Which Fire

I like the football team the Pittsburgh Steelers. I cheer them on with seasonal loyalty. I often wear a baseball cap sporting their logo in all seasons. Occasionally, someone will say to me, “I hate the Steelers.” I even had a couple people say that Steeler fans are not welcome, you know, wherever I happen to be in the moment. I think they’re kidding, but you never know. And I’m okay with all of this negative joking, prodding, and stated dislike. I’m guessing that a lot of people are just indifferent. I’m alright with that as well. Liking, disliking, or indifference toward a football team will not change your life. In the grand scheme of things, it makes very little difference. Well, unless you let it. And you can even sit on the fence in regards to me. You can take me or leave me. You can be completely indifferent. Liking, disliking, or indifference toward me will not be an earthshaking event in anyone’s life. The problem is that many treat Jesus as if this were also true of him; as if he were just some nice guy that you can take or leave; as if his words can be shifted through and held onto or discarded, depending on your own personal likes and dislikes.

              Jesus states a very different reality in Luke 12:49-53. Many assume that Jesus came to bring a message that is all about you feeling good about yourself. Nah man, he came to cast fire upon the earth. Fire is used most often in the Bible for judgment. This is especially true in apocalyptic literature, such as Revelation. It can also represent purifying. Maybe in this context it means both judgment and purification. Jesus’ life and message is a fire that either judges or purifies; depending on how you receive it. And that makes good sense in the context. Then he says, “how I desire that it was already ignited.” In some way the fire was already sparking. Divisions were already happening. The religious leaders had already chosen sides. But without the death, burial and resurrection, there would be no real fire. Without that part of Jesus’ life-message, Jesus would be just another man with some cool things to say that you could gather up or throw away. You could choose sides; you could get angry; you could hate. But without the cross event, Jesus is just man who can be followed or ignored with impunity. But his message is more than a collection of wise sayings. It is fire.

              Jesus then said that he must be baptized with baptism. Because the word “baptism” means “immersed” it is often used metaphorically of being overwhelmed. Plato spoke of being baptized in his students’ questions. Their many questions overwhelmed him; surrounded him. The baptism Jesus is speaking of here is the crucifixion event. It was to be an overwhelming engulfing event. The rest of verse 50 is most likely, “and how pressed I am until it is accomplished.” Jesus is probably saying that his face is set on this baptism; he is determined to see it through to the end. It is not joyful, but it is necessary. And maybe his point is that his longing for the resulting fire keeps him determined no matter how engulfing the event would prove to be.

              And then Jesus says this weird and almost contradictory thing. He says that he didn’t come to bring peace on earth. Wait a minute! The angels sang of peace at your birth Jesus. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believed on him shall not perish but have eternal life. That sounds like peace. Remember the fire. Those who receive the message and are purified will have peace. Those who do not will find judgment. And this will cause division and this division will even be found within the family. Father against son, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law. The message is going to rip families apart. Those judged by fire members are going to rale against the purified by fire members. The purified by fire members are going to proclaim that Jesus is the only answer. They are going to choose Jesus above family members. They are going to hold to a message that calls for allegiance to the King.

              You cannot sit on the fence with Jesus. If you try, you will find yourself on the judgment end of fire. His message was never about you feeling good about who you are. His message is about every one of us needing to be burned clean. And that is why so many hate the message. They want to believe that they are doing okay on their own, thank you very much. So, the message of Jesus is not about picking and choosing what you like. Jesus is not a buffet offered for you convenience and pleasure. The cross demands a choice. Jesus came to force the issue. You allow God to burn you clean or you get burned in judgment. Choose!

Consequences

Imagine working at a company where the boss has traveled to another country to conduct business. He was unsure of the duration of this particular trip, so there is no designated coming back date. The person he left in charge seemed reliable enough. You know, when the boss was around and keeping track. But this time, as soon as the boss was gone, this left in charge person experiences a power trip that leaves the employees in quite a lot of trouble. They need this job. Their pay is being withheld; their lunch break disappears; their safety is in jeopardy. And we are not talking Alex Trebec here. When the boss does come back, do you hope the left in charge person experiences consequences? Or, do you hope the boss pats them on the back and says, “Look at you; being all true to yourself and becoming a happy soul”? I would be shouting, “Consequence it up!” Consequences are important. Without them, people tend to run amuck. Crazed elephant run amuck. People are getting trampled and hurt run amuck.

              Luke 12:41-48 is the third and possibly the fourth parable on donning your ready clothes. It begins with asking Jesus, “Lord, are you addressing this parable to us, or to everyone as well?” At this point, many will try to figure out which parable he is talking about. The nearest antecedent is the man who is prepared against thievery. But this is the same message with a different view or emphasis. Peter is asking who needs to be prepared? Who gets to sit at the banquet of God? Who needs to prepare themselves against possible loss? And which “us” is Peter talking about? The Twelve, which seems to be the most common suggestion, or all disciples? I think the twelve fits Jesus’ answer better.

              Jesus responds with a question of his own. And this is just like Jesus, isn’t it? Who is the faithful and wise steward? Notice we have shifted from slave to steward. Was Peter thinking about how they have more responsibility; more blessing? What makes someone who is put in charge of the whole house faithful, reliable, and wise – able to make good decisions in the chaos of home life? Who will be responsible enough to make sure that the other servants are properly cared for? The person who is ready to serve at all times; the one who is already taking care of the others. This is the person who be put in charge of everything; the steward. On the other hand, if the one in charge takes advantage of the master’s absence and his position by striking the other slaves and neglecting them, there will be some consequences. The master is coming home and will not announce his arrival.

              And the caught unaware, taking advantage servant, will be severely punished. And the punishment is so severe that many have changed it or said that it must mean something else. The master will cut him in two and assign him a place with the unbelievers. For the Jewish people, unbelief was the greatest sin because all other sins spring out of unbelief. So, the offending servant is cut in two (there really isn’t a better translation) and then placed with unbelievers. I’m thinking if you are cut in two, you probably won’t care where you are placed at that point. Being cut in two was a punishment reserved for the worst offenses. Legend has it that King Manasseh cut Isaiah in two. Being assigned to the place of unbelievers was like begin relegated to being the same as a Gentile. The worst possible outcome physically and spiritually. Maybe the point is not to take this literally. It is a parable after all. The point is that this is the heaviest of consequences reserved for the worst of offenses.

              Verses 47-48 may be another parable, but it seems more likely a commentary on the parable just told. If you know the masters will and are not ready to act, there will be consequences. Even if you don’t know the masters will and fail to be ready and to act, you will receive consequences, but they will not be as bad. This has caused a lot of discussion. And rightfully so. It is important to note that in this scenario, we are talking about servants. I don’t think this parable deals with those outside of the household at all. Some servants are going to be aware of the master’s wishes more than others. This is about responsibility more than honor. The more you know, the more you are intended to respond appropriately. Even if you don’t know, you should spend some time finding out. There be consequences either way. And here is the thing: Jesus taught this parable. This is important because some think the message of Jesus is to live your life and be happy. Nope! It is be ready to serve the master at all times. Be faithful and wise and ready. And the more you serve, the more you will be asked to serve; to take care of others. Grace and peace.

Prepared

Are you, like the Boy Scouts, prepared? And can you be prepared for every eventuality? It doesn’t seem likely does it? Sometimes, the best thing you can do to be prepared is to be willing to roll with life’s twists and turns. There are these sneaky dangers out there. And no one waltzes through life unscathed. Not to scare you; not to fill you with anxiety; not to cripple you with apprehension. Are you prepared for scathing? During this time of quarantine, Cindy and I have been binging the Great British Baking Show. I don’t know anything about baking, but I do know about panic. The bakers who begin to panic, begin to make serious mistakes. Those who calmly prepare, rolling with the weather, the moments all full of kerfuffle, the annoying interruptions from judges and hosts, seem to do better. It is as if they have prepared themselves on the inside. And maybe that is the key. Being prepared is about readying ourselves for the things of life. It is not about living in anxious anticipation of disaster. It is about preparing ourselves for the possibility that disaster may come.

              Luke 12:39-40 is a parable that makes the same point as the parable found in verses 36-38. But it is a view from a different angle. And viewing something from a different angle can give you more insight. The overall message is to be ready. The first parable emphasizes the idea of being ready to serve; to be girded and ready to serve; to have the lamp lit; to wait awake. Turn the picture around and view the concept of being ready from a different angle. Be ready because there is danger lurking; there is the possibility of loss. The thief doesn’t send out an announcement of when he will strike your house. Not unless he is extremely arrogant or stupid or both. The owner of the house would be waiting for him with a weapon or police or a chocolate cake. Probably not the cake. Baking show residue. Either way, the lord of the house will not just sit back and permit his house to be dug into. Most houses were baked mud and brick. The easiest way to break in was to dig. And since the thief is not likely to announce the night and time of his digging into the house, the master of the house should be prepared for the possibility.

              So, you too be prepared. The word prepared is used for preparing a banquet. It is used for the concept of God preparing the kingdom for his people. It implies work; a getting things ready. The Son of Man is like a thief. He is coming at an hour that you do not think or suppose he will come. The Son of Man most likely takes us back to Daniel 7:13-14. You have the Ancient of Days sitting on a fiery throne. Daniel looked and one like a son of man was coming. He went up to the Ancient of Days “and was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion.” When someone is given a kingdom, it is a time of rejoicing and a time of dread. If you have been supporting the now king, you can rejoice. But if you had not been supporting him, you sir or madam, are in trouble.

              The first view of being ready is about wakefully waiting to serve the master and being surprised right out of your socks by having the master serve you. The second view of being ready is about preparing so that you can avoid loss. In the first there is an allusion to the great banquet of God. In the second there is an allusion to judgment. Being prepared in this scenario is serving the coming king, even though he has not come into his authority yet. Look around you. There is much in this world that operates outside of the wishes of Jesus. So, there is this tension we feel. Jesus is already king. All authority has been given to him. But a day is coming when all things will bow to him and acknowledge his rule. And that day will come at an hour that is surprising.

              Why so mysterious about your coming Jesus? He wants faithful servants. Servants that serve out of loyalty. He doesn’t want unfaithful servants, who receive notice of the kings return and, therefore, slack off until the return is imminent. Does that make sense? Those unfaithful servants will be caught unaware; ill-prepared. And they will face judgment.

              I have this, what I’m sure some would call a child-like, belief. I believe that if you are prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, you will be more prepared to navigate the twists, the upheavals, the collapses, the pandemics, the losses, of this life. I believe that serving the king prepares you on the inside. It steels your soul. Will there be loss? Yes. Will you be prepared? Serve Jesus and find out. God bless.

Awake to Serve

How do you define happiness? Is there some kind of scale, like the Richter Scale, that can give a measurement? Switzerland is 7.1 on the Jolly Scale. And if that measurement is a pathetic 2.3, is there some way to ramp up happiness? Maybe there is a happy mad scientist out there somewhere boiling joy in a tube that will one day be available for purchase. You know, if you happen to be lucky enough to be able to afford it. According to some experts on happiness, Americans are not very happy. How do you become a makariologist anyway? And why aren’t Americans happy? I mean, this is the land of the free, the brave, the affluent. Full bellies should equal joy. Right? How about fancy cars and large houses? Maybe, the things we tell ourselves are so important cannot make you happy. A person can hold all of the rights and privileges this world has to offer and still be besot with an overwhelming depressing desire for it all to just end, thank you very much. Maybe, we are searching in the wrong place.

              Luke 12:35-38 is a parable about servants; servants who are ready to serve. Jesus begins with “gird your loins.” Okay, most of us don’t use this phrase, which is why the NASB translates it “be dressed in readiness.” In Jesus’ day, people wore long flowing robes and if they were going to travel, work, or battle the enemy, they had to gather up the robe and tie it so that they would have more freedom of movement. It takes a lot more effort to light a lamp than to flip on a light switch. Especially in the dark. So, both of these phrases have to do with being ready to serve at any moment. Your clothes are prepared. No saying, “hold on a moment while I gather up and gird this robe.” You don’t have to waste valuable time fumbling around grasping for the lamp and something to light it with. Everything is held in readiness.

              Be like men who are patiently waiting for their master. The word “waiting” is used several times to describe those who were waiting for – looking for – the kingdom of God: like Simeon (Luke 2:25); Anna (Luke 2:38); Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 15:45). Since this describes most Jewish people of the day, it probably refers to a more active looking or waiting; a being ready; a waiting with work clothes on and lamps lit. Their master is at a wedding feast and he may come back at any moment. So, they are not waiting in their beds. And that is a form of waiting, isn’t it? They are waiting with an anticipation that will spring into action as soon as they hear a knock. And why would he knock? Most people don’t knock at their own house. This has led some to suppose that he has traveled to this wedding and is staying at the house of the host family. He is knocking at the door of the room he is being guested in. Jesus doesn’t actually say. I think he used the idea of knocking because he wanted to present an image of servants ready and listening for the knock so that they could immediately open the door and begin their serving. Whether at his own house or in a quest room does not matter as much as the image of waiting to serve servants.

              Jesus then interjects with a “blessed are those slaves whom the master will find awake.” For the early Greeks, being happy was reserved for the gods. They seemed to connect happiness with being able to arrange events around what you want to happen or a transcendent life without care and since only the gods can accomplish that little feat, they are the only ones who can experience being blessed. Later, a few men were said to able to grasp a god-like happiness. The philosophers were convinced it was about following the correct system of wisdom. Jesus said that happiness is discovered in readiness to serve, which is the exact opposite of what many think.

              Then Jesus said a completely unexpected thing; so unexpected that some question whether Jesus would have said it. A master girding himself and then serving the servants is unheard of. But that is the point. You cannot put God in a box. This may be a nod to the prophecy in Isaiah about God preparing a banquet on the mountain of God in Isaiah 25:6-12. It seems likely since in that prophecy the people proclaim, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited.” So, maybe not so unheard of after all. That is our God. There is a banquet waiting for us, prepared by the Master of all things. That is if we spend our lives waiting awake – no matter the hour. Happiness is found in being ready to serve the master.

              Happiness seems allusive. Always has. People scamper after so many things that feel good in the moment but leave them still empty inside. Real joy is found in serving. And not just any serving. Serving the master. Jesus was and is the master servant. A banquet awaits us. So, be awake and wait to serve.

Treasure and Heart

I saw a commercial the other day that made the statement that science is the only thing that is reliable. I beg to differ. Please let me differ. Not surprisingly, this commercial was produced by a pharmaceutical company in the midst of a pandemic. Trust in science to get you through. Or, more likely, trust in our company to find you a cure and make a boat load of money in the process. I am not against science, but science can only help with this world issues. And quite honestly, I am thankful for the things that science helps with. I am not anti-medicine. We have an increasingly older population thanks to medical science. But what about all of the people who have lost their lives already; whether we are talking about the current pandemic or cancer or the flu or whatever? Science can do nothing for them. And, by the way, many a scientist is motivated by their own agenda. Science is not pure. Some scientists are motivated by greed; some are blinded by their hypothesis; some are unethical in their research. So, no thank you, I will not put my faith in science. I will appreciate it. I will make use of it. But trust in it? Nope.

              What is the opposite of the foolish rich land owner; the one who built bigger barns to store his bumper crop; the one who thought that he could kick back, eat, drink, and be merry? Glad you asked. Jesus gives us the answer in Luke 12:33-34. Instead of hoarding your possessions, sell them and give to the poor. As you can imagine, this has stimulated a lot of discussion. Should we take this literally? Is Jesus anti-possessions? A couple of sources said that the example in Acts 2:45 is an example of the early church taking Jesus’ words too literally and therefore later they became a burden on other churches. Paul had to raise money to help those poor misguided brothers. I beg to differ. Please let me differ. The church in Jerusalem was in need of help because of a pretty serious famine that hit that area. All of Israel was in need of help. Not to mention that in the book of Acts (5:3-4), Peter makes it pretty clear that it is okay to have possessions. Jesus does not say, “Sell all of everything you have.” Nowhere in the book of Acts are we told that they sold everything they possessed.

              Let me take a step back and ask an important question: Am I attempting to dance around the words of Jesus so that I can justify my ownership of stuff? I think we need to wrestle here. If I sell everything I own, I will be able to help several poor; maybe even give to several good charitable organizations, but then I would most likely find myself in need of help. What if I use my possessions to help the poor? What if I understood that everything I have actually belongs to God and I am intended to be a steward? If this be the case, then I will want to manage my possessions in a way that glorifies God; the Lord of me and my stuff. Jesus is telling us to not be like the rich land owner who talked to himself about all of HIS possessions, without a thought of God or the poor or anyone else other than himself. Be a giving person who is concerned about helping others. And for goodness sake, don’t allow your possessions to possess you. I think this becomes the real issue. Are you using your possession to glorify God, or are you being used by your possessions?

              The rest of verse 33 is about this otherworld focus. What is a money belt that never grows old and obsolete? It is a belt that holds something entirely different than monetary gain; a belt constructed of a Godly love filled with Godly things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These things are a veritable storehouse of wealth; a wealth that extends beyond this earth; a wealth that cannot be destroyed because of economic crisis; a wealth that cannot be stolen; a wealth that is heavenly. An ordinary wallet will grow old and deteriorate. The things in an ordinary wallet can be helpful in this life. But don’t put your trust here.

              Where your treasure house is, there your heart will be also. This was a pretty well-known saying. Jesus could be saying something like, “Follow the money and you’ll discover the heart,” or “Your heart will follow your investments.” The first one makes more sense in the context, I think. Is your heart all about owning cars; investing in their restoration? Well, that will be obvious when someone opens your garage. If owning things possesses your heart, you will have a treasure trove of possessions. But if you put your trust in God, you may own some things, but your treasure trove will be all about the things of God. I don’t mind possessions. I don’t mind science. But these things will not; cannot last. Trust in God my friends.

Anxiety

I like the Serenity Prayer. It begins with “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” And that covers a lot of things doesn’t it? We spend a lot of energy and effort and anxiety hitting our heads against a very hard wall that cannot be moved. Anyone have a headache yet? And here’s the thing; we do this with things we care about. Otherwise, we wouldn’t bother. And caring about things is kind of important. The alternative is to not care. Why try to help people who don’t want to be helped? Why fret over the lost who refuse to listen to anything that even hints at the idea that they might be lost? Why get all anxious about those rebellious kids? But the truth is, that often our strengths slowly gravitate toward being flaws. Caring is important, but anxiously worrying about what cannot be changed is not healthy.

              Luke 12:22-32 is Jesus’ teaching about worrying. And this is directed specifically to his disciples. Others were allowed to overhear. He begins with “for this reason” which tells us that this is part of a larger discourse. Because of the parable of the rich fool, who had abundant wealth but was not rich toward God, do not worry about your life or soul. The word worry means “care about,” but it can mean care pushed into anxiety. That is most likely the sense here. We, all of us, care about our lives. But don’t allow that care to be pushed into anxiety; a constant worrying about food and clothing. Life is more than food and clothing, but it demands both. So, how can we live without an anxious concern about food. The people Jesus was talking to, didn’t eat like we eat here and in other first world cultures. Most lived day to day; they ate when they had it. Jesus is saying that life is more than surviving. That is a tough lesson to sell.

              He used the example of the raven. If this is the same account as that found in Matthew 6, we have to discuss why Luke decided to change the generic birds of the air to ravens, which is much more specific? If this is a similar message delivered at a different time, then the discussion is why did Jesus use ravens here? Either way, there is this change. In Job 38:41 God asked Job “Who prepares for the ravens its nourishment when its young cry to God and wander about without food?” So, maybe Jesus had this passage in mind. And notice the ravens are without food until God provides. Curious. Ravens are also considered unclean (Deuteronomy 14:14). So, maybe the thought is: If God provides for the unclean of the world, how much more you? That fits. In the ancient world, ravens were also considered to be careless birds. These careless, unclean birds, who don’t have the ability to sow, reap, or store, are, generally speaking, provided for. God knows when they don’t have food. And if you worry about food, can you add a single cubit to your life-span? Eighteen inches is not much when you are talking about a whole life. Worry cannot provide food. As a matter of fact, caring to the point of anxiety can rob you of time in this life.

              And what about clothing? God has gloriously dressed up the fields with lilies. Solomon, who is never mentioned as a snazzy dresser, but who was known far and wide for being stinking wealthy, is compared to the fields. This grassland flowers, as beautiful as they are, are thrown into ovens to bake bread. And you? You are worth more than any here today and gone tomorrow flower. So, trust in God. He is aware of your abundance and your lack. Be rich toward him and stop fretting about food and clothes. Everyone in the world cares about these things. Don’t push your caring into anxiety. Instead seek the Kingdom and all of these things will be added to you. But what about my very poor, compared to me, brothers in Honduras. They often go hungry. Many have rags for clothes. Are they not faithful? And do ravens always have enough to eat? Are the fields always blanketed with beautiful flowers? Is this really a promise that the faithful will never starve? What about the Christians who were chucked into prison and denied food shortly after Jesus was resurrected? They did starve! What do we do with this conundrum?

              Maybe verse 32 is the key. Do not be afraid little flock. Your father has gladly chosen to give you the kingdom. Are you hungry? Yours is the Kingdom of God. Are your clothes a bit to be desired? Yours is the Kingdom of the Almighty. Generally speaking, God has created this world to provide. Worrying, hording, anxiously fretting will not help anyone’s situation. And I’ve noticed this amazing thing. My brothers and sisters in places like Honduras seem to be less fretful over what they don’t have than those who have an abundance. What? Christians die. But they live on. Christians go hungry. But they sit at the table in the Kingdom. You, Sir and Madam, are feasting, all dressed up your royal clothing. Seek that!

Eat Drink and be Merry

Here in North Dakota there is a pretty high rate of suicide among senior citizens. Here is what I’ve been told. They retire without a plan of what to do next. They sit alone on their farm or in their house and feel as if they are no longer useful. They thought that retirement was going to be a rest after many years of working hard. They thought the goal was to work hard so that you will be set financially enough to live out the rest of their days just eating, drinking and being merry. But that very rest they have been working so hard for is the very thing that sends them spiraling into a depression. The problem is not having enough to retire on. The problem is thinking that the goal of life is to get to the point where we can say to our soul, “Eat, drink, and be merry.”

              Jesus taught with authority. It is no surprise then, that someone would desire that he use that authority to settle their family issues. So, as Jesus is speaking to the crowd a lone voice in the crowd cries out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” We don’t know if this man’s concern was justified or not. It really is not important to the story. The important this is that this man assumed that Jesus’ position and authority could be used to his own advantage. Even if he is being wronged by his brother, this is a bad assumption. We can be relatively sure that this is a younger brother. The older brother was in charge of the family inheritance. And that older brother could and did find ways to avoid giving what was due to his younger siblings. This man may have been justified in his complaint.

              Jesus responds with what appears to be a quote from Exodus 2:14, “Man, who appointed me a judge or divider over you?” In Exodus this is from the mouth of a Hebrew after Moses tried to make him stop beating another Hebrew. Okay, so in the Exodus account, there may be some irony. The man asked who made Moses prince or a judge over us. And that is exactly what God will do later in the story. Maybe there is irony here as well. Jesus is judge, but he is not this man’s personal judge and his authority is not about settling family financial fights. His authority is not for the purpose of gathering possessions. That is why he warns against every form of greed here. The word “greed” has the idea of always wanting more. Guard against the greed that is never satisfied. Even if you have an overflowing amount of things, your life is not all about what you have. You are not your possessions. Nice try BMW guy.

              Parable time! There was this wealthy land owner who had a very successful season; so successful that his barns were just too small to store it all. So, he began to reason things through with himself. This may be a narrative device to allow us to get a glimpse of his thoughts, or it may emphasize that he didn’t have any friends with whom he could consult. Maybe both. It is true that in Middle Eastern society, people usually didn’t make decisions without hashing it over with friends and family. Anyway, his solution to the problem is to tear down the old barns and build bigger ones; barns large enough to store up all of his excess. Then this man says to himself, “Soul, you have done very well and with many years of hard work you have come to the place where you can just kick back and eat, drink and be merry.” Sirach 11:19 says, “I have found rest and now I will eat of my good things.” Verse 20 has, “Persevere in your duty, take pleasure in doing it, and grow old at your work.” If Jesus has this passage in mind, which is plausible, he is saying that the issue is not having a bumper crop – the issue is thinking that the end of the day is about selfish rest. That all of our work is about us eating, drinking and being merry while others go hungry.

              The Jewish people believed that our life was a gift from God which he could demand back any time. Life is in his hands. And that is what happens to this man. God says, “Time is up on your lease.” And what did the man gain? He has no one to leave anything to. His whole goal was to rest and enjoy and now he cannot. It is okay if you are rich in this life. But make sure you are rich toward God. Lay up your treasures in Heaven. The Jewish people also believed that all of their possessions actually belonged to God and that they were just stewards. If you have wealth, that wealth is intended to work for God. It is intended to feed the poor. And this is probably the main problem in this parable. Notice that in the man’s soliloquy, it was “I” and “my.” He didn’t consult anyone else, not even God. He thought all of God’s blessings were about him. If you are blessed, God has blessed you so that you can bless others. Don’t allow your things to control you. Don’t say to your soul, “eat, drink and be merry.” Grace and peace.

Confess and be Confessed

There are different levels of denial. Sometimes it surges up in the heat of self-preservation, but never touches the heart. Sometimes it is a sickening stain oozing out from a decrepit and rotten soul. Sometimes it is something that can be repented of and forgiven. Sometimes it is an incurable disease. Wait a minute! Everything can be forgiven. Right? Even the people who sent Jesus to the cross could be forgiven. Even those who drove in the nails. But Jesus mentions this thing called blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. I think this same thing is mentioned in other terms in Hebrews 6 and 10. And what if this is not about what God is willing to forgive, but instead, about a line that gets crossed; a line that once crossed there is no coming back? What if it is about an attitude of renouncing that infects the soul beyond all wish to call out to God? If you smoke one cigarette, you will most likely not get cancer. But how many can you smoke before you cross that line? Best not to find out.

              I think it likely that Luke 12:8-12 is a warning about the line. Don’t cross it! Jesus begins with the positive statement, “All who have confessed me before men, the son of man will confess him also before the angels of God.” The word “confess” is literally “speak the same.” It refers to openly professing the things of God. In this context it is agreeing with God that Jesus is the message of God; the ideal man. The word is in the past tense and maybe this is about conversion. But maybe it is more than that. What if this is about when life has been lived? All who have lived confessing Jesus before me, will be confessed – Jesus will agree with God that you are his – before the heavenly court. And he has this right because he is the Son of Man – the Ideal Man. And notice that you confess or deny before men and the perfect ideal man confesses or denies before the angels. What we do in this life, before mankind, has implications toward what happens in the heavenly realm before the messengers of God. That should probably be a fairly sobering thought. The negative of this is denying. The word means repudiating or renouncing. And again, the point may be the life lived denying. How you live before mankind determines how you are presented before God’s angels. Confess now and be confessed. Deny now and be denied.

              Verse ten seems confusing and maybe even paradoxical. All who will speak a word, a message, against Jesus will be forgiven. The word “against” primarily means “into, in, to.” On occasion, as here, it can mean “against.” That makes better sense to the context and Luke uses it this way in other places. But isn’t speaking a word against Jesus the same as denying him? Hold that thought. Jesus goes on to say that the one who blasphemes, reviles, insults, the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. What in the world? All agree that the word “blaspheme” is a stronger word than the words “speak a word against.” But still. It is tempting to do some mental gymnastics here. And the truth is, I could be guilty of that as well. One source claims that this is specifically about the Jewish nation that rejected the message of the disciples following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. They will not be forgiven. That seems wrong and convenient. What if Jesus is saying, “What I mean about denying is a cutting off of the Holy Spirit who leads the disciples into all truth; a trampling all over the message attested to by the Spirit of God; a crossing a line that hardens the heart to the point of complete paralysis.” A momentary verbal denial, like say, what Peter will utter is forgivable. But a heart hardening reviling of the push of the Spirit will not be forgiven, because the individual has corrupted his soul to the point of no return.

              And when you are dragged before the synagogue officials and the government officials, don’t worry about how you will defend yourself. The word “worry” can mean anything from “care for” to “be overcome with anxiety.” It probably means the latter here. Don’t get all worked up about your defense. Learn to trust in the leading of the Spirit of God. Your moment to confess Jesus before men – even the high muckety mucks – will come. You followed the Spirit’s lead at conversion. Keep doing that.

              We will have moments in this life when we will have to decide to confess or deny. Are you a Christian? Why? I hate Christians. All Christians are bigots. How will you respond. Will you confess or deny. Confess! Openly proclaim that you agree with God that Jesus is the ideal Man, the only man to live God perfectly. Don’t be worried! The Spirit of Jesus will instruct you what is necessary to say in the moment. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t live a life denying. Don’t cross the line. Confess and be confessed.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter! The Corona Virus cannot change the fact of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It may change some things, like worshiping, but never the truth of the message of Christ. We take the Lord’s Supper; we gather around the table; to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We feast together and we proclaim the message until he comes back again. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the whole Gospel event. It is a message meal; a spiritual feast. Whether you take the Lord’s Supper at home with your family, or if you gather in groups less than ten, observing social distancing, you are rejoicing and proclaiming the Easter story along with all believers. Jesus has risen from the dead! His body is not to be found in any tomb.

              And for many, Easter is a special time of remembrance: a Spring time for the soul. Life blooms anew here. And to be sure, this ought to be the case all the time. But as far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with a special day – as long as it is for the Lord (Romans 14:5-6). And maybe, just maybe, due to our current circumstances, the importance of the resurrection will have more meaning. When this is all over, will many souls burst out into the open, as from a tomb, and dance like they have found life again? Will we have a deeper appreciation of death and resurrection, I wonder? Can we learn like Ebenezer Scrooge, that the meaning of some special days should be carried with us always – not just on that day? And I’m not talking about eating Peeps throughout the year. I’m speaking of the Gospel message of resurrection resonating year-round. I’m speaking of a soul-shaping appreciation for the story. The tomb is empty!

              And why am I seemingly aimlessly wandering about this topic? Because this year is different. This year I will miss seeing many in my church family. This year there will be small Easter gatherings in homes full of people who already have contact with each other. There may still be a ham dinner; there may still be egg hunts; there may still be baskets; there may still be chocolate bunnies. But I’m guessing that it will feel different. But most of all there will still be an acknowledgment of an empty tomb; of a resurrected Jesus who now sits at the right hand of his Father. He has left the tomb.

              I am breaking from our regular series of articles to emphasize that in the midst of the darkness, there is a brilliantly bright light. I am writing about this because I think many are beginning to feel the weight of different. It is not all bad. It never is. There has been great stories of families doing more together; of strangers stepping up and helping others; of essential employees serving with grace and kindness. But there are the wearying stories as well; stories of new scams; of panic induced stock piling; of blaming everyone else; of whining. And in the midst of the ongoing confinement; of the shifting and changing of normal; there is good news that is rock solid; that never changes. The tomb is empty!

              Easter is not about new clothes. It is not about egg hunts. It is not about baskets. It is not about ham dinners. None of these things are wrong. But if these things represent the apex of our celebration at Easter, we have missed the significance. Easter is about resurrection. And not just the resurrection of Jesus, as important that is. Paul tells us that Jesus is the first fruit of resurrection. In the Old Testament, the Jews were commanded to give God the first fruit of the harvest. This was about giving God the first. But it was more than that. It was about faith. It would have been tempting to say, “I’ll give you the same amount at the end of the harvest. I just want to make sure I will have enough.” In that fear, God commands a trust in him. God will complete the harvest. Easter is the celebration of the first fruit. This time it is God who offered the first fruit. He sent his son to be the first to die and be resurrected – the best and the first of us all. With this is a promise: the harvest will continue. Our tombs will also be empty.

              It is a question of faith. Do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? Do you believe that all of his followers will also be raised from the dead? Do you? I’m thinking that this kind of faith will lead to action. Easter is a celebration of resurrected life that happens spiritually now and will happen physically when Jesus comes back again. The same power that raised Jesus, raises us. That is good news. Do you believe it? So, I am going to end where I began this rambling walk about: Happy Easter!

Fear Takes a Holiday

Wouldn’t it be nice if fear took a holiday; maybe a permanent vacation even? Well, that kind of depends on what kind of fear we are talking about, doesn’t it? There is a fear that cripples. But there is also a fear that motivates. There is a fear that terrorizes. But there is also a fear that bolsters. So, let me tell you a tale of two fears. There once was a man who feared rejection. So much so, that he allowed others to dictate his beliefs and actions. The problem was that expectations shift and change depending on the times and the group you surround yourself with. And if fear of rejection drives you, you will have to shift and change so much that you may lose yourself. There once was a woman who feared God. God doesn’t change; he doesn’t wake up one morning and realize he is out of touch with the times. He is the I Am; the times are encompassed in his will. This fear is the realization of holiness; of glory; of righteousness.

              Luke 12:4-7 is all about fear. Jesus said in this short passage “Don’t fear; fear; don’t fear.” The first “don’t fear” is a command not to fear those who can kill the body. It is important not to trivialize this. This is a common fear. It is a hard command to observe. Overall, this passage is about confessing Jesus in spite of the leaven of the Pharisees. They may threaten; they may even kill the body. But after that, they have no authority. There is nothing more they can do. What else is there? So much more. Paradoxically, threats to kill are a sign of fear. Fearing those who kill is in fact a giving in to those who fear you; or at least fear what you stand for. Don’t allow fear of death keep you from obeying God! That is the main thought here.

              Then Jesus told them whom they should fear: “The one who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Hell.” There is a hard truth here. This is about God. No one else has the authority to cast anyone into Hell. There is punishment for disobedience. And death is sometimes the punishment. In our emphasizing the love of God (which is a very good thing to emphasize), we may deemphasize the wrath of God; the holiness of God that demands belief. God can and does kill. So does Satan. So does man. But only God can throw people into Hell. The word Hell is the Greek word Gehenna; it comes from the Hebrew words that mean “Valley of Hinnom.” It is a valley found on the west side of Jerusalem, running north-south. It also curves around the south side of Jerusalem. This valley was cursed in Jeremiah 19:1-13 because it was used to burn babies as a sacrifice to the god Baal and for the worship of many other gods. Because it was cursed by God, Jesus and the early Christians picked it up as a place for God’s ultimate judgment. Fear God because his punishment goes beyond death. Jesus even emphasizes this by saying “Yes, I say to you, fear him!” I’m thinking it is a good idea to pay attention when Jesus emphasizes his point.

              What is fear? The word used here means everything from terror – crippling anxiety – to respectful fear – awe inspired fear. On the one hand don’t be crippled by your fear that someone may threaten or even kill you. On the other hand, have an awed fear of a Holy God who has the authority to send you to the cursed valley. Why is this so important? Because who you fear determines who you listen to. When my son was about four, one of the gentleman at church was trying to get him to do or stop something. My son did not listen to this gentleman. When I said “Caleb!”, he jumped into action. He understood who had the right to command here. That is what Jesus is saying – understand who has the right to command.

              Then Jesus begins to speak about the cost of sparrows. What in the world? Sparrows were considered cheap food. Jesus said that five sparrows could be purchased with two “assarions”, which was a Roman coin worth about 1/16 of a Denarius (a day’s wage). These very cheap sparrows are not forgotten or neglected by God. How much more is God concerned about you? So much so, that God knows how much hair you have (which is not such a great achievement in my case). The point is he cares down to your last hair. So, don’t fear! What? I thought we were supposed to fear God. Don’t be anxious about tomorrow; don’t wonder if the Holy God is on your side; don’t be crippled by anxiety over relationship with the Almighty. He loves you. Respectfully fear him, but don’t be crippled.

              Do don’t fear death or those who bring it. They cannot determine what happens next. Be awed by God’s authority. He is in charge of what happens after you die. Respect that authority. But don’t live in fear. If you believe in God; in his good news; you will be saved. You are more valuable than sparrows. God has taken care of everything so that you can live forever. Believe it. Live it. Don’t Fear, Fear, Don’t Fear. Grace.