March 7 – Parables – Pharisee and Tax Collector

Read Luke 18:9-14

Our ears tend to perk up and we tend to lean in with greater interest when a teacher or author introduces an illustration or story. When it is used well, the illustration serves as a window that gives us greater insight into the point being made. It is like a handle that gives us a firmer grasp of the point.

Jesus was a master-teacher around whom thousands gathered. Still today, His parables allow us to more clearly identify spiritual and personal realities.

In today’s parable, we don’t have to struggle long to understand the point. The story targets people who felt like they were morally upright. And their high estimation of themselves causes them to be critical of others.

Before we dismiss that, we must recognize that such a tendency can creep into the life of anyone. If you, by God’s grace, do not struggle in a specific area, you can overlook the many other areas of weakness in your life. As a result, you not only elevate yourself but you also can’t understand how others might struggle.

To illustrate the point, then, Jesus told a story that revolves around two characters in the temple. Jesus assigned titles to them so that the people in his day would better understand. The Pharisee was the first. He was highly respected. His was a life governed by rules. By his rule keeping, it seemed that he had it all together. His imperfections were beneath the surface, hidden to others and, even, glossed over by himself.

Meanwhile, the tax collector was a virtual antithesis. His Scrooge-like, love of money and his deceptive ways of attaining it had earned him a place at the low end of public opinion. In fact, the Pharisees even lumped “tax collectors and sinners” into one camp of immoral undesirables.

But their respective prayers were key. The Pharisee pridefully lifted up a prayer of self-exaltation and superiority. Meanwhile, the tax collector pled humbly and repentantly for God’s mercy. Of course, it was the tax collector who went home justified.

Let’s face it…God’s opinion matters more than public opinion. The attitude of the heart is, at times, a better measure of reality than the appearance on the surface. Our Father values genuine humility over misguided exaltation.

Are there areas of your life where you have an inflated view of yourself? Do you find yourself looking down on others? Perhaps you should pray the tax collector’s prayer: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Steve Kern

March 6 – Parables – Persistent Widow

Read Luke 18:1-8

There has been a very specific prayer request on my heart for several months now. Have you ever prayed for something for so long that you begin to lose the desire to even lift it up to God? You are not alone. I understand what it’s like to come up on a perfect opportunity to talk with God about a specific request but fail to say a word because you’re just too weary. I am so thankful for the character of God, His Word, and the truth we discover in Luke 18:1-8 when it comes to praying to our Heavenly Father.

Luke 18:1-8 is the written account of Jesus telling His closest followers a story involving a judge and a widow who resided within the same town. Basically, the judge in the story is an unjust individual who does not respect God’s ways and does not care what anyone thinks of him. The widow in the story approaches the judge time after time, consistently requesting the same thing: for justice to be brought against her adversary. In the end, the judge gives her what she is asking for, solely because she won’t stop bugging him and repeatedly asking him.

After Jesus tells His disciples this story, He lets them in on an amazing truth about who God is! In verses 7 & 8, He says to the disciples, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” If this judge, who is unjust in character, is compelled by the persistence of the widow to deal justly with her, imagine how moved our God, who is upright in character, is to answer our prayers when we come to Him!

God doesn’t answer our prayers because He gets tired of hearing us ask; He answers our prayers because He hears us all of the time and that is who He is. He loves when we come to Him faithfully and persistently in prayer. He often won’t give us the answers we are expecting to receive. However, He can be trusted.

Keep praying and don’t give up!

Sidney Rupp

March 5 – Parables – Lost Sheep, Coin and Son

Read Luke 15:3-32

Have you ever lost something really important to you? Maybe it’s your wallet, phone, or even a relationship. I lose things all the time- especially my keys. Did you know that the average American spends around two and a half days per year looking for lost items? We care a lot about the items we spend time trying to find, and Jesus shows infinitely more love and care towards finding and helping people who are lost. He illustrates this through three parables.

The first parable is about a lost sheep. When a shepherd loses one of his sheep, he leaves the ninety-nine others to search for it (v. 4). When he finally finds his lost sheep, he rejoices and throws a party to celebrate its return (v. 5-6). This seems silly, right? He has ninety-nine others, why does just one sheep matter? The shepherd knew the lost sheep was in danger, so he went out to find it. Jesus explains, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (v. 7). We’re like the lost sheep in the story. God never stops pursuing us and, when we do return to Him, He celebrates!

Jesus uses a lost coin in his next parable. When a woman loses one of her ten silver coins, she searches carefully until she finds it. When she succeeds, she invites her friends over for a celebration (v. 8-9). Again, Jesus says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10).

In Jesus’ next parable, He tells of a son who leaves his father with his inheritance and then throws it all away by seeking fun and pleasure (v. 12-13). When hard times hit and the son’s money runs out, he doesn’t know what to do except return to his father and beg for a job as a servant. But when he reaches his father’s house, instead of the unforgiveness and malice he expected to receive, his father told the servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate” (v. 22-23). That’s exactly how God responds when we come back to Him. He celebrates when we come back home, no matter what we did when we were away.

Have you noticed the connection between these three parables? Jesus searches tirelessly for the lost. When they are found, He rejoices and forgives. How comforting is that? No matter what our past looks like, we can always return home to God. He loves us so much and will never stop pursuing us. Where will you go next time you feel unworthy of His love? He will always welcome you back home.

Grace Wasson

March 4 – Parables – The Great Banquet

Read Luke 14:16-24

Excuses. Sometimes I’m full of them. Even in writing this devotional I’ve been coming up with them left and right. I’ve been tired, working a lot, there was a family death, I don’t feel like writing…next thing I know, I’m staring at an unmet deadline.

God’s kingdom can seem far away and fade into the background of our daily lives that feel so urgent. It’s not hard to get lulled into the routines of busyness, work, and relationships.

It seems that’s what the first guest list to this party was experiencing. They were busy with work and managing their wealth. They were consumed with relationships. They weren’t needy. So, the master sent his servant to the suffering. To the ones who had little going their way. These invitees readily accepted the invitation and blazed through the door of this generous master.

I hate suffering. It has crashed into my life due to circumstances out of my control and admittedly, I’ve cracked the door open to it on more than one occasion. The thing I’ve learned from suffering is that I’m not as self-sufficient as I want to be and that this life isn’t as grand as I want it to be. Pain makes me look beyond myself for help and care. Suffering reveals my neediness. It makes me eager for a feast. Eager for belonging and fellowship with my Savior and His people. Eager for something better than my earthly life. Jesus talks about the ‘something better’ in Matt.19:29… “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.”

The offer for what lies ahead is one hundred times what we leave behind.

It takes faith to trust that what is ‘to come’ will far outweigh what is right in front of me. It takes faith to accept the invitation to follow Jesus into the unknown. I have the joy of telling you He’s worth following. He holds the abundant life we long for. He sees us and invites us when the world could care less about us. He offers us a place at His bountiful table even though we don’t have the right clothes, family history, wealth, manners, abilities, or morals. His grace-filled invitation is for all, if we will just say yes.

He’s done all the work. We are welcome at His feast. There is room for all. I can’t think of one valid excuse to say no.

Can you?

Spend some time in stillness and prayer and ask God to reveal the excuses you’ve been using to avoid deeper faith and surrender to Him. Tell Him you need Him. Ask Him to meet you there and give you the courage and strength to leave your excuses behind and trust Him for the abundant life He’s dreaming for you to live, now and forever.

Shelly Eberly

March 3 – Parables – Seat at the Table

Read Luke 14:7-11

Have you been inconvenienced lately? Silly question, I know! As soon as I wake up and begin my day, I don’t think about the fact that I will be inconvenienced. I also don’t think about the idea that I will inconvenience others! I wake up with a sense of clear direction and plans.

*Then I make that phone call regarding an unexpected bill from a company we no longer use. Twenty minutes later, I get to ask my question.

*I go to the grocery store to buy aluminum foil, frozen broccoli and peas. They are out of all three.

I know I am not alone in this and I know I inconvenience others! Somehow I don’t feel the agitation in my spirit when I am the one asking for consideration and help.

When I look solely at my day through my human grid of understanding, I am living a self-focused life. I may get my tasks done and my goals may be completed but I have focused on an idol…me! When I get irritated because things don’t go according to my plan, I am worshiping my plan.

Jesus explains His kingdom solution for my problem of a self-focused life in our text today. This parable uses a direct form of conversation. Jesus inserts His listeners into the parable.

“When YOU are invited to a wedding feast…sit down in the lowest place.” (vv. 8-10) Jesus is speaking to a group of religious leaders who were called Pharisees. They understood wedding protocol and knew what would be an honorable seat at the occasion. He had been invited to a ruler’s house for a Sabbath meal. Jesus noticed how they jostled for the best seating at the table. Jesus explains in v. 11 what the kingdom principle is.

 “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus himself had shown them how! Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-7 that “He made himself of no reputation taking the form of a bond servant, and came in the likeness of man.”

This is our example! It reminds me of the chorus to a hymn I learned as a child.

“Make me a blessing, make me a blessing, out of my life may Jesus shine.”

So, when I wake up tomorrow, may this be on my heart instead of my “to do” list:

  • To live and serve as Jesus did with a humble, serving heart.
  • To bless and love others as He desires me to.
  • To remember: Jesus, then others, then myself. What a great way to spell JOY.

Celeste Kern

March 2 – Parables – Good Samaritan

Read Luke 10:25-37

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37 NIV)

In this parable which is told by Jesus, two people chose NOT to show compassion for the person who was robbed, beat up and left for dead. The third person showed compassion.

Jesus gives an extraordinary example and model of how to love your neighbor. This good Samaritan put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn. He gave the innkeeper money (two day’s wages) and said that he would reimburse him for extra expenses. What if everybody showed compassion when they saw somebody in need? Wow.

Look for daily opportunities to be compassionate!

Help that older person carry groceries since you’re headed the same way. Ask the employee how he’s doing and thank them for the help. Take time to check on that coworker you know isn’t doing so well or the new guy. Just be interested. Take time. Buy a meal for a homeless person. Accept and respect disagreements and differing opinions. Empathize with others. Listen to others.

Jesus said to go and do likewise. So let’s look for opportunities to show compassion – they are all around us.

In the name of Jesus Christ:

Encourage others. Show kindness. Learn how to advocate. Open the door for someone. Motivate others. Practice acts of kindness. Allocate time to bond with friends and family. Say encouraging words. Share a hug or elbow bump (2020 style). Incorporate the phrase “thank you” into your daily routine. Offer to help someone with their to-do list.

Compassion is not just an attribute of God, but also a quality of His people.

  • Ruth loved her mother-in-law, Naomi, and had compassion for her. If you’ve ever heard someone called “ruthless,” it means that person is heartless. But the biblical Ruth was compassionate.
  • Joseph – After being sold into slavery and then rising to power in Egypt, he showed compassion to his brothers when they came to Egypt looking for food.
  • Paul – Several of Paul’s letters speak of raising money for the poor in Jerusalem.

Go and do likewise.

Tom Weckesser

March 1 – Parables – Two Builders

Read Luke 6:47-49

As a mother myself, I often look back on things my mother once said to me growing up and think, “If only I would have listened” or “That’s what she meant when she said that.”

… the words that we build our choices on matter because one small choice can affect the entire story that is written.

Have you ever decided something in your life because someone spoke to you? Did you settle for good and sacrifice God’s best because someone stated that you weren’t worth anything else? Whatever the case may be, whatever instance comes to mind, what someone says and what you choose to believe can either break or build you.

Too many times in our lives we listen to the words, the false truth, the opinions or judgments too closely. We allow them to shape our minds, our hearts, our motives, our perspectives. When instead, we should be looking at the words and truth of the One who creates, who bestows, who loves, who cares, who sacrifices, who guides, who nurtures, who protects, who provides.

Jesus mentions the two different builders because He wants us to understand that we have two choices in this life. We can build a deep foundation in our relationship and faith with Him or we can choose to keep it at arm’s length and only “use it” when we feel we need to.

The imagery here is beautiful.
The house is our faith, life, security.
The rock is our relationship with Jesus.
The torrent can be anything: our lives, our short comings, our unfortunate situations, our horrible circumstances, the words, opinions, choices of others.
We are one of the two men.

Now the beauty of this, to me, is that Jesus does not mention how a life with Him, following His ways and words, means we won’t come in contact with the wind and waves or even sometimes destruction. He does, however, promise that He is there with us through it.

He does promise that, through Him, there is life. Through Him, there is peace. Through Him, there is hope. With Him, everything doesn’t seem so big. It’s in those moments that the current comes knocking on our doors that we get to decide if we are going to bend and break, or withstand.

Which builder are you?

Have you taken the time to build that deep foundation, steadfast on the truth of Christ and His word? Is there solid rock around you? Or have you done that which is easy and, in your control, and when life hits hard, you feel hopeless?

I pray everyday I can be this first builder Jesus speaks of. I pray everyday that, as the wind and waves may crash against my house, it will not be shaken.

I pray this for you too.

Kelly Lawson

February 28 – Parables – Ten Virgins

Read Matthew 25:1-13

It may come as a surprise to many of you but I love heavy music. Some people love country music or worship or maybe jazz or classical. Me? I love rapid waves of drums that careen into an all-out assault of brutal kick blasts and razor-edged guitar. Some people like artists gently singing to them. Me? I prefer it when they yell at me.

Weird for some people, but that’s my jam.

Years ago, a buddy of mine introduced me to an Australian band that is pretty heavy. One of their songs ends with a call to headbang (very aggressively moving your head to the music). It’s epic. Recently, he and I were traveling to Cleveland to see them live. Both of us shared in our wonder of whether this specific song was going to be played or not. As we were refilling at a gas station, I pulled up their supposed set list and, sure enough, saw they were closing the whole show with this song.

The whole rest of the trip and the show leading up to that song, I was on the edge of my seat. I simply could not wait for the end of the song and the madness that would ensue after. What’s it like to be at a show when this song is played?

As I read our passage in Matthew 25, I wonder if we have that same anticipation for Jesus coming back. Now, heavy music may not be your cup of tea, but what in your life causes you to be on the edge of your seat with anticipation?

In our passage today, there are 5 foolish virgins who don’t bring any oil for their lamps as they await the bridegroom. When the time comes, they are forced to go into the city to purchase some oil. As you can guess, when they were gone, the bridegroom came and they were locked out upon their return.

While this is a fictional story with a spiritual meaning, the principle still applies today. I don’t know about you but, if I knew Jesus was coming back, I would be on the edge of my seat. I also wouldn’t want anyone I know to be locked out upon their return.

What about you? Do you have oil in your lamp? Are you ready for Jesus to come back? Are you ready to face your Maker and give an account of your life both the good and the bad? What changes need to be made? Who do you know that is on their way to the city to buy oil? How can you share the good news of Jesus to them? Waiting a moment longer could be a moment too long.

May we not be caught off guard when the trumpet sounds and Jesus appears through the clouds.

Jake Lawson

February 27 – Parables – Two Sons

Read Matthew 21:28-32

You’ve probably heard someone say, “Actions speak louder than words.” That’s true. At first glance, the “Parable of the Two Sons” seems to stress that principle.

But there’s much more in this parable taught by Jesus during Holy Week, a few days before He was crucified. By now, the air was thick with tension in Jerusalem.

Imagine the scene!

A few days earlier, Jesus had entered the city to the cheers of His adoring fans who wanted to make Him King. Then He cleansed the temple and threw out the money changers. So the religious leaders began to look for ways to trap Him and get rid of this threat to their control.

Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders, so he tells a story about a father who tells his sons to work in his vineyard. One boy says, “I won’t do it,” then later obeys. The other son says, “I will do it,” but then disobeys.

Jesus didn’t always clarify the meaning of His stories, but, in this case, He did. He said to the religious leaders: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.” (Matthew 21:31b – NLT).  He couldn’t have made His point more clear!

The emphasis of this story is on the invitation of the Father.   First – the story demonstrates how it’s the ultimate invitation. Nothing is more important than the invitation the Father in Heaven gives us to repent of our sins and turn to Him. Eternity always hangs in the balance. You will never consider a more important invitation than the one Jesus gives you to come to Him so that you may have eternal life (John 5:40).

Jesus came into the world because eternity is at stake for every human being. “The Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 – NLT). Your eternity depends on how you respond to this ultimate invitation.

The story also reminds us of the universal invitation of the Father.  In Jesus’ day, the most despised people were tax collectors (who extorted money from the people) and prostitutes, who demonstrated gross immorality. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the most respected people of society and were considered examples of what it meant to walk with God.

The point of the story is clear: Both the outwardly righteous and unrighteous are given the same invitation by the Father. The will of God is that men and women from all different backgrounds should repent and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to the glory of God (John 3:16,36; Matthew 11:28-30). It’s a universal invitation that echoes through the pages of scripture: “Come!” If you are thirsty, come! If you want life-giving water, come and take it. It’s free!” (Revelation 22:17b- CEV).

Finally, this is an urgent invitation. Years ago, God said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever…” (Genesis 6:3 – NIV). The clock is ticking for every one of us. We will stand before God and give account of our lives to Him (Romans 14:12). The Apostle Paul was clear: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b – NIV).

So here’s the question to answer… How have you responded to the Father’s invitation to you?  It’s never too late to say yes to God with our words, actions, and life!

Bob Fetterhoff

February 26 – Parables – Unmerciful Servant

Read Matthew 18:23-35

“But she did that to me. How could I ever forgive her?”

“You have no idea how much he hurt me. Forgiveness is out of the question.”

These are phrases we probably think when confronted with the idea of forgiving someone who has wronged us. I know there have been times in my life where forgiving is the last thing I wanted to do. People wrong us, and forgiveness is hard. But Jesus calls us to forgive others, no matter the wrongs they’ve committed. He illustrates this through a parable.

A king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One of them owed ten thousand bags of gold. Since he couldn’t repay his debt, the king ordered for him, his family, and everything he owned to be sold to repay it (v. 23-25). The servant must’ve been terrified.

“Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything” (v. 26). The king took pity on him and cancelled his debt (v. 27). Not just extended his time to pay it back, but cancelled it completely. What a relief that must’ve been! Ten thousand bags of gold- that’s a lot of money, worth at least a few million dollars. This man had no hope of repaying that amount of debt. But where he was hopeless, his king showed mercy and compassion.

This parable shows us and God. God is the king in the story. We are the servant. We owe a massive debt to God because of our sin, which separates us from him. But because he is a merciful and compassionate king, he will cancel and forgive our debt, no matter the size, if we ask for it.

But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus goes on to tell the importance of relaying that forgiveness. When the servant left the king, he came across a fellow servant who owed him only a hundred silver coins- a mere fraction of what he himself owed. But instead of forgiving the debt and showing mercy to the debtor, he demanded the payment immediately. When the servant couldn’t pay it and begged for more time, the forgiven servant threw the debtor in jail until he could pay (v. 28-30). How unfair, right? The first servant gets all of his debt cancelled, but instead of showing that mercy to others, he showed malice towards the man who owed him almost nothing.

As you can imagine, the other servants weren’t happy. They told the king what happened, and he had the servant thrown into prison until his original debt was paid (v. 31-34). At the end of the story, Jesus explains what this parable means for us. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (v. 35).

Jesus showed how important forgiveness is. He has shown us insurmountable forgiveness and mercy, and it’s our job to forgive others. How will you respond the next time someone wrongs you?

Grace Wasson