Teacher 5

Psalm 119:89-92

I caught part of a television show about an ancient engineer who designed simple machines to convey water to arid lands. Experts uncovered many of his designs and plans, and discovered that they still work. Using the natural power of rivers he made water wheels and simple pumps that lifted the water high into the air, conveying the water into aqueducts.

There are certainly other ways to irrigate land today, but these machines with designs that are thousands of years old are still feasible. The principles, although old, are valid.

Education today is not what it was thousands of years ago or even hundreds of years ago. Society functions differently than it did even half a century ago. It is easy to think that what once was valid is no longer applicable.

But in fact, the word of God is eternal. The laws and teachings of our Lord are still as true today as they were at the beginning of time.

In this portion of Psalm 119 the writer makes comment on God’s word, His commands and laws. What does he say about them? Why does he say these things (look at verses 90 and 91)? What benefit does the psalmist celebrate?

The morality of our society seems to be an ever-changing thing. All around us we can see decaying morals and acceptance of those things that were once forbidden. It has been said more and more that the church, Christianity, and faith in God is obsolete.

But God is constant. God is eternal and so is His love, and so are His commandments. By listening to the teachings of Jesus, by following the word of God, we can be given the directions we need to navigate through the trials and temptations of our world. Although what is acceptable and considered good may seem to be in flux, the truth is constant. The truths of God and the teachings of Jesus are still valid and worthy of our time and attention.

By holding fast to the goodness of God, by trusting in His constant mercy, by working to understand the lessons of Jesus Christ, we are able to overcome the troubles of the world. The word of God keeps us from perishing in our afflictions. It is up to us to listen to and understand the teachings of Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you live out the teachings of Jesus?

Teacher 4

Matthew 13:10-13

When I worked at a local newspaper we had a language that was all our own. Terms like “kicker,” “cut-line,” “drop head,” “pull quote,” “grin and grab,” and “slug” were tossed around daily. To anyone not part of the staff it would seem as if we were speaking a secret code, and in many ways we were. Our terminology made work more efficient to those who understood it.

For the first few days the terms baffled me, but eventually I picked up on the jargon. It took some time and a little effort on my part. The words were not meant for everyone to understand, only those who needed to and who were able to learn.

Jesus confounded some of his listeners by the way he taught. He used parables, and to many of us today the short, familiar lessons make a great deal of sense. But at the time they were challenging.

What do the disciples ask? Who has been given the knowledge? What contrast is made between those who have understanding and those who do not?

This passage has been a source of mental wrangling in the past. How could anyone be confused by the parables when they seem quite plain? How could anyone not understand? Why does it seem here that Jesus is intentionally vague?

After reading in the book The Misunderstood Jew - The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine (Harper One), I have had a glimmer of enlightenment. To the Jewish listeners these parables could indeed be a source of confusion because the examples used and the characters in the parables carried a different meaning than they do to Christians today. One example is the parable of the yeast. To us, yeast simply makes bread rise; but to the Jew at the time of Christ, yeast not only worked in flour but also implied secretive work.

To hear the parables at the time of Christ meant to be confronted with ideas that were contrary to common beliefs. The usual way of thinking did not apply to the parables, or at least seemed contrary to the message Jesus was giving.

Why did he do that? Jesus’ response implies that to understand his teaching you had to accept a new way of thinking. You had to apply some effort in understanding. And if you were able to take on a new way of thinking more would be added to the richness of your life.

The teachings of Christ were not simple but asked for effort on the listener’s part. Those who hear the teachings of Jesus must invest themselves in understanding, just as we must invest ourselves in being part of the kingdom of God. At times we need to change our own way of understanding so that we may better understand our God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you hear the teachings of Jesus with a new attitude?

Teacher 3

Luke 6:47-49

Our nation still has its eyes set on cleaning up after the devastation of hurricane Katrina three years ago. We have watched with anxiety as Gustav and Hanna pounded the coast, and even homes in our area of northwest Ohio are currently without power because the winds from hurricane Ike knocked tree limbs down and tore out electric lines.

We are familiar with the damage a big storm can cause. The image of rising waters and pounding surf and the destruction they can cause are all too real in our minds.

But the forces of nature are not the only troubles we may experience in life. The storms of hurt and anger, the ruin of loss and emotional turmoil can batter our lives much as the ocean can wreak havoc in a hurricane. What can we do to endure such threats?

Jesus, the great teacher, explains it all so very clearly with this simple example. How are the two builders different? What is the result of a firm foundation? What about a weak foundation? What is that firm foundation (see verse 47)?

Jesus is many things to all of us. He is the Son of the Living God. He is our helper. He is the great healer. He is the mediator between us and God, that path of salvation and restoration that we need.

He is also a teacher. He provides us with instruction on how we are to live our lives, how we are to serve the Lord, how we are to order our behavior so that it might be pleasing to God.

Yet, we have the choice to listen and learn, or walk away and ignore the wisdom of Christ. And if we choose to walk away from the teachings of Jesus we are like a man who builds his house without a firm foundation. The storms of life will cause utter destruction.

The teachings of Jesus are a firm foundation for our spiritual and emotional houses. With the firm foundation of Christ’s instruction we have the ability to withstand the challenges that life and other people may assail us with. Diligent study and learning of God’s word can help us build a faith that can withstand troubles and tribulations.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How are you building a foundation on the rock of God’s teachings?

Teacher 2

Matthew 13:33

One of my favorite things to eat (and there are so many!) is a nice piece of baked bread. And, of course, one of the key ingredients in good bread is the yeast. The yeast works to make the dough rise up and become fluffy. It gives the bread a softer texture and adds flavor. A small bit of yeast can really make things better.

Jesus continued in his teachings with another parable – a simple example of something familiar. To what does he compare the kingdom of heaven? What does the woman do with the yeast?

I find it interesting that this simple parable appears almost incomplete. Living a life obedient to God and a life which shares God’s love with others is like yeast. A woman takes yeast and mixes it in with flour until it is thoroughly blended. The end.

What about it? What happened to the dough? Jesus doesn’t give any more detail than that. But we can imagine what will happen to the dough. Since the dough has had yeast added to it, the dough will be much improved.

And the kingdom of heaven isn’t compared to a nice loaf of bread. It is compared to the yeast, something which will affect the outcome. The kingdom of heaven – that is, our ability to live as Godly and holy people – is not an end result, but an influence of change for the better. Just as yeast improve bread, our ability to live as children of God and people who imitate Christ can improve life.

So too are the teachings of Christ. The lessons Jesus present can serve as an additive to us so that our lives are much improved. We need to let the yeast of Christ’s teachings work its way all through our lives so that what we do and say, how we respond to life’s situations, and how we respond to God’s directing is aligned with the teachings of Jesus.

We can also serve as yeast to the situations in life. Bearing the wisdom and teachings of Jesus, we can be a positive influence with other people. We can share our learning with others who may be in a difficult situation.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you let the yeast of the kingdom of heaven mix thoroughly in your life?

Teacher 1

Matthew 13:31-32

While I was away this weekend my wife and daughter assembled some goody bags for members of our church to hand out to area families. It didn’t take a great deal of effort – a few candy bars, a flyer and a magnet in each one. But for me, not having to worry about this effort was a tremendous gift of relief. It was one less thing for me to worry about.

I imagine that these small gift bags will be a pleasant treat for those who receive them. Not a lot of money was spent, not a great deal of time was invested, but these gifts can brighten the spirits of those who receive them. This small effort, done with love, can have a big impact.

When trying to get a better picture of who Jesus is we can not overlook the ability of Jesus to teach lessons. Most of his teachings were done in parables, which are defined as short and simple examples using familiar themes.

Today’s reading is one of those parables. To what does Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven? What are the two contrasting images of the mustard seed?

Many people are familiar with Jesus’ comment that we need faith like a mustard seed – that even faith that may seem small can be very strong. But here Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, not faith. What’s the difference?

I believe that faith is our belief and our ability to hold firm to that belief. I believe the kingdom of heaven is not just beliefs, but faith lived out in obedience to God and service to others. Part of the kingdom of heaven is the expression of God’s love in acts of mercy and grace.

Like the mustard seed which begins as very tiny and then grows to such a size that it gives shelter to animals, our acts of kindness and expressions of love can be small. They do not have to be grand, sweeping gestures or dramatic rescues. The smallest of expressions of love and kindness can have huge effects.

But also like the mustard seed, the teachings of Jesus do not need to be lengthy dissertations, explanations and lectures. With very simple words and common images he can convey the profound lessons that we need to hear. From these small gems of wisdom we can gain some of the greatest insights to improve our faith and strengthen our understanding of God’s kingdom.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Which of Jesus’ lessons have made the biggest impact on you?