What matters most to God?

Standard

stencil.default37-810x540

Scripture: Luke 16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

Observation: This story would have surprised ancient readers. Remember, the theology of the day suggested that rich people were blessed by God for their righteousness. Poor/sick people were being punished for their sins. Yet, here we have an upside down reality. The poor man Lazarus died and was with Abraham and the angels of God. The rich man, in Hades, was in torment. It’s a fictional example of “the first will be last and the last will be first” in the Kingdom of God.

So what did the rich man do to fall out of favor with God? You have to remember that God’s view of righteousness was less about pious acts (prayer, tithe, fasting, offering sacrifices) and more about mercy and justice for the poor and marginalized. The rich man may have performed all the right religious acts, but he clearly did nothing to help Lazarus who sat at the rich man’s gate every day in want. Apparently, in the eyes of God, caring for the sick and hungry is very, very important.

Application: When I read this story I don’t see myself as the rich man, but I suppose I am. I’m much more like him than like Lazarus – at least from a material resources standpoint. The story is a parable, which means the events never actually happened but are shared to teach a lesson. What’s the lesson? For me, it’s a reminder of how important it is to God that we show mercy and kindness to those in need. It has me asking myself, “How am I doing on that score?”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you prefer kindness and mercy over pious religious acts. Open my eyes today to see how I might be an extension of you in my world, showing love and mercy to persons in need. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

God among us…

Standard

womansunset

Scripture: Joshua 18:6 You shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me; and I will cast lots for you here before the LORD our God. 7 The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the LORD is their heritage; and Gad and Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan eastward, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave them.”

Observation: When the Israelites were occupying the promised land, the Lord gave lands to each of the 12 tribes – except the tribe of Levi. Why? Because the Levites didn’t farm or raise cattle or sheep or whatever. They served the people as priests, interceding on behalf of the people, overseeing their sacrifices and receiving the tithes and offerings the people brought to God. God dwelled close to the Levites, in the tent of meeting and surrounding. They didn’t need land because they had the very presence of God in their midst.

Application: I remember being a young adult getting serious about faith for the first time. I had nothing. But God was drawing near to me and that made all the difference. There is something about the presence of God that changes things. God gives peace in the midst of struggle. God gives direction when we’re lost. God whispers in our ears when we are lonely. God stands with us when the world is convulsing all around us. So when I read that the tribe of Levi received no land as an inheritance, I get it. When you have the presence of God, you just don’t need it.

Prayer: Gracious God, it’s wonderful when you draw near. I wish that were all the time, but it’s not. There are long stretches when it seems you’re far away or not present at all. Sometimes it’s hard to believe you even exist. And, frankly, there are some of us who desperately need a sense of your presences today. We’re struggling with the difficulties and burdens of life. Give us grace to discern your presence with us. Draw near to us that we might get through the day. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The heart of the Father…

Standard

remb_vz_terug

Scripture: Luke 15:11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. …17 But when he came to himself he said, I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” …22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on (my son)…for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

Observation: Here Jesus gives his most famous parable of the three we read in succession – lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. One would expect the father to reject his son who’d insulted him by asking for his inheritance while his father was still alive, then pissed it away on wine/women/song. The son was correct in v.19 to say he was no longer worthy to be called “son”. But his father wasn’t having it. Instead of rejection and anger, the father met his son with love and mercy. His son, who had wandered, away was back. Alive. Contrite.

Application: Yesterday I mentioned relating with the lost I sheep who was found by the good shepherd. Today I relate with the father in this story. Not that I am as loving and merciful as this fictitious man, but I understand the struggle of receiving children who have gone astray. I have three young adult children and each of them has made mistakes. Some serious mistakes, mostly because of their youth. Young people simply don’t have the experience us older people do. They don’t see what’s ahead like others of us who’ve stepped in a few landmines in life.

Yet despite how far a beloved child strays, they are always a beloved child. I’ve never once viewed a wayward child of mine as anything but one of my own. I have been angry, frustrated, afraid, disappointed, anxious – but never a thought to disown. My children are my children. Beloved children. Warts and all. Persons for whom I would give everything, my very life, with nary a second thought. I think it’s wired into us as human beings – whether you are a biological parent or not.

What would I have done were the son in the story my own? I don’t know. I’m not sure I would have thrown him a party, but I would never have rejected him. And the point of the story is that our heavenly Father receives his wayward children with love and mercy and grace. Too often I am not the father in this story, but the wayward son. I wander, stray, strike out on my own, in foolish ways.

Prayer: Lord, I don’t know if it was your intention, but your story speaks to me this morning as a father. Give me grace to reflect your heart of mercy and forgiveness with my own children and all people. Forgive me when I fail. Amen.

In my wandering, the Lord finds me…

Standard

Wandering_Only_photo_FINALIZED

Scripture: Luke 15:Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Observation: According to the Mosaic law, righteous persons were not to hang out with sinners. Jesus turns that pattern on its head. Not only does he tolerate them, he actually pursues them, welcomes them. And when a lost sheep is found all of heaven rejoices. I cannot overstate what a departure this was from the cultural norm.

Application: When I read passages like this I tend to understand myself as one of the ninety-nine who are found, not the one who is lost. But the truth is I get lost. I stumble around as if I’m a spiritual orphan rather than a child of the living God. Mostly this happens because I have a rebellious streak. I want to do things my way. And yet, when I’m lost and wandering, the Lord comes to find me. To save me from myself, from my sin, from death and the devil.

Prayer: You are so good to me Lord. When I wander you come look for me. You take hold of me and restore me as your own. I can never thank you enough. Amen.

Take up your cross…

Standard

carry-cross

Scripture: Luke 14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? …33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Observation: It would seem Jesus was trying to provide something of a reality check for the crowds following him (v.25). One would expect following Jesus, listening to his teaching and witnessing his miracles, was akin to following the circus. It was exciting, entertaining, low risk. Jesus was trying to recalibrate their expectations.

Application: I can remember the early years of being a committed Christian. The Lord found me at a time when I felt lost in life. I was floundering, unsure, unfocused. I was finishing my bachelor’s degree and moving into the working world – but I sensed I was meant for something other than sales/marketing (my field of choice). Leaning into my faith for the first time as a young adult felt purposeful to me. It made me stronger as a person. I had direction. I was useful within the life of a local church as a lay leader. The benefit far outweighed the cost. But then things changed.

I found the deeper I got with the Lord, the greater the challenge. After about 3 years of being a member of a church I began to sense a different calling – the call to serve as a pastor. I resisted for some time but eventually ran out of excuses and entered seminary. That was a huge faith step for me and my family. Then I was challenged to be open to a call anywhere in the church. Then to plant a church. Then to serve on a synod staff and churchwide staff. Then to serve as a senior pastor in a large metropolitan area.

The call to leave behind whatever I have, and trust the Lord for what I cannot see, has never stopped. Never. This morning I’m wondering what else the Lord will ask of me. What about you? How is the Lord asking you to follow, and leave behind what you know – and love?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, being your disciple is not easy. You call, we waiver. Instead of opportunity we experience fear of loss. Give us grace to trust you for what we cannot see. Amen.

 

New season, new leader…

Standard

joshua-anointed-by-moses01

Scripture: Joshua 12:Now these are the kings of the land, whom the Israelites defeated… 2 King Sihon of the Amorites …4 and King Og of Bashan, one of the last of the Rephaim, …6 Moses, the servant of the LORD, and the Israelites defeated them; and Moses the servant of the LORD gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 7 1 The following are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the Israelites defeated on the west side of the Jordan… thirty-one kings in all.

Observation: There is a marked contrast in the number of kings defeated in the time of Moses (2) and then in the time of Joshua (31). Moses spent 40 years leading the Israelites in a season of “wandering”, only doing battle when absolutely necessary. His journey was exclusively east of the River Jordan. Joshua took over for Moses when the Israelites were finally done wandering and crossed over to the west side of the Jordan. That’s where the promised land was and where Israel occupied lands formerly inhabited by other peoples. Joshua was leader in a time of “warring”, not wandering. Different seasons, different leaders.

Application: Leadership is generally a seasonal thing. A person assumes that role for a while, but then another leader takes their place. This happens in churches all the time. Someone plants a church, another sustains and develops it. It happens in families as generations change. There are few people left in my parents generation. Soon my siblings and I will be the oldest generation.

Today’s passage reminds me that, as a leader, I am only so for a season. Soon enough my time will be over and another will take my place. In terms of the church I lead, I’ve been here for five years now. While I’m not sure how many more years I’ll be here (literally, only the Lord knows), my prayer is that I will leave a healthy collection of people faithfully loving God, loving one another, and loving the world.

I’m also thinking about my family – specifically, my children. More than any other persons on earth, they have seen my leadership up close. They’ve seen me at my best and at my worst. I wonder if, when they have families of their own, they will consider their dad someone worth imitating as a parent. I expect in some ways yes, and perhaps some ways no. There will be key lessons they learned from me which they will pass along to their own children. There will be things for which my children will need to forgive me.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, the older I get the more I realize just how fleeting this life is. The days go faster, time is short. Soon enough, my time will be over. Give me grace to lead well while I’m here. Forgive my many sins and shortcomings, that you might one day say to me, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Amen.

 

Sowing seeds…

Standard

Scripture: Luke 13:18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Observation: Jesus is describing the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom movement Jesus inspired, as something with profound consequences despite it’s humble beginnings. Time would confirm his prediction. At the time Luke wrote his gospel account, the Roman Empire engulfed the entire known world. Jesus led a relative handful of disciples and would end up hanging on a cross. Not very impressive. Today there are literally over a billion Christians and the Roman empire crumbled over 1,000 years ago.

Application: Our world tends to be impressed with big, conspicuous, flashy – as was the ancient world. Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God is different. It starts small, like a mustard seed. It is not often impressive in the conventional sense. But over time it grows into something magnificent. Enduring. Surprising. Life changing.

I’ve found that being a Christian often involves planting Kingdom seeds for others as we go about daily life. What does planting a Kingdom seed look like? Well, it can look like offering a word of encouragement to someone who is struggling, saying a prayer for a friend in need, texting a bible verse to a loved one, writing a few paragraphs of biblical reflection on social media as I’m doing now. It doesn’t look like much, but you never know what may come of it. God uses such things to touch people, give them hope, let them know they are loved. And sometimes, when things seem particularly bleak, one Kingdom seed provides enough hope to help someone get through another day. That, my friends, in no small thing.

Prayer: Lord, give us grace to scatter Kingdom seeds whenever we get the chance, trusting you can take something small and do something big. Amen.