Sunday, August 21, 2016

Luke 17:22-37 As in the Day

22 And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. 24 For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. 

According to Luke, Jesus said that 'the kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed..because 'the kingdom of God is within you' (Lk 17:20,21). Later, Jesus reportedly said, that when we see the 'sign of the end' we can 'know that the kingdom of God is near' (Lk 21:25,31). How can we reconcile these seemingly opposite notions? Or can we?

First, note that in this passage Jesus was confirming that he would die. Second, he noted  what is commonly experienced after the death of a loved one - that his disciples would sorely miss the days when they walked beside him in the flesh. Thirdly, the disciples would be tempted to believe reports that he had been sighted here or there. But he warned them not to believe those reports - which might explain why they reacted the way they did when Mary reported seeing Jesus after his death (Lk 24:11). 

Then, in verse 24, Jesus spoke about his later appearing as a 'flash of lightning'.

25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 

Verse 25 orients us - ''but first'. First, Jesus will suffer and be rejected. These rather cryptic words imply that he would be killed. He was speaking about things that would happen in his generation.

Second, it will be life as usual afterwards, just as during the days when Noah built his ark. Noah warned the people as he built his ark, but no one paid much attention to his eccentric ways, until the day that Noah entered the completed ark and the flood came and destroyed everyone who had not entered the ark with him.

In other words, the return of Jesus will come suddenly, yet clearly as a flash of lightning, when the world is behaving as the world has always been behaving - selfishly.  

28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 

Jesus then reiterated this point of 'suddenness' by referring not only to the time of Noah, but also to the story of Sodom. The thing to focus on is not the specifics of Noah's day - destruction by a water, nor the specifics of Lot's day - destruction by fire and brimstone from heaven. Rather, the consistent theme noted in both OT references is that the appearing of Jesus will be 'sudden' and all the old, 'life as usual' ways will be 'destroyed'.

So far, from chapter 17, we know that the 'kingdom of God' is not coming with observable signs because it is something that happens within us. If we are looking for something tangible, something external to our own heart, we will be misled. The kingdom is not something that Jesus must build in our world, but a relationship with Jesus that he builds within each heart. Do not wait for him to do something in the world. Rather, let him do his work within you. 

In fact, you will be living each day as usual, expecting God to intervene in our world in some miraculous way, when suddenly the light goes on in your heart. You 'suddenly' see the whole world differently. The aha comes as quickly as a flood and is as awe-inspiring as a lightning bolt across the sky. Our 'old man' is destroyed and the 'new man' is created. Jesus was referring to the conversion of the heart.

Zacharias discovered that even as an old man, he and his wife could bear a child - John. Nicodemus discovered that even when old, he could be born anew. In the power of the Spirit we can 'lay aside our old self' (Eph 4:22), that our 'old man' can be 'destroyed' (Rom 6:6). We will suddenly experience the 'baptism of the Spirit and fire' (Lk 3:16; Acts 2:3; 1 Cor 3:15; Heb 12:29).

30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 

If 'the day that the Son of Man is revealed' is primarily about an individual encountering the sudden, converting power of the Spirit, then why the warning about 'Lot's wife'? 

Maybe the apostle Paul answered this question best in his letter to the Galatians. "Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh" (Gal 3:3)?   

In other words, when we have truly experienced the Spirit, don't be hoodwinked into returning to a life guided by the flesh, the local culture, or even our childhood religion. The Spirit must continue to be our guide. We rightly must live 'in the world', as noted by Jesus command to the 10 lepers (Lk 17:14), but we must 'not be of the world'.  

33 Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. 35 There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. 36 [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”] 37 And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

The mistake many new born Christians often make is to be fearful of the very Spirit that has touched their heart. Like Judas, we experience the miracle, but then attempt to tame it and control it, unwittingly destroying ourselves. Alternatively, if we remain dependent only upon the voice of the Spirit for life, we finally truly begin to live. 

Whenever we attempt to preserve 'this' life, we unwittingly lose life - as with the rich young ruler. He attempted to 'suspend disbelief' by creating his own reality and he did everything to keep others - like Lazarus - from messing up the reality he had created for himself within the walls of his compound. 

What did Jesus mean about those who are taken and those who are left behind? The disciples asked this same questions (v. 37). Jesus replied, telling them that those who are taken will be brought to 'his dead body' (Message Bible) - i.e. at the foot of the cross (Jn 12:24). When the Spirit finally converts the heart, the 'fire of the Spirit' destroys our sin. We are set free (Rom 6:7).  With this in mind, Paul wrote that he 'died daily' (1 Cor 15:31).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Luke 17:11-21 Ten Lepers

11 While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 

In Luke 17:7-10 the Master does not thank his servants for doing what they 'ought to have done'. In contrast, in Luke 17:11-21, the Master expects his servants to show appreciation for all He has done. Though we call God 'our Father' and 'friend', He is still God and we are not equal to him in any manner. 

Does God 'need' our gratitude? No. To be God is to truly be in need of nothing. To be 'in need of nothing' as a human being is to be deceived, a Laodicean (Rev 3:17). God does not need our love or our thanks, yet if we believe in God He expects our thanks - because it acknowledges that we know him as the only good and perfect, all-powerful and all knowing, Creator God. 

Whenever we take a miracle of God for granted we have diminished God in our heart. 

In this case, ten leprous men knew about Jesus and when the opportunity presented itself, they requested his merciful intervention. They clearly knew what he could do and they needed him to do what they could not do for themselves. All they could do was to 'ask' and to then say 'thank you'. 

14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 

As usual, even though Jesus knew each of their hearts and most likely even what their response would be, he showed them mercy. He intervened (v. 17). 

In Jesus' response we are reminded of his words as recorded in Luke 17:3,4, 'if your brother sins..forgive him..'  In other words, we are to be merciful to others because it is who we are in Christ, not because someone deserves our mercy. We should always be ready to forgive others without attempting to read their heart to determine their worthiness. Jesus - unlike us - knew the heart of each leper, yet still acted in grace. This does not preclude speaking the truth in love, but having said the truth we are not thereby exempted from mercifully intervening, time after time. 

Why did Jesus send the 10 to the priests? Jesus lived in the reality of his time and place. Until the priest declared the leper 'clean', the leper was not free to mingle with others. Our personal reality does not exempt us from the larger reality that we live within. Jesus reminded the Rich Man (Luke 16:19,25), who had attempted to live only within the reality of his own choice, within a walled up compound, that his wealth did not exempt him from the larger reality of his day - however much he wanted to close his eyes to the fact.

The beautiful temple in Jerusalem, like the beautiful churches Christians have constructed through the ages, have been used to help believers 'suspend disbelief', much as when we go to Disney Land. It is an 'out-of-sight-out-of-mind' mentality that God obviously did not approve of when the Son of God was sent to live in 'our' world, in 'our' everyday reality.  

In what ways to you 'suspend disbelief'? In what ways do you attempt to avoid contact with the realities of our day and age? How thoroughly do you isolate yourself from the facts of our world?   

15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 

Maybe because he was a Samaritan, his sense of unworthiness exceeded that of the other nine lepers. Did the nine merely feel that their disease was 'unfair'? Thus, when healed, they  felt that they simply received what should have been justly theirs to begin with? 

In what ways does your sense of fairness diminish your expressions of gratitude?

In what ways do your tribal loyalties keep you from expressing your thanks?

17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” 

The lack of response from the nine did not go unnoticed by the Master. Just because the nine were among the 'chosen', and not foreigners, was not accepted a reasonable excuse to not express thanks where thanks was rightly due. 

Such thinking exposed a tribal sense of reality that denied the eternal facts that we are all subject to the same God. There are no intrinsic differences between human beings before the throne. All are in need of grace. All who received God's grace ought to be thankful at all times. 

There is no stage in spiritual maturity where we may cease expressing God for his mercy. The sinless angels sing praise to God at all times. When a believer does not, his belief in God appears to be a sham.

20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

The kingdom of God is here. We have become citizens of God's kingdom when we think and act as such through faith in His grace. Whenever we cease thinking and behaving as kingdom people, we deny belief in His kingdom.

Citizenship in the kingdom of God is not tribal. In fact, when we become citizens of the kingdom of God we break down all the tribal partition walls. We cease having to enter into a suspension of disbelief' in order to experience God's presence in our world. As we live out His grace each day, among all people and in all circumstances, there is no place for pretending. We can live in whatever local reality we are delivered into. We just see fellow human beings in need of grace. 

All attempts to live in the future coming of the kingdom are exposed as efforts to live apart from today's reality. When the church acts tribally, it does not act like Christ. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Luke 17:1-10 In Which Reality?

1 He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 

These words reflect someone who is in touch with reality. 'It is inevitable...'  These are the wise words of someone who is very familiar with this world and, unlike the rich man in the previous parable, doesn't attempt to hide from actualities behind a walled in community. There isn't any sugar-coating. Stuff happens. 

For many of us, though, we would like to hear that Jesus said something a tad different, right? We want our raised-from-the-dead, Lord of grace, Creator/Savior to instead say, 'Don't accept that bad things are inevitable in this world. If you follow me, I'll keep these bad things from happening to you - even in this life. Just trust in me and I'll always be there for you, to deliver you from suffering. What I'll do for you, my disciples, will amaze your friends, family, and neighbors. They will all want me in their life as I am in yours.'

But he didn't say that. Instead, he promised us that if anyone messes with us, someday in the future, referring most likely to the life after this life, that they will be where the rich man was (still is?), as noted in the last parable (Luke 16:19-31). That kinda helps our carnal nature to a degree. The bad guys will eventually get what's coming to them. But, to be honest, I want deliverance from the bad guys and the bad stuff right now. 'God, if you are really there, if you really love me, use that all-powerful gift of yours and do something good for me in my here-and-now. What good is all that power later, in heaven, when you won't need it because all the bad guys will already be toasted? Just say'n.'

Then there's that millstone thing. Was that permission from Jesus to execute those who abused others? Was he saying that there is a time to hate both the sin and the sinner? If so, how should we operationally define the term, 'cause one of those little ones to stumble'? Who are the 'little ones'? What did he mean by the word 'stumble'? What defines 'caused..'? And, must the punishment always be death by drowning?

3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Here we go again. Jesus want 'us' to be like God to others, even though God refuses to be God to us? Forgive the bad guys? And then keep forgiving them each time they repent after clobbering me? You really want 'us' to create heaven on earth for the bad guys? What's in it for us? A nice place after death - a place we have no proof that it actually exists? You want us to give tangible proof of grace to bad guys, but you don't give us tangible proof of your love? Do you take us for fools? Ok, so that's the rant I often hear from folks. 

Note that Jesus appears to clarify what he meant in verses 1-2. Can we safely assume that if someone causes a little one to stumble, yet repents, then death by drowning with a millstone around the neck would be set aside.

But, what if the person keeps on doing the same thing, 100's of times, yet says words that sound like repentance? When do we cease accepting the words, 'I'm sorry', and conclude that they are not sincere, and then reach for the millstone while someone else warms up the boat? 

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.

Back to reality - at least the reality the disciples could fathom. The forgiveness stuff just was beyond their comprehension. They couldn't imagine seeing the world the way Jesus saw the world. Yet they loved and respected him, so they asked him to 'increase their faith'. In their reality, they did not have sufficient faith to forgive as Jesus did. 

When the disciples heard these words from Jesus, did they whine - as I just feigned? No. Standing right in front of them was their proof that God is almighty and full of grace and mercy - despite the fact that they suffered. 

So, the only response they could legitimately offer was, 'increase our faith'. They had no doubts about him, but they had lots of doubts about themselves.They didn't understand 'why' he permitted bad things to happen to good, believing people. They just knew that Jesus was for real and what they didn't understand, they chose to trust that there must be a reason. 

Jesus' response was, 'even a little bit of faith will go a long ways in making life much better for you. If you live by faith, the bad stuff - the mountains - will move. They will not be stumbling blocks, but opportunities.'

Faith in Christ is a worldview that reframes how we see everything around us. Check it out. Whether you agree with what Christianity teaches or not, examine closely the life of a true believer - someone who truly follows the way of Jesus - and notice how they handle life. Notice how nothing appears to disturb their peace. They trust all things into the hands of God. They trust in Him unto death.  By faith, nothing was impossible for them. Figuratively, they could move mountains and trees.

7 “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? 

This verse does not resonate well with most of us in the 21st century. If we have a 'slave' today, that 'slave' is us. We are enslaved to the work cycle in order to survive. That being said, let's follow along with his illustration. What's his point here? Isn't it that regardless of the realities of our world, we are called to see every person as an equal.

8 But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? 9 He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

In other words, are we looking for some words of gratitude to be audibly shouted down from the heavens each time we 'love our neighbor'? Are we expecting heaven to make our life on earth easier, because we made someone else's life a tad easier? 

They things I do for others as a follower of Jesus are actually only the things I should have done for others simply because we are all in this 'boat' together. The teachings of Jesus are were not intended to be something unnatural, but are reminders on how we ought to behave as human beings - if we just took a breath and thought about it.

One of our children, a long time ago, grabbed a piece of candy from his younger brother and quickly ate it. We confronted him for doing so and explained why it was wrong to 'steal' from others. A few days later, after having thought about our rule, he took a piece of broccoli from his dinner plate and placed it on his brother's plate. He then pointed out to me his grand act of 'generosity' and said, 'see dad, I gave something to my brother. I did not take his food. So...can I have two pieces of dessert because I did a good thing?'

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Luke 16:19-31 Do Unto Others As...

19 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 

Building off the phrase, 'you cannot serve God and wealth' (16:13), Luke contrasts a very happy rich man and a very ill poor man. Several other previous verses also cleverly set us up for this parable, '..that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God' (16:15), 'the Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John..' (16:16), and '..he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery' (16:18). The rich man effectively committed 'adultery' in that by ignoring the Law, he easily strayed from his rightful 'spouse' - God - and married another - 'wealth'. It is not that money is detestable to God, but when our esteem of money exceeds our love of God and our fellow man, then God is more than a little miffed.  

Jesus did not use names in his parables, except in this one parable, which is only found in Luke's gospel. Curiously, it is the name of the rich man that is unknown, yet the poor man's name was intentionally given -  Lazarus - which means, 'God has helped'. It has been believed by some that Jesus intentionally used the name Lazarus to underscore the fact that it is the disenfranchised who receive the abundance of heaven's attention, as they should ours. There was, as we know, a man named Lazarus, who actually was a close friend of Jesus (Jn 11:1-44; 12:1-11), again suggesting that friendship with God begins with complete dependence upon God's help. 

Additionally, a name was given to the poor man because it is important to remember that God knows each person by name, valuing each person. The rich man was proud of his name - a name that the whole community knew well. His name has been lost to history. To the rich man, Lazarus hardly existed, was a nuisance, and was not viewed as any more valuable than the dogs. To have known Lazarus by name was to give him humanity, to respect him as a precious individual. Jesus turned all the thinking of the rich man upside down by giving the poor man a name and leaving the rich man nameless.

The rich man, by the way, wasn't necessarily an evil man. He did minimally abide by the letter of the Law by permitting the crumbs from his table to be made available to those outside his gate - the 'animals'. This story, of course, was a volley sent directly at the Pharisees - the rich men. Note their response to Jesus even before this parable. 'Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him' (16:14).

Lazarus,  representing the 'have nots' - was not permitted inside the gate of the rich man - representing the 'haves'. Even the dogs treated Lazarus better than the rich man treated him. The picture of Lazarus being 'laid' at the gate, suggests that he was on his deathbed, totally helpless, hoping that others would pick up the crumbs and feed him. Heaven-side, though, Lazarus lived wonderfully inside the pearly gates while the rich man was tormented in 'hell'.

22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 

Role reversals. There isn't any mention that Lazarus was a man of faith, only that he was helpless. Thus, he becomes an excellent example of being saved by grace - unmerited favor. He wasn't saved by beliefs, church attendance, good works, or even by faith. He was 'saved because of grace alone', because he was totally dependent upon the grace of others.

All we know, at least so far in the parable, is that the rich man had every opportunity to become a person of faith. In other words, he wasn't help back by lack of means or by the overwhelming existence of huge obstacles. The only thing that kept the rich man from salvation was his neglect to exercise faith, to see that he needed to change. He was like the Laodicean, saying: 'I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing. He would not permit himself to see the truth, that he was actually 'wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked' (Rev. 3:17). After death, the rich man was shown his real status.

We could conclude that if the ability to exercise faith is available, one can only be save by grace through faith. Yet, if faith is unavailable, then we are saved by grace alone. Thus, in this case, neither man placed their faith in God, yet one was saved (Lazarus) and one was not (the rich man), and the difference was only opportunity. One had it, but didn't use it; the other didn't have it, so God acted by grace for him.

We could, of course, assume that Lazarus was, implicitly, a man of faith. Yet, we have already noted several stories in Luke's gospel where faith was not required for God to work a miracle. Though grace is unmerited favor, it is still God's prerogative to offer it.

Notice also that when the poor man (Lazarus) died, angels came and carried him away, yet when the rich man died, fellow human beings had to come and carry him away to be buried. This is an excellent example for why parables should not be read literally. If we took this parable literally, we might suspect that truly 'saved' people would suddenly disappear after death as angels whisked them away to paradise. In other words, if your body had to be buried, then you were like the rich man - on your way to hell. If your body disappeared after death, then that would be the evidence you were taken to paradise. But... 

23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 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.’ 

We humans are a dull lot. So often, no matter how gifted with intelligence, blessed by wealth, and well-educated, the old saying remains true: 'you can take the man out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the man.' Unless a person chooses to be open-minded, no amount of travel, life experiences, and advanced education will be able to change him, which is probably why the scriptures command parents to 'train up their children in the way of the lord, so that when they are older they won't depart from it " (Prv 22:6). In other words, to train up a child to be a humble, life-long learner.

Sure, sometimes education, travel, and natural intelligence can be influential in changing a person's worldview, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Human nature resists change, especially after the first few years of life have installed the foundations of a particular worldview. Can we change? Sure. But seldom. Why? Our nature is such that we are more apt to avoid pain than to embrace pleasure. For most people, change is one of the most painful things in life. 

All that being said, the wealthy man - not only wanted to avoid pain, he couldn't imagine changing. He still wanted to order Lazarus around. He 'couldn't see the forest for the trees' - even after descending into the pit. This is quite a sad commentary on human nature - one that is repeated in both the old and new testaments. His torment got his brief attention - 'he lifted up his eyes' - but he remained committed to the fundamental principles of his worldview - he was entitled to whatever he wanted.

25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 

Here is heaven's response. Lazarus embraced his pain and received eternal pleasure as a result. The rich man did everything he could to avoid pain, and spent eternity swallowed up by pain.

Human nature doesn't change much over time. It is best to train up our children to not fear change. To live a repentant life means we never assume we have reached perfection, thus we will always need to make changes to better ourselves.  There is a difference between making changes to the way we view the world and making changes to the world around us.

Abraham's response to the rich man is instructive. There comes a point of no return, a point where heaven says, enough is enough. Reading this parable more literally, implies that after death there is no grace, that all our choices must be made on this side of the grave. In fact, if we really do take this story literally, even the 'saved' cannot help their loved ones who have died apart from faith. The unsaved remain unsaved in the place of torment. 

27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 

Ok, finally admits the rich man. I see the consequences of my own choices. But, even If the 'saved' in paradise can't help me after death, can they at least be sent to help those still living?  The rich man was still speaking out of his sense of entitlement. He expected heaven to listen and act on his behalf.

Abraham's response leaves the door slightly open in this regards. Heaven would not send anyone from heaven to hell in order to 'save' someone from hell, but heaven might send someone to those who are still living. Yet even here, heaven suggests that it would be pointless to send a 'saved' person from paradise to the living who have access to the truth. A mortal who has access to the truth, but does not choose to wrestle each day to conform his/her life to the truth, is a person who is closed to change. Yet, that doesn't mean heaven would not send a 'saved' person from paradise to someone who honestly wants to learn more.

If someone does not listen to Moses (the Law) and the Prophets, there is nothing else that heaven can say that will convince them. They have rejected the heaven-sent 'tutor' that was designed to lead them to faith in Christ. Again, the issue is not about providing a better education and more opportunities in life. A mind that has been trained to remain self-satisfied, is a closed mind no matter what. Unless a person has been raised to think critically and to be a humble, life-long learner, there isn't anything much heaven can do short of knocking that person off his/her donkey, as with Saul (Paul). Yet even in Saul's situation, the intervention only worked because there was an desire for the truth in Saul's heart.

30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The rich man persisted. He was not willing to accept 'no' for an answer - which is another piece of evidence that he hadn't yet grasped the way of God. He continued to demand his own way. He continued to only think about himself and his own tribe. 

What if he had really gotten on his knees, even in 'hell', and humbled himself before God, rather than to persistently attempt to tell God what He must do? Is that a possibility in 'hell'? 

So, the rich man comes up with another plan. If heaven would just do something miraculous, as Jesus did with Paul, then the rich man's loved ones will change their ways. If someone approached them that they knew had died, yet visited them from heaven, wouldn't get their attention?

Not so, said the voice from heaven. Unless a person is determined to change, it would be a miracle for a miracle to work.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Luke 16:10-18 Faithfulness

10 “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. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 

I have several 'mantras' that effectively remind me to be faithful in the little things of life. One mantra is: 'anything worth doing, is worth doing right'. Related to this notion are the lesser commandments, 'finish what you start', 'if it is not yours, don't touch it', and 'put things back where you found it'. I am often shocked to encounter folks who don't have these 'voices' installed in their heads.

Here is a compilation of some of the well known 'rules for a healthy community':

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.
If it is right to do, do it right even when no one is looking.
If it isn’t yours, don’t touch it.
I you use it, replace it.
If you move it, return it.
If you unlock it, lock it up again.
If you turn it on, turn it off.
If you spill it, immediately clean it up.
If you drop it, pick it up.
If it is already in your hands, deal with it completely.
If you start it, finish it.
If you open it, shut it.
If you shut it, shut it completely.
If you don’t see it at first, look more carefully.
If it is trash, trash it.
If you break it, either fix it or replace it.
If you did wrong, admit it.
If someone else is talking, listen.
If you have something to say, first make sure others are ready/willing to listen.
If other s are still sleeping, do something quiet.
If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.
If you’ve never used it, get rid of it.
If you live with others, don’t live as if you are still single.
If its got a label, read it.
If its is expired, dump it.
If you have more than you need, share it.
If you have to make noise, first warn nearby others.
If it is going to make a smell, open up a window.
If you need space, say so.
If you are in a bad mood, go to your room.
If it is none of your business, leave it alone.
If you don’t like it, someone else might.
If it is illegal, don’t do it.
If it is legal, consider the circumstances/context.
If s/he is human, show respect - even if you don’t agree.
If there is a queue, wait your turn.
If you make a promise, keep it.
If you set a time, be on time.
If it is common space, don’t leave your stuff for someone else to move.
If it is different, that doesn’t mean it is bad.
If someone agrees with you, that doesn’t make it right.
If it’s dirty, clean it. 
If you want to be trusted in big things, be faithful in the little things.
If you aren't willing to walk your talk, then stop talking.

How many of these 'rules' speak to you in your daily life? What are some other 'rules'?

13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Is it possible to be of two minds? Yes. Is it possible to hold two conflicting notions in tension? Sure. Is it reasonable expect to see pros and cons in two very different leaders? Yep. But, can a person walk in two different directions at the same time? No.

In our two party political system, the articulated key values are starkly different. Yet, it is possible to resonate with certain values in both parties. When it comes time to vote, a choice must be made. If we choose not to vote, then we simply allow someone else to choose for us, which effectively short-circuits our griping rights. If we choose to vote for one over the other, we have chosen a direction. We may not like everything that comes with that choice, but by voting for it we must take the bad with the good, since we have clearly found more 'good' in that direction than bad. A protest vote, choosing a candidate from a third or fourth party that clearly cannot win, is a vote for/against one of the two major parties. 

In other words, whether we take action or not, we are making a decision. Each decision has repercussions. Life is full of decisions. It is therefore important to be as well-informed as possible.There is no escape from decision-making in life.

14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

Few people enjoy having their motives publicly revealed. Truth be told, all of us make decisions for less than intelligent reasons. Sometimes our decisions are made to satisfy some self-indulgence, out of anger at someone or something, in order to be accepted by a particular group, or because we've been too lazy to first seek out the facts. Jesus called the Pharisees out on the motives behind their choices.

When our motives are exposed for what they really are, we may either acknowledge our wrong, or double down on our choice to protect our fragile egos. Jesus often spoke about God's ability to read our hearts and that we will all be called to account for our choices in life. In other words, there are no secrets. All things are open to God's divine survey. In fact, the whole universe sees us as we really are. And, in judgment, every choice we make will be open to all our friends and family members - shouted, as it were, from the housetops. 

The point in all this is, of course, for each of us to take responsibility for our choices. We each need to determine to be circumspect, responsible citizens of this world and of the kingdom of heaven. 

16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.

This text is often jettisoned by Bible students who prefer - choose - to value the Law and the Prophets over the gospel of grace. What would be the motivation for that choice, despite the clarity of Jesus' teachings about the kingdom? On the other hand, Jesus taught that not even one stroke of a letter of the Law is to fail. How can both be true? Aren't we supposed to 'choose' the latter or the former? Didn't the apostle Paul raise this very question in his letter to the Galatians saying, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law" (Gal 3:13).

This is an example of both/and. We live under grace and no longer under the Law, yet we value the Law and the Prophets for pointing us to the covenant of grace. Notice how Paul brings the two into one. "The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal 3:24,25). 

In other words, as an adult I no longer live under my parent's rules, yet I forever value my parents for preparing me to live as an adult. I've chosen to be an adult. I've chosen my own way to live as an adult. Yet, I still value what my parents have done to get me to this place. If I chose to remain under my parents, my choice would not only be unfortunate, but by choosing to remain under their authority I simultaneously destroy their authority. Again, from Paul's letter to the Galatians, he wrote: "Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh" (Gal 3:3).


18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.

Luke extracted this verse from Matthew's rendition of the sermon on the mount (Mt 5:32). It is a fascinating juxtaposition of texts. The previous verses indicated that we must move beyond the Law and begin to live by faith. The Law must remain precious to us, in that it has served us as a tutor to lead us to the Christ in whom we now follow by faith. Yet, here, Luke lays out the Law as if it should continue to speak to us. How can that be? "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse" (Gal 3:10).

Luke has been presenting the need to make a choice, yet here he appears to be speaking out of two sides of his mouth. How can anyone live both under grace through faith and under the Law? "The Law is not of faith" (Gal 3:12). Are we or are we not still obligated to the Law? Do we still need the 'tutor' even though we live by faith and walk in the Spirit?

It seems that Luke has placed verse 18 immediately after verse 17 to make an important point. Though we now live by faith and, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (6:12), "all things are permissible", he also said that not all things edify. Though we no longer live by conforming our flesh to a set of written laws, the Spirit never leads us to do harm to another person. Freedom in Christ is not license to harm others. Adultery no longer exists as a law-based prohibition, but when a person abandons his/her spouse for another, we have harmed our spouse (noting that there are justifiable exceptions).  

The point is, don't live by law. Rather, live by the calling to love one another. "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom 13:10). 

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with rules, unless we live by them rather than by love. Rules are useful in that they help shape our sense of what it means to love. Once we become a lover of others, we no longer need to check the list of rules, we just love. Yet, how would we know love had there not been a law that led us to love?