This week, I preach on the text of the Rich man and Lazarus. It's found in Luke 16.
The Rich man is loaded. He has all he needs. Then there is Lazarus. He's a poor man. He's an outcast, licked by dogs. He's passed by and eats the droppings off the table of the Rich man.
The Rich man overlooks the poor man. He closes his ear to the needs of Lazarus.
Proverbs 21:13 (NRSV)
13 If you close your ear to the cry of the poor,
you will cry out and not be heard.
They both die. Lazarus goes to be with Abraham, while the Rich man is greatly separated and in a place of suffering. He longs for Lazarus to notice and care for him.
There is a great reversal in the story that doesn't bode well for the Rich man. He cries out and he isn't heard. More precisely, the Rich man isn't helped. It's the first time in a long time where he makes a request that goes unanswered, unmet.
He's treated how he treated Lazarus before they both died.
Don't get lost in who gets in to heaven and hell. I don't think it's about that.
I think it is about listening to the needs of others and responding in kindness, generosity and love in a way that brings honor to God.
God, open our ears to the cry of the poor,
Let their suffering be no more
As we hear and see their need
before you we plead
to make your world right
and bring your Kingdom here in full view of our sight.
Old Nebby and Christianity by Force
Daniel is one of my favorite books in all of the Bible. I love the stories of faithful Hebrews in the midst of incredible circumstances. We have much to learn from the book about loyalty to God, and remaining faithful to Him.
Remember the story of Nebuchadnezzar and his giant chocolate bunny, or I mean the graven image made of gold? Old Nebby forced everyone into the worship of this idol. Three Hebrew boys were the heroines of the story, who stood strong for the beliefs and refused to worship the image of gold, even with the threat of death by fiery furnace. We know these three Hebrew boys, most popularly as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. A long story short, the boys stay faithful, get thrown into the furnace, and God protects them. They don’t die. Nebby is convinced their God is the true God. It’s a miraculous turn of events!
I’ve never made this association before, so it might be out of left field. So forgive me if you disagree. But think about this:
How often as Christians do we use the same message as Nebby to get adherents to Christianity as Nebby did to get adherent to his religion?
What I mean is, much of what we hear today and have heard for a long time is a forceful sort of worship of God. Much of the way we think about Christianity is that of the type of belief that Nebuchadnezzar proposes to the Hebrew boys was force. “Worship this image, or else, suffer flames.”
Instead of an invitation to new life in Jesus Christ, we make it more about the consequences of not living a life devoted to God. WE invite people under threat: “Worship God, or else!”
What are we communicating about the God we love?
That certainly isn’t the way the boys think about the Lord Almighty, God of Israel.
They see their God worth going into a furnace for, and if he saves them (which they believe him to have the power to do) then great, and if not, they will die faithful.
I suppose that I wouldn’t mind having that type of faith. Instead of viewing God as some sort of fire-insurance, my hope is that I would instead view Him as worth going into the fire for.
We need to help people see what they are missing, and that is a God worth dying for, worthy of our whole devotion.
We spoke in my Sunday School class yesterday about sharing the hope of salvation with others. The hard question came up, “How do we share with people who know all that we stand for, even to the point of agreeing, but they don’t want to change?” I still don’t know that I have an answer to that question. But as I reflect further on this I can’t help but think the effectiveness of the three Hebrew boys by remaining faithful, despite incredible circumstances. Perhaps, that’s all we really have going for us: faithfulness in all circumstances.
Is our faith a matter of fire-insurance, or the hope that even in the midst of the flames, our God is with us?
Let’s consider how we think about our relationship with God. Spiritual development for us must move us from viewing Christianity as fire-insurance, a get out of hell card, to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of Christianity as an initiation to enjoy the new Kingdom life today, made possible in Jesus Christ our King.
In the news cycle today you are going to hear about a guy who posed as a bishop trying to get in with the Cardinals for their meeting about the Pope. I'm not entirely sure as to what he was trying to accomplish. I suppose it was, "Let's see how far I can get until they notice that I don't belong."
There are all kinds of applications for a preacher here. I suppose it's going to hit a sermon-near-you in this weeks sermon.
What gave the guy away was his fedora. I don't know why he wanted to wear one, but he would have gotten a lot further had he not.
I have a point, and here it is: Don't be an imposter. We ought to study Jesus and strive to be like him, not just look the part of being a Christian.
Colossians 3:12 "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
Paul reminds us of our holy place as a dearly loved and chosen people. We are loved by God and called to wear compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Take time to study Jesus and become like him.
When God sets forth his plan for the Israelite community, God provides for them a way forward for reconciliation. The entire book of Leviticus is on the theme of reconciliation and God setting apart the Priests for the Holy work of offering sacrifices for atonement and worship.. God knows this community will need forgiveness, and he provides a way for them to do it.
Jesus provides a similar plan for the community of believers that he is forming, the Church.. In Matthew 18, Jesus provides a way for reconciliation, the plan includes: endless forgiveness and approaching a lost brother or sister and righting differences between each other in community.
Jesus sets forth a community that is all about restoring a lost brother or sister, or as he puts it, finding the lost sheep.. Part of what makes the Church a special community is its willingness to forgive one another and its care for the least.
I am encouraged that Jesus knows we are going to sin. He recognizes the need and provides a way for us to enjoy community together. The key to it: Forgiveness.
We as the church are called to forgive one another, and God has set forth his plan in Matthew 18.
Who needs forgiveness today? Is there a lost sheep you need to reach out to?
Wendy and I are in the midst of debate concerning where you read the Bible. I recently was convicted that my Bible reading shouldn't be in the bathroom. If you consider how we have had the Bible read throughout the generations, it seems awfully irreverent and disrespectful to read the Bible while having a bowel movement.
I know it's the few quiet places in the world, but if it's quiet that you need, wake up earlier. That's what I say.
Anyways, Wendy and I are on a Bible reading adventure, where we need all the time we can get. It's the season of Lent, give up on something and devote your life ever more fervently to God.
Remember, we do not live on bread alone, but the very word of God! Deuteronomy 8:3
The true sense of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is rooted in Psalm 23. He is the good and beautiful shepherd who leads his people to renewal, provision and protection. The true and loving shepherd guides his people to a life rid from the fear of evil and towards the place of peace. This shepherd take so serious his role, at the sight of evil, at the very presence of evil, he gives of his life for his sheep. This friends is the compelling love of God. Greater love is this Jesus who gave of his life for us.
John 10:1-18 & Psalm 23.
In John 10, we learn about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. NT Wright brings up how the word “Good” doesn’t do justice to the compelling power of Jesus’ love. He says,
All this should make it clear why Jesus refers to himself as the ‘good’ shepherd (verses 11 and 14). But our word ‘good’ doesn’t quite catch the full meaning of the word John has written here. For us, ‘good’ can sound a bit cold or hard, merely moralistic. The word John uses can also mean ‘beautiful’. This doesn’t refer to what Jesus looked like. It’s about the sheer attractiveness of what, as the shepherd, he was doing. When he calls, people want to come. When they realize he has died for them, they want to even more. The point of calling Jesus ‘the good shepherd’ is to emphasize the strange, compelling power of his love.
[Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10, 153-54 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004).]
Quick thoughts, meant to encourage. That's what the blog will be about. I will do my best to write a quick and encouraging thought. That's what the blog should be about, and that's what it will be about. Subscribe if you would like.
First thought will come later today...hopefully :)
What an interesting week we’ve had down here in Etna Green. The joy of the birth of my daughter was dampened slightly by the news that the church was vandalized in my absence. Someone decided they would get into the church at night and spray off a fire extinguisher throughout the church basement and steal some money from a Sunday school classroom. We had to steam clean the carpets and scrub the tables really well to get the gunk out. The basement is somewhat back to normal, but I’m still a little discouraged.
The mission of EGCC has been to put love where love is not. I’ve begun a big push in the last year or two to become more outward focused in our ministries at EGCC. Because we believe our mission is to put love where it isn’t, we do things like feed children meals, Monday through Friday throughout the summer. There are hungry kids in our community, so we open the doors to them and offer them a free meal. Parents are welcome to come along and we happily feed them too. It’s a good ministry that meets a practical need and it helps kids. We are putting love where it is needed.
I believe the culprits of the vandalism unlocked a door during lunch, which is never unlocked, and used that to sneak in, in the middle of the night. They came in for juice and money and decided that they never saw what a fire extinguisher did and wanted to try it out. They did it a little bit and thought it was fun and then they went crazy, spraying it everywhere. Leaving a giant mess for someone else to pick up.
My initial response is to lock the doors and stop our outreach all together. Thinking to myself “If this is how kids are going to respond to our love than we will shut the whole thing down and they can starve to death.” After more reflection, I’ve realized that it is because we love them that we must press on. It only affirms all the more that there are places within so many children’s hearts and lives where there isn’t love. They need a church to open their doors and love them. They need a church to spread their arms out and welcome them in and offer them salvation in Jesus Christ. The fire extinguisher won’t put out the fire that our church has for the lost. We put love where love is not, and sometimes it hurts.
It reminds me of a painting from Vincent Van Gogh. The Sower is Van Gogh’s interpretation of the Parable of the Sower. When Van Gogh uses the color yellow it implies the presence of God. The next time you check out Van Gogh’s starry night, you will see yellow throughout the sky and in the city, and hopefully you will notice yellow’s absence in the church. He makes a powerful point with his colors. In his work The Sower, Van Gogh implores the color yellow throughout. He uses it in the field as the wheat grows, and he covers the sky in yellow. Van Gogh is reminding us that God is at work. The painting depicts the sower dredging through the field, spreading the seeds everywhere; along the path, the rocks and the birds are shown as well. To sow the seed he isn’t meticulous in avoiding the trouble spots, he spreads it liberally and he seems to hope for the best. You can pick out in the painting where the seeds will grow and where it won’t. It’s a beautiful painting that I admire more and more each time I look at it.
I suspect that when you set out to put love where love is not, some love might fall on the path and get trampled, some birds may eat it up and other times it will land on a rock and never take deep enough root to really change a life. But the point is, that the seed, or word of God is spread, and given an opportunity to grow. Yeah it may get choked out, trampled, rejected or stolen, but it may take root, grow and mature.
Van Gogh understands the parable; it’s God that does the mysterious growth, not the sower. Van Gogh teaches us that the Sowers job is a simple one; spread the seeds and let God do the rest.
I am reminded this week that our job is to keep spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is an absence of love in this world, and God showed us that love through Jesus Christ. His Kingdom is upon us; it is here and coming in full. No amount of vandalism will keep us from our mission to love the world as Jesus loves this world. The love we offer this community may get trampled again. It may get vandalized, threatened or stolen, but our source of love is mighty and awesome. We are filled and led by the Spirit. We won’t let a little fire extinguisher extinguish the burning desire we have in our hearts for the world to know the love of God.
Jesus is the Deliverer and Rescuer of the world.
The scribes who came from Jerusalem were saying of Jesus “He is possessed by Beelzebul, by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 3:22-23.
“How can Satan cast out Satan?” – Jesus begins the logical argument of how and why would Satan cast out Satan? For one, it doesn’t make any sense and Satan fighting against himself would make his throne significantly weaker.
Jesus explains it in a parable:
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but its coming to an end.”
Jesus elaborates further on his point about Satan casting out Satan: kingdoms and homes, divided against each other, cannot stand. This is both logical and historical. We see throughout history the validity of this parable in our experiences. When there is mutiny in the camp, or on the boat, disaster soon follows. The same is true here. Jesus cannot logically be of Satan, because Satan divided would be weaker.
Verse 27 can be confusing for interpretation. But I say with confidence that the strong man is referring back to Satan. It reads “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”
If Satan in fact is the strong man, Jesus is telling his adversaries his intentions to bind Satan and free the world from its slavery to sin. I don’t know that his audience realizes this initially.
We can draw at least two conclusions come from this parable. Jesus is not in collusion with Satan and Jesus is the deliverer and rescuer of the souls of humankind.
A question we may be asking is how and when does Jesus tie the hands of the strong man? Jesus ties the hands of Satan when he goes to the cross and offers us forgiveness of sin. Satan’s grip on humanity is our addiction and slavery to sin. Jesus on the cross provides atonement for that sin and frees us from it all at the same time.
I think its important to realize what enables Jesus to forgive us and free us.
How Jesus bound the hands of Satan was when he was tempted in the wilderness and later in the garden of Gethsemane facing temptation. When Jesus faced the temptation of the evil one and remained faithful he overcame the ploys of the evil one. Satan’s ploys have captured every man before and after Jesus. But it didn’t work on Jesus because Jesus is more powerful than Satan. Jesus overcame the temptation of the evil one and showed that Satan had no power over him. Jesus was human in every way and remained faithful to God. Jesus' faithfulness puts him in a unique position to go into the house of Satan, bind his hands and feet and take for his Father the spoils of victory, the souls of men.
What matters most from this text is this: Jesus has provided for humanity a way out of the grips of the evil one. Satan’s hands are still tied and the name that binds them is the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus may overcome the most powerful of demons. The name of Jesus frees men and women enslaved to the evil one because of their sin. The name of Jesus is the name of deliverance. That’s the point. Jesus is the forgiver of souls and redeems and saves humankind. All people may be saved and be reconciled back to their heavenly Father because Jesus is more powerful than the evil one.
Jesus isn’t satisfied with only tying the hands of the strong man; he ransacks his house and saves us. Call on the name of Jesus, for he is the Savior of the world.
Heavenly Father, you have made possible through your Son, Jesus Christ atonement and freedom from sin. I know that every person to ever live sinned, except for one, my deliverer, Jesus. I praise you and thank you for him. may my life make known to others that freedom and eternal life made available in him. I ask this in the powerful name above all names, Jesus, amen.