Sweat Equity

I was reading recently in Matthew 20 about the land owner who hired all the day laborers. As I read, I felt the familiar chaffing in response to the “unfairness” of the last workers receiving the same as the those who’d toiled all that livelong day in the vineyard.

It has always bothered me that those who had barely broken a sweat received the exact same wage from the landowner as those who had sweat and labored from sunup to sundown in this parable. And then it hit me –

Have I lived my entire adult life as if my eternal abode was earned with good old fashioned sweat equity?



I’ve been pondering this for weeks now.

On the one hand, I do not believe sweat equity has a place in God’s House. I believe the moment we begin to think that any thing we can do will earn God’s favor in any way, we have missed the point of grace. And God is ALL ABOUT GRACE!

On the other hand, the chaffing I receive every single time I read that parable is undeniable proof that some part of me clings to the idea that I can earn God’s grace. That I can behave my way into Heaven. That I can do enough good works to change God’s mind about my sin. And I can’t.

No one can. And that’s good news!

The saint that’s been raised in the church (ie. me) is offered the same grace as the death row inmate walking to his execution (ie “real sinners”).

That is what I’m beginning to truly wrap my mind around as I read the Word this year – G R A C E.

How about you?

I’m embracing feedback this year. Please leave yours in the comments – the good, the bad, the indifferent. I’d love to hear from you.




Meet Martha of Bethany

He Qi's "Martha & Mary" in The Life of Jesus series is available here.
He Qi’s “Martha & Mary” in The Life of Jesus series is available here.

Martha, Martha…

I have known both Mary & Martha all of my life. I have always thought of Martha as the poor, misunderstood, responsible sister of the lazy, irresponsible Mary. I always felt that I could relate to Martha, that I understood where she was coming from in doing all the necessary things one does when one offers hospitality. I “got” her irritation with Mary, who was just sitting there doing nothing. I felt the sting of Jesus’ words as if He’d spoken them to me when He gently chastised her and praised lazy Mary.

After spending a week with Mary, connecting with and understanding her like I never have before, my entire perception of her changed. And I mean completely and utterly changed. I wondered if I’d had it wrong all these years where Martha was concerned, as well, so I asked Martha for some one-on-one time and she graciously invited me to spend a week with her in Bethany.

I still share a lot of commonalities with Martha. I have a do-er personality. I have a keen sense of duty, of doing the “right” thing (even if it is too often accompanied with the wrong attitude). I get upset with others when they don’t do what I think they should. My sense of justice oftentimes leads me to ask the Lord to make things right when I feel I’ve been wronged by someone, to take my grievance directly to Him.

Against the newly painted backdrop of her sister, Martha’s shortcomings (and my own!) shine brighter than before. But like the saying goes, We learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. (Can I get an “Amen!”?) And tucked amid all of the character flaws that we share, Martha displayed something that I feel shamefully lacking in my own life – a beautiful, teachable heart.

Listening to her testimony again, I realized that Martha didn’t repeat the same mistake twice. I want to have such a teachable heart! I want to receive His Words to me and have them “stick” like that. I want to respond to His chastening as quickly and wholeheartedly as Martha did. I want to be sensitive to His teaching. I want to be changed by obeying His Word. I want to share that positive character trait with Martha, as well.

If your heart desires the same, I invite you to visit Martha in Bethany this week. Click here to spend some one-on-one time with Martha of Bethany.


Meet Mary Magdalene

"Mary Magdalene," stained glass from St. Kilian’s Church in Sülzbach, Germany (Photo by Peter Schmelzle)
“Mary Magdalene,” stained glass from St. Kilian’s Church in Sülzbach, Germany
(Photo by Peter Schmelzle)

I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I’ve never given Mary Magdalene a second thought. If I met her as a kid, I don’t remember it. If we were introduced sometime in college, I’ve forgotten. The truth is that, for me, Mary Magdalene always got lost amid the throng of other Marys in the Bible.

Recently that all changed and I confess that I’m glad I took the time to get to know her more personally. I found Mary Magdalene to be someone perfectly content to live in the background, serving in the shadows of the spotlights cast by her friends. (Truthfully, this is the first thing we connected over as I feel most comfortable serving behind-the-scenes, as well.) As Mary shared her story with me, I perceived a deep level of loyalty to those she called friend – a trait I value highly in my own friends. By the end of our week together, we wept with one another over the loss of loved ones that were so dear to our hearts that it felt like just breathing was an effort. We connected over the intense need we felt to do something for those we’d lost in the wake of their deaths.

Truthfully, I feel I have found a real gem of a friend in Mary Magdalene, a real kindred spirit and soul sister.

And I invite you to get to know her, as well.



Ministry in the Menial

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, Rembrandt, 1634, Rembrandt House Musueum
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, Rembrandt, 1634, Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam

Wrongfully despised.

Wrongfully enslaved.

Wrongfully imprisoned.

Wrongfully forgotten.

Joseph’s life didn’t start off on easy street. It would have been understandable if he had thrown up his hands in defeat by the time he was behind bars in Egypt. Instead, Joseph walked the bumpy road of his life focused on serving, not on self.

  • When enslaved in Potiphar’s house, Joseph served righteously.
  • When imprisoned for doing right by his master, Joseph served faithfully.
  • When the cupbearer forgot him, Joseph continued to serve in prison steadfastly.

Joseph purposed to serve as working for the Lord, not for human masters – wherever he was.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. – Colossians 3:23

Through his serving, through the thousands of menial tasks he performed as a slave and prisoner, through the faithfulness of whatever he did, Joseph added to his good reputation one faithful day at a time.

PONDER: What difficulties in your life focus your attention on self rather than the Savior? What menial, daily tasks of yours could be turned into ministry if your focus was on serving God instead of serving man?

PRAYER: Father, thank You for giving me something to work with my hands every day. Thank You for the countless opportunities you have granted me to serve those around me. Thank You for every job I have that goes unthanked, unappreciated or unnoticed. Help me to praise You with my hands as I do my work unto You, every day. May I seek to serve You, wholeheartedly, all the days of my life.

The Heart of a Servant – a guest post by Amanda Erickson


I was so little my daddy had to pull a chair up to the kitchen sink so I could stand on it, tippy-toed, to help wash the dishes. Actually, I’m pretty sure he had me rinsing dishes, as my untrained eye and the desire to rush through this chore almost surely would have resulted in not very clean dishes. Daddy was washing, I was rinsing.

Some of my earliest memories of family holidays are of my Daddy drawing my little brother and me to himself and telling us it was time to clean our Grandma’s kitchen. Not all that surprising was how resistant my brother and I were to this idea – downright resentful some times! But my dad, well, he always did it with a cheerful spirit, often whistling or humming a tune while cleaning up the holiday mess.

There are recurring moments that sprinkle through my childhood memories. Daddy washing up dishes at Grandma’s house. Daddy clearing people’s plates from the table at church functions so they could keep right on talking. Daddy staying until the lights were turned out and doors locked so he could help clean up after a party or event.

“Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13

Over the past 2 1/2 years I’ve been on the receiving end of my dad’s selfless service. Throughout two tough pregnancies and having new little ones of my own, my dad has stepped in to serve me in ways I never knew I needed. During my pregnancies he’d call on his way home from work (he drives by my house to go to and from work) to see if I needed anything on his way by. Whether it was delivering pregnancy cravings or taking out a mostly empty trash bag because super pregnancy nose was in full swing, he did it. And when my husband is out of town he stops by to help give baths and tuck in tots. Although that may be a little self serving since his my two year old loves seeing his Papa, and the feeling is quite mutual.188349_502463844269_896_n

My dad has the heart of a servant. He serves others and models Christ in a way that makes the Gospel come to life right before your eyes, bringing to life the Scriptural admonition to serve one another in love. Of course as a kid I thought washing dishes at Grandma’s house was some sort of unusual punishment or penance required for enjoying a bountiful Christmas morning. As I grew up though, I realized that inasmuch as Daddy was teaching us to do dishes with a  cheerful spirit (confession: I still wrestle with that), the more valuable lesson he modeled for us was that of selflessly and joyfully serving others.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:5-7

My father-in-law has the heart of a servant. Truly. He is the first person that came to mind when I turned my attention toward the command to “serve one another.” His consistent example to me over the past 25 years has defined and shaped what it looks like to flesh out this command and has served to inspire me toward living the same. While I’ve seen his servant’s heart in action for the past 25 years of marriage to his oldest, my sister-in-law (Amanda Erickson) has been blessed with a lifetime of living and learning from this most gracious of men. May you be blessed in getting to know my amazing father-in-law, Murray Smith, through the eyes of his biggest fan.