Friday, May 17, 2013

Luke 16:25-31

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

(This continues a parable from yesterday.)

The wealthy man who seemed to have the blessing of God has looked up to find himself in hell. He has benn in the Greek apollomi - destroyed or lost. Thayer's lexicon states, "The word means, at its heart, to be delivered up to eternal misery." Apart from God, he has no hope. In life the Holy Spirit convicts from love, offering a way out. Satan convicts from a standpoint of guilt. In hell there is complete guilt with no hope at all of redemption. The man does not ask for a reprieve from his punishment beyond a drop of water to ease his suffering for one moment. But even this is denied him.

Abraham responds to his descendant. In life he had received his reward. Lazarus received his in death. Riches do not prohibit someone from heaven, but the rich man had reveled in his wealth rather than turning in faith to God. Even if he wanted to send Lazarus, there was a barrier between heaven and hell.

This is a parable, an allegory to teach greater truths. People cannot speak to one another from heaven to hell or vice versa. But there is a barrier between the two. Once your eternal destiny is set, there is no chance of gaining or losing position.

The rich man realizes this. But he begs Abraham to send Lazarus so that the man's five brothers would believe and not end up with the same eternal punishment. Abraham replies that the brothers have the Law and the Prophets. If they would not believe these, they would not even believe someone resurrected. The Pharisees had twisted the Law into a set of rules and works that would bring salvation. But true salvation as described in the Old Testament required a change of heart as well as a sacrifice of blood that pointed toward the eventual sacrifice of Christ which would impute righteousness to all who would believe. Salvation came through faith alone (Hb 11). The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation points to the gospel of Jesus - the only way to enter the kingdom of God.

Even when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus (not the same person as the man in this story) from the dead many people would not believe. The Pharisees react to this miracle by plotting the death of both Lazarus and Jesus. When Jesus is raised from the dead many still will not believe. There are those who will believe in the way to salvation laid out in scripture and those who will not. And the responsibility is on those of us who have been given this understanding to share it with others. No one will supernaturally appear from the dead to preach the gospel. It is our responsibility to study, believe, and proclaim the truth to others.

Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord. 
 - Jeremiah 9:23–24

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Luke 16:19-24

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’”

Some have contended that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a true story. After all, it is unusual for Jesus to give a character in one of his parables a real name. Perhaps Jesus chose the name Lazurus because it means "God has helped". It is clearly a parable because certain details in the story are not backed up in other places. With rare exception, no one is taken bodily into heaven. And even Enoch and Elijah are not described as dying before they left this world. People in heaven and hell cannot see each other and converse over some great divide. But in this fictional account Jesus has, as usual, hidden deep truths.

The rich man wears the finst clothing every day - clothing that even other wealthy men would only wear on special occasions. In modern times a man like this would don Alexander McQueen to walk his dog - not that he wouldn't have people to do that for him. He was joyous, indulging his wants and needs every day of his life. In this culture wealth symbolized the blessings of God. Jesus' listeners would hear this story and know that this was the good guy. (Well, unless they'd begun to see the pattern of Jesus' tales that is.)

At the large, fancy gate to his estate, a wretched man was laid. The beggar couldn't walk, was skin and bones, and was covered with oozing sores. He couldn't even shoo away the dogs who came to lick his wounds. He longed to eat the scraps of stale bread used to clean the hands of the diners, but the dogs had that privilege as well. Clearly this was a man punished and hated by God.

Not surprisingly, the sickly beggar dies. But surprisingly that is not the end of his story. With no one to give him a burial or care about his death, an angel carries him to Abraham's side. Abraham, being the father of the Jewish nation both ethnically and spiritually, would clearly be in heaven.

The rich man also dies and receives a lavish burial. Suddenly, he lifts his eyes and realizes he is in Hades. Of course he is shocked. How could he have ended up here? He was blessed in life! He was the right race, the right religion, and the right socioeconomic statues. From the story he doesn't see a particularly bad man. He doesn't help Lazarus, but can any of us help every person we see in need? But his lack of faith and understanding have landed him here.

Clearly he still looks down on Lazarus, asking Abraham to send him over with a few drops of water. Surely heaven can spare such a beggar to help ease the agony of a man such as himself. But we will see tomorrow that no relief is possible for the rich man. He is quite literally beyond hope.

40% of Westerners believe that all people will go to heaven, and 48% agree than anyone who does enough good for others will make the cut. But ask people if they think they themselves will enter heaven and 90% answer in the affirmative.They may claim, "Well, I'm a good person." Perhaps they reply, "I'm religious. I believe in God." Or they muse, "God is good and wouldn't send me to hell."

Clearly there is a disconnect. Unfortunately, many people are mislead. We have been fed just enough religion to believe we are safe without possession the true justification that comes when we place our faith in God and the righteousness or Christ is imputed to us. Most of the people who find themselves in hell in the next life will lift up their eyes in total surprise, just like the rich man in the story. It is up to believers to stop sugar coating the gospel and start speaking the truth in love. The body of Christ does not exist to make people feel uplifted, it exists to pull people from the clutches of the evil one to the glory of God.

The story continues tomorrow.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-8:1

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Luke 16:16-18

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

The NIV titles this section "additional teachings". It almost seems a hodgepodge of ideas that do not flow with the rest of the passage. But since that isn't Jesus' style, let's take a closer look. Why are these verses sandwiched between the story of proper use of money and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? Taken all together, Jesus is pointing the finger at the false religion of the Pharisees and pointing out the dangers within the system.

Again and again Jesus points out that a person's outward religiosity is no indication that the person is part of the kingdom of God. He called the most religious people in the land "whitewashed tombs" - clean on the outside but inside filled with rotting decay.

The Law and the Prophets are what Christians today call the Old Testament. Until the coming of John the Baptist, these scriptures proclaimed the truths of God and revealed man's inability to live up to a  perfect holy standard. The arrival of John and Jesus marked the beginning of a new era. The "sinners and tax collectors" had been held at arms length from God by these Pharisees. Now they were forcing their way in droves through the open door of the gospel.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not destroy it. Not even a mark the size of a period or dash will be removed from the Law until heaven and earth pass away. Some of the sacrificial laws and cultural laws are not followed by Christians, but the meaning of the law as taught by Jesus certainly is. Although he interacted with and offered grace to those considered sinners by society, he set the standard for righteousness even beyond the law in teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount. "You think you're righteous because you haven't murdered? If you've hated anyone it is the same thing. You think you're sinless because you haven't committed adultery? If you've lusted you are equally guilty under the Law." He lived a sinless life and imputes that righteousness to all who believe.

Verse 18 seems totally out of flow, almost like a random thought. But he was calling out the Pharisees who had married divorced women or been divorced themselves. They would never have sex outside the bonds of marriage, but in the eyes of the Law divorce and remarriage was equivalent to adultery. They wanted to pick and choose which sins were allowed and which were grievous.

Don't we all. Some sins - sexual sins, divorce, murder, rape, child abuse - are seen by many Christians as worse than others - gossip, white lies, mildly lustful feelings, jealousy, overindulgence. We like to justify ourselves by pointing the finger at others. We condemn Gosnell and the Tsarnaev brothers to hell but give ourselves a free pass. Of course some sins have greater repercussions on earth. Of course our human laws should punish some sins greatly and ignore others. But in the eyes of a holy God, sin is sin. "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (Js 2:10).

So now turn from your conscience and its feeling to Christ who is not able to deceive; my heart and Satan, however, who will drive me to sin are liars... You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you... Therefore you are able to fight with your conscience by saying: You lie; Christ speaks the truth and you do not. - Martin Luther

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Luke 16:13-15

 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

After concluding his parable of the Shrewd Manager, a commentary about how Jesus' followers should use worldly riches to further God's kingdom, Jesus makes it clear that you cannot serve both God and money. We all know people who are obsessed with money. We shake our heads at lottery winners and movie stars who blow through their savings and wind up with nothing. Although money in and of itself is not evil, the love of and obsession with money takes our focus away from God, his will for our lives, and his provision for our daily needs. When you love money, you never have enough. When you love God, you find all you ever needed.

The Pharisees found this statement ridiculous. They loved money. Who wouldn't. Riches in this culture meant God was pleased with you. Destitution was a sign of God's displeasure. Likely your sins or the sins of your father cost you worldly comfort.

Someone was right, and someone was wrong. Jesus' teaching contradicted the traditions and teachings of the Pharisees. They rejected everything he said, unwilling to allow any conviction into their own hearts. They had no interest in using their money to bring people into the kingdom of God. Their defenses went up with every story from Jesus' mouth. They purported to be the true worshippers of God, the true leaders of the true faith. They had convinced themselves and the nation that they held the keys to God. They prided themselves on worship, praying public prayers of thanksgiving that they weren't like the poor sinners surrounding them.

They built their foundation on the shifting sands of public opinion, hypocritical acts of goodness, and worldly comforts and praise. They checked off their list of religious behaviors while devouring widows' houses. Every false religion focuses on specific good deeds and outward behaviors. Jesus was proclaiming God's kingdom as inward change, spiritual wealth, and God's glory through changed lives. He taught humility rather than deeds done by men. He taught giving so that your left hand would not even know what your right was doing rather than trumpet blasts and public proclamations of generosity.

People will notice public deeds and attention grabbing generosity, but God searches the heart for true motivation. He desires mercy rather than sacrifice and knowledge of God more than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6).

"How can you say, 'We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,' when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and snared. They have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom do they really have?" Jeremiah 8:9

Monday, May 13, 2013

Luke 6:1-12

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.  So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

In the previous chapter, Jesus was addressing the Pharisees' criticism of the company he kept among sinners. The parable in this section is addressed to his disciples.

In the story a wealthy man hears rumors that his property manager is squandering his wealth, throwing his money around indiscriminately. He summons the manager and fires him, but first he gives the manager time to bring him an account of the debts he managed. Perhaps the wealthy man did not have these records, or perhaps he wanted the most recent account. Either way, he is about to find out why people fired from corporations today are immediately escorted off the property.

The manager is in a panic. He faces the prospect of losing his income and his dwelling place on the wealthy man's property. He knows he cannot get his job back, and with a reputation as a bad manager he will not easily find a similar position somewhere else. He knows he is not strong enough for manual labor. He knows he is too proud to beg. So he comes up with a solution. In a society where reciprocation is ingrained into every relationship, he finds a way to make those indebted to his master also indebted to him. These men will then have the cultural responsibility to welcome the manager into their homes.

He calls in each debtor. He cancels a year and a half's worth of wages of the first man's debt and two years of wages from the second debt. You can infer that he dealt likewise with the other accounts. These types of deals were occasionally restructured out of kindness when there were locusts, drought, or other calamity. These men summoned about their debt would assume he was acting for his master,  not knowing he was fired. Even though there was no reason to restructure their debt, they would of course not ask any questions about this good deal!

We would expect the master to be angry, but instead he is impressed with the shrewdness of the manager. He has used the wealth of another to make friends with those who will reward him. He is still fired, but he has somewhere to go.

To interpret this passage as a green light to embezzle and misuse other's money because the master commends the manager would not fit with the rest of Scripture. So what does it mean? Most people of the world focus on using riches for earthly security. Believers in Christ are to use the "unrighteous" wealth of this world as an investment for eternity. We are to invest our wealth in reaching others with the gospel, so that in eternity we will be welcomed by them into our eternal dwellings. If we were even as wise as the unscrupulous financial planners of the earth, we would purchase friends for an eternity. We would lay up our treasure in heaven.

Are you more focused on your 401K than on the unsaved? Are you more concerned about how many years until you can retire than on building the kingdom of God? Do you manage your everyday finances as if "working for the Lord" (Col 3:23)? Take head Jesus' warning in verse 9.

Most of us are in debt. We owe God's riches to others. If we were to give our finances to God with all our hearts, he would receive a big IOU. Perhaps we should consider spending the bare minimum until we free ourselves to spend his money at the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Those who are unfaithful in small things will also be unfaithful in big things. I often joke that I'm ready for God to stop teaching me patience and start teaching me to be generous be sending me a large sum of money. But if I cannot be generous with the money already on loan to me from God, how could I be expected to be generous with millions? It is actually easier to be faithful with a small portion than with great riches! We should spend less than we take in not just with an eye for our temporal future, but to save for future investment in God's kingdom. Everything we have is God's property, and we are called to use it for his glory.

These two are diametrically opposed, God and money. One commands you to walk by faith, the other to walk by sight. One to be humble, the other to be proud. One to set your affection on things above, the other to set them on the things that are on the earth. One to look at the things that are unseen and eternal, the other to look at the things that are seen and temporal; one to have your conversation in heaven, the other to cleave to the dust; one to be careful for nothing, the other to be all anxiety. One to be content with such things as you have, the other enlarge your desires. One to be ready to distribute, the other to withhold; one to look at the things of others, the other to look at only one's own things; one to seek happiness in the Creator, the other to seek happiness in the creature. Is it not plain. You can't serve two such masters."  - A. W. Pink

Friday, May 10, 2013

Luke 15:25-32

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

(This story is a continuation from yesterday.)

The older son has been in the field during the time of reconciliation. As the manager of the property, he wouldn't really "work" so much as sit in the shade and make sure others did their work to his satisfaction. No one comes to get him for the party, and he was so far away on the father's large estate that he knows nothing about it. Rather than going in to see what is going on, he is suspicious and asks a servant what is happening. He is told that his father has received his brother back safe and sound and is throwing a party to celebrate his joy.

The older brother is angry. and refuses to join the party. Finally a character appears with whom the Pharisees can agree! The younger son was sinful, dishonored his father, and deserved shame rather than restitution. The father shamed himself by agreeing to divide his estate and improperly welcoming home the son. But this older brother with his righteous indignation is the kind of guy they can get behind.

Growing up I thought the older brother was the good guy. He stayed and did what the father expected. But I know now that the older brother is the Pharisees. He outwardly completed "good deeds" but inwardly had no love for his father or his brother. He judged his brother, but clearly he also did not care about his father's joy. All he wanted was to keep what he thought was his by birthright and certainly not to share it with his sinful brother.

All people are sinful. We may be the irreligious overtly sinful younger brother or the religious hypocritical older brother. Most of us fall in the middle of the spectrum. But no matter which we are, the Father loves us and longs to offer grace, forgiveness, and love. He longs for a relationship with us that will bring glory to him. Good works are worth nothing in the realm of salvation and forgiveness. But thank God that he saves us by his grace through our faith!

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Luke 15:17-24

(This continues a parable from yesterday)

But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Suddenly, with nowhere else to turn, the younger son remembers his father. While he lived his life of sin and revelry, he had done all he could to push his father from his mind. Completely homesick, he remembers that his father was a man of great kindness and compassion, paying even the day laborers beyond what was expected. Destitute and dying of hunger amid the famine of a foreign land, he has nothing else to lose. He knows that he will not be restored as a family member if he returns. Perhaps after years of penance and hard labor to earn back what he squandered... but he knows he should not even hope. Except for this one fact. Whereas most fathers would hold a funeral service and consider such a disrespectful, dishonest son dead, he knows that his father is compassionate. If he can just convince his dad to let him prove his worthiness as a daily hired man, perhaps his father will one day be able to look him in the eye.

He has his speech all worked out. He's been rehearsing it on the long walk from Gentile country. He has braced himself for the awkward and shameful walk through town. But his father is on the watch for him, knowing that eventually the son's choices would reach a disastrous end and turn his heart toward home. Unwilling to let his son bear a second more of shame, the father picks up the hem of his garment and sprints to his son. In Middle Eastern culture it was shameful to run and expose one's legs, but this father is not concerned about his reputation. He throws his arms around his filthy, smelly son and begins covering him with kisses.

The son begins his speech, but the father isn't listening. He instructs the servants to get the family robe, the robe saved for special occasions such as the oldest son's wedding, and wrap it around his malodorous defiled son without even requesting a handwashing. He places the signet ring of authority on his sons finger. He places sandals on his feet, an item servants or hired laborers would never receive to wear.

The meanings in this parable are clear. In this story the father represents God's behavior and feelings about repentant sinners. The son realizes he has traded the riches and generosity of the father for the fleeting pleasures of sin. He knows that the smallest pleasures in the house of his father are far better than anything in the world without him. The son approaches the father like most of us approach God when we repent. "I am so sorry. I am not worthy of your love. I am willing to work as hard as it takes to make it up to you, earn your favor, and just maybe become your child again. I'll do anything to be reconciled in some way."

But the Father doesn't work that way. There is no trial period or tests of worthiness. The moment we repent, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. We are justified immediately, without any need to get "cleaned up" first.

And all this brings the father great joy! He throws a party, killing even the fattened calf! Meat was a rarity in these days, and the fattened calf was reserved for the most special of occasions. The entire village is called to celebrate the return of the lost son. Just so, all of heaven rejoices when one sinful person turns from their sin. No works are needed to receive the full grace of God. We could not do enough good to outweigh our sin and earn his favor anyway!

"With Him the calf is always the fatted calf; the robe is always the best robe; the joy is unspeakable; and the peace passes understanding. There is no grudging in God’s goodness. He does not measure His goodness by drops like a druggist filling a prescription. It comes to us in floods. If only we recognize the lavish abundance of His gifts, what a difference it would make in our lives! If every meal were taken as a gift from His hand, it would be almost a sacrament."  - Haddon Robinson

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Luke 15:11-16

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, but no one gave him anything.

The Pharisees tried to discredit Jesus for using his association with sinners. If Jesus was comfortable with "Satan's people" while accusing the "people of God" of unrighteousness, he was certainly working with Satan rather than God. In this final of three parables, Jesus continues to respond to their charge by by telling what brings God true joy and glory.

The story begins with a father. In these days the father commanded respect and honor. But this youngest son shows him none. Asking for his inheritance early is akin to saying he wished his father were dead. He cares not for his father's guidance and wisdom; all he wants is his share of the possessions. Culturally, the father's response should be a public beating and disinheritance. But this father does not protect his honor. He divides his wealth between the two. The youngest son quickly liquidates his assets. Like those who trade in futures today, in the time of Jesus the youngest son would be able to sell his portion of the property at a discounted price. The purchaser would receive the property when the father died.

We call this man the "prodigal son". The word prodigal means "spendthrift", someone loose and free with their money. The son squanders his estate on parties and women. The word "loose" in Greek means he lived in a "wild, reckless, abandoned" manner. As usually occurs, he felt free for a time in his self-indulgence. But eventually the shock of the consequences hits us like thrill seekers flying through the air who suddenly realize that the bungee cord is not attached.

Becoming destitute was his doing, but the famine was out of his control. We know little of famine in America. People in famine situations have no access to any food. They eat any plant they can find, gnaw on shoe leather, even turn to cannibalism. In the midst of these circumstances to say the younger son "found himself in need" is an understatement.

He clings to an unclean Gentile in an unclean country and is sent to do the most unclean of tasks - feeding the pigs. He is not even paid for the job. He is not allowed to even eat the trash fed to teh swine.

We leave him here broken, in the mud, starving and surrounded by filth. The story continues tomorrow. Until then, consider how many times we stubbornly sit in the pigpens of our own making, refusing in arrogance to return to the Father.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Luke 15:8-10

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

After having the Pharisees defile their mind by thinking like a shepherd, now Jesus insults them by comparing them to a woman! He sweeps away at their ridiculous pride like the woman in the story sweeps the dust from the corners of her house.

The woman in this story has ten silver coins - ten drachmas. Each was equal to an average day's wage. This was either money she had stored away to use as the family had need or it could be her dowry, sown into a headband worn at her wedding. Either way, it would be a big deal to loose something so precious.

I invented a game called "crazy clean" to play when something is lost in our house. The kids hate it. Rather than walking around looking for the "thing", we run around putting things away. The lost item is always found amid the clutter of our lives. Even in the less cluttered days of Jesus, a coin could be lost in a corner, hidden under dust in a crack in the floor, or under a pot along the wall. The woman would not simply think, "Oh well, I still have 90% of my money." No! She would frantically clean and search until that lost coin was found. In that moment, the lost coin is worth far more than the nine already safe.

Jesus is the woman in the story, seeking the lost sinner hidden under dust and debris. The coin is lifeless. It cannot cry out or aid in the search. The Savior pursues the sinner, reaching down to pick him up and restore him. The light of the gospel pierces the darkness, illuminating the soul of the lost. Jesus was willing to get dirty, to touch sin when he had never before been defiled. 

In the same way the woman calls her girlfriends over to rejoice when she finds the lost coin, God rejoices when one sinner is saved. Verse 10 says, "There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels". That means it is God himself who is rejoicing, and everyone around him joins in the celebration. How wonderful that the creator of heaven and earth, the Triune God of all, would rejoice and bring glory to himself through our repentance.

"The practical lesson to the unconverted is just this. Dear friend, see what value is set upon you. You think that nobody cares for you—why, heaven and earth care for you! You say, 'I am as nothing, a castaway, and I am utterly worthless.' No, you are not worthless to the blessed Spirit, nor worthless to the church of God—she longs for you... Welcome! welcome! why, the church is searching for you; the Spirit of God is searching for you. Do not talk of welcome, you will be a great deal more than welcome. Oh, how glad will Christ be, and the Spirit be, and the church be, to receive you! Ah! but you complain that you have done nothing to make you fit for mercy. Talk not so, what had the lost piece of money done? What could it do? It was lost and helpless. They who sought it did all; he who seeks you will do all for you." - C.H. Spurgeon

Monday, May 6, 2013

Luke 15:1-7

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying,  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Tax collectors and "sinners" had always been around while Jesus was ministering. I imagine they had kept to the shadows and edges of the crowd to avoid the scorn of the religious, but they were there nonetheless. Perhaps Jesus' messages of God drawing in the "less desirable" guests to his banquet gave them courage to gather closer to hear his words, wondering if salvation was possible for even them.

Tax collectors were usually Jewish men who bought from the Romans the right to set up a tax booth, collecting various tolls, customs, and taxes. The system was rife with corruption, and tax collectors were generally despised by the community at large. They were unpatriotic, dishonest, and unclean as a result of their profession. In a society where ritual purity took precedence over human relationship, no self respecting Pharisee or scribe would receive a sinner into his presence, much less eat with them and have the defilement rub off.

But Jesus is concerned with restoration, not religion. He tells three parables to illustrate this truth. "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep." "Stop right there," the Pharisees think. "You want me to imagine myself as an unclean shepherd? I would not even want to defile my mind in such a way." The Pharisees would certainly place themselves among the 99 righteous who "need no repentance".

You see, shepherds performed a very necessary job. They protected the sheep that provided clothing, sacrificial lambs, and occasionally food to the community. But their job put them outside in the elements, exposing them to bodily fluids as they cared for the animals. They were constantly unclean in the eyes of the law. Sure, their greatest king had been a shepherd. Sure, God was described as being the shepherd of Israel in several passages of scripture, but no self respecting religious Jew in Jesus' day would have chosen that profession.

One person would not have owned one hundred sheep. A shepherd in charge of that many sheep would be pasturing the sheep for an entire community. He and one or two other shepherds would take the flocks out to graze and protect them from anything that came. You couldn't just say, "Well, I protected 99. That's a pretty good ratio." Your job was to bring back every last sheep - preferably alive and well, but if not you had better rip it from the jaws of whatever predator snatched it. The one lost sheep may belong to a family that had only one or two sheep. So the other shepherds might bring the 99 back, but the seeking shepherd was not coming back without #100. In this parable the shepherd finds the wandering sheep alive. He hoists the animal onto his shoulders, bearing the weight on the walk back to the village. By this time everyone has heard about the one lost sheep from the shepherds who returned with the 99. When they discover that the shepherd has saved the life of the sheep, rejoicing breaks out.

Ezekiel 34:23–24 records, "Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken." Jesus is setting himself up as the promised Messiah, come to seek and save the lost "sheep" of Israel (Luke 19:10). He receives the repentant back into the "flock". Bearing the burden of their transgressions on his own shoulders, he carries the full weight of the cost for their repentance and restoration.

The Pharisees may grumble, but all heaven of heaven rejoices. When a person is lost and is received back into the flock of faith, we should rejoice as well! Like the shepherd, we should indiscriminately seek the lost carry them to the Great Shepherd. Anyone cognizant of their own sin is ready for restoration.

        Surely he took up our pain
            and bore our suffering,
        yet we considered him punished by God,
            stricken by him, and afflicted.
        But he was pierced for our transgressions,
            he was crushed for our iniquities;
        the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
            and by his wounds we are healed.
        We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
            each of us has turned to our own way;
        and the Lord has laid on him
            the iniquity of us all.
        Isaiah 53:4-6

Friday, May 3, 2013

Luke 14:31-35

“Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

“Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Jesus continues his discourse to the crowd, having instructed them that being his disciple requires loving God more than family, friend, or even one's own life. It requires a willingness to suffer anything - even torture, ridicule, or death. Anyone considering becoming his disciple should consider this before beginning. As a man who begins a tower and does not complete it would be shamed by the community and mocked by a half built monument to his lack of planning, so is one who begins to follow Jesus and does not finish.

Consider the cost. A king would be foolish not to assess the strength of the other army before going into battle. He would estimate the possible cost to his treasure reserve and the lives of his men. If he knows he will lose, he will be willing to compromise and give up money or freedom to avoid annihilation. Anyone desiring to be Jesus' disciple must consider whether he is willing to lose possessions, suffer injury, and even lose his life in the battle. Of course, without becoming his disciple there can be no lasting terms of peace.

Salt has been a valuable preservative since ancient times. It certainly adds flavor, but in the days before refrigeration, salt was one of the best ways to keep meat from turning rancid. In Leviticus 2, God's instructions about bringing offerings included salt. Salt was symbolic of loyalty to the covenant of God, preserving the relationship between God and man. Salt from the Dead Sea contained a gypsum compound that could diminish the effectiveness of salt if not processed correctly. It would lose its taste and become ineffective as a preservative. It could no longer be considered salt. Useless, it would not even be good enough for the compost heap.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that his followers should be salt, so here he clearly refers to those calling themselves his followers. True followers retain their flavor and usefulness. Others may begin with the appearance of saltiness but over time lose their "saltiness". We can seem on the exterior like "salty" believers with all the appearance of holiness. We can focus on doing all the right things without being transformed on the inside. But as the gypsum in the Dead Sea compound eventually degraded the salt to the point that it could not be considered salt, so outward religiosity will eventually show itself to be false. Only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can truly change our lives.

"The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half-built towers, the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ's warning and undertake to follow Him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. This is the great scandal of Christendom today, so-called nominal Christianity. In countries to which the Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin veneer of Christianity. They've allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion, is a great soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism."
John Stott - Basic Christianity

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Luke 14:25-30

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Jesus keeps trying to talk the crowds out of following him! Hate your family? Hate your life? What kind of seeker friendly operation is he running here? Doesn't he know you have to draw people in and then sort out the rest later? It's about reaching the masses, Jesus! Or... maybe we have it wrong in modern Christianity...

Massive crowds follow Jesus because of his healing, his teaching, and because it's the best show around at the time. Some are true followers, some are considering it, some are completely against it, and some are just there to see what happens.

Is Jesus contradicting verses such as Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 5:21-6:4 where we are instructed to honor our parents, love our families, and consider our family member's needs above our own? Hate seems like a very unchristian thing to do when Jesus says in John 13:35 that onlookers will know we are his disciples by our love.

"Hate" here expresses preference. In Malachi 1:2-3 (quoted in Romans 9:13) God says "Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated." This doesn't mean God had Esau's face on some heavenly dartboard. It means God gave his promise through Jacob, not Esau, showing his preference for the younger brother. It was also a Semitic expression used as a way to refer to loving someone less, as in Jacob loving Rachel more than Leah. His feelings are described as hating Leah, but clearly he had some feelings for her.

If we are to be true disciples, we are to love the Lord with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. If family relationships conflict with what the Holy Spirit wants us to do, the Holy Spirit wins out. We must be willing to give up everything - all our possessions, our relationships, even our own lives. When Jesus gives similar instructions in Mark 10 he mentions that anyone who gives up family will receive a hundred times more in the present age, not to mention eternal life. This refers to the family we receive in the body of Christ.

Christians rarely experience true persecution in America. In other countries and religions, turning to Christianity can result in shunning, torture, or execution. Some in America are excluded by families when they convert. Some Americans might experience tension and misunderstandings with family members when they choose to follow Christ, and this should not be trivialized.

The Greek word translated carry, bastazo, means to take up in order to carry or bear, to put upon one's self or to bear what is burdensome. Bearing a cross indicates a willingness to suffer ridicule, pain, and suffering. It is a willingness to put one's life on the line if necessary. Carrying your cross to crucifixion was a mark of an outcast, an extreme criminal. To cling to Christ, you can hold on to nothing else.

In the days before bank loans and mortgages, it would be extremely foolish to begin a building project without securing the means to complete the project. Even today it is unwise to build a building without a plan to finish the building and repay any debts. Anyone seeing the incomplete project will shake their head at best and ridicule you at worst. Likewise, one who will be a true disciple of Christ you must be willing to complete the mission given to him. Many will begin the journey only to find they were the seed sown in shallow ground. Even if we never experience persecution of any kind, we must be willing in advance to suffer anything and give up everything if necessary.

Then he said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."  - Luke 9:23-24

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Luke 14:15-24

When one of them who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’  Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

And the servant said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”

Jesus was attending Sabbath dinner at the house of a prominent Pharisee. He has blasted them for being unwilling to heal on the Sabbath when they would work to save a valuable ox or a beloved child. He has condemned them for seeking the place of honor at the table and only doing good to those who can repay the kindness. He concludes in verse 14 that those who are truly humble will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Most responded with silence, but one man clearly missed the point. He certainly thinks the previous parables were not about him and includes himself as one of the humble when saying that those who eat at the heavenly banquet will be blessed. He was proud to think himself as not too proud to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus follows this statement by telling an absurd story. A wealthy man invites people to a banquet. In these days without calendars and watches, a party planner sent out a pre-invitation. Then when the preparations were ready he would send another invitation. When the man in the parable sends his notice that the party is ready, it is impossible to imagine that anyone would not come. A really nice party could last for days of feasting and fun. In a world where daily life was repetitive and could feel mundane, such a celebration would not be missed.

But when the second invitation is received, all those invited make ridiculous excuses for not coming. The first needs to go check out the dirt in a field he has bought. The second, a clearly wealthy man, wants to see how at his five yoke of new oxen perform. The third has a wife who won't let him come. In this society the man was certainly the head of the house, so this is clearly an excuse. What wife wouldn't want to hit the party of the year?

The servant brings the shocking news back to the master. After all the preparation for an amazing feast, no one is coming! Beyond rudeness and breaching the social mores of the society, a refusal of this nature indicated that you wanted no friendship with the person throwing the feast. This group represents the Jewish leaders and the nation rejecting Jesus. They were pre-invited by the words of the Old Testament and were now the Messiah was telling them the banquet was ready. The master sends out his servant to invite the crippled blind and lame from the streets. This is the notably the same groups Jesus said should be invited to every banquet. This group would be confused at the invitation, knowing that they could not repay the feast. These attendees represent those in the Jewish nation who believed in and followed Jesus - those who mourned over their wretched spiritual state rather than believing they were entitled to salvation because of their Abrahamic ancestry and adherence to legalistic rules and traditions.

But there is still room at the banquet. The servant is sent out again to convince those in the countryside and byways to come to the banquet. This represents those outside the Jewish faith - the Gentiles. The master's house is now filled with a surprising guest list, and none of those originally invited taste so much as a slice of juicy lamb.

The Pharisees were self-sacrificing. They fasted, gave tithes to the temple, and followed minute laws added through the centuries to avoid even coming near sin. In Matthew 23 Jesus compares the weight of this burden as a cumbersome one, impossible to lift. The whole reason behind this was for personal glory on earth as well as the promise of eternal reward. They would not only be in heaven, but they would have the best seat at the table. This is why in Mathew 20 the mother of James and John requests that they sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom. Your work on earth would be rewarded.

People today like religion to be comforting. As long as you do your best and believe something with all your heart, you're good. But Jesus always spoke to shatter false religious hope. He didn't tell his listeners, "Don't worry, we all worship the same God. You're good." No, Jesus said, "No one comes unto the Father except through me." He was tough.

We like to pat ourselves on the back as well. Yesterday the Barna Research Group released a survey examining whether modern day Christians are more like Jesus or more like the Pharisees. (Read an article about it here.) 51% of respondents chose beliefs and actions consistent with the Pharisees. 14% exhibit beliefs and actions consistent with Jesus. In the middle were Christians who show a mix of Pharisaical beliefs and Jesus' teaching. Evangelical Christians were more likely to have the actions of Jesus, but often had the actions of Jesus without the beliefs. Perhaps this is why Christians are branded as hypocritical. Even when practice the right behavior, we may have the wrong motives. Practicing Catholics were more likely to have Christ-like beliefs but Pharisaical actions. Women were more likely to be "Christ-like" than men, maybe because we tend to be more nurturing.

Authentic faith, in word and deed, is much more difficult than finding  and following "religion". Only the transforming power of walking with God, through the forgiveness of Jesus, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit can change us into the image of Christ. No amount of "effort" on our part will amount to anything.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” - 1 Corinthians 1:26-31