Tag Archives: Sermon

God’s Vision for His Daughters

The following is a talk/sermon I gave in February at a ladies luncheon and in a service at our church.


I used to think that teenagers were the only ones who struggle with identity issues, as they are expected to be “finding themselves,” questioning authority, pushing boundaries, etc,  but I’ve discovered that the search for identity can continue beyond adolescence, and even be a lifelong journey.

The reason we struggle so much with our identity is that the Enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy us, constantly using lies that tell us to find our identity:

We are what we do.
We are what others say about us.
We are what we have.

As long as we are experiencing success and people are saying good things about us, or we are living comfortably and enjoying good relationships, we can feel OK.  But when we face failures, when others disapprove of us, when we lose people and things that are dear to us, then we may experience an identity crisis.  We may discover that we’ve been finding our identity in what we do, or in what others say about us, or in what we have.

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We can be laid flat when an identity crisis comes, and may feel like the fool who built his house on sand instead of a firm foundation.  Or it can feel like we are standing face-to-face with a wall that doesn’t want to budge, and we have to push through by sheer will or just give up and walk away.  And that’s what many people do – they drift away from the Church or their faith when they lose their footing in one of these crises.

When I was in high school, one of my best friends became a Christian and I went through a Bible study with her about core doctrines of our faith. And then we went off to different colleges and she messaged me that she was doubting her faith.  I had no frame of reference for doubt, I had never had a single doubt in my 19 years of Christianity at that point.  So I had no idea how to meet her where she was.  She was having an identity crisis.  A couple years later, she died tragically, and I found myself having an identity crisis.  I was angry at myself for “letting” her drift from God.  I was angry at God for letting her die before I “fixed” her.  I didn’t walk away from my faith, but instead this was a catalyst for spiritual growth for me.  I learned that God was a loving Shepherd who pursues his lost sheep.  He didn’t need me to save my friend, so I lost my Savior complex.

This is what an identity crisis can do – it can be a time of spiritual growth as God chips a lie from the Enemy off our identity.  These crises are a natural and necessary part of our spiritual development as we mature and are sanctified more and more to be like Jesus.

God laid out a vision for his sons and daughters, so that we could live by the firm foundation of the identity that he intended for us.  Living in a fallen world, that vision is obscured by the lies of the Enemy.  But it is right here in Genesis chapter one and two.

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One of the first aspects of our identity is that we bear the image of God. That means we are representatives of the character of God on earth.  We are the eyes and ears, hands and feet, and the voice of God.  As such, every voice matters in the church.  Every one of us has a unique aspect of his character to share with the church.

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Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he left his disciples with a Great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).  Here in Genesis, God lays out the first Great Commission – our mission to manifest God’s kingdom here on earth.

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The essence of God’s mission for human beings can be boiled down to four words:

Fruitful – Jewish scholars decided that in order to fulfill this command, men and women should marry and have at least two children.  By this standard, Jesus failed, because he never married or had any children.  And if you divided the worlds’ population by married and unmarried, you’d discover that half are unmarried, and one in four couples struggle with infertility.  As we see in the perfect life of unmarried and fatherless Jesus, who demonstrated perfect image bearing for us, this command is not only about procreation, but goes along with the biblical theme of the “fruit” that comes from being a faithful witness.  A faithful life bears good fruit.  And Jesus never faltered, even when tempted by Satan to believe the same lies he tries to tempt us with.  Jesus always drew near to His Father and prayed for His Father’s will to be done.

Multiply – We multiply image bearers through creative action, as representatives of the character of our Creator God.  We must allow our imaginations to draw us into doing unlikely and beautiful ministry for God.  The Night to Shine is a great example of creative action that puts God’s loving character on display for the world to see and multiplies image bearers in the process.  In Jesus, the perfect Image Bearer, we see creativity on every page of the Gospels.  His stories and parables drew crowds.  His miracles never ceased to surprise.

Rule – God has given us authority over all Creation.  Again, this is a mission for both men and women, boys and girls to fulfill.  We are God’s eyes and ears, his hands and feet, and his voice in this world.  It is a position of authority to represent God.  Every one of us is a born leader in God’s kingdom.  That manifests through our different gifts, talents, and callings – and it looks like servanthood and humility, as our perfect image bearer Jesus demonstrated.  But we need to root our identity in that fact.  We are kings and queens!

Subdue – This is about pushing back against the lies and destruction of the Enemy to God’s good creation; to be activists for the redemption of his creation.  Jesus was not passive when he saw people hurting – he was moved by visceral compassion and then he acted to heal, to feed, to teach.  As God’s representatives, we too need to be moved to ACT.  We need to “Let our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God” ( as Bob Pierce said, the founder of World Vision and Samaritans Purse).  If we begin to imitate Jesus, the perfect Image Bearer, in small ways each day, our capacity to be fruitful, to multiply, to rule and to subdue will grow.

Not a small task!  This is the mission for all image bearers – male and female, young and old – to be fruitful, multiply, rule and subdue.  God knit each of you together while you were in your mother’s womb, giving you everything you need to accomplish the good works he planned for you to do (Ephesians 2:10)!  Often times we can get too comfortable and busy here in America, and are content to worship God, to spend time with God each day, to lead a “good” life, and we may miss that God has a MISSION for us to do!

That was the chapter one creation account.  The focus there was vertical, about the relationship between human beings and their Creator.  In chapter two, we see a horizontal focus, on how males and females relate to each other and function together as partners.

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Not good for man to be alone –

  1. He was alone in his relationship with God, no other creation called to live by faith
  2. He was alone in his mission to be God’s image bearer and to build God’s kingdom

God is Trinitarian, three-in-one, so Adam’s aloneness meant he missed a big part of image bearing and was impeded in revealing God in the world.

“God is entrusting his reputation to our male/female relationships.  We are telling the world what God is like by how we interact, value one another, build his kingdom together, and move towards Trinitarian oneness” (Carolyn Custis-James).

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If God is entrusting his reputation to our male/female relationships, we need to unpack what it means for women to be “suitable helpers.”

And here, I’m going to remind you that the Enemy attacks our identity with lies.  Lies that make us feel less-than, unworthy.  The Enemy tells us we “should” find our worth in our accomplishments, appearance, education, femininity or masculinity, occupation, race, spirituality, wealth, etc.  He lies to us, telling us we are what we do, we are what others say about us, we are what we have.

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And these lies get ingrained in our psyches through SOCIALIZATION.

We live in a Fallen world, where the Enemy prowls around looking to steal, kill and destroy.  And he’s been very effective, even in spreading lies even in the church.

We are socialized to believe certain lies about our identities through three processes:

  1. Modeling (how we observe others behaving)
  2. Overt Instruction (how we were instructed to behave)
  3. Reinforcement (positive or negative responses to our behavior)

Then, our socialization results in cognitive lenses, like bifocals or rose-colored lenses, that impact the way we understand the world and ourselves.  The Apostle Paul says that now we see as through glass, in heaven we will see face to face.

Socialization is POWERFUL.  Through our cognitive lenses, we learn to associate or assign meaning to words in a process that happens nearly instantly, in one-seventh-of-a-millionth second.

I want to do an exercise with you.  I’ll say a few words, and I want you to pay attention to your immediate association.  CHURCH; WORSHIP; LEADER; WOMAN

You may have thought “helper,” because every Bible translation you’ve ever read of Genesis 2:18 and 20 render the Greek word ezer there as “helper.”  The Holy Spirit inspired the word ezer to be used here to describe God’s daughters, so we want to understand it properly.  And sometimes, our modern English just doesn’t convey the same meaning as the original Hebrew.  This word ezer is a pretty striking example of this.

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“The word ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Twice it is used in the context of the first woman. Three times it is used of people helping (or failing to help) in life-threatening situations. Sixteen times it is used in reference to God as a helper.  Without exception, these biblical texts are talking about a vital, powerful kind of help. Yet when ezer is applied to the first woman, its meaning is usually diminished to fit with traditional and cultural views of women’s roles.” – Marg Mowzcko

Every instance where ezer occurs, it is in the context of warfare.  And the Garden of Eden is no exception.  God intends for his daughters to be a “strong help” in the war against the Enemy and in building his Kingdom!

Similarly, the Hebrew word kenegdo that is translated “suitable” or “meet” actually means “corresponding to, signifying equality.  God has not created a subordinate assistant for Adam but rather, a strong equal.  Men and women are neither inferior nor superior to each other. Both bear the image of God, both share the mission of human authority over creation.

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Our final passage doubles down on the equality of male and female:

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Like the translation of ezer, the word translated “Rib” here doesn’t actually refer to a bone, but means “good portion of Adam’s side.”  Some theologians have argued a strong case for this meaning that the first human was divided in two.

Oneness is the point here, with God at the center of their oneness.

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So as we see in these Creation stories, our true identity is as image bearers, here in Appomattox to represent God’s character and mission.  As his representatives, we are at the center of what God is doing in Appomattox—not as spectators but as kingdom agents and as leaders responsible for what is going on around us.  We are God’s eyes and ears, his hands and feet, and his voice in the world.  We are ezer warriors, and as his representatives, we need to see the world through his eyes, love what he loves, grieve what he hates, and join his cause.

He gave us Jesus as the example of a perfect image bearer, showing us exactly how we are to be fruitful, multiply, rule and subdue.  Everywhere he went, Jesus was the embodiment of love, mercy and justice. We too must embody the gospel in our relationships and work.  And I believe this little army here today can be a catalyst for revival in Appomattox!

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Thanks for visiting TBKW!  “Like” us on Facebook where we post articles from around the web everyday, dealing with gender issues in the Church and world!

I was reading Carolyn Custis-James’ book, “Half the Church” when I prepared this talk, and her influence is all over it.  I would highly recommend you read her book!

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Guest Post: The Way Through the Waves

It is an honor and a pleasure to share this sermon from Zoë Faith Reyes, our sister in Christ and in community at North Harbor Community Church in midcoast Maine.  In the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, the teaching team at North Harbor did a series called A Peace of Suffering.  If you are interested in listening to the entire series, you can do so here.  It was profoundly helpful to look closely at the topic of suffering as a church family.  And in the spirit of The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors’s mission to empower women and girls to pursue their callings and develop their spiritual gifts for the building of God’s Kingdom, we wanted to offer Zoë as an example of a woman using her gift of teaching to greatly bless her church family.  Enjoy her sermon!


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Zoe’s San Fransisco Team on top of a windy hill

The Way through the Waves
A Peace of Suffering – Part 6

I recently read an article about one of my favorite topics, Resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Almost as an aside, the article mentioned that research has shown that people who are members of faith communities regularly demonstrate stronger resilience. At the same time, I was feeling heavy with the weight of trials and sufferings that I felt that the members of my own faith community [including myself] were undergoing. “How?!” I wondered. “What is it about people in faith communities that enables them to be more resilient? How can I tap into that capacity? How can I offer that power to my brothers and sisters of faith??” With these burning questions weighing on my mind, I entered into a dark and beautiful journey into the world of pain.

For one, I have to admit, “I hurt.” I can’t begin to preach at my community as if I have it all together, am above this fray, I have to admit the hurt in my body, mind, heart and soul. Any outsider might assess my “suffering” differently, but Pain is Pain. If I worry about those external assessments, I might belittle or glorify my pain, but both approaches only help me avoid actually dealing with it. And as attractive as avoiding pain seems, I can not forget the worst pain I ever experienced. When I went into labor with my second child and attempted a VBAC, his heart rate indicated he was in distress. Due to my history and his present condition, I was whisked away for an emergency C-section, which required an emergency administration of general anesthetic. They struck a needle into the back of my hand and it felt like a freight train had tunneled into my hand and up my arm instead. The feeling that effectively took all pain and other feeling away was easily the most excruciating physical pain I have ever known. So I neither can, nor am I sure I want to remove all pain from my life.

For two, I know YOU hurt, and I hurt for you. I hate that in my helplessness, I can not shoo away your chronic pain; make the world treat you with the love and respect you deserve; erase the trauma from you past; bring back the people you have loved and lost; I may not even be able to get through the walls you’ve erected to keep anyone from knowing you are in pain and in need of help in the first place. And there’s despair in that. Despair is when you feel like tomorrow will be no different from today, or in other words, despair is the absence of hope. I have known despair all too well, far too many times. AND, so many times when I have faced my despair, I have found hope. Hope is a learned skill, learned in the context of relationship. I am learning to hope as I experience life in community.

I want to get vulnerable and share with you out of my own darkness and despair to share a picture of where despair can lead to hope, how I have time and again found peace in my suffering.

When I was in college, I co-lead a mission team to San Francisco where we fed the homeless, worked with AIDS victims; painted a mission outpost; and played with and shared love with inner city kids. Both the prep work in the year leading up to the trip and the week itself were sleepless and exhausting, but miraculously I had strength to get through each day with gusto. Until the last day, that is. On the last day, in the climax of my leadership success, one of our team members informed me that he was taking off to hang out with a friend in the city. I told him he could not, we were there on a TEAM trip. He scoffed at me and left anyway.

In a recent sermon at our church, Will Truesdell talked about our self-talk when we’re in the midst of suffering. My self-talk went something like this: “How dare he show such disregard for our team unity! I can not be held responsible for the danger he is going to get himself into in the city – he is so going to get lost on the subway!! How dare he show such disrespect for this trip’s purpose! How dare he show such disrespect for me! Why is he just abandoning me like this?!” I was feeling intense fury and disdain. Depression is sometimes defined as “anger turned inwards,” and that was exactly what I started experiencing. My anger at this guy quickly turned into, “I am a failure! I am failing my team. I am failing at ministry. I am failing myself. I am failing God.”

I prayed for help. And things got . . . worse. I felt profoundly powerless. I had no strength left. And that feeling was even scarier than my familiar feelings of depression. I could not stop crying. I could not move my body. I could not get low enough to the ground. I could not respond when I heard people asking where I was. I could not respond when people found me and asked what was wrong. I could not move when they had no time left to be patient because we had to go. I felt trapped inside a body I was too small and meager to maneuver. Friends eventually found me and carried me into a car, which carried me across the Bay to our destination. As we drove, I continued to be inconsolable. I felt as abandoned by God as by the guy who had ditched us. I felt a sense of exclusion from their concern.

Psalms 69:1-3 says: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

I resonated strongly with that Psalm. I think the disciples also would have resonated with the Psalm the night they were in the boat on the stormy sea, just after Jesus had fed 5,000 people with a small portion of loaves and fishes. Take a minute to read Matthew 14:22-33.

They were in the middle of their ministry, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the sea, in the middle of a great storm, and Jesus was NOT there. He’s sent them on ahead of himself. Scripture says they were, “far from land, and the wind was against them.” I think they must have felt they were far from HOPE.

In the 4th [last] watch of the night [3-6am], “they had begun to despair of deliverance.” And just as their hope is nearly completely gone, they look out into the waves and think they see a ghost. They cry out in fear. Like my night in San Francisco, a bad night just got way worse.

But it’s not a ghost. It is Jesus. And Jesus replies to their cries with words of comfort. Literally translated, His words would come out something like, “Have courage, I AM; don’t be scared away.” Our biological responses to fear are: fight, flight, or freeze. But Jesus asks the disciples to choose another way. He asks them to instead Face their fear. He invites them to be present, even in this dark and scary moment.

In a sense, Peter does obey. He is not scared away. Instead, he stays. And he gets curious. He says, “if it’s really you, ask me to come to you on the water.” Jesus replies, “come.” And Peter steps out into the darkness, into the water, into the storm.

What if we got curious about our suffering and
stepped into it instead of running or fighting it away?

And so, Peter walks on water, just like Jesus, until the wind picked up and delivered a full sensory assault to Peter. Hebrews 12:2 says to “fix our eyes on Jesus,” but in this moment, Peter. Just. Can’t. He experiences a failure of faith and courage, which threatens his life and his ego, and he begins to drown.

So here’s the PIVOTAL moment:
Will Peter deny or embrace his inability to endure this suffering??

When I was in San Francisco, I thought the success of our trip was on my own shoulders. BUT, I could not bring the trip to a successful end. I could not hold the team together. In that moment, I couldn’t even speak.

In Peter’s moment, he cries out, “Lord, save me.” Peter embraces his suffering. In other words, Peter incorporates his pain, his death, his insufficiency into himself. HE OWNS IT.

Here, when Peter says, “Lord,” he’s using a word that means, “he to whom a person or thing belongs.” He is confessing a submissive belonging. He is expressing that he belongs to Jesus; not to himself, not to the fear, not to the waves.

The word “save” here is “sozo” in the original text. That word means “to keep safe, to protect, to restore, to make whole, to make complete.” In other words, Peter is saying, “I alone am not sufficient, I am not enough. Complete my courage. Complete my faith. Complete my strength. Make us ONE. Weave us together. Pursue our peace.”

Etty Hillsum, a Jew who ultimately died in a Nazi concentration camp came to realize that
to exclude death [and I would add “failure” or “pain”] from life is to sacrifice a complete life.”

Shalom, Peace, is:
The webbing together of God and man with all creation
to create universal flourishing and wholeness.
~Cornelius Plantinga

In other words, Shalom is Completeness, made whole-ness.
It is integration instead of exclusion.
It is integration of death into life;
you into me;
peace into suffering.

When Peter cries out, “Lord, save me,” he is owning his suffering and crying out for PEACE.

Jesus replies, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” In the church, we can use the “little faith” phrase to imply that good Christians shouldn’t be so bogged down by suffering or grief, if they had more faith, “this” wouldn’t be such a problem. But I wonder . . . what was Peter doubting? Maybe Peter doubted that Jesus made him able to walk on the water in the first place, that Jesus would see it through until they reached each other, that Jesus, with his presence, would help him suffer the storm.

Maybe Peter doubted that the whole point of any of this mess was not that Peter get to walk on water, but to join with Christ and together endure their suffering. Maybe Peter doubted that the whole point of all of this crazy life with Christ was LOVE.

I hadn’t been doing the good work in San Francisco the whole time. As we had prepared, chose the team, did the work in the city . . . I had thought that serving Jesus through meeting Him in the people we served was the goal. But I was too blind to see that He was also the archer. He was powering the work. His love was making it possible for us to show love to people in San Francisco.

**His love made a way for us, for me, to enter into his love. **

I humbly suggest that maybe I have some guesses about what Jesus thinks Peter was doubting, and what that tells us. But I don’t think it is inconsistent with what is said elsewhere. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

And in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10, Paul conveys God’s message to him:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Jesus doesn’t calm the storm in this instance, nor does he necessarily exert power over the elements that cause suffering. He comes under the storm and weathers it with the disciples. He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Jesus gets Peter back into the boat. Eventually, the storm dies down. And the disciples declare, “Truly you are the Son of God.” In Mark’s version of this account (Mark 6:45-52), he points out, “They were completely astounded because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened “ ~Mark 6:51-52. A hardened heart is one covered with thick skin, callused, made dull, having lost the power of understanding. People who have calluses aren’t born that way. They are people who have grown tough skin because of a wound or significant friction, they’ve had to toughen up to just get through, to survive. And that thick skin is hard to cut through to do the true wound-healing. “Just surviving” impairs understanding. When Jesus fed the 5,000, as Dan preached about in the last sermon series, He was filling a gap in the disciples capacity and in their faith. Here, he is doing the same thing again in a much more visceral way [point by Manny Reyes.]

“True omnipotence may not be found in a distant and separate power over something or someone, but rather in the intimate experience of being wounded for and with.”
~Gerald May, Dark Night of the Soul, p. 197

As Dan has pointed out in previous sermons in this series, to Suffer, from the latin, means “to bear from below.” Instead of exerting power over here, Jesus suffers with and for his disciples.

“True omnipotence may not be found in a distant and separate power over something or someone, but rather in the intimate experience of being wounded for and with.”

Back to me in San Francisco, trapped in my powerlessness . . . the car I was in arrived at our destination, and I was pulled out, not ready to enter the house with the group, but stood outside alone with Manny on the edge of an hilltop, in the night, in the middle of a rushing wind. And in the middle of that full sensory assault of wind and darkness, I experienced God’s quiet, gentle words to me, “Be still. I AM.” With those words, I could feel His comfort and have the courage to listen on to what else He had to say to me. He didn’t speak to the situation. He didn’t make that guy suddenly appear and apologize. But He did assure me that I was not alone. I was not “fired” from serving Him. Manny would be my partner in service – as he was already demonstrating as he held me in that moment that he would be able to hold me in the ministry God had laid out for us in the future.  But most importantly, He showed me Emmanuel, God WITH us, was there to stay with me for the journey. And that truth diminished my other fears and concerns, of which that dude would be one of the least.

This story out on the water looks to me like a microcosm of the greater story of the gospels: God on high saw the people He loved suffering, so He entered into their lowliness in order to be with them, to endow strength into them so that they might endure. This story and my story are both miniature incarnations, Christ manifesting His presence to save. When Jesus entered into their suffering, spoke into their fear, and saved Peter. He is softening hard hearts.

I think an exoskeleton, like the shell on a turtle, the skeleton on the outside, is a good picture for a hardened heart. When Jesus suffers with and for the disciples and for us, He cuts through thick callused skin dulling our senses, healing the leprosy of the heart and making us vulnerable. He completes our incomplete courage with His own strength. In our unification, He builds a new skeleton within us. We are transformed into a creature with an endoskeleton, flexible and durable, not safe, but saved, completed.

Transformed,
we are better equipped to weather the rest of the storm, and most importantly,
we are not alone.

I originally shared this message on Palm Sunday, the day when the church remembers Jesus, who knew that His betrayal, denial, and death were coming, entering into Jerusalem in a coronation parade. Knowing all that He knew, he allowed the people to sing Hosana over Him, as the King of the Jews. I wouldn’t have. I, who do what I can to exclude death and failure and pain and betrayal from my life, would have been infuriated with those people with palm branches waving their praises, knowing they would turn on me in a matter of days. But he integrates his death into his life, the betrayal into the praise, because he IS life enlarged. AND he does it all for the sake of LOVE, so that we could join him – through our pain – and also integrate death into our life for full, durable, thriving life – which is to say life with him.

PS 77: 19 Your way was through the sea, / Your path, through the mighty waters.

No fear can hinder now the love that has made a way into his love.

Hosanna to the Prince of Peace.


zoe reyes

Zoë Faith Reyes was born and raised in the church in Houston, Texas. She has B.A.’s in Philosophy and English from Westmont College and a Masters in Social Work from California State University East Bay. Zoe has done mission work in Tecate and Reynosa, Mexico; Sewanee, Tennessee; Houston and Galveston, Texas; Kingston, Jamaica; San Francisco, California; and Kandy, Sri Lanka. She has worked for seven nonprofits, including Project Peace which she co-founded and for which she was a founding board member and CEO. She is currently serving as mother for Sofia (5) and Daniel (2); wife for Manuel Reyes; steward for a small bit of earth in Brunswick, Maine; Community Development Director for North Harbor Community Church; and photographer for Zoe Reyes Photography. If she has done anything of worth in this life, it is a result of the power of Christ in her, and to the glory of God.

God’s Unreasonable Generosity

I delivered my first-ever sermon last year, and thought I’d share the text here.  The experience of preparing and delivering a sermon was equal parts nerve-wracking and exhilarating.  I felt so blessed by the entire process.  Because I had zero experience and education in sermon preparation, I sought out lots of help and am indebted to the pastors and mentors who read my sermon and gave me notes.  It could only be ten minutes long, so it’s not a difficult read.  Without further ado, here is my sermon on Matthew 19:27-20:16.


There’s a question I’ve heard several times lately that got me thinking.  I watched a YouTube video of a popular evangelist, who was being criticized for her personal jet and large mansion, and she was defending her lavish lifestyle.  She said, “Don’t I deserve a little luxury when I work so hard?”  A family member going through a bitter divorce recently said to me, “I was always a good wife.  Don’t I deserve to be treated better than this?”  And a man dying of cancer asked Logan, “What in the world did I ever do to deserve this?”

When I was thinking about this question, I realized I’ve asked myself the same thing, a lot!  When we moved to my hometown in Maine, I expected my church family to recognize the value of my seminary education.  I was hurt when I wasn’t nominated for the Christian Education board, even though I had a Masters in Educational Ministries.  I felt I deserved recognition for my hard work.

Similarly, I’ve done a lot of waitressing over the years, and I always do my best to give good service.  I have an expectation of what my tip will be, according to the tab, and depending on the tip, I’m either satisfied, pleased, or sometimes, disappointed.

Also, I get a lot of satisfaction from studies that detail the monetary value of all of the jobs that a Stay-at-Home parent does.  If I was being paid for my long days, sleepless nights, laundry service, tutoring, meal preparation, house cleaning, and life coaching, I’d be making a six figure income!

So, there’s three examples and I could give many more of ways that I’ve measured my life and decided what I deserved, and have been disappointed when my expectations and my reality didn’t match up.  And I’m sure some of you think like this too.  Maybe you’ve Googled the average pay for your line of work, to see if you’re receiving a fair salary.  Or you’ve said to yourself, “I deserve better than this”, when your circumstances were difficult.  We all have an expectation of what sort of reward or recognition or life circumstance is fair, and it can be really difficult to understand when our expectations and our reality are not matching up.  Really, we’re wondering if it’s worth the effort.

Well, the good news is, we are not the first people to struggle with this.  In fact, Jesus’ closest friends, his chosen twelve in his inner circle, were beginning to look around at their circumstances, and they began to worry, is this going to come out in our favor?  Here they had all left their jobs and families, to live in poverty as wandering apprentices of Jesus.  So they asked him, “What will our reward be?”  Let’s turn to Matthew, starting in chapter 19:27, to hear how Jesus replied.

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

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So, the disciples were asking Jesus what sort of reward they would receive for their hard work and sacrifices, because they wanted to know if Jesus’ payment would line up with their expectations of what they deserved. Jesus’ answer to them is – The first will be last, and the last will be first.  Then Jesus uses the Parable of Equal Wages to illustrate the meaning of this principle, and he repeated the principle one last time for clarification.  But I think the meaning of this principle and this parable was hidden from the disciples for some time.  Let me unpack the parable a little bit and tell you when it was that the disciples really got it.

The setting was a society where unemployment meant starvation.  A day-laborer would have been someone without their own land to work.  So the day-laborers were dependent upon local landowners for employment just to feed their families with their days’ wage.  The men who would have been idle, or rather, had not been hired by any other land owner, would have been the weak, infirm, disabled, elderly, and other targets of discrimination, like criminals or anyone with a bad reputation.  At the end of the parable, the full-day workers didn’t complain that they had been cheated, but that the one-hour workers had been made equal to them.

A just God, then, is inclined to show special generosity to the poor and outcast.  No-one was underpaid; just some were treated with ‘unreasonable’ generosity.  And by that extravagant act of compassion, the landowner demonstrated something about the one-hour workers’ value and worth.  And this act of kindness denied the full-day workers their claim to superiority.  It was only natural for those who had worked all day in the heat of the sun to feel resentment.  If you’re honest, you’ll admit that you’re sympathetic to their complaint, because that’s our natural, human perspective.  But that sympathy reveals how loveless, merciless and ‘under law’ we really are.  Similar to the day-laborer’s poverty, we are spiritually destitute, in need of God’s ‘unreasonable’ generosity!

The hard truth is, no one deserves eternal life.  Think about it this way.  When you drive to work or to the grocery store, if you follow the rules of the road carefully, you don’t get a special reward when you reach your destination.  You have merely fulfilled your obligation to the law of the land.  Are we not likewise obligated to live in perfect obedience to our Creator?  We see so clearly all the things we do for God, or that we’ve lived a ‘good life,’ and we feel we deserve something for all of the times we haven’t just lived for ourselves.  But God isn’t looking at what we’ve done, he’s looking at our hearts.  His primary concern is that we are loving Him and loving others more than ourselves.  I’m a good person, I’m a good wife and mother, a good Christian.  But if I’m being perfectly honest with you, my life has been mostly lived for me and a little bit for God and others.  And honestly, my efforts and sacrifices can lead to a puffed up, superiority complex.  There’s no room for me to be proud.  I need to see myself for what I really am – a one-hour worker, not an all-day laborer.

There’s only been one person in all of history that has lived his entire life perfectly, always deferring to the will of his Father and to the needs of others.  He never achieved any status or riches in his lifetime, but was willing to live in poverty and to be ridiculed and shamed, to die between two thieves, pouring himself completely out as a gift of salvation for us!  The twelve disciples who had been asking what kind of reward they would receive for following him, hid in shame while he was being crucified.  Only when Jesus rose from the dead, and they realized what he had done for them, did his disciples stop worrying about fairness and receiving special honor.  They realized they had received unreasonable generosity!

You see, Jesus lived the life we should live and died the death we should have died – but then he doesn’t say to his Father, why are you giving those guys eternal life?  Jesus doesn’t begrudge his Father’s generosity towards us – he loves us so much, he shares his inheritance in heaven with us as brothers and sisters.  We are deeply valued and deeply loved, and not for our meager hour of work.  God sees our spiritual poverty and looks at us with compassion, and then blesses us with ‘unreasonable’ generosity!

That is God’s pay scale.  God’s grace is not limited by our ideas of fairness; his gifts are far beyond what anyone deserves.  In his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace”, Philip Yancey writes, “We risk missing the story’s point: that God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell”.

I love how Pastor Timothy Keller puts it, “The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” So let us not get puffed up with feelings of superiority or entitlement, but always remember that we have received unreasonable generosity. Let us give thanks to God for not paying us what we deserve, but far, far better pay than we can even imagine.


 

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