Written by Allison Gardner - Heartland Church - Fort Wayne, IN
Photo Credit: Samuel Martins, Unsplash
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told the parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV Life Application Study Bible).
Both the Pharisee and the tax collector had arrived at the temple with the intent of praying. Only one left justified before God. As the Pharisee entered the temple, he stood proudly, I imagine, praying about himself. His prayer zoomed in on his own goodness and on how righteous he was in his own sight. Thank God, he had never taken that which was not his, and he wasn’t as evil, selfish, and corrupt as the others gathered to pray. What a relief!
The heart of the Pharisee resounds loudly as he prattles on about himself, announcing that he has followed all the laws for fasting and tithing. In all fairness, the Pharisee seems like an outstanding Jewish citizen, who follows the letter of the law. What then is the disconnect keeping him from being justified before God?
It doesn’t take long to look around and find someone who is “worse” than you. Someone who would speak in such a way or commit such a horrible act that you can’t help but think,”I would never, ever do that.” With ease, we can settle our own sins in our mind. We are, after all, not as bad as the murderer, the thief, and the adulterer. How this pride must hurt the heart of God! When we see our own selves as fully righteous because of our “goodness,” we are quick to find others lacking, and it seems our own need for a savior outside of ourselves dissipates.
Then, the tax collector approaches, but in his shame, hesitates. He is not here to publicly announce his own righteousness but instead to meet with God and ask for His mercy. I imagine the weight of his sin is heavy, too much for a man to bear. He cannot even begin to lift his tear-stained face towards heaven but instead, beats his chest in agony over the sins he has committed. Perhaps he was raised in the faith and had lost his way, seeking the glory of worldly riches. Maybe his life was a collection of bad decisions, one right after the other. His prayer, however, is a guttural cry to God. He only asks that God would have mercy on him, a sinner. It is in his heart-broken and humble cry for mercy that God justifies him and forgives him of his sin.
When was the last time you felt the weight of your sin – no matter how big or small? Have you experienced a true repentance and change of heart, grieving your sin and begging for the mercy of God? We are all sinners, and our sin, no matter how big or how small, separates us from God. May we be fully aware of that separation and long to approach the throne of grace, with a truly humble heart, and maybe even a tear-stained face. There before the Father, may our hearts cry out for mercy so that the true and only Righteousness of Christ can cover our sins. Then, we, too, can return home justified before God.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.
Written by Fr. Dale Minor - Reclaim Ministry - Rutland, OH
A person doesn’t have to look hard to find signs that the gardening season is upon us. In our region, the ground is being prepared and a few anxious folks may be challenging the weather as they put seed in the ground while the frost-free date is still about 3 weeks away. Spring always brings out the gardening urge in most folks, whether it be a few potted plants, a backyard garden plot, a neighborhood garden, or a full fledged farm. We have this pull to till the soil and tend the plants and trees because we were created with this drive within us.
In Genesis chapters one and two we can read the story of creation, the basics of which are familiar to most everyone, believer and nonbeliever alike. “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Gen 2:8-9) But the Lord God designed His garden with the further purpose of providing work for the man. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to tend and keep it,” (Gen 2:15) To tend and keep means that the garden would need man’s help and the man would need the garden, not only to provide a ready food supply, but to add to the purpose of His life.
Earlier in chapter 1, the first account of creation, “Then God blessed them and God said to them,” (the man and the woman He had just created), “Be fruitful, and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28)
Not only had God created a pleasing environment, and one which would provide food and work for the man, but it would be a blessing to them. And chief among these blessings is an enhanced awareness of who God is and all that He has provided. Plus, the process of growing things provides us with an appreciation for the truth, that our part in the process is very minor. Who put the desire in the seed to grow and reproduce? Who provided the nutrients in the soil to feed the plant? Who designed the process of germination which turns a flower into a fruit, or makes the seed edible. As St. Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:6)
At the same time, this work, any honorable work, provides purpose, even a sense of identity to mankind. When meeting someone for the first time, we don’t ask, “Who are you?” Instead we are more likely to say, “What do you do.” Probably no one would answer that question by saying, “Nothing, I do nothing.” There are several scriptures relating to our need to stay busy, often these will refer to the sluggard or those inclined toward sloth. But perhaps a couple non-Biblical sayings sum it up. “Idle hands are the devil’s playground,” (Ben Franklin) or “The devil finds work for idle hands,” (Henry David Thoreau) These are close to the same and echo the Lord’s warnings against idleness while adding explanation as to why God determined that man would need some worthy work to keep him going. And God chose a garden.
For sure, some work is toilsome. This itself is a consequence of the fall of man. “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread til you return to the ground,… " (Gen 3:19) But even the effects of this curse God placed upon man and upon the earth due to the sin of mankind, can be muted if we also remember these words from Colossians 3:23. “Whatever you do, do it heartedly as to the Lord and not to men. Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”
As in most activities, the attitude by which we approach our work greatly effects the outcome and our enjoyment of it. Much more can be said about this subject. But the Lord has given me a garden in which to live, and right now, it needs a bit of tending. I am blessed.
Written by Janet Mueller - Heartland Church - Fort Wayne, IN
Illustrated by Rhonda Logan Bailey
“Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:7 NIV
When I was laid up with a fractured wrist, there were some things I simply could not do. So I called a friend, who came and cleaned my house from top to bottom. This dear one brought more than her cleaning service — she brought joy. We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company. When she left, I had so much more than clean floors. I had a happy heart.
My friend has the gift of helps, that is, the gift of service. She is most satisfied and content when she is able to provide assistance to someone, often in practical ways. This spiritual gift is frequently thought of as ordinary, mundane, or even boring. However, the truth is those who are endowed with the gift of helps share in the work of the Holy Spirit, who is also known as The Helper. You are most like THE Helper when you are assisting someone else. This elevates the gift of helps to the divine status it holds.
Have you ever made a big mess of things and just needed help cleaning up? Or maybe everything in your life and home has become so confused and chaotic, you don’t know where to start. I sometimes picture Jesus as a janitor. I see Him pushing one of those big, long brooms down a stadium floor. First one way, then turn, and down the next. Repeating it over and over and picking up more and more trash and dirt as He goes. He gets the job done with a smile on His face.
Does comparing Jesus to a janitor seem irreverent to you? If so, why is that? Could it be that our view of His ministry is shaped more by our cultural idols than by the gospel of the humble servant? Could it be that we lack respect for the work of helpers or the ability to see their good work as an act of bearing the image of God?
We know Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, but we can hardly relate to that act of service today. Instead, let’s try imagining Him sweeping and mopping our floors, which typically are much dirtier than our shoe-clad feet.
Jesus is not too high and mighty to condescend to the role of a janitor. Even now, He is sweeping the streets through the wind, mopping up our messes with the rain, drying them through the warmth of the sun, and filling the foyers of the earth with air fresheners like evergreen forest and lilac blossoms. It gives Him pleasure to do so.
He will come to your aid as you clean up your mess and not shame you in the process. And His trusted helpers do the same. Don’t wait another day. Call Him and ask for help.