way as to make ourselves look good. That is what the Jewish and Roman bigwigs did all the time and Jesus did not seemed all that fond of their behavior. Is this a change of thinking, here, or am I missing something?

Let’s keep reading, so we don’t jump to conclusions, here. The last part of this parable ties it up quite nicely and even puts a bow on it, “and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” So in the end, Jesus brings it right back around to where He started. The goal is to bring God glory, not ourselves.

But, He kind of does it in a roundabout way, does He not? He starts by telling us “You are the light of the world.” Wait. Jesus is the light of the world, not us. But, here He is saying we are, too. And then, at the end of this masterful story, He says we should let our light be seen by men that they may see our good works. All of this had to have many in the audience wondering where He was headed with these somewhat radical statements.

Well, like the name of Part Two implies, there were plenty of “mounting questions” concerning this Jesus of Nazareth. And for a lot of folks, this sermon on this hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee did not fully answer them. In fact, for some, it only raised more questions, I would think.

But it does point to another important aspect of this Master Storyteller. His stories, His parables, they were meant to draw those who were His, closer to Him. While at the same time, they were designed to repel those whom He knew would never come. And once again, as the Son of God, He knew these stories would not only be heard by those who were present and heard His words with their own ears. He also knew that they would be spread by “word of mouth” to many others and that they would even eventually be written down for generations to come to learn from, as well.

Oh what a Savior.

Oh, what a Master Storyteller.

Oh, what a loving God we serve.

A Hidden Treasure, Happily Found

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” [Matthew 13:44]

ZOOMING IN

Continuing down the path of talking about things that were hidden, now being revealed or found, our Master Storyteller shines more light on the subject with this parable, but again, from a slightly different angle.

My father was a structural ironworker for many years. In fact, he became the head of the Ironworkers Union in Cleveland for the latter part of his working career. So growing up, it was gently conveyed to me that maybe following in his footsteps (which I later did, working as an Ironworker for twenty two years, right out of high school) would not be his first choice for me. Like most fathers, he wanted something better for his son. So for awhile, in high school, I entertained the thought of being an architect. What a tribute that would have been to my Dad, to stay in the same line of work, somewhat, by still being involved in the construction of buildings and bridges, etc., but doing so from the designing side of things, not the actual physical labor part.

I was already intrigued by the construction process, as Dad had often taken us to see the projects he was working on, to show us what they were building. That gave me a taste for seeing something rising up out of the ground, then watching them grow into these amazing structures sometimes ten or twenty stories tall. Some were even taller than that. So I thought it would really be interesting to be involved in designing something like that and seeing it through to fruition, But, of course, life took me in a different direction.

Back in high school, I did take drafting for a couple of years to see if I was cut out to be an architect. And one of the things we studied was something called “orthographic projection.” That was where you looked at a three-dimensional object and you would try to draw it in a two-dimensional way. To do this, you would do a number of drawings of the object, but from different views…front, top, left side and right side. It was the only way to get a full understanding of the what the object actually looked like, using only two-dimensional images. 

I believe Jesus was doing sort of an “orthographic projection” of his word pictures in this cluster of parables, by giving the people a couple of different looks at various aspects of the same subject, “the kingdom of heaven.” Try doing that with just a two-dimensional drawing.

In this particular little one verse illustration, He is talking about someone finding something of value that was hidden. Then, even though he was quite happy about finding it, he takes it and sells it and decides to buy the whole field. It made me wonder, at first. If there was a hidden treasure that you stumbled upon one day and the finding of it made you extremely happy, why would you turn around and sell it. I was originally thinking about something like if my wife had lost her wedding ring and how upset we might be. But then, we actually find it and are extremely happy and relieved. What do we do next? We turn around and sell it, take the money and buy a new car or something like that. Who would do such a thing?


But that is not what was happening here. The situation was more like “The Beverly Hillbillies” (there I go again), who suddenly discovered oil on their property and became very rich, took some of that oil money and “loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly…Hills, that is…swimmin’ pools, movie stars.”  Yes, I believe the Lord was talking about someone like Jed, Jethro, Ellie May and Granny, who suddenly became rich by finding a treasure they didn’t even know existed, and selling that treasure (or at least part of it) to buy something that they can enjoy for the rest of their lives, like that big mansion in California the Clampetts bought. I am guessing you never heard this parable explained with a Beverly Hillbillies illustration before. Me neither and again, when I started writing this chapter, that was not in the plans.

See, I told you I wasn’t a theologian. I have to work with what I got. Classic TV shows and music references might just have to do, at times, so bear with me. Like I said, I write from my own experiences. So yes, you got me. Guilty as charged. I watched a lot of TV and listened to a lot of music in my life. There, I admit it. But in fairness, a lot of it was Christian television and Christian music. Does that help my case?

But, all kidding aside, there are a couple of really important nuggets that we need to touch on from this short, but sweet, story. First, the man didn’t find the treasure in his own field. We know that because it says he took the treasure and bought the whole field. So, after the fact, he owned it. But he didn’t at the time he found the treasure. That explains why he hid it again, before selling it. He didn’t know if someone was going to come looking for it, or how long it had been hidden. So he was hiding it somewhere that only he would know where to find it again, until he decided what to do with it. Are you getting the same picture that I am from this story? The last thing you want to do, if you find something of great value, is put it somewhere it is likely to be stolen. No, this man was not going to let that happen. He knew it had great value and he planned to capitalize on it.

And secondly, it says he went and sold all that he had to buy the whole field. That means he invested more than just the treasure he found. It means he had other assets he could sell, as well, to help buy this field. I think it may be this second part that has the most spiritual value for those of us scratching our heads over this one, right about now.

He was not necessarily poor, to begin with. He had other assets. But what he found was important enough and valuable enough to think that there just might be more where that came from, still hiding in that field. Maybe it was was silver or gold….or “black gold” like the Clampetts found. But whatever it was that he found, he believed that land offered even more of a treasure and he wanted all he could get. So he made a point of buying the whole field, even though it meant selling everything that he had to do so. Sure must have been good, whatever it was.

ZOOMING OUT

Let me take a stab at whipping up a spiritual lesson out of this, one that hopefully is similar to the main point our Master Storyteller was trying to make. I would like to use the writer of this very Gospel, Matthew (also know to some as Levi), as the main character for my explanation. Not that Jesus was referring to Matthew, but He could have been. It would seem to fit the story.

Matthew was a tax collector, before meeting Jesus of Nazareth. Tax collectors were known to be greedy, dishonest, and usually quite rich in those days. I am not suggesting they were all that way, of course, but that was the perception. Just look at the story that followed Matthew’s conversion. He invites Jesus and the other disciples over to his home to have dinner. The Pharisees immediately get wind of this and begin accusing Him of hanging out with tax collectors and others of questionable character. They asked the disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” They were implying that if He was such a holy man and such a great teacher, He should know better than to hang around with this lot.

But they did not know that Matthew had just found a hidden treasure, one with great eternal value. And they certainly did not realize that he was going to end up selling all that he had, even walking away from his lucrative business, to follow this man, who he believed to be God in the flesh. The Pharisees certainly did not understand all of that. They were just judging him at face value, looking for some reason to accuse Him and discredit Him before the people.

But Matthew got a taste of the kingdom, by interacting with our Lord, albeit a small taste at first. But He knew in his heart there was a lot more where that came from and he wanted all of it. So much so, that he was willing to give up all that he had worked for to receive the fullness of it, when his time on Earth was through.

I think that pretty much describes what the Master Storyteller was trying to communicate. Don’t you?

The Smallest Of Seeds

The following is a sample chapter from my upcoming new book, “The Red Letter Parables,” due this fall.  The book is a chronological look at forty of the most beloved parables of Jesus. In each chapter, we will be “zooming in” on the individual parable, of course, but we will also be “zooming out” to see how they all connect together to tell an even greater story, much like the pixels in a digital photograph are just tiny pieces of information until they are knit together to create a beautiful and memorable picture. Plus, the book as a whole will also be looking at Jesus, Himself, as the Master Storyteller. OK, I’ll give you a hint. The “how, when and to whom” these stories were told does play a role in how the underlying story fits together. But you’ll just have to read the book, I guess, to find out how.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” [Matthew 13:31-32]

ZOOMING IN

So what do you think? Should the size of a seed matter, if we apply some of the other lessons we learned throughout the Scriptures? King David was the smallest and youngest of the eight sons of Jesse. He should have been disqualified immediately. He was also much, much smaller than Goliath, the Philistine champion, and we know how that turned out. But, OK, David had two equalizers. First of all, he was really good with a slingshot and a smooth stone. And secondly (and most importantly), God was on his side. Need I say more?

The poor widow, in Luke 21, only gave two small, copper coins (a mere pittance compared to what many of the richer folks gave), but it was considered to be a more worthy gift because “it was all she had.” The richer folks may have given more, in terms of the amount of money donated, but it was only a small percentage of their riches. So it was not thought to be as worthy of a gift as the poor widow, because the Lord does not weigh amounts as to how our gifts are measured. Rather, He is looking to the attitude of our hearts, again, just as we learned in the last chapter. He would prefer us to be among those who only gave a little, if it was all we had, to those who gave a lot, but it cost them little compared to what they possessed.

And maybe the clearest example of all is found in Luke 9, where Jesus, Himself, teaches that it is “the least among you..” that shall be considered the greatest. So often, we learn that the physical world is sort of like an upside down cake (ooh.. I love those!!) when compared to the spiritual world, which the Lord would rather have us walking around in on a daily basis. Yes, even right now. We do not have to wait until we get to Heaven to start applying these kingdom principles. The Kingdom of God has come down to us through Jesus Christ and we are empowered to walk in it by His Holy Spirit. If you are born again, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus, you can see the Kingdom of God, right here and right now. Jesus told him, “..that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” He did not say “..will become Spirit.” He said “..is Spirit.” He was speaking in the present tense, not future tense.

And when we look at creation, it is plain to see that many of these “kingdom principles” are already at work in this world. I think the mustard seed is one of the best and clearest examples of that. Don’t you? Here we have this tiny little seed, that when it is placed in good soil and the weeds are kept away, can grow to be larger than the other plants in the garden. It says it even is considered to be a tree, one in which the birds can nest. There are those birds again. This time they are not eating the seed, they are being more patient and waiting until the seed grows into a future home. Ok, well, no one said they weren’t smart. If they ate up all the seeds, they would never have a home, right?

Couldn’t we also apply these “kingdom principles” to the very stories that the Master Storyteller was telling? Many of these, as we have already seen and discussed, were only one or two verses long. They were not long-winded or filled with flowery speech meant to entertain or captivate an audience for a considerably amount of time. You know how some people are, once they get in front of an audience, they like to hold onto it as long as they can. I think it is an ego thing, to some extent. It is more pleasing to themselves, than to the audience sometimes.

Jesus was not like that at all. Short, sweet and boy, was He ever “to the point.” No doubt, our Lord and Savior was wiser than wise. He steered clear of that trap of talking too much. He stayed laser-focused on the truth, the precise message His Father sent Him to convey. He was certainly not one who spoke just because He liked to hear Himself talk. I have known quite of few people in my life who did. How about you?  Have you bumped into one or two of those in your life? And don’t say me. Hey, I’m writing a book here. I’m supposed to elaborate, right?

ZOOMING OUT

It seems that the way in which this “little story,” with potentially a big impact for “those who have the ears to hear,” fits into the larger story being told by the Master Storyteller has more to do with the end or the story than the beginning. The “Kingdom Answer” that is revealed here is more about the resulting tree than the seed from which it sprouted. And isn’t that often the case, when we talk about spiritual things.

It matters not where we started or where we came from. No, it’s where we end up that counts, meaning Heaven of course. We are all seeds, to start with (physically and spiritually). We all need to be planted in good soil, be protected from the weeds and be properly fed and watered, if we are ever to bring forth good fruit. And of course, the more fruit we each produce, the more seeds there are to scatter about. There is a gigantic “domino effect” at work here, even though most of us do not always see that potential.

How many times have we heard the slogan, “Just bring one.”  In essence, it implies that if each of us during our lifetime (and there are roughly 1.8 billion people who profess to be Christians in the world today), just managed to bring one person to Christ, that would mean another 1.8 billion souls who would escape the consequences of sin and death and receive eternal life. And that is just counting those of us who are alive today. What an amazing harvest that would be, to say the least.

But that is not how this all works, according to God’s grace and mercy. If one of us saves just one, that person may save one or more and those may go forth and save one or more…and on and on it goes. There is this chance for exponential growth in all of this, where the one person you lead to Christ could result in dozens, maybe even hundreds or more, all eventually calling upon the name of Jesus and entering into His eternal Kingdom, all because of one act of faith, one attempt at sharing the Gospel.

The results could amaze you, but you’ll never know unless you try. It all starts with one seed. One little seed that grows into an entire tree, one big enough for the birds to nest in. A tree big enough to produce a whole lot of mustard (who is not thankful for that?) and a tree big enough to produce thousands of more seeds that all have the potential to start the ball rolling all over again.

The moral of this little story, I think is…REALIZE YOUR POTENTIAL, in Christ.

Our Lord is not big on the whole “one and done” philosophy.

He is much more about “being fruitful and multiplying.”

Amen to that!!!

BOB PALUMBO

Feathers, Food, Fashion and Fear

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,  yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!”

[Matthew 6:25-30]

 ZOOMING IN

There is something about those two little words, “do not”, that immediately cause many of us to recoil a little bit. It’s like…”Uh-oh, brace yourself. Here it comes.” I have often thought that if Matthew had maybe just combined the two words and changed one little letter, making “do not” into “donut,” it would have been a lot easier to swallow. But maybe that is just me. My father used to say, “If you want somebody to do something, just tell them not to.” Works every time. Those of us who are parents can relate, I’m sure.

Nevertheless. Jesus starts off this beautiful parable with those two little words, right up front. They are the chuckholes on the road to sanctification for most Christians. Do not fear. Do not be anxious. Do not worry. Do not judge. Do not be angry. How are you doing with all of these golden nuggets of wisdom? Me, not so well. Oh, I try. But I worry about giving into fear and so I become anxious over it..sometimes even angry. But don’t judge me, OK?

Seriously though, we all would agree I am sure, that it is hard to quit things like smoking or drinking, for instance. But I would say overcoming anxiety or fear is every bit as hard. Wouldn’t you? Maybe someday they will come up with an anxiety patch or a pill that lessens our urge to be fearful. They would sell millions, no doubt. I can see it now, commercials for “Couragra” (to give you courage) or “Anxietra” (to lessen your anxiety). I wonder what the side effects of these drugs might be. They should not cause rapid heart rate or suicidal thoughts, since that is part of what they would be trying to control, right?

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

This was my favorite part of this entire parable. I thought it was interesting that the first part of this statement was targeted more at the men and the second part, more towards the women (or am I reading something into it there?). You have to admit, though, how much time do we spend worrying about what we are going to eat (and when) and what clothes to wear, even to church, which by itself seems a little strange to me, since God looks at the heart, not our shoes or our hair or the lack thereof, in my case.

I think part of the problem, at least for me, is fully grasping the idea that what matters most is how God sees us, not what other men or women think. Oh sure, we say we don’t really care about what other people think of us, but our actions tell a different story. One of my favorite men of the Bible was John the Baptist. Now there was a person who really did not care much about how people viewed him. Matthew writes, “John’s clothes were made of camel hair, and he had a leather belt wrapped around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.”  But people flocked to him anyway, to hear his message and be baptized by him. He was the one chosen by God to prepare the way for His Son, Jesus, the Savior of the World. Certainly, he could have dressed up a little bit, right? But all he was concerned with was obeying God, preparing the way for the One who had long been promised. His message was one of repentance. Outer appearance had nothing to do with it.

I think that if we could fully grasp one little verse, eight little words from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God,” we would be miles ahead towards finding that peace and tranquility that God promises us. The New American Standard version doesn’t say “Be still..” it says, “Cease striving..”  For me that hits the nail more squarely on the head. Sometimes I think striving might be my middle name. “Help me, Lord, to learn to be still, to cease from striving and doing things on my own, as if I might be bothering You, Lord, if I were to ask for Your help. Amen.”

 ZOOMING OUT

So where might this simple, yet beautiful story fit into the bigger picture of things? I have dubbed the second discourse, or grouping for this book, which is taken from the Sermon On The Mount as dealing with a series of “Mounting Questions.”  Well, I think it is no stretch to imagine that almost everyone gathered on that hillside that day was feeling a bit anxious, some maybe fearful and more than few might even have been angry with what they were hearing.

Here is this newcomer, someone who most of these folks knew very little about, telling them to relax. He’s suggesting that they should be more like the birds or the grass, in other words, “Don’t worry about your clothes, you are beautiful just the way God made you. As for food, just trust that God will provide that, as well. Sure, easy for Him to say. Should I just quit my job then, lie around in my pajamas all day and just wait for God’s food truck to pull up to the door, three times a day? How silly is this guy? He has no idea what my life is like. I wish it were that easy.”

To some, I am sure they felt like Jesus was talking down to them. But that was nothing new. Remember back in John Chapter Two, when He said the Temple would be destroyed and He would raise it back up in three days? Do you think there was some skepticism and anxiety, even anger, about that claim on the part of those who heard it, first hand? I would say, “No doubt.”

The words of Jesus Christ were not always perceived as gentle, loving or compassionate. But that was because, so many times, the hearers did not know or realize who was actually speaking to them, God Himself. God is love. He is not just loving or one who exudes love. He is love. He is made of 100% pure love, a love more pure than anything we will ever encounter in this world, that’s for sure.

Even when He seemed harsh or abrupt, His motivation was love, redemption and restoring what was lost in the Garden of Eden. But most did not see it. They took what they heard at face value and pondered how it might affect their everyday lives…food, money, clothes, reputation or even sex. It was all about the “here and now”.

Jesus was all about the “hereafter”.

The answers to their “Mounting Questions” required them to take a much longer view of things, far beyond the tips of their noses.

Sound familiar? If so, I believe you are right. Not much has changed in two thousand years. We just need to remember, as I talked about in my first book, “Unlocking Creation.”  Fear and faith are polar opposites and there really is no middle ground. If you are not acting out of one, you are acting out of the other. It is a really good “rule of thumb.” Say to yourself, “Am I making this decision (whatever it is) based on faith and God’s Word? If I am not, I am acting out of fear.” That might sound like an oversimplification, but it really is the truth. Life is full of choices. Almost every minute of every day, we are making one kind of choice or the other. It’s either faith, or fear.

If it’s not one, it’s the other. Period.

Once we realize that, and train ourselves to know the difference, the road of life gets a lot less rocky.

BOB PALUMBO

(from the upcoming book,

“The Red Letter Parables”)