Approaching Service

I can remember when people would ask me if I were babysitting my own children. Hmm. They are my children. Of course I am not babysitting them. I am providing care because that is what a dad does. This should not be considered an above the norm behavior. And within that question there is this almost expectation that dads don’t normally provide care. Sometimes, when my children were all pretty young, I would take the three of them to the mall to find a Christmas present for their mother. More than once someone told me I was brave to wrangle all three children on my own. Hmm. They are my children. Of course I am not brave to take them to the mall. There is nothing within this that is worthy of praise or commendation or anything at all. It is simply what a dad should do.

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Rebuke and Forgive

A while back I was speaking to this young man who told me he was agnostic. He said, “My problem with Christianity is that it is too easy.” I asked him what he meant and he said, “If you mess up you just say ‘sorry’ and God forgives you, right?” I said “Yes, that is basically true but if you follow Jesus he asks you to die to yourself and that is not at all easy.” I mean that dying to self bit includes a lot of very difficult things. I encouraged him to read about Jesus in one of the Gospels and try to live the way Jesus tells us to live. I have been at this trying to follow Jesus for many years now, and I find it all very challenging. His life and teachings stretch me. And truth be told, that stretching is beyond my capabilities. It takes a faith that is a constant attempt to live trusting in Jesus and not in my ability. In one sense it is easy, because I am saved by grace. Which is good because I cannot save myself. But in another sense it is the most difficult thing we will do, because accepting God’s grace is a laying down of ourself and trusting in him.

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Slaving for Wealth

Some think that the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a reversal of fortune tale. There is definitely a reversal of fortune involved in the tale. The wealthy comfortable does become tormented in the afterlife and the poor tormented finds himself in a place of honor and comfort. Fortunes reversed. So, is this a tale to comfort all poor people? Is it saying that if you are poor, don’t sweat it, in the afterlife you will be kick back comforted; that if you are wealthy and comfortable in this life, enjoy it while you can, because a time is a comin’ when you will long for a tiny drop of water to be place on your tongue? Well, that doesn’t sound right. There are plenty of evil poor people and definitely a few humble and righteous wealthy people. There was this other kind of tale in Jesus’ day in the Middle East: The Pearly Gate Tales. This story telling devise was not about laying down a theology of the afterlife. It was about pointing out deficiencies in this life. What happens in the afterlife sets the contrast. Maybe that is what Jesus is doing here.

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What to Wear

It’s Sunday morning! Time to get all spiffy and ready to go to church. What to wear? What lies at the heart of that question? Who are we dressing for? Have you ever felt like putting on church clothes is about more than clothes? Dress up to get those complements so they won’t notice the pain lurking behind your eyes. Keep things superficial so we don’t have to think about our life or lack of life. Sunday morning clothes that can be stripped off as we prepare to be every other day people. And sometimes I wonder if Sunday isn’t just something we put on for the day. I’m not saying that wearing nice clothes on Sunday is wrong. I am saying that playing dress-up on Sunday fails to get us where Christ wants us.

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Who Are You Slaving For

Imagine all that can be done with money. I am guessing here but I imagine that wealth can become something you tend to trust in; to rely upon for meeting all of life’s needs. The truth seems to be, again I’m guessing here, money makes life easier; less worrisome. Actually, I am not guessing, really. I am not wealthy by this country’s standards, but I am wealthy in comparison to a vast sea of humanity. I may bemoan my rising co-pays, but I have brothers and sisters who live in places where if you don’t have the money up front you don’t see a doctor or go to the hospital. Period. And maybe that is why this country has slipped into a post-Christian culture. We don’t need God. We have money; money for food; money for medical care; money for education; money for transportation; money for housing; money for, well, just about everything. Does money bow to your wishes, or do you do the bowing?

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Vantage Point

From which vantage point you are viewing Jesus. Are you looking in from the vantage point of the Pharisees and the scribes; the sons of light? Well, then Jesus seems to be a downright sin monger, or, at the very least, a defender of the wretched and a harsh critic of the righteous. And one of those criticisms was their self-view; their self-righteousness; their view that they were the sons of light and therefore so much better than the wretched sinners, other wise known as the sons of this present age. And these two vantage points: the view of Jesus through Pharisaical eyes; and the view of the religious elite through Jesus’ eyes, may be at the heart of the parable of the unjust steward.

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The Lost Older Son

There once was this person who was a pillar in their church. They never missed a worship; a Bible study; a gathering of any kind. This person attached themselves to as many ministry teams as humanly possible. Others looked up to them. Others wondered at their stamina and drive. But somewhere along the way all of this serving had been reduced to mere duty. And somehow all of this serving had darkened their heart towards others who didn’t serve, or didn’t serve as much, or didn’t serve in the right way. But at least they go to church; at least they are actively involved in good ministries. Right? But this person may be just as lost as the person who never darkens the doorway of a church.

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The Lost Younger Son

Let me ask you; have you ever been prodigal? Truth be told, I had to look the word up. I assumed all of these years that it meant something like “lost” or “wandering away from.” But instead, it means “wasteful, reckless,” and it is connected to spending habits. So, is it the Parable of the Reckless Spender or the Parable of the Lost Son? It may be just me, but I think “lost son” emphasizes that the story is within a series of stories. You had your lost sheep and your lost coin and your . . . uh . . . prodigal son. Nah, he was lost; in many ways he was lost. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost? Being lost may lead to prodigal living, but I think the story is about lostness. And I think the main thing this young man lost was relationship; relationship that he carelessly discarded for a reckless adventure. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost?

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The Woman’s Drachma

There is a part of this Jewish prayer that is thanking God that they are not women. If a household had no slaves, the women of the house were expected to do the demeaning task of washing the feet of guests before a meal. The temple of God was built to emphasize that Jewish men were closer to God than Jewish women. By the way, this is not God’s design. Solomon’s temple had one court. But man does what man does and twists God’s will to his own wants and impressions. Women in Jesus day, therefore, were used to being second class citizens, reduced to baby factories and cooks and housemaids. Boys were often taught to read so that they could read and understand Torah. Women were often illiterate. Why would they need to read? They were not allowed to discuss Torah in the synagogues. Produce babies and meals. You don’t need to read for that!

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All About Mission

It is all about mission. If you are a believer in God, whatever you determine to be the mission of God becomes your mission. How does the God you place your hope in view people? Does he save the good ones by stomping into the dust the scoundrels? Or does he do everything he can to get the scoundrels to follow his ways? Is it a seek and destroy mission or is it a seek and save mission? And if God has slotted a group of people for destruction, what would our treatment of them be? At the very least it would be avoidance and at the worst we would see ourselves as working for God by annihilating them ourselves. You know, like Paul did with the early Christians.

              Luke 15:1-7 is the first of three parables that make a similar point. God’s mission is saving not destroying. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. There is a setting scene: the Pharisees and the scribes grumble about how all the tax collectors and sinners approaching Jesus. The word “all” is most likely meant to be hyperbole. You know like when Mark tells us that all the country of Judea was going out into the wilderness to see this wild man named John. It is also most likely an assessment of his ministry and not merely a reference to a certain time frame. At issue was the fact that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. For the Pharisees and the Scribes, these people were going to be sought and destroyed by God. They were to be avoided. The righteous should stay with the righteous and leave the scoundrels to their own devices. It is important to keep this setting scene in mind as we go through the following parables.

              So, let’s say you have a hundred sheep. It misses the point to question whether or not it was likely that any of these Pharisees or Scribes would have been shepherds. They were familiar with the shepherd passages in Zechariah 34 and Psalm 23. And the reality of shepherds would not be too far out of their understanding. That’s why Jesus begins with, “What man among you if he had a hundred sheep.” Okay, if you are wealthy and you have one hundred sheep and one of them is lost, what would you do? The good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine behind to go search for the lost one. The emphasis is that in this moment the need of the one lost sheep is far more important than the need of the ninety-nine. Even though it is not in the story, it is likely to be understood that the not-lost sheep are not just left without protection. But the emphasis of the story is on the concern over the lost one.

              When this shepherd finds the lost sheep, he drapes it over his shoulders and carries it back to the flock. A lost sheep will most likely be scared and confused and carrying it is going to be more effective than leading it. And there is a lesson here isn’t there. Regardless of bluster, the lost are scared and confused, and the good shepherd is willing and able to carry them back to the flock. After securing the lost to the flock, the man goes home and calls together his friends and neighbors and invites them to rejoice with him. The implication is probably that he was asking for more than a “I am sure glad you found your lost sheep.” It is an invitation to celebrate with; to join the party.

              And then Jesus drives home the point. When a lost soul repents heaven breaks out in party mode. Some critics have questioned the whole repent thing, claiming that the reason the Pharisees and Scribes were scandalized by Jesus is that he didn’t call the sinners to repentance. When Jesus told the people to love their enemies, this is a call to repentance. Not to mention that 10:13 is a scathing rebuke because they have seen and heard Jesus and did not repent. And the implication of this verse is that the goal of seeking the lost is to bring them back to the flock. This, of necessity, calls for repentance; a sorrow for the path that has led away from God and changing direction to come back to God. And again, when that happens, heaven bursts forth with celebration. And isn’t that nice?

              Most sources will take a moment to point out that Jesus’ point is not that the Pharisees are saved; that they are not lost and therefore don’t need the seeking attention of God. They may have believed that of themselves, but that is not the reality. We all need to be found. We all need to be draped across the shoulders of Jesus. We all need to be carried back to the flock. The mission of God is seek and save. This is extremely important because the parable invites us to rejoice with all of heaven when a lost soul is found and brought back. But we will miss the party if we, like the Pharisees and Scribes, think God should just wipe these unrighteous folk out for being lost. And we miss the truth of our own lostness and need. Peace.

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