Category Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

“The Better of Two Bad Sons” Matthew 21:28-32

The parable comes in response to the question the chief priests and elders asked Jesus as He taught in the temple, Matthew 21:23 (NIV)  Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus refused to answer their question directly since they declined to answer His own question concerning the source of John the Baptist’s baptism.

Yet this parable provides an indirect answer, as is shown by the connective “but” which begins it. This parable is presented as a vivid pictorial challenge to the Jewish leaders.

In Matthew 3:4-6 we find a first group responding to the message of repentance by John. But they came to John after their change of mind and regret for their sinful way of life. They feared that the Messiah would have nothing to do with them.

Matthew 21:28-32: “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ {29} “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. {30} “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. {31} “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said^, “The first.” Jesus said^ to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. {32} “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”

A father had two children growing up. In this parable we have two children who had not yet carved their caregivers nor made any final choices.

THE FATHER’S INVITATION: “Son, Go work today in the vineyard,” is a marvel of tenderness and reasonableness:

  • It is IMPARTIAL, being addressed to both alike; it is loving and tender, being prefaced by a term of endearment, “Son.”
  • It is REASONABLE, since nothing could be more proper than for a son to work in the vineyard he himself may inherit;
  • It is SPECIFIC, not any vineyard, but THE vineyard being indicated;
  • It is URGENT, work being required not tomorrow, but today;
  • It is NECESSARY, because without work which was commanded, the vineyard would perish.

All of these characteristics of the father’s command have an application today in God’s command, or invitation, for men to work in his vineyard, the church.

The children must recognize the field is still their father’s although they are called to work in it. “Son, go work today in my vineyard” (Matt. 21:28).

These two children were of the same father and yet they were so different.

The family laws made the father the absolute head over his children. The man in this parable represents God, while the two sons represent, respectively, the “sinners” (or outcasts among the Jews) and conservative Jews.

THE FIRST SON’S RESPONSE: “I will not.” This is typical of the response of publicans and harlots whom Jesus made the heroes of this parable. Theirs was an open, frank, rude rejection of the Father’s command.

This should not be glamorized. Some are tempted to do so, boasting that they do not attend church, having no time for such things, are not the religious type, etc.; and, although frankness has merit under some conditions, there can be no merit on the part of that son who wounded a loving father, rejected an altogether reasonable commandment to work in the vineyard, and who flouted the father’s authority.

He refused to accept any responsibility to honor and obey the one who had given him life, nourished him in infancy, supported him in weakness, and who was entitled to his respect and obedience. All who refuse to serve God in his church are guilty of the same thing.

He voiced the instant inclination of his flesh. Tell a child to do something or go somewhere and the likely answer will be “I don’t want to.”  “Afterward he repented and went.”

How much afterward? In Greek the adverb implies not immediately afterwards, but toward the end of the thought process. It has more the meaning of “finally.”

THE SECOND SON’S RESPONSE: The second son said, “I go, sir,” but went not! Such a response was proper and correct as far as it went.

The fact that he was a smooth hypocrite who did not follow his profession with valid obedience cannot negate the correct nature of his verbal response. He said exactly what he should have said. His later failure cannot change the righteous character of his words.

Those who profess to serve God are right in such a profession, and it ought to serve as a stimulus to perform deeds consistent with it. In the parable, the second son’s response represents that of the Pharisees and their crowd who professed a holiness they would not exhibit

These religious leaders saw only too well that Jesus was referring to them: Matthew 21:45-46: 45When the high priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was talking about them.  46Although they wanted to arrest him, they were afraid of the crowds, for they considered him a prophet.

The meaning of this parable is crystal clear. The Jewish leaders are the people who said they would obey God and then did not.

The key to the correct understanding of this parable is that it is not really praising anyone. It is setting before us a picture of two very imperfect sets of people, of whom one set were none the less better than the other.

Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both were unsatisfactory; but the one who in the end obeyed was incalculably better than the other.

The ideal son would be the son who accepted the father’s orders with obedience and with respect and who unquestioningly and fully carried them out.

But there are truths in this parable which go far beyond the situation in which it was first spoken.

It tells us that there are two very common classes of people in this world.

First, there are the people whose profession is much better than their practice. They will promise anything; they make great protestations of piety and fidelity; but their practice lags far behind.

Second, there are those whose practice is far better than their profession. They claim to be tough, hardheaded materialists, but somehow they are found out doing kindly and generous things, almost in secret, as if they were ashamed of it.

They profess to have no interest in the Church and in religion, and yet, when it comes to the bit, they live more Christian lives than many professing Christians.

We have all of us met these people, those whose practice is far away from the almost sanctimonious piety of their profession, and those whose practice is far ahead of the sometimes cynical, and sometimes almost irreligious, profession which they make.

The real point of the parable is that, while the second class are infinitely to be preferred to the first, neither is anything like perfect. The really good man is the man in whom profession and practice meet and match.

Further, this parable teaches us that promises can never take the place of performance, and fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds.

The son who said he would go, and did not, had all the outward marks of courtesy. In his answer he called his father “Sir” with all respect. But a courtesy which never gets beyond words is a totally illusory thing.

True courtesy is obedience, willingly and graciously given. On the other hand the parable teaches us that a man can easily spoil a good thing by the way he does it.

He can do a fine thing with a lack of graciousness and a lack of winsomeness which spoil the whole deed.

Here we learn that the Christian way is in performance and not promise, and that the mark of a Christian is obedience graciously and courteously given.

The Change of Mind Which Means Repentance

The word most commonly translated “repentance” in the New Testament is derived from “after,” and “to think, perceive.”

It means to change one’s mind, which involves an instantaneous change of heart, a regret for unbelief and sin, and a determination to change direction.

This is what both John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2) and the Lord Jesus preached: “Repent: for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

Real repentance results in the forgiveness or removal of sin.

This is not the word used in Matthew 21:29: “ … but afterward he repented and went.”

The Greek verb here is the passive participle, derived from “after,” and “to care or show concern for oneself.”

It means to regret, not because one feels he has done anything wrong but because something did not turn out to his own advantage.

A thief when caught regrets stealing not because he has concluded that stealing is a sin, but because he was caught. Such a person, however, has not become moral if he does not steal anymore.

One represents moral change in an individual while the other is a convenient, selfish change of behavior and regret.

This verb is the verb used of Judas in Matthew 27:3, “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he [Jesus] was condemned, repented himself and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.”

A prophetic application

The first son or child represents the Gentiles who were expected to say “no” at the beginning but in the end said “yes,” and are now ahead of the unbelieving Jews:

Romans 10:18-21 (ESV)
18  But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
19  But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
20  Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21  But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

The second son is representative of the Jewish nation. Jesus was of their own nationality. “Yes” was the immediate response expected, but then they changed their mind about Jesus and this
change became disastrous (Rom. 9:1-10, 18).

God is not yet through with the second son who will change his mind again and say “yes” (Rom. 11).

Why did the publicans and the harlots enter into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees, or, as was generally the case, WITHOUT them? The reasons are plainly given in the word of God: (1) The class composed of publicans and harlots were conscious of sins, whereas the Pharisees were not, as shown by Luke’s account of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9ff), indicating that no sin is greater than being conscious of none.

(2) The publicans and sinners heard him (Luke 15:1), but the Pharisaical class refused to hear.

(3) They believed him (Matt. 21:32). (4) They repented. (5) They were baptized (Luke 3:12; 7:29,30). If the Pharisees had been willing to do this, they too might have entered into the kingdom. In the very next words, Christ shows how they failed.

Why would the tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of heaven instead of the religious leaders? Jesus explained why in this verse. The total rejection of John the Baptist (and his acceptance by the less-esteemed members of society) spelled out their rejection (or acceptance) of the one John proclaimed—Jesus, the Messiah. Even when the religious leaders saw how lives were changed at John’s preaching of the way of righteousness, even as they saw what happened when these sinful people repented and believed, these leaders still did not believe John. Neither, then, would they believe Jesus.

A personal application

Your initial response to Christ may be a “no.” Change your mind and be blessed.

Was your initial response a hurried “yes” without sufficient thought?

Have you found that no fruit has come from your flippant “yes”?

Change your mind by allowing the gospel to take root and bring forth fruit.

True beliefs are responses tested by time. Each of the sons in Jesus’ story responded immediately to their father’s request. As it turned out, their first answers were meaningless. Each changed his mind. What they finally did and said mattered most. Jesus faced his detractors with a blunt application. Those considered farthest from God (prostitutes and tax collectors) were boldly embracing his grace. Meanwhile, those most familiar with God were rejecting the promised Messiah. Jesus didn’t close the door of the kingdom to the religious leaders, but he challenged their assumed citizenship. Four lessons flow immediately from this story:
1. Those who accept or reject the gospel too easily will be tested.
2. Regardless of how we came to Christ, our present state of obedience indicates our spiritual health.
3. People who resist the gospel may be closer to conversion than those who are familiar with it.
4. Where God is at work, we dare not jump to conclusions.




Lack of Spiritual Health

We are always looking for someone else to blame for our lack of spiritual health.

A woman’s husband had been slipping in and out of a coma for several months, yet she’d stayed by his bedside every single day. One day, when he came to, he motioned for her to come nearer

As she sat by him, he whispered, eyes full of tears, “You know what? You have been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started failing, you were still by my side ….You know what?”

“What dear?” She gently asked, smiling as her heart began to fill with warmth.

His reply: “I think you’re bad luck.”



























The Discipline of Meditation

In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.

C. G. Jung remarked: “Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil.” All the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well.

They tell us of exciting possibilities for new life and freedom. They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this  frontier of the Spirit.
It is a sad commentary on the spiritual state of modern Christianity that meditation is a word so foreign to its ears.

Genesis 24:63 (NIV) He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching.

God spoke to them (fathers and prophets of old) not because they had special abilities, but because they were willing to listen.

R. D. Laing: “We live in a secular world…There is a prophecy in Amos that a time will come when there will be a famine in the land, ‘not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.’ That time has now come to pass. It is the present age.

Psalm 63:6 (NIV) On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.

Psalm 119:148 (NIV) My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.

Psalm 1:2 (NIV) But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God and to other human beings. Christian meditation leads us to the inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely, and to the spiritual perception necessary to attack social evils.

“The contemplation of the saints is fired by the love of the one contemplated: that is, God.” (apprecciation to Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline).

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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Spiritual Disciplines


Spiritual Disciplines – What are they?

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(Terry and I are hosting our college age/young professionals small group in our home for a few weeks. This will be our ‘outline’ for those sessions)

Celebration of Discipline

Unless we can make progress in the moral and spiritual realms – we may not even survive.

God has given the disciplines…as a means of receiving His grace.

Do not let the disciplines become law! When the Disciplines degenerate into law, they are used to manipulate and control people. We take explicit commands and use them to imprison others. The result of such deterioration is pride and fear. When we genuinely believe that inner transformation is God’s work and not ours, we can put to rest our passion to set others straight. Everybody things of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.

If we are to progress in the spiritual walk so that the Disciplines are a blessing and not a curse, we must come to the place in our lives where we lay down the everlasting burden of needing the manage others.

Meditation: how do we receive the desire to hear His voice?

In real prayer — we begin to love the things God loves.

We must not be led to believe the Disciplines are for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach, or for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation. Far from it. God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who must wash dishes and mow lawns. In fact, the Disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our normal daily activities. If they are to have any transforming effect, the effect must he found in the ordinary junctures of human life: in our relationships with our husband and wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors.

When one’s inner spirit is set free from all that holds it down, that can hardly be described as dull drudgery.

The primary requirement is a longing after God. Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV) As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Inwardly you have longed to launch out into the deep. Psalm 42:7 (NIV) Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

The Spiritual Disciplines are an inward and spiritual reality and the inner attitude of the heart is far more crucial than the mechanics for coming into the reality of the spiritual life.

The natural motions of our lives produce mire and dirt. Sin is part of the internal structure of our lives. No special effort is needed. No wonder we feel trapped.

The moment we feel we can succeed and attain victory over our sin by the strength of our will alone is the moment we are worshipping the will. Willpower will never succeed in dealing with the deeply ingrained habits of sin.

By dint of will people can make a good showing for a time, but sooner or later there will come the unguarded moment when the ‘careless word’ will slip out to reveal the true condition of the heart. We have no intention of exploding with anger or of parading a sticky arrogance, but when we are with people, what we are comes out. The will has the same deficiency as the law – it can deal only with externals. It is not sufficient to bring about the necessary transformation of the inner spirit.

The inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours.

The Disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where He can work within us and transform us. God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we are placed where He can bless us. In the Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer made clear that grace is free, but it is not cheap. Once we clearly understand that God’s grace is unearned and unearnable, and if we expect to grow, we must take up a consciously chosen course of action involving both individual and group life. That is the purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines.


Jonathan Edwards lived by a list of resolutions. For example: “Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” This statement shows how serious he was about pursuing holiness. It reveals a man who understood the fear of the Lord and sought to live it.

Yet look at another of Edwards’ resolutions: “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” 

What marvelous balance! Edwards resolved to fight the sin in his life but recog97262076_640  nized that it would be a slow and painful process, one that would often feel unsuccessful. Defeat didn’t weaken his resolve.

Spiritual Disciplines – What are they?

Do you have to have lot of free time to engage in whatever this is? Is it something you can do with friends? Do you have to be in worship?

Spiritual disciplines are practices modeled by the life of our Lord and in the rhythms of the church dating back to the first centuries.

These practices are embedded in the rich history of God’s story in each century as He is writing our stories. They are simple practices that help create space for God and for you to attend to His Presence.

Life is crazy busy. Each of us needs an anchor to hold us down in the midst of the incredible speed at which our lives move. Some days could feel like they are spiraling out of orbit.

Discipline is defined as “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior.” Discipline is not part of the sin nature, but it is a natural component of the Christian life. In fact, almost nothing of any significance in our lives is ever accomplished without it.

Spiritual disciplines can be described as those behaviors that augment our spiritual growth and enable us to grow to spiritual maturity. This process of spiritual growth and development begins to take place the moment a person encounters the risen Christ and comes to Him for salvation.

The purpose of spiritual discipline is the development of our inner being, that which has been transformed by Christ at salvation (2 Corinthians 5:17 ).

Redeemed believers have experienced the total renewal of the whole person from within, involving differences in thought, feeling and character that may be slower to be evident in our outward behavior.

This is what Paul had in mind when he spoke of taking off the “old self” and putting on the new, “which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

By definition, disciplines are (but are not limited to):Spiritual Disciplines-potter-confession

  1. Repetitive actions driven by spiritual decisions rather than natural environmental reactions.
  2. Deliberately self-induced behaviors that nurture spiritual health and fosters spiritual growth leading to maturity with God.
  3. Deliberately self-induced actions to alter existing life and thought patterns, thereby breaking the normal cycle of life and breaking the focus on intimacy with God.
  4. Spiritual exercises to develop “Sacred Rhythms” to engage in intentional spirituality in the pursuit of intimacy with God.

Why they are called disciplines — They are not the natural intuitive thing to do.

You need to make a conscious choice to engage in them; they are not something you would do of your own accord.

There will times where you don’t feel like doing what is necessary for your spiritual health. However disciplines provide stability and structure in order to carry you through those times you wish to ignore your spiritual health.

Spiritual Disciplines are a personal choice—only you can choose to undertake them at your own pace, but if done correctly you will feel closer to God than ever before. This is something you may need to think about carefully because it is a long journey which will not be easy to undertake.

When we become Christians, we have to develop our faith over time. There are spiritual disciplines that help us become stronger in our faith. Unlike the spiritual gifts, which are provided to us by the Holy Spirit, spiritual disciplines are more like finely honed tools that aid us in our spiritual walks. Yet each of the spiritual disciplines takes time to develop and effort to incorporate into our daily lives.

How Do Spiritual Disciplines Work? A spiritual discipline is a good habit that allows you to remain open to God and develop yourself spiritually. Discipline is one of the hardest things for us to learn. Think of some of our finest athletes. Most of them have a strong sense of discipline, because they have to build up strength, endurance, and skill to be good at a particular sport.

Surgeons spend years developing their surgical skills and learning the human body so that they are able to skillfully fix what is malfunctioning in the body. Our favorite writers have the discipline to sit down every day to write, edit, and re-write until the story is right. They hone their language skills and their ability to see a final product in all of the chaos of storytelling.

That’s what spiritual disciplines are to our faith.

Spiritual disciplines exercise our spirit, mind, and emotions so that we become closer to God. They help us see His will for our lives more clearly so that we can live the life He desires for us. The more we practice these disciplines, the better we get at them, and the stronger we make our faith.

Types of Spiritual Disciplines — There are two types of spiritual disciplines – those that are PERSONAL and those that are corporate. The personal disciplines are those that each individual should develop for him or herself, while the corporate disciplines are one that the entire church body can do together.

Disciplines of Personal Development (Inward)

  1. Prayer – communicating with God (Matt. 6:9)
  2. Meditation – focusing on God and his will  (Phil. 4:8)
  3. Fasting – a reminder of the source of all nourishment (Luke 5:35; Matthew 6:16-18)
  4. Bible Study – careful attention to the reality that God reveals to us, especially through Holy Scripture (Luke 2:46)
  5. Chastity—1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Disciplines of Service to the Body of Christ (Outward)

  1. Simplicity – seeking God’s Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33)
  2. Submission – placing God’s will above one’s own (Luke 22:42)
  3. Solitude – withdrawing from the world to spend time with God (Matt. 14:23)
  4. Service – supportive action toward others (Mark 10:45)
  5. Evangelism — (Matt. 28:18-20)
  6. Stewardship — (1 Cor. 4:1-2; Luke 10:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-2)

Disciplines of Service with the Body of Christ (Corporate)

  1. Confession – acknowledging one’s sin with and to others in the community of faith  (James 5:16)
  2. Seeking Guidance – giving and receiving direction from others along the journey with Jesus  (Acts 15:8)
  3. Celebration – taking joy is what God has done (1 Cor 5:8)
  4. Worship – giving God glory through attitudes and actions (1 Cor. 14:26)

spdiscExamples of How Real Change Happens

The Disciplined Christian can know God’s ways though study…He or she spends time soaking in Scripture, becoming intimately familiar with its message, learning the history of God’s church, and gaining understanding of the practical implications of theology.

The Disciplined Christian is reminded of the source of all blessing and sustenance through fasting…Abstaining from food, time commitments and distractions, from anything that takes focus from Jesus brings clarity, focus, and humility.

The Disciplined Christian can slow down through simplicity…

Seeking the kingdom of God first ultimately causes the believer to cast aside anything that is not holy. The pursuit of wealth and power are the antithesis of the kingdom that Jesus models.

The Disciplined Christian can hear God’s voice more clearly through solitude…Alone time with God helps provide room for silence, waiting on God, and hearing the sometimes still, small voice of his Spirit.

The Disciplined Christian is grieved by sin through confession…Personal and corporate confession provide a way to confront, admit, be convicted of, and deal with sin in the context of a supportive community and ministers of grace.

The Disciplined Christian puts God in the highest place through worship…The believer joins with others in praise and thanksgiving, placing Jesus in the supreme place of honor in his or her life.


These spiritual disciplines help to combat the sinful nature and our naturalistic world view. They can bring the believer into a mental, emotional, and spiritual state of higher awareness of God, his nature, and his kingdom. These tools are one way for individuals and communities to begin to bring their focus back to the Holy One and seek His will.

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Spiritual Disciplines

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