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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Life Giving Stories – The Rich Man and Lazarus

            I wondered if he was dead.  He was just lying there, sprawled out beside the road.  It was dark as we drove by but it was definitely someone.  As we continued driving, I thought “Welcome to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.”
            It was my first time to Ethiopia, my first time to the continent of Africa.  I have lived in cities before so I knew a little bit what to expect but going to a third-world nation assaults all of your senses.  And it is almost overwhelming.  I had similar experiences when I worked in the inner-city of Chicago, touring abandoned apartment buildings that still had people living in them and when I went through Tijuana, Mexico.
            Our natural instinct when we come face-to-face with poverty is to turn away.  We change the channel to not look at the starving African children, we avert our gaze from the panhandler on the off-ramp, we drive by the bag lady pushing her shopping cart.  In our community, we don’t have to avoid scenes of poverty nearly as much because they are more hidden.  We don’t see the elderly woman sitting alone night after night with a solitary dinner that barely provides enough calories but it is all she can afford.  We don’t recognize the eighteen-years-old-and-one-day young man who just aged out of the foster care system and has now been put out on the street to figure out how to survive.  We don’t know about the teen mom with the new baby living with her mom who was a teen mom herself and both too young to have kids and grandkids.  But they are all there.  And Jesus loves them.
            The Bible makes it clear God has a bias toward the poor.  He is especially fond of the widow and the fatherless.  (“ ‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Deuteronomy 27:19, ESV.)  It is also clear that God does not hate the rich.  But it is quite true more often than not that the rich tend to hate God.  So, if we are a follower of Jesus, what are we to do?
            I remember asking my friend Steve Bryan, who has lived in Ethiopia for the last 20 years, how he deals with all the poverty and need around him.  He clearly couldn’t help every person he saw who was needy.  Steve said he helped the people he could, the people God put in front of him.
            As followers of Jesus, we can’t meet every need – and that is not sin nor failure before God.  What IS sin is helping no one.  Greed and envy are not exclusive sins of the wealthy – some of the most greedy people I have met were those of little resources.  And generosity is not exclusive to the rich – some of the most generous people I have met have had tremendous needs themselves.
            Cold Springs Church is committed to growing up disciples that see with the eyes of Jesus.  We want to be people who see the needs God places in front of us and then begin doing something to meet those needs.  And that is what God wants from us – to be willing to see the need and meet the need.  That is what a disciple of Jesus does.  The rich man’s sin against Lazarus was ignoring the person at his gate.  (Luke 16:19-31)  Jesus tells us that ignorance nor ignoring is not an excuse.
            God doesn’t want you to save the world.  That’s his job.  But he does expect you to open your eyes to the needs at your gate.  And do something.  A heart like that makes God happy.  And a heart like that will be a blessing and experience blessings.
            Who’s at your gate?  Are you willing to do something?
            A Prayer:  God, show us who you put at our gate.  Give us the courage to see and then the wisdom to do what is right.  Amen.

Peace and grace,


Friday, April 19, 2013

Life Giving Stories – Being Ready

            What do you live for?  It’s a pretty important question and the answer drives everything we do.  Different seasons of our life get us thinking about different ends.  When we are young, we live for fun, success, or fame.  In the middle years we begin to live for successful children and a secure retirement.  In retirement we can, interesting enough, come full circle and live for fun, doing what we want, having experiences that are meaningful.
            One of the beliefs of the Christian faith is creation had a beginning and it will have an end.  God was in control of the beginning and God will be in control of the ending.  At the end of this life though, there is a life that is promised for eternity.  And there are two options for eternal life – one option is eternity with God enjoying his glory.  It isn’t about harps and clouds and white robes.  It is about joy beyond our imagination, peace that can’t be disturbed, and love deeper than we could have thought.  We don’t know exactly what eternity with God will be like but think about it this way – what is the most pleasurable, enjoyable, peaceful, exciting, fun, adventurous experience you have ever had – multiply the intensity of that experience a thousand-fold and you get a small sense of life with God.
            There is another option as well.  It is eternity without God.  We don’t know what that means exactly either but it will be exactly opposite of eternity with God.  Life with God is a life of light, peace, joy, love and hope.  Life without any of that seems quite torturous.  It isn’t a very pleasant thought.
            “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13, ESV)   How would it change your today if you lived with this perspective of forever?  How would it change how you talk to the people in your life?  How would it change the way you spend your money?  How would it change the way you spend your free time?  What you live for?
            Confession time:  Most of the time I’m quite “today” oriented.  I’m caught up in work and bills and kids and cars and…, and…., and…  Can you relate?
            Everything is going to come to an end some day.  I believe it is more likely we will come to an end on this earth before this earth comes to an end but the result is the same – we’ll stand face to face with Jesus.  Are you ready?
            There is a great chapter in the Bible where Paul tries to help people understand the other side of eternity.  In 1 Corinthians 15 he is comforting the church with the promise of an eternity with God.  At the end of it all he moves back to today with these words:  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)
            Paul tells us, in light of eternity, work for Jesus today.  And everything you do for Jesus will not be without reward. 

Dear Jesus, I do not know when you are coming again but I believe you are.  In the mundane details of my life today, lift my eyes to see your greater purposes.  Help me to live for you today and be a conduit of your love wherever you put me.  Thank you for your grace to carry me through.  Amen.

Peace and grace,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life-Giving Stories – Wise and Foolish Builders

            A few years ago I was standing in line at the hardware store (aka – adult male candy store) and I overheard a couple of guys talking about their houses.  One of them was doing some major remodeling which required him to take a look at the foundation.  This was one of the older houses of our community and when he uncovered the foundation, what he found was it consisted of a big rock at each corner!  No wonder he was having structural problems in his house!
            If you have ever traveled in a third-world country or in an area where there is extreme poverty, you can see some pretty amazing construction methods and wonder how they ever stay up.
            The Gospel of Matthew records an extended account of the teachings of Jesus that is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount.  It starts in chapter 5 and Jesus lays out for his hearers what a Kingdom of God minded person does.  He teaches about multiple contrasts in behavior between a person who follows him and a person who doesn’t follow him.  This wouldn’t have been new kind of teaching for the Jewish people listening to Jesus.  The religious teachers of the day regularly interpreted the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and taught people how they were to live.  But when Jesus finished his teaching, it said the crowd was amazed because “he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”  (Matthew 7:28-29)  Jesus taught the people like, well, like God!  He had authority and he was saying if you want to live a life pleasing to God, live THIS way and don’t live THAT way.
            At the end of this long section of Jesus’ teaching, he caps it off with his story of the wise builder and the foolish builder. (Matthew 7:24-27)  The wise builder is someone who builds on a solid foundation.  The foolish builder is someone who builds on an unstable foundation.  In his story, the storms of life (that are guaranteed to come) hit both of the construction projects.  One stands firm, the other collapses.
            In Jesus’ story, he likens our lives to the builders and makes it clear that the difference between being wise and foolish is obedience to his teaching.  Jesus wasn’t looking for people to believe him, he was looking for people who believed and followed him.  And following Jesus means living in obedience to what he taught.  If you truly believe something, it will change the way you live.  Jesus knows that and he clearly lays out the measuring rod for faith is how you live.  If you don’t obey Jesus’ teaching, you really don’t have belief and faith in Jesus.  It isn’t about perfection, it is about intention so don’t get hung up on the “am I or am I not saved” not-so-merry-go-round.  Focus on being a follower of Jesus, knowing he will always lead.
            So, how about you?  According to Jesus’ measurement, are you wise or foolish?  There is a storm coming that is going to test your construction methods.  What are you going to do about it?

Peace and grace,

Friday, April 5, 2013

Life-Giving Stories – Two Lost Sons

            “All who wander are not lost.”  It is a great bumper sticker.  And it is how some push back on the Bible’s assertion that if you aren’t in relationship with Jesus, you are lost.  Many people don’t like to be seen as lost.  They say, “What do you mean I’m lost?  I’m not lost!  I’m doing exactly what I want, where I want, when I want and how I want.  I’m anything but lost!  LEAVE.  ME.  ALONE!”
            Lost-ness is about perspective, isn’t it?  If we see ourselves as independent, beholden to none, then wherever we choose to go and whatever we choose to do is just fine.  But if we see ourselves as loved by Another with a purpose for living and being greater than our personal appetites, that is another story.  It is, in fact, a story Jesus told.
            In the Gospel of Luke (chapter 15), he records three of Jesus’ stories about lost-ness.  Jesus clearly sees anyone who is not in right relationship with God as being lost.  Each of the stories emphasizes that to be lost is to not be where you belong – a sheep not with it’s flock, a coin not with the other coins, two sons not with their family.
            The story of the two lost sons is about rebellion, humility and a loving father.  The younger son expresses his rebellion against his father externally by dishonoring the family by demanding his inheritance, leaving the family and pursuing a life that is opposite to the father’s values.  The older son expresses his rebellion through bitterness for being good with no apparent reward and bitterness toward his father for showing compassion toward his brother when he crawls back like a whipped dog with his tail between his legs.  Both brothers have rejected the essence of the father and both need to repent – only one does in the story.
            It is hard to admit being lost.  Ask any wife who has gone on a road trip with her husband!
            Wife:  Do you know where you are going?
            Husband:  Of course I know where we are going!
            Wife:  This doesn’t look familiar or seem right.
            Husband:  I’m taking a short cut.
            Wife:  Maybe we should ask for directions.
            Husband:  I’m not lost!

            To admit we are not where we should be, that we are not living out our divine purpose requires humility.  We need to experience humiliation, which we fight to our very core.  But God is not making fun of us, he is not humiliating us.  God is waiting to receive us no matter where we have gone, what we have done, who we have been.
            I don’t like being humbled.  The older I get, the more prideful I realize I am.  But I also realize the only way to experience the life God intends is through humbly receiving God’s love, admitting my ways are not God’s ways and allowing him to take the lead.
            How about you?  Are you where you are supposed to be?  Have you discovered God’s divine purpose for your life and are living it out each day?  If not, you are – in the words of Jesus – lost.  How low will you go before you are humbled enough to return to God?  He is waiting to throw you a party.  I hope you come!

Peace and grace,