Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Luke 21:1-4

Dear Theophilus,
No, the man certainly did not come to make anyone at ease.  Even those who followed him must have wondered what it would be like for Jesus to turn on them.  I can see why so many were angry at Jesus—if I threw words around like he did, even if they were true I would be turned out on my ear.  It makes me appreciate the man for his passion and dedication, but I do wonder if a bit more tact might have served him well.  I can only imagine the steam rising out of the ears of the Pharisees as they listened to Jesus’ harangues, and their free time must have been spent plotting against Jesus.
I do appreciate this rebuke, though.  Well, I should probably say that I at least understand it.  It’s easy to get carried away with the trimmings of power.  I’ve seen it happen to a number of people—they promise not to get caught up in the prestige and honor, but soon it goes to their heads, and the next thing you know, they’re more interested in retaining power for the perks than the reason they sought the position in the first place.  I can see how much damage people like this would do to the reputation of a religion—there would be little respect paid to the leaders, and if the leaders are not respected, who would choose to follow?  Not that Jesus is necessarily easy to follow, but he seems to have integrity between what he says and what he does.
I have found an account that I seems quite interesting to me, partly because of the circumstances in which it occurs.  Jesus and the disciples are watching people put their offerings into the treasury.  He must have been hoping for a teachable moment, but the fact that he was there at all is a statement on how important he believes our offerings are.  Many rich people were there offering grand and extravagant gifts, but Jesus chooses to highlight a widow, obviously poor, who places two meager copper coins in the treasury.
It’s a gift that most of us would not notice—we’d be too focused on the wealth that was being put in by the rich.  Jesus, though, tells the disciples that the widow has put in more than the rest, because the gift she made was a sacrifice from her poverty that she needed to live on, while the rich only gave from the storehouses of their abundance and will scarcely notice that it is gone. 
The disciples must have looked at Jesus and wondered what he meant when he said this poor woman gave more.  Her gift was rather sad in comparison with the others, but the lesson here is that painful giving is treasured.  He doesn’t downplay the giving of the rich, for surely it is important that they give, although I would have liked to hear Jesus’ reaction to those gifts.  He elevates giving that is often overlooked, giving that is sacrificial, that hurts.  I believe that Jesus is trying to help the disciples see that choosing to follow him means that there are sacrifices a disciple will have to make that aren’t always easy, but bring glory to God.
This is such a gem, Theophilus!  I doubt that the widow heard Jesus, but I bet that the disciples never looked at a poor widow in the same light again. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon for 4/28/13: More Like Jesus: Prayerful

Mark 6:45-52
  Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
  When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by.
  But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.



We get a lot of door-to-door salespeople in our neighborhood.  They bring them in by the van, drop them off and they scatter.  Most weekends, someone is dropping by trying to sell something.  Once, we even had a guy selling meat out of the back of his van.  I didn't buy any.
One guy in particular stands out.  He was from a lawn service, and he asked me if I had a current lawn service.  Anyone who has ever seen my lawn knows this question tends to answer itself.  I remember looking at him, looking at my lawn, then looking back at him before finally asking him, “Does it look like I have a lawn service?”  He stumbled through an answer before finally giving up and leaving.
Friends, I'm here to say that my lawn is a testament to the fact that I don't invest a lot of time and money into it.  Simply walking by will tell you that I don't pour the nutrients and chemicals into it that it so desperately needs.  Any casual observer in summer will know that I don't water my lawn, mostly because I'm too cheap.  You may think I choose to water the weeds, but I'm here to proclaim that they are merely testaments to God's providential care for all of creation.
My lawn is evidence that I haven't chosen to invest much in it.  The current state of my lawn speaks of our relationship—it is clear that I don't place a high priority upon it.
Now, I'm not here to say anything bad about nice lawns.  I wish I had one, and I have some envy toward the people who clearly enjoy and know a lot about their lawns.  It's just not a priority of mine, and every time I mow the grass I wonder why I didn't spend more time thinking about condos when we moved here.  I don't enjoy lawn care, and it shows. 

Friends, our lives usually give testimony about what we care deeply about.  A beautiful lawn tells of someone who cares about the lawn.  You've all seen cars draped in orange flags and stickers that tell of someone's dedication to the University of Tennessee.  It's pretty common to walk into someone's house and instantly know that they are dedicated to their children or grandchildren.  Anyone who wanders into my basement knows that I have a deep connection to the Cincinnati Reds.  After all, I'm the guy who took his wife on a trial date to a baseball game to make sure that this was someone who could tolerate baseball.  I'm lucky she tolerates me, let alone baseball.

Our lives tell a story about our focus, often well before we have ever had a chance to say anything. 

The question, then, is what our lives say about our relationship with God.

Jesus' life was extraordinary in a lot of ways.  He was absolutely remarkable in everything he did, and large crowds were constantly attracted to him, even when it seems like he wasn't doing anything.  People wanted to be around him—they wanted to make sure they didn't miss anything, some teaching or miracle.  He was magnetic.

But there was something else remarkable, too.  There was something about his prayer life that was attractional, I believe.  He was a man focused on prayer, on spending time alone with God, and this stood out.  How much did it stand out?

Well, what's the one thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them?

They could have asked him to teach them anything.  Perhaps they did and it's just not recorded.  We only have record of one request by the disciples for Jesus to teach them something.  They wanted to know how to pray.

Now, I believe that you don't ask someone to teach you how to do something unless they're evidently very good at it.  I believe that you don't go up to an amateur and ask them to teach you how to master a skill.  You're not going to ask me how to get an expert lawn.  You're not going to ask me to teach you to build an airplane or raise a child.  There are people in this church who are experts in these areas, and I'm not.  You wouldn't ask me.  You'd ask the person who you saw do it time and again, and who you thought was great at it.

So the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray.  This clearly means that they view Jesus as an expert.  They see him as someone worthy of imitation, as someone whose life is rooted in his prayer.  They see his ministry gaining power and his teaching is wise, and all of this is because they see a man who constantly sets time aside to go and pray.

Here in Mark 6, Jesus has just fed 5,000 people.  Doubtless there are some people pressing for questions, for explanations.  There are probably plenty of people who want something in this moment.  How does Jesus react?

First, he sends his disciples away.  Next, he dismissed the crowd.  Then he went up the mountain to be by himself and pray.  There were a million other things Jesus could have done in this moment.  I'm sure he had plenty of other options, but he chose to pray, to be alone with God and be rejuvenated, refueled, refreshed by the Holy Spirit.  Prayer was more important to him than anything else in that, and many other moments.

Friends, if we want to have a life rooted in a relationship with God, this is the kind of active choice we need to make—one that, despite everything else we have to do, makes prayer a priority.  If we want lives rooted in prayer, branching out from our relationship with God, it has to be a conscious choice, each and every day, and we have to turn our backs on the temptation to tend to the three thousand other things we have to do.  It doesn't mean we can't pray while we concentrate on those things—but we have to have time where we just pray.

Let me put it this way—when Rachel and I were dating, we had a lot of time when it was just the two of us.  We dated a lot, and we talked on the phone a lot.  To be completely honest, we have nothing left to say to each other on the phone.

Now that we're married, we're busier.  We both work, and we have a child who has a little energy.  He wants some of our attention.  Also, dinner doesn't cook itself and the house is thoroughly unable to clean up after itself.  Through it all, Rachel and I talk.
But if we never set time apart for just the two of us, our relationship will fall apart.  I guarantee it.  I am absolutely certain that if we never spend time together without any other distractions, we will not make it in our marriage.  So we make it a point to do that.

So why would we ever believe that we can have a healthy relationship with God without setting time apart for just the two of us?  It's utter foolishness, but because we don't see the immediate consequences, we try and do just that.  Other concerns seem more pressing.

It takes discipline to send people away, but it also sends a message if we're consistent—it teaches others that we are absolutely focused on our relationship with God.  It declares that it is a priority for us. 

So are you willing to make prayer a priority, that it might become foundational in your life?  Are you desirous of a great prayer life, to the point that it becomes a pillar in your life, that you make your relationship with God the most important relationship you have, that nothing happens without you covering it in prayer?  Are you willing to do that?

Then set some time apart.  I don't care if it's 2 minutes—start with that.  Find two minutes each day this week, and see how it goes.  Then you can expand upon it.

If it becomes foundational for you, it will be written on everything you do.  Others will notice.  Your relationship with God will deepen and grow.  I can't promise how it will grow or what direction it will go, but I promise you that it will grow.
The disciples thought it was so important that it was the one thing they asked Jesus to teach them.

Will you let him teach you, too?

Let us pray

Friday, April 26, 2013

Luke 20:27-47

Dear Luke,
I understand your opposition.  It’s hard to change after so many years of life.  All I ask is that you don’t give up the search—don’t give in before the story concludes, for there is far, far more to Jesus than the surface reveals.  You’ve marveled at some of the dramatic healings he has done—let that marvel remain, and be prepared for greater things than you can comprehend.  I know that many of these exchanges with the Pharisees can drag somewhat, and it’s easy to want to pull them apart and see Jesus as just a brilliant man.  I have confidence that, in the end, you will see that he is far more than that.  Don’t close the doors of your mind, my friend, and I assure you that you will be astonished.  I didn’t want to believe it all at first, either, but in the end I was compelled to worship him, because that was the only option once I heard how the story ends.
I think it’s important to point out to you that so many people questioned Jesus while he was alive and in the midst of his amazing ministry.  He was healing people in front of their very eyes, and they still couldn’t figure out who he was.  It’s tempting to say that witnessing a miracle would solve everything, but this is a matter of the heart, Luke.  Our minds can always find a reason not to believe, some other explanation for what the eyes have seen or the ears have heard.  Our hearts are called to fall in love with God and offer our lives to him.
There were some Sadducees, leaders of the day who did not believe in a resurrection, who had probably seen some healings and heard all the stories, and yet they had plenty of questions.  They had questions for Jesus that were meant to trick him, to be a stumbling block to the man—they were only interested in tearing him down to confirm what they wanted to believe.  They invented a convoluted situation in the hopes of pinning Jesus down.  The situation they posed to Jesus was this:  there was a woman who married a man, but the man died before they had any children.  Now, the Old Testament law demands that the man’s brother must marry the woman.  In the Sadducees’ example, the man’s brother fulfills his duty and marries her, but then he dies.  This continues on until seven brothers have all married the woman and then died before producing any children.  The Sadducees want to know which man the woman will be married to in heaven, for there are seven choices, and it wouldn’t seem right to leave six of the men out in the cold, yet all seven surely couldn’t be married to her after death.
Jesus doesn’t address the specifics of their hypothetical situation.  Instead, he uses the opportunity to teach them that heaven isn’t about little questions like that, rather it’s focused on the worship of God. 
Jesus tells them that living people here and now get married, but marriage is not a part of the new life that comes after resurrection.  Those who have been raised are better seen as angels or children of God, having been resurrected and no longer capable of death.  Jesus also goes on to show these men who denied the reality of a resurrection that the dead are raised, because Moses speaks of God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This wasn’t just to remember the lives of these great men, but because in God, they are alive. 
Some of the scribes that were present for this inquisition told Jesus that his answer was good, and they were satisfied enough to cease their questions for him.  It took them a long time to realize that he had an answer for every question, although I’m sure that they, just like you, Luke, had many more questions for him.  Their questions often sought to discredit, rather than engage, but the questions arose from an uncertainty about his identity.  Jesus answers their questions, but does so to teach them, in the hopes that their minds will change as well as their hearts, that they may come to know the God who gives life everlasting to those who follow Jesus.
Jesus also addresses the question of Messiah.  If you’re not familiar with this, the brief overview is that the Jews expected the Messiah to come and liberate them.  Many expected a kingly leader to defeat the Roman empire and free Jerusalem, and Jesus was certainly far different than that.  Jesus asks the scribes why they expected the Messiah to be David’s son when David, in the Psalms, calls the Messiah Lord.  Jesus quotes the Psalm when the Lord addresses the Lord and has him sit at his right hand until his enemies are defeated and safely underfoot.  There is no recorded answer to this question asked of Jesus, but what answer could they have for the man who teaches with such wisdom?
The scribes may have wished they had something in their own defense, for Jesus turns from these teachings to attack them—in a voice that all people could hear, Jesus warns the people about the scribes.  They look respectable, and they love to dress the part, wearing robes and garnering the attention and admiration of many, which leads to them being greeted well and being elevated when they are in the synagogue and banquets.  They love the attention their position earns them, but the reality is that they are empty inside and will be condemned, Jesus says, because their long prayers are only to impress others.  The widows who support them are losing their houses for the sake of the wealth of the scribes.
I can see them now, their mouths open to protest, shocked by the outward attack of Jesus.  Even though Jesus never shies from confronting others, this must have come as a surprise.  I can imagine their rage and desire to attack Jesus at that moment, but I would think they slunk away in shame, mumbling to themselves and one another about the nerve of Jesus and how they will win in the end.
Luke, Jesus didn’t come to placate those who oppose him, and he didn’t come to keep comfortable those who refuse to follow him.  He pushed on them out of love, but it wasn’t always easy to hear.  I admire his tenacity and passion, but I certainly see why many turned against him.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

4/25 E-News


Prospective Member Luncheon—Interested in joining New Hope? Want to learn more about being a member? On May 5, following worship, there will be a luncheon for all those interested in joining.

PotluckThis Sunday!

Service of Healing & Wholeness—This Sunday, 6:30. Come and let us pray for you, or come and pray for others.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
Plastic Spoons
Paper Napkins
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls

New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study 1 Timothy.

Men's BreakfastThis Saturday @ 8.

Laundry DetergentThe collection of detergent has resumed!

Pray For:

Christine Dyer

Connie Robinson

Colleen & Gary Smith

David Smith



Keith's Random Thoughts

Every morning I ask Caleb if he wants to go to daycare. His answer? An enthusiastic “NO!” We go anyway.

For starters, I don't think he fully understands the question. He loves daycare. Given the option, he might choose to be there all the time rather than home.

Secondly, I think he just likes using the word 'NO'. He's testing boundaries and declaring his independence.

Third, I don't believe the fully grasps the options. He could go to daycare, come to work with daddy or stay home by himself. Option #2 would be eternally frustrating for him, since he'd want to play and I need to work. Option #3 might get me in some hot water with the state of Tennessee, if Rachel didn't get to me first. There is no option #4, which is to stay home and play with Daddy all day.

So I take him to daycare. I hate dropping him off, but it's necessary in this chapter of our lives.

I think God works on the same level in relation to us as I do to Caleb.

I believe that God sees a lot bigger picture, one that includes a lot of variables that my mind can't grasp and that I can't fully understand. I like to believe that I know everything, but the reality is that I don't fully know how everything in this crazy world works together. God does, thankfully, but I don't, and so sometimes he just needs to haul me up by my armpits and carry me somewhere else, even though I may be kicking and screaming. God does things that I don't understand, and just because they upset me doesn't mean that it's not the best for me. God moves me around and speaks in different ways, and perhaps some day I will understand. Right now I complain an awful lot, but I trust in God.

I trust that one day I'll understand why I've been sick for 6 months. I trust that someday I'll understand why people I love get sick and die. I trust that someday I'll look down at the world and see why God allows bad things to happen even though he has the power to stop them. I trust that someday I'll see how everything is working together for good, even though sometimes it just seems like the night grows denser and the forest grows thicker and the light grows dimmer.

I trust God. I often sin, falling short and defying him, crying out 'NO' enthusiastically through my words or my actions, but I trust that my heavenly Father loves me and makes decisions that are for the best. I trust God, and I pray for the courage to live that out in everything I do and everything I am.

Text for this Sunday
Mark 6:45-52

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

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Luke 20:20-26

Dear Theophilus,
I appreciate your passion for the message, but it’s just so hard for those of us on the outside to see Jesus and recognize him as the Son of God.  First of all, I struggle to even believe in God—and when I can wrap my mind around the concept of an other-worldly being that exists high in the heavens above and has made the earth and all that is in it, it’s even harder to understand how and why he would come to earth.  Why would he want anything to do with us, especially since we all seem to have a different idea of who he is?  People in this town worship all sorts of gods, and I suppose it’s possible that they’re all symbols of the same god, but they worship him in such different ways that it’s much easier for me to view them as all having been made up on the spot. 
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I understand how upset the Pharisees would be at Jesus’ challenge of their position in the world.  If I were one of the Pharisees, I’d wonder just who Jesus was to be saying and doing such things.  I know he had done all sorts of miracles as proof of his identity, and so often I’m ready to believe in his miraculous identity, but it’s such a big leap from that precipice into the lifestyle of laying everything down and worshipping him, being willing to give up positions of comfort and power.  Maybe it’s all true, Theophilus, but if it’s not, then you’re giving up everything for nothing.
So I guess I don’t always blame the Pharisees for trying to trap Jesus.  Having him arrested seems extreme to me, but I can understand why they want to discredit him.  In this case, the Pharisees recruited several outsiders to approach Jesus and seem like innocent inquisitors.  The Pharisees were hoping his answer would lead to his arrest, but they weren’t counting on Jesus’ ability to squirm his way out of every trap that is laid for him.
These spies started with flattery, declaring their confidence in his proper teachings and his authority in teaching the truth of God for everyone.  They then moved on to the trap—they asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes or not.  For most of us, this would be a tough question to answer in front of the Jews in Jerusalem.  Telling them not to pay taxes would be a slight to the Roman empire, who would probably then view him as an insurrectionist.  Telling them to pay taxes, however, might turn some of the people against him, for they dislike having the Romans in charge.  So we might say that Jesus was in a tight spot.
Jesus, however, recognized the trap for what it was, and he wasn’t about to be taken down by such an easy question.  He asked them to show him a denarius, a Roman coin, and asked whose head was on the coin.  The spies replied that the emperor’s head and name were on the coin.
Jesus then replied, with tact and ease, that they should give the emperor what belonged to the emperor, and that God should receive the things that belong to God. 
The spies must have been shocked at the way Jesus answered them, for they were able to say nothing.  Their trap had failed, and they were left in awe of the way that Jesus responded.
Theophilus, I’m impressed by Jesus.  He’s clearly a step ahead of everyone else.  But I’m not sure that makes him worthy of worship in my book.  I want to see him as more than just a man, but I’ve felt that about other people in my life, too—I want them so badly to be something that they are not, and when I discover that they are simply human I leave disappointed.  I don’t want the same disappointment with Jesus, and so I am not ready to elevate him to a position of honor beyond what I think he deserves.  Is he God?  I don’t know, Theophilus, I just don’t know.  Maybe he is, and maybe it’s all just a fairy-tale, too good to be true, but too captivating for me to want to discover that it’s all false before it ends.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Luke 20:1-19

Dear Luke,
It is not my patience and understanding that you need!  You are welcome to whatever amounts of it I have, but I cannot make any assurances on behalf of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  He has promised love and mercy, but he has also promised to judge those who do not follow him.  I can only encourage you to decide, to set aside your desire to know everything and choose to follow him, trusting that you know enough and that the rest will be revealed to you in God’s time.  We do not need to be perfect—I will not claim that I could have stood confidently by Jesus’ side as the Pharisees and Chief Priests closed in around him, although I, too, definitely would have joined in the praise songs of him as he entered Jerusalem.  What we might have done back then does not matter, friend—what matters is what we choose to do today. 
The Chief Priests and Scribes wanted proof, too, although they had an ulterior motive.  One day, as Jesus was teaching in the temple, the same temple where he drove out those doing business, these leaders came and asked who gave him the authority to say and do the things he was doing.  They wanted to hear him commit blasphemy so they could condemn him to death, but I think they also wanted to know everything.  We all want this—but in faith, we have to accept that we’ll never know everything. 
Jesus, however, opted not to step into their trap.  He could have said that he had authority from God, but they would have then charged him and killed him before anyone else could grasp what had happened, but Jesus decided to ask them whether John the Baptist’s baptism was from heaven or humans?
It’s a tricky question, and the leaders knew it.  They knew that if they answered that it was human, the people would turn on the religious leaders, because the people believed that John the Baptist was a prophet.  They also knew that if they said it was of heavenly origin, Jesus would ask them why they didn’t believe John.  They realized they were stuck, and so they answered that they did not know.  Jesus, in turn, refused to answer their question as well.  Surely they went away frustrated by the way Jesus had evaded their well-thought out trap.
Jesus knew that the Pharisees rejected Jesus Christ’s identity as the Messiah.  Jesus challenged their societal power they had accumulated.  They desired to remain comfortably in power while Jesus challenged them to reinvigorate their faith, to hand their lives over to God.  The faith of the Pharisees had died long ago—they were using their religious role to hold onto earthly power and honor.  Their hearts had been removed from their religious roles, and Jesus challenged them to come back to God.  To this end, he told yet another parable in the hopes of helping them see the error of their ways.
This story revolves around a vineyard that was leased to some tenants.  Immediately upon successfully leasing it, the owner left the country for some time.  He did, however, keep track of the schedule, and when time came for the vineyard to produce its profit, the original owner sent a slave so that he might collect his share. 
The tenants, rather than receiving the slave with gratitude toward the one who owned the vineyard and was leasing it to them, rejected the slave, beating him and sending him back to the owner.  Two more slaves suffered this same fate, causing the owner much consternation.  Attempting to believe the best about the tenants and ready to give them yet another chance, he sent his own son in the hopes that they would pay him the respect he deserves.
The tenants, however, saw this as a chance to take for themselves what did not rightly belong to them.  They believed that killing the son would allow them to squeeze their way into the inheritance of the father, taking by force what was not theirs to take.  When the son came, their hatred for the landowner was on full display when they took the life of his son.
Jesus concludes the story with the truth that when the owner returns, surely filled with rage and anger at the tenants for their abuse of his slaves and the death of his son, the tenants will not find their way into inheritance but will rather be destroyed so that the owner may lease the vineyard to new tenants.
The Pharisees, probably shocked at the actions of the tenants but yet to see how Jesus is linking the tenants to them, gasped, “Heaven forbid.”
Jesus, wanting to make sure the point hit home, looked them in the eye when he asked them what the Old Testament verse means that says that the cornerstone of the building is the one that the builders have rejected.  He goes on to remind them that the cornerstone will destroy those upon whom it falls, while breaking those who fall on it. 
The minds of the chief priests and scribes snapped open and they saw that this horrific story was told about them.  In a fury, they wanted to seize him right then, but the fear of the crowds’ love of Jesus kept them from doing so.
Luke, the story of Jesus hints at the fact that many of the Old Testament prophets were ignored when they warned the people to turn back to God, to pay tribute to his love and generosity with their lives.  The people didn’t listen, rejecting the message of the prophets and continuing to live as though they were their own masters.  In Jesus, God has sent his own Son, expecting that the tenants, those whom God has blessed and put in charge, would listen to him.  Instead, they hated Jesus and sought to control the vineyard for themselves, to take by force what was not theirs to take.  Jesus is threatening that they will lose everything if they don’t submit to him, and yet they continue to live in arrogance, believing that they are their own masters. 
They will see the error of their ways in time, I believe, but in the present they are so blinded by their heartfelt animosity toward Christ.  Jesus’ challenges of their way of life hit so close to home they become defensive and refuse to change.
Each person who comes to Jesus has to be willing to lay it all down before him and let him be Lord of all.  We can’t continue to be our own masters, to forget about the owner of the vineyard, the one who rules our lives.  We owe everything to him, and he expects us to live with gratitude toward him.  When we reject his rule in our lives, we are rejecting him. 
I hope this is clear, Luke, and I hope you, too, do not become defensive, but let it be a message by which you examine yourself.  I continue to look back at my own life, to see how I might be rejecting God’s messengers, so that I might change my own ways band become more faithful.  May we all rise to this challenge.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Luke 19:45-48

Dear Theophilus,
Chilling words, my friend.  Each time I read them my pulse quickens and my brow sweats, for I fear such destruction coming my way.  I fear it for myself, for my family, that our own house might be a place that God looks upon with sorrow rather than pride.  We’ve lived a good life, but you have told us that is not enough.  I don’t want to be found wanting, to be left out for destruction, to be found opposing the work of God.  It chills me.
I imagine I could have joined that procession of Jesus into the city.  I could see myself hearing the roar of a crowd and joining in with their songs, praising God even if I did not have complete knowledge of God.  Everyone loves joyous atmospheres like that!  If talk turned to crucifixion and death, as you have indicated, I do not know that I would stick around for the conclusion of that story.  If armies come to destroy him, I probably would not linger in the shadows but flee for my safety.  Does that make me a coward, Theophilus?  Or a practical man?  And what might Jesus think of me? 
Strange how deeply I am affected by the thought of the judgment of a man whose power I often question in my heart.  I do not doubt the reality of his life here on earth, and yet the reality of his celestial power and reign is a question to which I have no answer.  Perhaps this fear is a hint in which direction this search should lead my heart, or perhaps it is just an example of how easily we get caught up in this grand story.  While I shall know the truth for certain one day, I would like to know if I stand in error beforehand, that the truth may arrive as a comfort rather than a cold, dark wind that leads me to a place of regret and pain.
While I seem to place a sense of urgency on myself, I pick one up from Jesus as well.  Once he had entered Jerusalem, he put on a scene that certainly caused much consternation among the local leaders as well as casual observers.  Perhaps it was carefully orchestrated to drive more individuals off the fence and into a decision.  Whatever its motive, it certainly left a lasting impression on all who witnessed it.
When Jesus entered the temple, he confronted those who had tables set up to sell things there.  It was common to partake in trade in the temple, but Jesus had no patience for those engaged in it, driving out all who were engaged in buying and selling, reminding them of a verse from long ago that said that the temple shall exist for prayer, not to be used as a den of robbers. 
Strong words from Jesus, and the news of him driving out of those conducting business would have spread like wildfire throughout the city and the religious community.  The scribes and chief priests were furious, searching for any reason they could find to have him killed, but they feared the crowds, who followed him en masse and hung on every word of his teachings.  He continued to teach in the temple, bold in the face of those who opposed him, conveying his message to those who gathered.  I don’t have record of what he taught, but I’m sure he used stories and direct messages to speak directly to their hearts.  I’ve read and related enough of these tales to know how effective they are, and I also know how stubborn the hearer can be!  I hold back, and I’m sure many of them did, too, out of fear or comfort or uncertainty.  Jesus would have pleaded for them to choose, but they waited, as I wait, for some confirmation.
So I am no different, friend, than those who gathered years ago.  I hear the stories and marvel at the scene, and yet commitment is such a struggle.  I know you offer words of encouragement, and I ask for your patience and understanding.

Monday, April 22, 2013

More Like Jesus: Involved with the world (Sermon for 4/21/13)

John 2:1-11
The Wedding at Cana 

  On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.
  He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.



You all have probably figured out by now that I love food. Also, I'm pretty susceptible to food advertising. If a commercial for food comes on tv, I'm hungry. It doesn't matter too much what I've just eaten—I'll be hungry. You could take me over to Ruth's Chris Steak House, feed me the finest steak they have along with all the fixins to the point that I can scarcely stand up, take me home, put me in front of a television, and if a commercial for Long John Silvers comes up and they advertise those square fish sandwiches, and it sounds good. This doesn't make sense, but I'm just saying that there is a direct link between what I see on tv and the sensation of hunger.
Now, as you probably know, food advertisers have a few tricks up their sleeve. Have you ever wondered why cereal never looks soggy when it's in milk on a tv commercial? That's because they don't actually use milk. That white stuff? It's glue.
Or perhaps you've wondered why the syrup on the pancakes in a Denny's ad never actually soaks into the pancakes. Well, wonder no more—they cover the pancakes with fabric protection. Oh, and they use motor oil rather than syrup.
And the steak that always looks perfectly cooked on the outside, yet rare on the inside, the look that you can never quite duplicate? Well, it'd be hard to do so, unless you use raw meat, because cooking tends to make the meat shrink and dry up. The brown covering is probably shoe polish.
All these tricks explain what happens when you go to the restaurant. You order something off the menu that looks scrumptious. You can't wait to dive in, except that, by the time you get your food, it looks markedly different than the picture on the menu.
In a way you're glad about this, because you're not too interested in eating something that's been produced with motor oil and shoe polish.
But part of you feels that you got something very, very meager. I don't know how many times I've ordered something from Chik-fil-A (yes, I realize how dangerous it is to criticize Chik-fil-A in the South) and expected it to look like the picture on the menu. When I open the carton, it's usually a sad looking bun with a piece of charbroiled chicken inside it that looks like it's been passed around the back a few times, and the pickle is typically hanging on for dear life. It just feels meager, like a sad representation of what I wanted, and I'm disappointed. I expected more.

Do you ever feel that way about your life? Did you rush forward into something with great expectations, with wild dreams, and then you got a few years down the road and you began to wonder what happened? Have you ever looked around at things and wondered if someone sold you a false bill of goods? Have you accumulated everything they told you to get and yet you still feel somewhat empty on the inside? Maybe you've made it to a point where you just feel like what you're getting out of life seems somewhat meager compared to everyone else. There's a new phenemenon that is being experienced by millions of people around the world—it's called the fear of missing out. People who were once happy with their lives are now connected with so many people through the internet that they're spending time comparing themselves to others. And the other to whom they compare themselves only post the best things about their lives, and since you don't know them well enough or talk to them often enough to know that their kids are actually driving them crazy and they can't find anyone to take their new puppy and the washer and dryer both exploded at once, you start to think that everyone in the world has a better life and takes better vacations and has perfect children, and suddenly your life feels meager. You compare yourself to everyone else, or to everyone else's best, and you feel like you come up short. You had great expectations, but you fall short.

Sometimes, if we're not careful, we construct an image of God that falls short and feels meager, too. What happens is we allow our image of God to be constructed by the voices that speak the loudest rather than finding it in Scripture, and we find ourselves thinking of God as an angry, judgmental father who is constantly on the warpath and in search of any possible reason to sentence you to an eternal destiny of suffering and pain far from him. We start thinking of God as a rules-oriented teacher who will slap the back of your hand with the proverbial ruler the second you get out of line, but if you're good enough you get to go to heaven and fly around with dainty little wings and play a harp in a Thomas Kinkade painting.

In the face of life, that image of God seems pretty meager, doesn't it?

Because what could a God like that say to a country in need of answers in the face of evil exploding bombs near the finish line of a marathon, killing an 8 year old little boy who, had he stayed hugging his father rather than running back to be with his mother, would have lived? If our image of God is meager, than we have no hope of holding onto answers in the face of tragedies that cause us to lift our eyes to the hills, from whence our help should be coming, but if we live in expectation of judgment, help in the face of personal pain and tragedy, in the face of a nation's mourning, isn't coming.

That's why we need to understand who Jesus Christ is, because Colossians tells us that Christ is the image of the invisible God. What this means is that to understand Jesus Christ means that we understand God—to know Christ fully is to know God fully.

This sermon series is all about getting to know Jesus Christ and his personality better. Each Sunday that we explore a different side of Jesus, we get to know God a little better. So today, we're talking about the wedding feast at Cana, the scene at which Jesus turns water into wine. You might not think this has much to teach us about the character of God. Hopefully, in a few minutes you will see differently!

John's Gospel is different than the other three Gospels. The other three are very similar in nature, style and tone, and many of the stories overlap. John's Gospel, however, presents us with a much more spiritualized Jesus, a Jesus who clearly states who he is and what his mission is. Also, John only includes seven miracles. If you're counting to double check me, make sure you don't count the resurrection. You'll end up with 8 and then find yourself debating whether walking on water is a miracle or not. It is, but for some reason they don't count the resurrection. Apparently, it's complicated.
Anyway, John only lists 7 miracles, so each one takes on a level of extra importance. Also, this one is first. It's his first public miracle, and his ministry has barely begun. He's called some disciples, but there isn't much of a public following yet. Until now...

All of this is rather curious. From what we first think of when we think about Jesus, we'd imagine that John would want to emphasize a healing, or perhaps a dramatic deliverance from demons, or the resurrection of Lazarus. We'd imagine that's what he would want people to know first about Jesus. Instead, we find Jesus at the home of some wealthy people giving them more booze. They could have sent for more wine, right? They could have afforded it. This is a luxury, not a need—no one's life suffers because they don't have any wine. And Jesus gives them more wine than any wedding party could have consumed in a whole week (which is about how long one of these weddings lasted) —roughly 150 gallons of it. What's that about?

Well, there's one word that is a key to all of this: abundance. In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that he has come to have abundant life, and this passage is the proof to all of this. Honestly, I also believe that this passage also gives us insight that helps us answer so many of our other questions.

See, Jesus didn't come just to give us a life that would barely meet our deepest needs, give us what we need to scratch out an existence, and helping us limp across the barrier into eternal life. Jesus has come to give us abundant lives, above and beyond what we think we need, above and beyond what we deserve. Jesus comes to give us abundance, and so it's no surprise that we find Jesus at the home of wealthy people in the midst of a party—Jesus calls us to enjoy life and the gifts he has given us.

Think about the scenes of Jesus that have been painted throughout history. Often we get the meek and mild Jesus or the broken and hurting Jesus, and sympathetic Jesus is often included as well. And these are all important sides of Jesus—but so is the part that sits down at the party and enjoys life, the side of Jesus that gives far more than we can imagine—this is superabundance, and it's not the only time. Three of the 7 miracles deal in this idea of superabundance—here, when Jesus feeds 5,000 and has 12 baskets left over, and after the resurrection, when the disciples haven't caught a fish all night and end up with enough to tear the nets after following the commands of Jesus. Jesus gives us impossibly more than we can imagine, and it's all a gift, a free gift.

So we, then, are called to enjoy this life. We're called to recognize the abundance God gives us and enjoy this gift. Life surrounds us—the beauty of God's creation, the gift of community, of the people, friends and family, that surround us, the gift of life itself. We're called to enjoy it, to enjoy loud dinner parties and exciting baseball games, to give thanks and laugh and sing and rejoice at all God gives us. We don't have to sit like Puritans and be afraid of laughter—we're called to be a people who enjoy God's abundance that he lavishly has poured out on us.

And what then, of the tragedies? How does a wedding feast respond to those? What this wedding feast tells me is that Jesus cares about our everyday lives. It matters. If Jesus cares enough about a lack of wine at a wedding of wealthy people, how much more is he going to care when we're hurting? How much more will it matter when Jesus sees one of his children hurt, weeping and mourning? How much more will Jesus join us in our slow walk through the darkest valleys of life? Rather than picture Jesus as merely our ticket into eternal life, we can view Jesus as the Savior who claims all of our life and wants us to live it abundantly. Everyday life matters to God.

The best part about this text? Jesus saves the best for last. The guests at the wedding have been drinking wine the whole time. Now that Jesus has performed this miracle, the wine merely gets better, improving markedly.

The same is true of our life with Christ. Our entire lives, we are drinking wine. We can live sacramentally, enjoying God's gifts and rejoicing in his love. We can love with reckless abandon and give freely out of a deep gratitude for all we have been given, knowing that we cannot out-give God. And upon our deaths, we then taste the best wine that Christ gives—we enter into the banquet feast that marks the fullness of the Kingdom of God. We pass through the valley of the shadow of death and can exclaim, along with the chief steward, that while the promises of the world give us the best first and cannot fulfill that promise later, the King of Kings gives us abundance in our lives, and then saves the best for last, for our eternal home.

Let us pray

Friday, April 19, 2013

Luke 19:28-44

Dear Luke,
I think I can explain such a story.  It is odd, I will agree, but I think there are some helpful things buried among the interactions.  I agree with your conclusions about the king and the length of time he would have been gone for such a journey.  I believe this is Jesus trying to teach the people that he may not return for a long time, longer than they suspect.  For those of us who are constantly on watch for the imminent return of Jesus, this story is a good guard against getting too caught up in this.  Jesus is telling us to get on with life, with business, in the meantime.  I think the word about the delegation to oppose the king’s rule is probably a harsh word against the Pharisees and others who fear God’s rule over their lives.
As for the interaction with the slaves, I’d suggest that Jesus is teaching us to invest ourselves well in life, in the business of the world, before he returns.  God has given us each gifts to use, and we can’t spend our lives sitting on our hands waiting for Jesus’ return.  If we do, we’ll miss out on life and the opportunities God has set before us.  When Jesus returns, he’ll want to know about the result of our labors and how well we used our gifts.  If all we have to offer is that we haven’t lost our gifts out of fear of using them, I believe Jesus will be upset.  For those who have used their gifts well, however, there will be more rewards than they could ever expect, while those who have nothing to show will lose everything.  As for those unfortunate souls who actively opposed the rule of God, I do believe that there will be destruction for them.  I’m not going to spend my time contemplating the type of destruction and who exactly will be on that list, for I trust that knowledge to God, but I think it would be wise to avoid opposing God’s rule in anything.  God always wins, Luke.
Jesus is teaching all these things on the way to Jerusalem, trying to get the people a few last lessons before this hectic final week of his life begins.  It’s still amazing for me to think about the fact that he was teaching all of this in the shadow of his own death.  I know we haven’t talked about this yet, but it’s drawing near and is no longer an avoidable topic.  We have come to the place in the story where Jesus enters Jerusalem to the adoration of the crowd, but he will soon leave the city carrying a cross upon his shoulder.  We still have a way to travel before we reach that point of the story, but it looms large over the remaining section of the story.  It still brings tears to my eyes to think about, and yet I am continually amazed at the courage and strength Jesus showed to live this final week of his life knowing what would occur by the end of it.  I would have been quaking in fear and unable to move if I were in his shoes, and yet he’s busy teaching and leading the people.  My admiration for the man grows daily.
As the cross loomed large in the distance, Jerusalem drew even closer.  At Bethpage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus had several disciples go into the next village and find an unridden colt.  It helps to understand that this refers to an Old Testament prophecy, fulfilling yet another prediction about the Messiah.  Jesus told them that if anyone inquired as to their purpose while they were untying the colt to bring it to him, they were to reply simply that the Lord had need of it. 
When the colt was brought before Jesus, some placed their cloaks upon it as a pad, and Jesus sat upon it.  Amazingly, others came along and spread their cloaks on the road for the colt to trod upon as Jesus rode.  Jesus was about to descend from the Mount of Olives, and by this time there was a crowd of disciples surrounding him, praising God for all the signs of power they had seen Jesus perform.  There was joy in the air as they sang with one voice, crying out to Jesus.  They sang:  the king is blessed, because he comes in the name of the Lord.  May heaven be filled with peace and glory!
The Pharisees, ever eager to spoil a crowd that would be praising Jesus, cried out for Jesus to have his disciples cease this show, but Jesus told them that such a thing was not possible, for if the people stopped praising God, the rest of creation, even the rocks, would pick up the hymn.
I’m sure this angered the Pharisees, compounding their anger at seeing this large crowd praise Jesus.  Many of them had probably harbored the hope that Jesus would fade from the public eye, hoping someone else would steal their fickly attention.  Instead, the wave of attention and adoration only gathered steam, growing larger and more public.  They continued to oppose Jesus, but surely they understood that it would take far more drastic measures now that Jesus was involved in such open displays of his power and influence.  I cannot even imagine the hate that was spewed in the shadowy conversations of the Pharisees as they plotted the demise of Jesus.
Jesus, however, had bigger things on his mind than the opposition of the Pharisees.  Seeing Jerusalem, he openly wept, sad that the city had not chosen the way of peace, instead opting for another way.  The city, Jesus said, was so far from peace that it couldn’t even see the proper way, and soon Jerusalem’s enemies will surround the city and crush the inhabitants as well as the city itself.  There won’t be a stone left resting upon another because the city blinded itself to the presence of God within its walls. 
Luke, you can almost hear the sorrow of Jesus for the city of Jerusalem.  The city was so busy, so caught up in itself and unable or unwilling to see God in their midst, that it would be destroyed.  I can’t interpret exactly what this means, whether it means physical or spiritual destruction, but I will say that it is a terrifying though, to imagine the city of Jerusalem leveled flat, without a single stone tower left.  Perhaps if they realized the consequences of their choices, the people would have gone an alternative way, but Jesus spent his life trying to show them another way, and while many listened for a moment, few were wise enough to let God transform them. 
I pray for you, Luke, and for all who hear these words, that they take them seriously and let God lead them to a place of faith, to a place of change, that their future may be one of hope rather than fear, of joy rather than despair, of love rather than indifference.  Jesus came to show us another way, and that is the way that leads to life.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

4/18 E-Newsletter


Prospective Member LuncheonInterested in joining New Hope? Want to learn more about being a member? On May 5, following worship, there will be a luncheon for all those interested in joining.

Family Promise Picnic—On Saturday, April 27, New Hope will present the families at Family Promise with a picnic luncheon. If you're interested in being part of this, please reply and let me know.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them in the grocery cart.
8 oz. Styrofoam bowls

New Hope News

Sunday School—This Sunday, the adult class will study 2 Thessalonians.

Session Meeting—Sunday, April 21 @ 12:15.

Pray For:

Christine Dyer

Connie Robinson

Colleen & Gary Smith

David Smith

When God is your therapist (H/T to Troy for this)

Keith's Random Thoughts

Blasts in Boston. Blasts in Texas. Blasts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria... Too many explosions. Too many lives shattered by concusive force, too many hearts torn apart, rendered incomplete, by shrapnel and debris sent flying through the air. Too much violence.

This world is a broken place. Sin and death abound, and our head spins to try and keep track of the places around the globe that are torn asunder by tragedy. Each and every person caught up has family, and those families are never the same. Parents weep for children, children weep for parents, and the world grieves as human life is lost, and we are never the same.

I watch Caleb as he runs around the house, gleefully chasing the cats and genuinely believing that having a toy taken away is the single worst thing in the world, and I hope and pray that I can teach him that the world is a good place, a safe place, filled with good people. I know that this image will one day be shattered like the cheering at the finish line of the Boston marathon, but I want him to see the good in people, in the world. I want him to see the evil and brokenness of the world overwhelmed by the goodness and the love of those who rush to help, to serve, to love, to heal, to console. I want him to see his brothers and sisters in this world as people who can be depended upon to help one another wander this walk of life.

Life is broken. It's no more broken now than it was when Cain usurped God's authority and took the life of his brother Abel. It's no more broken than when David broke relationships and had lives discarded in his pursuit of Bathsheba. It's no more broken than the day Herod had infant boys put to death out of fear of a new king.

The difference is that now we know the one fact that changes everything: love wins. In Romans, Paul writes that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The images of Revelation are clear pictures of a God who has the power to destroy sin and death. We know that God reigns forever in peace and in life, and he invites us into his Kingdom of life.

And so we stare into the brokenness of life, and while we endeavor to invest our lives in picking up the pieces of our own lives as well as the lives of those around us, whether they are shattered by violence or have fallen apart due to neglect, we also trust that God knows where all the pieces go and has the power to reassemble them into a mosaic more beautiful than we can picture. In the brightness of the light it will shine anew, and we will recognize how sad the powers of darkness look in comparison to the piercing intensity of Christ's light. In that moment, when we are renewed and made whole, we will recognize what true love is.

Until then, may our own lives be images of that love, and may we share it with our brothers and sisters who are in desperate need of our assistance.

Text for this Sunday
John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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Luke 19:11-27

Dear Theophilus,
What a marvelous story of transformation.  My mind’s eye pictures Zacchaeus clinging to that tree in the hopes of seeing Jesus, then almost falling out when Jesus stops and stares directly at him!  What a picture that would be! 
I did not miss your point at the end about God doing miracles in all of our lives.  I know that you intend for me to climb a tree of my own, that I might see God drawing near and recognize the things God has done for me.  The problem is, Theophilus, that I am struggling to see Jesus reaching out to me.  I cry out into the silence for God to reveal things to me as clearly as he did to Zacchaeus, but silence only answers my cries, and I wonder if it’s all too good to be true, a story so wonderful that truth could never be behind it.  I want to believe it, but I can’t help but think that it’s just a figment of a man’s imagination, sold to an adoring crowd, that has taken on a life of its own.  How could all this be true?  And if so, why is it so hard to see and understand today?  Am I doing something wrong?  Or perhaps you are the one that is wrong?  I don’t mean to attack you, good and faithful friend, but I wonder sometimes if you want it to be true so badly that you see past the impossibilities of it all.  I would have no problem acknowledging my error if it were revealed clearly to me by God that I was wrong, but God seems silent in these parts, and there seems to be no hurry on his part to address my concerns.
I am not giving up until we reach the end, I can assure you of that, and I won’t give up on the possibility of God, for my curiosity compels me forward.  I will hold onto the hope of God’s dramatic revelation in my own life, but until then I remain somewhat skeptical of the truth of it all, yet still captured by how compelling this story is. 
As the crowd was still responding with wonder to the miracle that had fallen upon the house of Zacchaeus, Jesus went on to tell yet another story to keep their attention focused on God’s kingdom, to continue pushing them to understand more about this kingdom.  As one who doesn’t fully understand all of this, I would be grateful for this further explanation, except I’m not sure I find the story very satisfactory in helping me see more clearly!  They continued to draw near to Jerusalem, and many in the crowd expected the kingdom to begin very soon, as though Jesus might conquer the city the closer he came to it.  I think Jesus was trying to teach them that it would be a while before such a thing took place, as we can clearly see, since we still wait for such dramatic actions today. 
Here is the story.  Curiously, there was a nobleman who opted to visit a far-off country in the hopes of receiving royal power.  Before leaving, he distributed ten pounds evenly among his ten slaves, commanding them to use their pound to do business and trade until he returned.  I do not believe this nobleman was widely admired, for those within the country tried to prevent the distant country from granting him royal power by sending a delegation, but I think we can all agree that the will of the commoners is often disregarded when it comes to leadership and power! 
The nobleman, now a king, returned from his successful venture, and upon doing so he had his slaves brought forth to determine the results of their business while he was away.  The first slave came forward with the positive news that the one pound had been used to make ten more pounds! The king  was quite pleased with the slave’s result, and he told the slave that since he had been so faithful in this small deed, he was going to be placed in charge of ten cities! 
Yet another slave came forward and reported that the one pound had been used to make five more pounds.  The king was still pleased with this result, offering the slave five cities over which he could rule. 
A third slave came forward and offered the king nothing but the original pound.  He confessed that fear of the king, who harshly benefits from the work of others, drove him to enclose it safely in cloth and not use it in business. 
The slave’s fear was realized when the king answered with wrath in his voice, informing the slave that he would be judged just as he expected to be judged.  The king asked the slave why he had been so passive if he knew that the king was a harsh man who benefited from the work of others.  He suggested that the slave could have at least left the money in the bank, where it might have earned interest. 
To those standing by, the king ordered them to take the one pound from this slave and give it to the first slave who had made ten pounds.  They openly wondered why, when this slave already had ten pounds, but the king cut them off by saying that those who have will receive more, while everything will be taken from those without.  Also, the king concluded by commanding all of those who had sent the delegation seeking to prevent his kingship to be brought before him, that they might be killed before the king’s eyes.
At best, I would describe this story as odd.  At worst, I would say it is cruel and punishing.  To be honest, Theophilus, I lean toward the latter.  I want to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t see a lot of redeeming qualities in this story, and it certainly doesn’t do much to help me understand God’s kingdom.  I’m sure that it was a long and arduous journey for the nobleman to be granted the power to be a king, and he obviously is very angry at those who oppose his rule, but please explain to me the interactions with the slaves, for that is a mystery to this man.