Why Scandal and Conflict Seem to Follow the Church: Decoding the Parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven

How many high profile preachers have been marred by scandal? How many have been caught in extra-marital affairs, embezzling church funds, or manipulating the faithful into funding their lavish lifestyles?

How many churches have split, been embroiled in conflict over doctrinal differences, or divided over conflict among the leadership?

And why are there so many hypocrites in the church?

We could write endlessly about the problems plaguing modern American Christianity. We could wring our hands in righteous indignation and disillusionment, lamenting the blight of these scandals on the testimony of Christ.

However, once we understand the Kingdom Parables, we should be no more surprised by these problems than we are the trials and temptations that come with the Christian life… for scripture foretells all of it.

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32), Jesus said the Kingdom was like a mustard seed, which despite bring small, would grow into a tree so large that the birds of the air would lodge in its branches.

While many see this as a prophecy of Christianity infiltrating and influencing the world, once we apply the proper interpretation using the symbols Christ gave in the Parable of the Sower, we’ll learn that the problems of today’s church do not surprise our Lord. In fact, He planned for these problems.

In the Parable of the Sower, we find that the seed represents the Gospel, and the birds represent the evil one (Satan and his demons).

Utilizing that imagery, we find that as the Gospel spreads and the church grows, Satan will send his forces to disrupt and pollute the work of the church. Hence, we find high profile Christian leaders falling to temptation, and we find great churches descending into conflict.

Where the Gospel is being advanced, Satan will work to disrupt. So, Spiritual conflict is actually a sign that God is working.

In the Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33) we find that a woman has taken leaven and hidden it in three measures of meal. That leaven permeated that meal until the whole lump was leavened.

Leaven symbolizes sin in scripture. It’s why the Lord’s Supper is observed with unleavened bread. The bread represents the body of Christ, and Christ was sinless.

Thus, in the Parable of the Leaven, we see a woman who has placed leaven in a lump of meal, resulting in the whole lump being leavened. Leaven is basically yeast that causes bread to rise. That leaven infiltrates everything it is infused into.

Thus, when the leaven is placed in the lump, the whole lump is leavened. Likewise, when sin enters the equation, it infiltrates everything.

So, when scripture says that by one man sin entered into the world (Romans 5:12), sin infiltrated all aspects of human life. As a result, everything we do is touched by sin, even the things that we do for good.

That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:21 that “I find a law, that even when I would do good, evil is present with me.”

So, even when people are volunteering for charity, serving in the church, spreading the word of God, and helping the poor, sin is still present, and has a tendency to taint the good that has been done.

A good depiction of this can be found in the classic DC Talk song, “What if I Stumble,” where the singer wonders, “Is this one for the people, or is this one for the Lord? Or do I simply serenade for things I must afford,” before lamenting, “You can jumble them together, the conflict still remains, holiness is calling in the midst of courting fame.”

With sin ever present even in the best of our behaviors, we can see how problems could arise in even the most Spiritual circumstances. Thus, we find conflict, moral and spiritual failure, and hypocrisy within even the strongest churches.

This might be a little disturbing, and may cause some to become disillusioned. However, Christ knew we would have these struggles, and He planned for them.

God has a way of taking that which is bad and using it for good. He takes that which disrupts and creates order. He takes that which is broken and creates beauty. He redeems the good from the bad, the diamonds from the coal, the smooth from the rough.

So, do not be disillusioned when you see failure in the church, and don’t be too hard on yourself when the failure is yours. The Lord understands the frailties of humanity, and has planned for them.

Trust Him, and praise Him for His gracious and amazing redemption of us.

Where’s the Joy?

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In an epic rant on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, comedian Louis C.K. lamented that, “Everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy.” In his rant, Louis C.K. noted advancements in technology, travel, credit availability and prosperity, yet the country as a whole was in a pretty foul mood.

Indeed, over the past 240, God has prospered America, yet America is not happy. We can have face-to-face communications via Facetime with loved ones overseas. We can fly across the entire country in five hours. We can access any tidbit of information known to man within a few seconds. Literally, the collective knowledge of man is cataloged by Google, and easily accessible from the smart phone you keep in your pocket.

Economically, there are ebbs and flows. Yet, the trend is for businesses to expand, consumers to buy more, and employment is readily available for most. Those who are entrepreneurially minded can check market demands and easily connect with prospective customers via the internet, which has leveled the playing field between the upstarts and major corporations.

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, we can now stream our favorite TV shows when we want to. No longer must we set an appointment for Thursday nights.

Everything’s amazing, yet nobody’s happy.

Television shows endless scenes of protest, controversy, and news personalities drone on and on about the President’s tweets, and the political fall out thereof.

While Fox News may promote rising stock prices and lowering unemployment rates, no TV news network seems to want to tell the stories of the overcomers. Instead, every injustice is pointed out and inflated to foment conflict and division, which are good for politics and ratings.

Thus, the general public consumes this inflammatory content, then goes to social media to air out their frustrations. Thus, online arguments start, people continue to visit social media to participate in the argument, and online media numbers rise.

30 years ago, the general public had little opportunity to weigh in publicly on the issues of the day. Today, there are ample opportunities to do so.

Everything’s amazing. Nobody’s happy.

Today, our nation finds itself in a similar position as Israel did in Isaiah 9.  In Isaiah 9:3, the Bible says, “Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy.”

Over several hundred years, God prospered the nation of Israel. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, cared for them as they wandered as nomads in the wilderness, and conquered the promised land for them. Once in the promised land, God prospered them with bountiful harvests, and a strong economy.

When Israel demanded that God give them a king, He provided them with strong kings who led the nation further into prosperity, and defended them against enemy invaders.

Under King Solomon, Israel reached the height of its prominence, strong not only in national defense, but also becoming a superpower.

God multiplied the nation. He gave them increase, yet their joy did not increase. Despite God’s blessings, Israel remained discontent. Discontent over the financial sacrifice made to build the temple, over God’s restrictions from engaging in the sinful conduct of the heathen nations around them, and discontent with the traditions they were given.

In their discontent, they squandered the blessings God had given them, divided the nation, turned to idolatry, and brought about destruction in their society. God had multiplied the nation, but the joy was not increased.

Everything was amazing. Nobody was happy.

Dark times had enveloped Israel. Yet, all hope was not lost.

In Isaiah 9:2, the Bible says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

Though Spiritual, emotional and cultural darkness covered the land, people were beginning to see a light. Despite the sin and rebellion within the culture, God was shining a light upon them.

This Light was Jesus Christ, as the Bible foretold in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Through His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ offered light in darkness. He offered deliverance from the darkness of the day by showing the eternal nature of things, and putting the things of this life into perspective.

He offered deliverance from hopelessness by offering salvation. He purchased salvation by dying for our sins on the cross.

He confirmed our hope by rising from the grave and ascending to be at the right hand of God, where He ever lives to make intercession for us.

In Isaiah 9, God promised to redeem Israel from darkness through His only begotten Son. This promise is passed on to us in the New Testament.

In his rant on Late Night, Louis C.K. said that the demise of capitalism would probably be good for us.

“I think we need a few years of walking behind donkeys with pots clanging,” he said, as O’Brien added, “It’ll kind of put things back in perspective for us.”

Yet, the solution for our national situation, and our personal situation, is not poverty. An economic collapse may get our attention, but will not solve our problems in and of ourselves.

The solution for the darkness of our current generation is simply to see the Light. To turn to the Lord, put everything into perspective, have an eternal mindset, and quit looking for fulfillment in temporary earthly things.

If we do this, everything will be amazing, regardless of economic conditions, and we’ll be happy.