The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44)

Hidden treasures were not uncommon in Israel. Palestine was / is the land bridge between many of the aggressive nations of the north and east to Egypt. Egypt was always considered a plum target, because of its power and wealth. And so to get from the empires of north or east to Egypt, it was necessary to go through Palestine, Israel, Canaan. And because armies march on their stomachs and tended to mop up whatever they could, it was common enough for inhabitants to feel the necessity of hiding their money and valuables in the ground. This was a good strategy, if you lived to return to the family treasure, but some did not and it left an open question about what was to be done with discovered hidden treasures. The assumption was that since families handed down land from generation to generation that whoever owned the land was the most likely to be the legitimate heir of the treasure. It was not “finders keepers”; you had to own the land upon which you found the treasure. This was the law and the practice in ancient Judea. And in this law and practice, Jesus found a great illustration contained in a single verse. For the sake of explaining things to a modern audience a little more clearly, let me provide an expanded version.

One day a day laborer, a plowman, hires himself out to a wealthy landowner, who has just purchased an old farm. The landowner wants the laborer to prepare this piece of land that has lain fallow for some time, for a new crop of wheat. The laborer takes his plow, an ox, and a few other tools to a field filled with grass, thistles, and a few clumps of scrub brush from years of neglect. After he has plowed several rows across the field, his plow strikes a something hard. Thinking that he probably struck a hidden boulder or tree stump in this old neglected field, he pulls aside his plow and ox and begins digging to remove the obstruction, if possible. To his surprise he finds that it is neither a boulder or a tree stump, but a box. He pulls the box out of the ground and opens it to discover a hoard of gold and silver coins, jewelry, and jewels. His jaw drops in amazement. It is a virtual king’s ransom, more money than he has ever seen in his life. After an initial whoop of joy, the plowman suddenly weighs what he should do. He knows the law regulating such discoveries; he must own the land in order to legitimately claim the treasure. 

“What shall I do?” he wonders; “In order to buy this land I will have to sell absolutely everything that I own — my plow, my oxen, the sheep and goats we keep for milk and wool, my tools, my cart, the furniture in my house, my house, my savings, and the tiny bit of inheritance that my father left to me. I think that all of it together might just be enough to buy this land from the landowner.” A smile spreads over his face as he carefully closes the box, looks all around him to make sure nobody else sees what he found, and returns the box to the hole and carefully covers the hole. He unhitches the ox from the plow, puts the plow on his cart, hitches the ox up to the cart and for joy hurries the ox back to his house. When he arrives he starts filling the cart with all his possessions and animals. His wife thinks he’s crazy, but he knows better. Then he is off to town, whistling a happy tune all the way, where he starts selling all his possessions — still with a smile that he just can’t seem to wipe off his face, because it comes from a joyful heart. Friends and neighbors buy his things, shaking their heads — he must be crazy!

Now, with a bag full of money he approaches the landowner and makes his proposal to buy the field. The landowner is shrewd and sure enough it takes every copper coin in his purse to make the purchase, but still he is grinning from ear to ear. He runs home with the deed in his hand to his wife, who is now beside herself with worry and anxiety about why her husband has just sold everything they own — what will become of them now? He shows her the deed for the field, but she is not comforted. “What good will this field be to us? How will we plow it now that you’ve sold the plow and the oxen?” she very sensibly asks. “Follow me,” he responds with a grin.

He takes her to the field, finds the end of his last furrow and begins to pull away the dirt, which reveals the box. He pulls it up and opens it for her to see. Now she understands! Selling everything they had was really a very small investment for such a once-in-a-lifetime return — treasure that would make it possible for them to never be in want for anything again! A smile now spreads across her face, too, which erupts into joyous laughter and celebration. Today they may not have anything, but tomorrow they can have anything they want!

Jesus’ point is that discovering the kingdom of God is very much the same. When we discover the kingdom of God, and if we recognize its true value is, then even the price of “all that we have” will be considered a cheap investment for such a treasure. Would the yielding of my money, if needed, really be too much? Would the losing of family be too great a price for Heaven? As I am called on to serve others, would I really be sacrificing too much? If I am called upon to share the Gospel, would the Lord really be asking too much of me? As I fall out of bed on Sunday morning and give worship to the Lord with the church, is it really a such a dire sacrifice, a cost beyond the pale? As I am called upon to die to myself and live to Christ, am I really being foolish? If I am called upon to give  up my earthly life as a martyr, has the price really been too great to gain eternal life? In a word, never! Paul put it this way…

Phil. 3:7-11 — “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

What is the value of forgiveness of sins? The confident hope of eternal life? The value of my soul? As Jesus put it, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).

This parable challenges us to weigh priorities and values. We are immersed in a material world and tend to place great value on things of this world. But given that this life is temporary, that even valuable things will rust, and decay, and that even the mountains will one day melt in the presence of the Lord’s absolutely certain second coming — are you putting the right emphasis on spiritual things, on the kingdom, in your life?

Is the kingdom of value to you? You can tell by the smile on your face and the joy in your heart — or lack thereof.

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The Best, the Most, and from the Heart

Luke 21 (also Mark 12:41) tells the story of Jesus sitting in the Temple near the Temple’s treasury contribution box. The Lord had observed a number of rich people come through and drop in their bag of silver coins. “Jingle! Thunk! Jingle!” The bigger the “Jingle and Thunk” the prouder the giver probably seemed to strut away. But then along came a poor widow. You’d be excused for thinking that she wouldn’t be giving anything of note; she was clearly poor, she was clearly a widow, she had no coin bag to see, and what she was about to give was easily held in the palm of her hand. And, sure enough, when she did put in her contribution, the sound was probably so soft that it wouldn’t have been noticed at all in a noisy place like the Temple — two leptons, the smallest coin, the least valuable coin, in the Roman world. Noisy or not, however, Jesus noticed and was impressed enough to make a comment that we should sit up and take notice of: “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live.” 

What made it so note worthy? There are two things I’d like to point out for us to consider.

First, there is a difference between giving some and giving all. Although the rich had put in greater actual amounts, she had put in more proportionally. The rich had given out of their disposable income, but she had given away her grocery and rent money. Most certainly God appreciates all of our gifts, when they are given with the right heart, but the widow’s gift crossed the world’s line of “good sense” by giving not 100% of her surplus had but 100% of all she had.

There is also a difference between giving when you have prospects of obtaining more in the near future and giving without prospects of getting any more. None of the wealthier givers, as far as we know, gave 100% of their money; but if they had, it still would not have been as great a sacrifice as the widow’s gift. The wealthy had prospects of earning more later in the next business deal, the next work day, the next crop, or however they made their living. Some widows of Jesus’ day could rely on family to support them, but there were other widows who had no financial prospects, being too old and a woman (Paul calls them “widows indeed” in 1 Timothy 5). The widow of this story appears to be in this latter category, so when she gave her two copper coins it was not just emptying out her purse for now, it was giving with no prospects in sight. This was a sacrificial gift founded on a deep love for God and a trust in the Him to meet her needs; this was a gift of faith and a true giving of herself.

It was these two characteristics of the widow’s gift that made it the most and the best gift received at the Temple treasury that day. By seeing the widow’s gift through Jesus’ eyes, the apostles doubtlessly felt both deeply impressed and humbled. It could not have failed to leave a life-long lesson on their discipleship.

Perhaps we, too, feel inspired and challenged by a faith and love that would prompt such financial sacrifice; maybe next week we’ll give more to the Lord in the collection plate. But you know, there are more ways to give to the Lord than in dollars and cents. There’s time. There’s effort. There’s commitment. There are skills, talents, homes and cars and every other possession given into our stewardship. There’s lots of ways to give to the Lord like the widow; but the key principle is whatever we give — little or much, 10% or 100% — should be given trustingly, lovingly, and completely.

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Learning to Embrace Discipline

We’ve all said it before — something like it — as we were being disciplined by a parent: “You don’t love me anymore!” How this pierces a loving parent’s heart, because he/she knows better; godly, appropriate discipline is practiced as an act of love — as unappreciated as it might be — to keep the child from harm (that comes in so many different forms: health, psychological, social, physical, and spiritual) either now or in the future.

Happily, once we have grown up and matured a bit, we usually come to greatly appreciate the efforts made by our long-suffering parents, despite how unpleasant it might have been at the time — for both of us. I can remember thanking my father for all the discipline (usually spankings) after I had been married a few years — I thought he was going to faint. I had learned to embrace his godly and trustworthy discipline; and honestly, there still are plenty of times when I wish I could go to my dad for his encouragement, rebuke, or correction.

And how much more should we be willing to accept the Lord’s discipline; yet how often do we have hardship, trouble, financial insecurity, loneliness, and much more thrust upon us; and look upward and at least think, “Do you not love me anymore?” We haven’t learned to embrace God’s discipline.

“Well, how do I do that?” you may well ask. There are two things that occur to me — there may be more — to help us embrace the discipline.

One of the things that made me appreciate what my parents had done was understanding (later) why they had done it — to keep me from playing in the street and getting run over, to teach me not to be selfish but care for others, to teach me the value of learning, of hard work, of right priorities, of thrift, of kindness, of generosity, of loyalty, of family, and so much more. And maybe the reasons that we often fail to embrace the discipline is because we’ve not asked the question, “What am I supposed to learn?” The point of discipline is to teach, but as any teacher can tell you learning is a two-way street — the student must be willing to learn. Too often we’re the student who is simply trying to find a way to not suffer the consequences of our sinful actions. You’ll more easily embrace the discipline, when you stop and learn the lesson.

Another of the things that made me appreciate the discipline of my parents is was realizing that they really did love me, were sacrificing things for me, and providing for me — the discipline was simply one more proof, yes proof, of their love. We so often praise and glorify God in our prayers and songs for His marvelous, gracious, constant love evident in His creation, in sending Jesus, in providing for our needs, for the joy and hope we have, for the unbelievable status as heirs of Heaven, and abundantly more. But how often do we recognize and thank Him for the proof of His love found in discipline? Would God just about “faint”?

The writer of Hebrews tells us (Heb. 12:11), “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Let’s learn to embrace the good, trustworthy, and loving discipline of the Lord.

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What you don’t know could hurt you…

I’ve always had an interest in Christian apologetics, and in my humble opinion I think everyone who is a Christian — and everyone generally — needs to at least be exposed to the evidences that Christians have to believe in God, Jesus as the Son of God, and the Bible. Christianity is NOT a blind faith, despite all the accusations of science-denier, history-denier, etc. In my experience, scoffers and skeptics are usually under-informed, having stopped listening and learning.

Wanting to be a lifetime learner I’ve been reading a couple books that I think you readers might also find interesting reading.

The first couple of books are ones that I’ve had in my library a while on archaeology. I’ve read them already, but a thoroughgoing review of them has refreshed in my mind the evidences that the Bible is fact and not a “pious fiction” — Pharaohs and Kings, by David Rohl and Solving the Exodus Mystery by Ted T. Stewart. The biblical issue at stake is the historicity of the Bible — the reliability of the history given to us in the Bible. Much archaeology over the last 150 years has been laboring under the mistaken identification of the biblical Pharaoh Shishak (2 Chron. 12:2ff) with a certain Pharaoh Shoshenq. They are similar-sounding names, but they are not the same Egyptian pharaoh. This archaeological mistake has thrown off the dates of ancient history by roughly three centuries; and it has created a substantial historical ripple effect, since almost all of ancient history from Greece to Babylon (including Israel) is based on Egyptian chronology that is dated 300 years too early.

Both the authors marshal substantial arguments based on odd and frequently changing Egyptian calendars, recent archaeological discoveries among the archives of neighboring kings and nations, often overlooked biblical and archaeological detail, and much more. And both authors agree that a new Egyptian and Greece to Babylonian chronology should be dated 300 later than the current ancient history books allow.

If the timeline were corrected, it would not be Rameses the Great who was the pharaoh of the Exodus (as The Ten Commandments portrays), but more likely Amenemhet IV, who 1) inexplicably died, 2) had no heir to sit on his throne, 3) left Egypt impoverished and virtually undefended, and 4) has no tomb or pyramid that has yet been discovered. Indeed, when the 300 year mistake is corrected, there are many more bibical/historical synchronisms that occur. Bottom line: The Bible has been historically correct all along, man’s accusations against the Bible as being unhistorical has really been man’s mistakes. Some sections of the books are a “slog” but for good reasons — it takes a little time and persistence to untangle the historical mistakes that have been made.

On a different apologetics subject, I’ve also been reading Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyers. His area of expertise is biology and he is a serious scientist. The book in a nutshell is about how Darwinism (animals evolving slowly through micro changes to new a whole new species) has long had a real problem in the fossil record, namely the “Cambrian explosion”. The fossil record just below the Cambrian level has only a very few and rather simple life forms in its fossil record — but then the Cambrian level has tons of life life forms with different body types and complexity. How did such variety and complexity arise so quickly? Classical Darwinism has no answer; so evolutionary true believers have been groping around for almost 100 years to find some way to explain it. Meyers, with great, even-handedness explains the various theories for some kind of rapid evolution and then very rationally points to the fatal flaw in them all. The end result ultimately being that purposeful, deliberate, intelligent design (God) is the only possible explanation for the life on this earth and all its variety. Again, there are details of molecular-level biology (DNA, epigenetic information, HOX genes, and a whole lot of other stuff that you haven’t heard since high school — if then) that make the reading challenging, but the evidences found here for God as Creator are without equal — a tour de force.

Don’t be buffaloed or bullied by skeptics and scoffers. 2 Cor. 10:4, 5 — “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

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Down but not out

What a wonderful encouragement the apostle Paul offers…

“we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”

2Cor. 4:8, 9

Some of you may not know, but about 7 months ago my sweet wife died. It was fairly sudden, ultimately resulting from an accident at home. The grieving process has been full of downs and ups, but by the grace of God there are more ups now than downs, so that I feel (as Paul put it) struck down but not destroyed. This has been due to God’s word, prayer, family, friends, and a great church family from both the Rock Hill church of Christ in Frisco, Texas and the Manchester NH church of Christ. I mention these two congregations last because I want to make a point: while none of the other supports (the Lord especially) are in any way unimportant, the importance of having a church family in times like this cannot be overstated.

There are lots of folks in the general population who think themselves religious without going to church. They are the “give me Jesus, but you can keep the church” folks. Their numbers seem to have grown significantly since the advent of COVID and “church by streaming services”. But God commanded (yes, commanded) that Christians come together every first day of the week (Heb. 10:25, 26) for a lot of good reasons, but one of the chief really good reasons is…we need each other. We need each other for spiritual encouragement, especially when our loss or discouragement or affliction is heartbreaking.

And church encouragement is going to be different and better than ordinary social connection. The world will have its own way of comforting us, advising us, encouraging us, and supporting us — but, let’s be honest about it, they are seldom good and wise ways. The church’s spiritual encouragement will help put things into proper perspective, provide divine and time-tested wisdom for proceeding from here, and give a hope that is more than a kindly wish — a hope that is a confident expectation.

And the fellowship of the church isn’t the sort of thing that you can conjure up “on demand” as you run into occasional hard times. It is something that takes some time to cultivate. So, prepare now for the difficult times that will come — you know they will, right? Come back to church — the Lord’s church (not just any “church” will do) — in person — and find the blessing that God’s great plan for you in the church has provided.

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A Church Where Everyone Ministers

Are you involved in the church’s activities? This question might be answered in a number of ways by various people in the church. Some would say that they’re up to their eyeballs in church activities, while others, on the other end of the spectrum, would reply, “Well, I come to church—sometimes.” And still others might say that they’re up to their eyeballs in church activities, because they come to church services most of the time.

It’s interesting how the religious culture around us influences what we understand God’s expectations of us might be. Because the world around us is almost utterly uninvolved in religious life, we are sometimes tempted to believe that “more involved than them” is plenty and perhaps even pretty dedicated. But this is not how early disciples of Jesus understood their commitment to the Lord.

The New Testament carries plenty of encouragement for serious involvement in the life of the church and the purposes of God. 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6 call all Christians priests — for example, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5). Priests are active—really active—in the business of God. Their lives revolve around service to God; they are sanctified to God for dedicated use in His service. 

However, this understanding began to “lose steam”, according to history, about the 2nd or 3rd century. Everett Ferguson wrote in Early Christians Speak: 

“…by the time of Cyprian in the third century the language of priesthood was no longer an Old Testament analogy but an established designation for officers in the church. Clement affords the first use in Christian literature of the language of ‘laity’ in contrast to ministers, In the Bible ‘the people’ (laos, from which laity is derived) is a noble concept, ‘the people of God,’ and refers to the whole of God’s elect. As God’s elect, all participated in the “priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9). Someone has observed that the organizational history of the second and third centuries, therefore, is not the story of the emergence of the priesthood but the emergence of a distinct laity not exercising a priestly ministry.”

And to this day, aren’t we often tempted to think in “clergy/laity” terms? 

And we do this to our detriment, because there are so many benefits to personal involvement in the church.

  • Our faith grows when it works — inactive faith is a dead faith according to James 2:14 and following verses. On the other hand, active faith grows, flourishes, and blesses others.
  • The church is healthier and more capable, when you contribute your involvement — 1 Corinthians 12 pounds the point that a healthy body always has healthy and active organs. We are the organs of the body of Christ. Without the activity and involvement of all of us, the body is less than completely healthy and is handicapped.
  • Other Christians are encouraged — nothing is more discouraging than to be the only one or one of the few involved; ask any minister. On the other hand, few things are more encouraging than when the whole body rises up in involvement and works together for the Lord’s cause. 
  • Fellowship is enhanced — fellowship isn’t limited to just eating together, is it? Some of the greatest fellowship of the church is in its work together.
  • The world is attracted by an active church and active disciples — the world is looking for something worth their time, effort, and heart; they are looking for meaning for their lives. An involved church tells the world that yes, there is something worth living and dying for.

Let me encourage you to be involved: worship and Bible class attendance, work days, Bible classes, Vacation Bible School when we have it, youth work, work around the church building and grounds, becoming a followup teacher, becoming an evangelistic teacher, becoming a home of hospitality, becoming an active encourager of other disciples, becoming a greeter at church, helping with the nursery, and so much more.

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Text of a Candle Light Vigil

On Friday, Feb 19, a terrible, terrible tragedy and crime occurred in Celina TX that has shaken this community, town, and region to its core. We’d like to think that such terrible things happen far away from us, and far away from our safe neighborhoods; but we’ve discovered a terrible truth that evil can happen right next door.

Our hearts are broken over the victims, a mother and her two young teen children (a girl and a boy); our outrage is almost boundless toward the perpetrator; and our illusions of safety have been shattered. And that is why we have gathered together this evening to remember the victims, offer comfort and support to one another, and pray that such things never happen again.

We don’t know what went on in this house or the evolution of evil or madness that grew in in the husband’s heart; but we do know that there are better ways to deal with our emotions than letting them all loose: better ways to resolve family problems than violence and murder: better choices than rage, hate, and revenge: and better outcomes than this tragedy of death, destruction, and ruin. But these things seem to happen more and more these days. And it seems clear that as…

    • …people embrace the idea that they are justified in unleashing their anger and hatred in words and deeds, violence grows.
    • That when people believe that they are their own judge of right and wrong, that the world simply gets darker.
    • That as courtesy and kindness are deemed old-fashioned, that violent, provocative words multiply exponentially.
    • That as people believe that they really can’t help themselves, that there’s no God, no judgment, and no consequences in this world or the next — they become more hopeless, more self-centered, and more malevolent.
    • As people reject the ideas of responsibility, self-control, and God’s unchanging standard of right and wrong the world descends into deeper and deeper evil.

You see, when God is factored out, anything goes, civilization and society breaks down, individuals sink into hopelessness, the beastly law of the jungle prevails, and “might becomes right”. Mankind’s worldly wisdom always ends up at the same tragic destination.

So, what is there for us to do?

We can most importantly let this tragic event remind us of the profound need we have for God, to both guide us and comfort us. It is the Lord alone who can not only offer comfort and peace, but also makes things right in the end. The apostle Paul tells us that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28), and we can rely on both the promise and the Promiser in the here and now and the hereafter. It is in Him we must place our trust. Though we don’t know all the things that went on in the heart of the perpetrator, such acts are often the result of hopelessness. But God offers hope and justice and peace. Place your hearts and hands and lives into God hands in faith and obedience. He specializes in mending broken hearts, broken souls, and broken lives.

We’re reminded of this life’s transitory and fragile nature. The NT writer James compared life to a “vapor” — now you see it, now you don’t. COVID has already reminded of us this, but the kind of tragedies like the one on Hickory Lane are even sharper prompts — not so that we will invest so much more in this life, as much as that we should remember to “store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt. 6:20).

But this tragic event also reminds us how important community and relationships are — even in a age of COVID, social distancing, and masking. This evening is a wonderful demonstration of the community, support, comfort, counsel, and solidarity found in this neighborhood — manifested in this candle-light vigil. We should thank the organizers for this and for reminding us by all the candles here that there is more to our neighborhoods than superficial greetings as we jog by, or see each other as we mow our lawns, or pick our kids from school. There are friendships, sharing, and support to be found behind many a door, and that we must be our brother’s keeper.

It reminds us of how important compassion is…of how we need to be more aware of one another’s struggles…how we should reach out to each other with listening ears, encouraging words, and genuine concern.

This evening we remember, the three victims. Not many of us here knew them well, but we will always remember this tragedy. To all who grieve and strain to know why, no reason will be satisfying, but if I may offer a final couple of words of spiritual advice…

      • Pour your heart out to God in prayer; you’ll find no greater friend
      • Pr.3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
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Christian Love, Part 2

Paul starts his teaching about Christian love in 1 Cor. 13 with some of the harder facets of this great virtue…

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Christian Love, Part 1

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Something to check out

As many of you who know me will know, I have moved from New England to Texas. I’m now the pulpit minister for the Rock Hill church of Christ in Frisco, Texas. One of the things that I’m doing is a Monday through Friday video devotional titled “Rock Hill Reflections” Below is a sample of the video found on Facebook Mon.-Fri — @rhcoc. If you find it useful you could “subscribe” to and get a daily shot of encouragement or something to think about. Let me know what you think. 🙂

Found Monday through Friday on Facebook, @rhcoc

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