Three Days to a Better Way
Day One. Equipped
Two farm hands were out in the fields planting not far from one another. One of them looked over at his neighbor and saw that the tools he was using were quite different from the ones in his hands. At first he tried to ignore it but pretty soon he found himself questioning the quality of the work. “If the tools were not the same perhaps the work would not get done? Not just that but what if it is easier to use those tools, what if they are better than my tools?”
Soon the owner of the field came out and noticed that one of his workers was not being productive. He came over to the man and asked, “Why have you stopped working when you know that there is such a small amount of time for planting and sowing?”
The worker replied, “But what of my neighbor? Look at the tools you have given him, look at the way he is using them?”
The owner of the field replied, “You ask me the wrong questions. I have not given you his field to tend to. Do you see how the rocks in that field are large and stubborn? Your tools would not work in that soil. And you see how productive he has been all this time while you unproductively observe? Your work has suffered because you chose to compare something that can- not be compared. Can you justly compare a flower to a rock? Yet you compare yourself, your tools and your field with something that is anything but similar. And even if I put others in your field with similar tools and the same objective, how much time would you spend tending to your work and how much time would you compare the way you work with the individuality of how they work?”
The worker sat silent and ashamed. He knew that the master all this while had been watching him. Instead of doing his best with what he had been given he had judged others and himself and even his master for having made everyone so different.
The master resumed, “I have equipped you with everything you need for this season, everything you need for this field, and everything you need for deep and satisfying contentment. Do not look to the right or to the left, but look ahead to what it is I have placed in your hands.”
Just then the worker became excited, “My great and wise Lord, will you help me discover this field and the tools you have given me, will you teach me how to master them so that I may be productive and bring in this season with joy?”
The master smiled, “That is the right question. And yes I will walk with you every day in order to bring in a great harvest.”
How are we like the worker who compares? Have we asked too many questions about what other people are doing and too little about what it is God is wanting for us?
We all are equipped differently and beautifully for a glorious plan and purpose. It is a waste of time to be jealous over others giftedness and a monumental mistake to judge the way others are bringing in the harvest. We must always fight the urge to look to the right or to the left but to look to God alone for all our needs and understanding of what his individual plan for our lives is.
Day Two. Together
The Owner of the field came into a new season where the harvest was so great that He had to bring in extra help.
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire
workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
This parable is a meant not only to teach but to provide us with a perspective shift. If you read it from the perspective of the early morning workers, you may see it one way but then read it as though you were the workers that started later in the day; it shifts your perspective. Jesus wants us to take it even further and see it from a higher perspective, from the perspective of the foreman, from the Father heart.
Have you ever seen a child get a gift at a sibling’s birthday party? Or better yet, it is a child’s birthday but party favors or gifts are given to the guests. How about this train of thought: a birthday is a celebration of the child and yet it was the parents that gave life to the child (painfully and at a great cost), so the ones who should be honored are the parents. And yet it is a recognized celebration to honor not the one who labored but the one who came out of that labor. It is interesting that God honors us at all, when it is Him who gives so generously all things.
We often throw out words like fare or un-fare into situations where we have become entitled. Something as simple as honoring people can become complicated if pride is allowed to shift the reality of who is really worthy of all praise and honor. Jesus had to teach about position a great deal because he was trying to create a perspective shift. One so significant that when He died a un-fare death to pay for our sins we could finally understand those words, “The last will be first and the first will be last.”
We can look at it a lot of different ways and coming to the conclusion of what is fare can be dangerous. What is fare is almost always that we deserve judgement and not praise.
It is very interesting that in this parable the workers are calling into question the foreman’s goodness. Which is the very thing that paid them a good wage.
How do we find ourselves in the situation of envy, offense and entitlement? It is when we forget our place, and our Father’s goodness that we can slip into yet another dangerous trap of comparison and entitlement or more specific the trap of pride.
So back to the farm that we talked about yesterday and the warning of comparison that we must heed. The owner sees a great harvest and needs to bring it in. He gathers together his workers through his foreman (Jesus Christ). The foreman shows how generous the owner is by inviting in EVERYONE to be a part of the work. A point to remember in the parable is that he went to a public place and invited… ANYONE who wanted to work, not specialists, in fact I don’t remember him saying that there were any qualification to work for him.
In order to serve with humility we need to understand that God accepted us through grace and not our own merit. He will accept others that same way he accepted us, because of HIS goodness. It is His goodness that compels us to serve him with diligence. The worker who forgets this will become prideful but the one that remembers, “I don’t even deserve to be in this family, it is all because of Christ and the Goodness of our God” will find the humility to welcome others into the family.
At this point welcoming in others to become a part of the team becomes a lot easier. We must not fall into the trap that it is all about “us” (singular) but that the “us” (plural) can only come together if we focus on the good and perfect plans of our foreman. The plans for us to work together as one team. Pride is always a perspective problem.
When we work with others do we struggle to see them as God does? Do our thoughts often drift to the correction or criticism of others and the fare or un-fare things we see, or do we focus on our great and generous God?
Day Three. Digging Deeper
So the workers gathered again and in the middle of the field was a large sycamine tree. The owner said to his workers, “This tree must be removed, I cannot allow the work to continue while this tree remains. It is in the way not only on the surface but its roots are destructive.”
Some of the workers were sad for they had grown to know this tree as a place where they would rest and dwell on things.
Luke 17:1-6 (KJV)
Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!
2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.
6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.
This verse is about offense and how we are to deal with it. It is interesting that toward the end of the verse we see the famous mustard seed verse but how often it is taken out of context with the above verses. The mustard seed is always the highlight of the sermons and studies but what of this sycamine tree?
The sycamine tree in bible times was a tree that could grow thirty feet or more in the air even in drought conditions because it root system was so deep. Even when you tried to cut it down the roots continued to draw strength from the deep wells and the tree could resurrect itself. This tree’s wood was used for coffins and it was known for its terribly bitter and un-edible fruit.
So back to the parable, Jesus is talking about offense and how to forgive, the disciples are finding it hard to have the faith to be able to forgive a repeated offense and here we see our Lord then use the mustard seed faith passage but in relationship to a tree known for its resilience and cruelty. He says that if our faith is as small as the grain of a mustard seed, (which this tree is known for its small seed but massive size in power) that we can overcome the power of offense.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Knowing this verse it becomes imperative that we take the growing roots of bitterness and offense very seriously. If you think you are free from offense and unforgiveness take a quick check for anything that causes you annoyance. Annoyance is the fruit of a seed called unforgiveness. If you find yourself being annoyed then unforgiveness is hiding in your heart.
The sycamine tree is what Christ uses as his analogy for bitterness, offense and unforgiveness, how fitting for a tree that even once it is chopped down it can grow back, how fitting that the tree has bitter fruit, how fitting for a tree that even unattended will live and grow, how fitting for a tree that is used to house death as a coffin in the ground.
God is warning us in this parable that we must take affirmative action and continue to forgive as many times as needed and that we have a seed inside of us that although small like a mustard seed is more powerful and can uproot and throw our offense into the sea.
Yesterday we talked about perspective and how Jesus was using the parables to shift our perspective from a world view to a God view. This parable is in line with what we learned yesterday about pride. To forgive means to be able to take a humble posture.
Luke 7:36-50New King James Version (NKJV)
A Sinful Woman Forgiven
36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
40 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
41 “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Two things of note that I see right away are the words of Jesus not only humbling the Pharisee but then accepting and forgiving the woman. Note the words at the very end of the story, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
The faith that Jesus is talking about in the parable of the mustard seed is this same faith that he is speaking of that has saved this woman. And then the words “Go in peace.”
When we think of faith are we seeing it in this perspective? Are we thinking of it in the perspective of God’s great mercy and forgiveness that He has poured out over us. When he says to the man who knows all the laws and keeps all the commands that this sinful woman has done more for Jesus than the Pharisee are we remembering that because we have been forgiven much we can LOVE much?
Oh what a great burden was lifted off of us as Christ forgave us of our sins and so it is not hard to understand that if we cannot see forgiveness the way that God above treasures it then we cannot receive it either.
Are we willing to use our faith for the purpose it was designed and to forgive others as many times as we are offended? Or when our master comes into the field and says that we must remove this tree of unforgiveness will we be sad that we cannot rely on its shade for our own comfort?
We can only have one tree in our lives, the tree of life or the tree of knowledge. Eve made a choice in the garden to eat from a bitter fruit, to question God’s goodness to be led astray by pride. Now we must choose to kill this tree if we want the tree of life once again, if we want forgiveness, if we want Jesus. One tree, which will it be? Our rights and wrongs, our fare and un-fare is fruit from the tree of knowledge. But to forgive is to choose the mustard seed faith, the tree of life, the tree planted by streams of living water.