Two Men Praying

Jesus spoke the parable in Luke 18:9-13 because there were people who trusted in their own righteousness and despised others. I found myself thinking about this parable and decided to study it.  The parable is about two men–a Pharisee and a tax collector.  First, let’s take a look at each of these men.

The Pharisee

– He prayed with himself

– He thanks God for not being like other men such as extortioners, unjust, adulterers or like the tax collector

– He fasts twice a week

– He gives tithes of all that he owned

The Tax Collector

– He stood some distance away

– He would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven

– He beat his breast

– He prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner”

The Pharisee’s prayer was not so much a prayer as it was a self-promotion.  He was self-righteous.  He did not acknowledge that he was a sinner.  He felt that fasting twice a week and paying tithes made him righteous. He puffed himself up.  His heart was not with God.  His pride did not allow any room for God.  He made himself big, thus diminishing God in his eyes.  There was no reverence.  He exalted himself instead of God.  He was boasting not praying.

Instead of thanking God for His mercy, he looked down on others, thanking God that he was not like them.  His prayer is not the kind of prayer that would please God.  How could God accept a prayer from someone who shows not love or compassion for others?  This Pharisee condemned others because they were different.  What he failed to understand was that God loved these people.

When tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and His disciples, the Pharisees wondered why He would do something like that.  Jesus said to them, “Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  I desire mercy and not sacrifice.  For I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:10-13).

According to Paul we are all sinners.  In Romans 3:23, he says, “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Like the rest of us, this Pharisee was a sinner who needed a Savior.

The tax collector could not even raise his eyes to heaven.  He was so humble.  He showed total reverence to God.  He stood afar as if he felt unworthy to approach or be near the throne of mercy.  He beat his chest as he begged God to be merciful to him.  He acknowledged that he was a sinner.  His prayer God accepted.  It was done in humility and with a contrite spirit.  He gave himself to God.  He, not the Pharisee, went to his house justified.

Proverbs 16:5 says, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.”

Psalm 138:6 says “Though the Lord is on high, yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar.  The Pharisee’s self-righteousness and pride separated him from God.

James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  God resisted the Pharisee. 

God gave grace to the tax collector who was humble.  Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified.  I looked up the word “justified” in Strong’s Concordance and came up with the following definition: to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous or such as he ought to be.

So, the Pharisee left the temple the same way he went in–a proud, self-righteous and unrepentant sinner.  The tax collector went into the temple a humble, repentant sinner and left as a man whom God declared righteous.  He was vindicated.


God, the Artist

Last week Saturday my husband and I were studying the Sabbath School Quarterly Lesson on God as Artist.  The lesson stated that this is one side of God that people don’t pay much attention to.  However, I am constantly reminded of what a great Artist God is.

As an art lover and an art Minor, I enjoy going to museums.  When my sister and I were in Italy, it was a treat for me to visit the Uffizi, Borghese galleries to mention a few and stand for a while just staring at the paintings and the sculpture.  I was always fascinated with how Michangelo could take a block of marble and shape it into masterpieces like David and the pieta.  The details were so true to life.  And the painting on the Sistine Chapel.  Michangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael and all the others were truly blessed.  They had talents that to this day we can appreciate.

But as talented and gifted as these men were, they paled in comparison with the greatest Artist of all–God.  Their paintings and sculpture are facsimiles of the real things created by God.  God spoke things into existence.  He spoke and tigers, elephants, giraffes, squirrels, dolphins, sharks, whales, eagles, sparrows, the moon, the sun, the stars, etc were created.  When I think of the caterpillar who morphs into a beautiful butterfly, I cannot help but marvel and revere a God who obviously appreciates beauty.

When it came to creating man, God used His hands.  He formed Adam from the dust and He made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs.   It’s hard to imagine that man was formed from dust when you think of how we are made up of flesh, blood, bones, skin, nerves.   During my pregnancy, I liked to have pictures of the fetus to see what it looked like at each stage.  I saw it go from looking like a tadpole to a fully developed human baby with features, ten fingers, ten toes, etc.  All the time I was pregnant, I was reminded of who God was–Creator and Author of life.  And as I watch nature shows or look at my son I can understand why God was very pleased with His creative work and saw that everything was good.

In the Bible God is described as the Potter and we are His clay.  Jeremiah 18:3-10 and Isaiah 64:5-8 give us a picture of how helpless we are before the power of God.  We are clay in His hands and He, not us, is in charge.  We are the work of His hand.   He is the One who molds and fashions us.  He is the One who is working to recreate us into His image which sin marred.

God cares much about His physical creation.  But He cares much more about the beauty of what He can do in us.  We are to surrender, to die to self, and to cooperate with the Lord.  He wants to recreate and give back to us the original, spiritual and moral beauty that we had at Eden before the Fall.

God is a Sculptor but unlike the great artists we mentioned earlier, He is not limited to granite or marble.  God sculpts our characters.  He can take a sinful person and chisel away at that person until the person’s beauty shines forth.  We have seen God shape people we deem to be unattractive, unworthy or hopeless.  Examples are Jacob (Genesis 32:22-30); David (Psalm 51); Peter (Luke 22:31) and Paul (Acts 9:1-22).  One good example of a person whom others saw as worthless and beyond redemption was Mary Magdalene.

 “Mary had been . . . a great sinner, but Christ knew the circumstances that had shaped her life. . . . It was He who had lifted her from despair and ruin. Seven times she had heard His rebuke of the demons that controlled her heart and mind. She had heard His strong cries to the Father in her behalf. She knew how offensive is sin to His unsullied purity, and in His strength she had overcome. . . . [This woman] who had fallen, and whose mind had been a habitation of demons, was brought very near to the Saviour in fellowship and ministry. . . . Mary stood beside the Cross. . . . Mary was first at the tomb after His resurrection. It was Mary who first proclaimed a risen Saviour.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages,p. 568.

Salvation history is full of divine creativity, restoring in fallen men and women the lost “image of God.” The gospel is no cosmetic facelift but a matter of life-changing orientation running deep and swift in its cleansing, shaping, and beautifying power. The gospel of Jesus Christ creatively builds with integrity and wholeness. Genuine newness is the result of an inward dynamic at work, a divine creativity that restores beauty to a fallen, sinful life.

We worship a God who takes persons who are unworthy and transforms them into beautiful creatures.

Even after the Fall, nature today is still quite beautiful.  Can you imagine what it must have been like before the Fall?  This shows us just what an amazing Artist God is.  We can see His mastery in the magnificent sunsets.  I remember a long time ago when I was in the park and several people were gazing up into the sky, dazzled by the splashes of orange and red.  This was God’s signature.  It was as if the sky were a giant painting for all to see and appreciate.

God is also seen as an Architect (Exod. 25:1–9).  He gave Moses the blueprints for the tent sanctuary which was the place of worship.  The details include beautiful artwork.

God is seen as a Musician.  He played a role in the worship service of the Israelites.  In 2 Chronicles 29:25, King Hezekiah restored temple worship.  He stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets.  Imagine four thousand men praised the Lord with musical instruments which David provided them with for that very purpose.  In David’s time, the worship service consisted of people making a joyful noise to the Lord with trumpets and the cornet.  This was a lively worship service.

I love going to churches where the song services uplift you and prepare your heart for worship.  I believe God loves it when we worship Him in a way that glorifies Him.  Music plays an important role in worship.

God is the Author of the Bible which has impressed Bible Scholars for its literary beauty.  The psalms which I think are beautiful were inspired by the Lord (2 Sam. 23:1, 2.)  The Book of Revelation is filled with imagery.

The reader is presented with an exceedingly complex tapestry of words, phrases, and themes borrowed from other biblical writers but now woven together into an entirely new fabric. This final book in the Bible is in a style vastly different from what Paul and the Gospel writers used. Instead, we are almost overwhelmed with a profound aesthetic display carefully structured around seven scenes of the heavenly sanctuary, each one opening with deeper access into the heavenly court.

God is many things to us but we seldom see Him as an Artist or it is a side of Him that we often overlook.   It is good to know that God is an Architect–He can put together plans or designs that would enable us to be the people He wants us to be.  He is the Potter, Sculptor who shapes us.  He is the Author of our lives and He is the inspiration behind the beautiful hymns and music we enjoy during worship service.

Let us enjoy all sides of God.  



What a blessing it is to help people who are in need.  That is what Jesus did when He was here on earth.  He helped the sick, the poor, the oppressed and the persecuted.  To the crowd gathered in the synagogue, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (Isaiah 61:1). 

Jesus came to counsel, teach, heal.  He came to help people to turn their lives around.  He gave many a new lease on life.  He healed lepers, making it possible for them to return to society.  They were no longer outcasts.  He helped the adulteress to clean up her life.  He helped the Samaritan woman to see that her current living arrangement was not right.  He helped Nicodemus, the Pharisee to understand what it means to be born again.  It took a while to explain it but Jesus was patient.  Jesus helped many people. 

Paul encourages us to help one another.  “Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.  Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody.  Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters” (Galatians 6:1-3, 10). 

Jesus’ message to His disciples also applies to us.  “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34, 35).

God wants us to help everyone–not just our families or other Christians.  We are to be kind and helpful to strangers too.  Jesus taught that the way we treat people personally affects Him.  “’For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “ When the people asked Him when was He in these situations and His reply was, `I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’  What affects us affects Him (Matthew 25:35-45). 

So, the next time you see a homeless person cold and hungry or an elderly person trying to cross the street or someone unable to open to open the door because they are carrying a lot of groceries, help that person.  You will be helping Jesus.  You are His hands and His feet.  Remember every time you help someone, you will be demonstrating love and proving to the world that you are His disciple.

The Father’s Business

Today I was reading the Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Mark and found a couple of things particularly interesting.  The first is when a man with a withered hand was in the synagogue and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see if He would heal the man on the Sabbath so that they would have something to accuse Him for.  Jesus was on to them.  He told the man to step forward and then He asked the religious leaders a very good question, one they could not answer.  “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”  Then He told the man to stretch out his arm and his hand was restored.

Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.  Jesus was right when He called them hypocrites.  They accused Him of breaking the Sabbath because He healed people and yet they were plotting to murder Him with Jews who supported Herod’s rule.  Jesus was doing good on the Sabbath while they were doing and thinking evil.  Goodness and mercy were in Jesus’ heart while jealousy and murder were in theirs.   They wanted to kill Jesus who was just doing His Father’s business.

Jesus didn’t get flack just from the Pharisees who had it in for Him from the get go but also from friends and family.  Verse 21 states:  But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”  Those close to Him thought that He was out of His mind because the crowds had gathered so that Jesus and His disciples couldn’t find the time to eat.

While He was teaching, His mother, brothers and sisters showed up outside of the house where He was and sent word for Him to come out and talk with them.  There was a crowd of people sitting around Jesus when He got the message but instead of getting up and going out to see His family, Jesus remained where He was.  He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”  Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.  Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

A couple of Bible Commentators pointed out that Jesus’ family did not even go inside the house to hear what He had to say but remained outside, expecting Him to go out to them.  This is like a pastor’s mother and his siblings showing up outside the church expecting him to leave the sanctuary in the middle of his sermon to see them.  This is preposterous.  It was preposterous too for Jesus’ family to expect Him to stop teaching the people to attend to them.  Mary and Jesus’ siblings should have gone inside and listened to His teaching.

My husband finds it hard to believe that Mary of all people would expect Jesus to stop what He was doing to talk to her and His brethren.  Years ago when He was twelve years old and she had Joseph found Him in the temple after they searched for Him for three days and she had gently chided Him, He asked, “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).  At the time Mary didn’t understand what Jesus meant.  Now, it should have been clear.  He was doing the work of His Father.  He was teaching, healing and casting out demons.  He was helping the people.

It’s a sad thing when a person is doing the work of the Lord and they are attacked on all sides.  This is the work of the enemy.  He was attacking Jesus through His enemies and His family.  This is the same thing that will happen to those whom He called His family–those who do the Father’s will.  They are the ones who are not only hearers of the Word but doers.  They will be attacked by those who profess to be believers, by friends and family.

God never promised that doing His work was going to be easy.  Look at the prophets.  Elijah’s life was threatened by the wicked queen Jezebel, Zechariah was murdered at the altar, Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern and John the Baptist was beheaded.  Jesus was rejected by the people of Nazareth, His own brothers didn’t believe Him, He was betrayed by one of His disciples, arrested, deserted by the others and denied by one, put on trial, whipped, mocked, spat on and crucified between two criminals.

Despite all of this, Jesus was able to say, “It is finished.”  He had successfully accomplished the business His Father had sent Him to do.  The apostle Paul was able to testify, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished [my] course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Today, if God has called you to do His work, step out in faith.  Don’t allow anyone, not even those close to you, to hinder you or prevent you from doing the Father’s business.  Focus on what you need to do and keep the faith.  Remember, you are not alone.  God is with you every step of the way.  He will be with you until the end.

The Ten Virgins

I was reading the parable of the Ten Virgins today.  It’s interesting that both the wise and the foolish virgins fell asleep.  They were waiting for the bridegroom and when he was delayed, they fell asleep.  Jesus warns us to watch and wait.

You know the story.  They all had lamps with oil.  The wise ones had extra oil just in case the oil in their lamps ran out but the foolish ones didn’t.  When the announcement that the bridegroom was on his way came, the foolish virgins panicked.  They asked the wise ones to give them oil because theirs was going out.  Unfortunately for them the wise ones couldn’t help them.  They needed their reserve.  So, the foolish ones had to leave and buy more oil.  While they were gone, the bridegroom came and the wise brides who were ready, went inside with him.  When the foolish ones came back, the door was closed.  They couldn’t get in.  They cried out to the bridegroom to open the door for them but he replied, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Jesus ended the parable with the warning, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

A long time ago I did an online Bible study course about this parable and learned the following:

The ten virgins waiting for the coming of the bridegroom, symbolize all the sincere believers who love Jesus and are waiting for His return.  They are called virgins because they persevere and remain faithful even in the face of trials and tribulations.  They are the ones who will overcome.  The bridegroom, of course is Jesus.

The lamps the ten virgins had are the Word of God.  Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).  When believers carry out God’s word, we become lights in the world.  We share the good news about God’s love, His grace and salvation and bring people to the One who gave His life for them.

The oil in the lamps represents the Holy Spirit.  He keeps the lamp of our hearts burning continuously.  When we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, we become firmly established in faith, and we bear more and more good fruit for God.  The anointing of the Holy Spirit progressively reveals the will of God to us.  If we put into practice what He teaches us, God will fill our «oil reserve», thus making us steadfast enough to face the coming trials.

The wise virgins knew that it was possible that the bridegroom might be delayed so they decided to take a reserve of oil with them.  Their decision distinguished them from the other five virgins and they were ready when the groom showed up.  Jesus expects us to be prepared when He comes.  It doesn’t matter that we don’t know when that will be.  We have to be ready.  Just as the wise virgins suspected, the groom was delayed but they were ready.  They were there waiting for him when he arrived.  That’s the important thing.  Will Jesus find us waiting for Him when He returns?  Will we be like the faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them.  When the master returns, he finds that the servant has done a good job and will reward him (Matthew 24:45, 46).

This parable shows that even the faithful can fall asleep.  The wise virgins fell asleep.  This reminds me of when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane and was praying.  Peter, James and John were asleep.  Jesus said to them, “What, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40, 41).

Paul also warns us about how we are to conduct ourselves in the last days.  For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  But you, brothers, are not in darkness, that that Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all the children of light, and the children of the day.  We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.  Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4-6, 8).  Basically, he is telling us not to fall asleep spiritually.  The bridegroom is about to return, so we must be watchful as we wait for Him.

“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11,12).

“Watch you therefore: for you know not when the Master of the house comes, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly He find you sleeping. And what I say to you I say to all, Watch” (Mark 13:35-37).

“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches” (Revelation 16:15).

The Bible study lesson I did explains that midnight represents a dark hour–time.  It was at midnight when a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’  Jesus’ return will take place at a time when the world is in deep spiritual darkness.  In Luke 21:34-36, Jesus warned us, “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that Day come on you unawares.  For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”

He warned us that just before His return we will go through a dark and difficult period.  God, in His mercy, shortened this period for the sake of His elect or no one would have been able to overcome.

The whole point of this parable is “be ready”.  The wise virgins were not being mean when refused to share their oil.  It is clear that when we are not ready, no one else can help us. No one else can “give” us their “oil.”  Just as we are responsible for our own salvation, we are responsible for how prepared we are when Jesus returns.  We can’t expect others to prepare us.  We have to prepare ourselves.  We have to have our own reserve of oil so that when the oil in our lamps runs out, we have more to put in it.

The bottom line is:  be ready when the Lord comes, lest He says to you, “I do not know you.”

We all want to attend the wedding.  So, let us be wise.  We must keep our lamps burning.  We must develop and maintain a steadfast personal relationship with God, so that we can rely on our very own reserve of oil.  No one else can have a relationship with God for us.  The oil reserve is the believer’s faith strengthened by God’s Spirit.  It is impossible for that believer to transfer his faith to the heart of another who hasn’t prepared himself for the dark times.  We can’t rely on someone else’s reserve of oil.  We can’t rely on someone else’s faith to get us through the dark times.  God gives each of us a measure of faith.  Only He can increase it.  And we are responsible for exercising it.  We are responsible for putting it in action.  The wise virgins put their faith into action when they prepared enough oil so that if the groom was delayed, they would be ready no matter when he showed up.  We have to be faithful until the end and this faith is evident when we are watchful as we wait.  Our faith will keep us awake so that when that midnight cry is heard, we are ready to go and meet our Lord.  We cannot be like the people of Noah’s day who were warned about the flood but continued living as they pleased and when the flood came, they perished.

This parable also teaches us that claiming to be Christians is not enough.  We must also follow God’s will.  Jesus told us to not be hearers of the Word only but doers as well.  The wise man built his house (life) on the teachings of Jesus so that when the storms of life came, he was able to withstand them.  We must not be lukewarm like the church of  Laodicea.   We must be aware of our spiritual state and seek the Lord’s help to change it.


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