Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Keep Your Eyes Open Luke 16:19-31

Jesus' teachings about wealth and poverty, relationships of all kinds, and religion and love for the neighbor, blossom in Luke 16. It's fascinating to watch Jesus chose stories, rather than lectures, to teach his listeners about the God's vision and justice. The stories have space for each hearer to see them self either in the Kingdom of God or on the outside looking in wishing to be included.

Jesus was speaking to a mixed audience in Luke 16. His disciples were on one side, the Scribes and Pharisees on the other, and the crowd was caught between the two sides. He offered a very different visions of what it means to serve God on earth than the Scribes and the Pharisees.

Jesus' stories were pointed and particular. First in Luke 16 was the story about the unfaithful manager. Next were the questions about divorce and last came the story about the rich-man and poor Lazarus. There are many elements of this story that catch us; no doubt they caught the wealthy 2000 years ago too.

What catches me most is the man walking over and past the poor hurting Lazarus laying at his gates. Growing up in Minneapolis it was possible to look past the poorest places and the hurting people. Now as a pastor in a bedroom town I've realized that freeways and suburbs and subdivisions make it even easier to not see the hurting people who are all around us. Sometimes just looking left or right, instead of straight ahead, is all that it takes to see what God sees as we drive around the poorest places or through them like tunnels.

Jesus taught his disciples that serving God on earth meant serving the neighbor. His challenge then, and now, is real. Care about today's earthly pleasure and wealth, that's all you'll have. Care about somebody who hurts you'll see the face of God both now and in the life to come.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jesus Walk with Us

Kanye West has released a fantastic rap stating the need for Jesus.
It's one of the most profound statements I've seen in some time about the need that we as a culture have to meet him.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Who do you serve? Luke 16:1-13

Luke 16:13 is easily used as a maxim for living. Jesus words easily slip out of the context of scripture and into our vocabulary as a proverb. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (KJV) It's the kind of statement we can pull out of scripture and use anytime we see somebody tenuously balancing service to God with service to their wealth. But in context Jesus words aren't a simple formulaic proverb for somebody else; his words meet us in the middle of life.

Jesus' story didn't end with a simple moral formula--in fact the point he was making is only simple if we deny just how deeply we are all caught in sin.

Look at the unjust manager and his compounding problems. His boss found out he was squandering money he was supposed to be managing. He was about to loose his job, and worse yet he didn't want to go out and beg or find whatever work was available digging ditches. So he quickly tried to curry favor with anyone he could turn to--in order to protect himself. He told his bosses debtors to write off some of what they owed hoping they would look out for him in return.

Real life and real economics are always complicated by sin: greed, sloth, envy and all the other deadly sins are part of our real character and our real lives. The temptation in reading this story is to think that Jesus is talking about somebody else. But in truth he's talking about all of us. It's tempting, to point to somebody else's economic wrongs and injustices, but the harder truth is that all of us are caught in a tangled global web of high minded and underhanded finances in which the pursuit of money and wealth has become the highest good.

Jesus' understood just how deeply we are caught in the muck of sin. He knows full well that we are all in far deeper than we're ready to admit even to ourselves. We cannot extricate ourselves from this situation. We are already trying to serve too many different masters. The hope in Luke 16 isn't that we'll all wake up and work for justice and that the situation will get better because we'll all become better people (original sin doesn't go away that easily); rather hope comes from falling into the hands of the living God who was crucified to take away the sins of the whole world.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Joy in Heaven Luke 15:1-10

A wise man once told to a group of Lutheran seminarians that if you really want to squirm when you read the Gospels substitute the word Lutherans in place of the word Pharisees in the Gospels.

The suggestion is good advice for any Christian, regardless of denominational label. Just substitute your beloved group in place of Pharisees and scribes and see just how real and personal Jesus challenge in Luke 15 was and still is for believers.

The religious structure in Jesus day was a clear and he challenged it head on as he moved toward the cross. He'd have no trouble challenging us today to look beyond our definitions of in and out. The Pharisees believed they were in good with God. So do Christians today. The Pharisees had no trouble finding people they believed were out of the kingdom of God. The same goes for us in our denominations and affiliations. We believe, deep down in the hidden parts of our hearts, that we know who is in and out of God's Kingdom. Liberals and conservatives both make judgments about who is in and who is out.

The antidote to our judgments, spoken and unspoken, is Jesus. He met a very diverse crowd in Jerusalem. Luke 14:1 says the tax-collectors and the sinners were coming to sit with him. The scribes and the Pharisees grumbled watching him eat with them (Luke 14:2). Jesus responded to their grumbling, not with anger, but by telling stories about joy in heaven and among the angels.

Jesus stories in Luke 15 are bold. The shepherd who would risk 99 to search for 1 made decisions based not on simple profit and loss but on concern for the one who was lost. Sarah Dylan explores this reach of God for the lost 1 at the sake of the 99 beautifully. But Jesus wasn't done yet. He spoke of the woman who celebrated finding one coin illustrating the reality of God's care for the lost who are found even more.

Walk daily with Jesus and you'll see the expanding reach of God. You'll see the boundaries of God's mercy open beyond your imagination's limits. You might even witness the return of a lost one and know the joy that exist among the angels.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Choosing Life Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Luke 14:25-33

Choices are part of everyday in the world...
Most, we think, are mundane; paper or plastic, cash or charge, white or wheat etc.
Serving God is an everyday choice too ... that happens right in the middle of the mundane.

The past year has taught me that many parents have made no choice for their children about church and about God. Many parents, if not even most parents, function in what George Barna in Revolutionary Parenting described as a default mode in which they expect somebody else to raise their children. Parents look to childcare workers, the media, teachers, coaches, pastors and youth workers, and other "professionals" to raise their children.

The default mode's end result is that many have made no choices and their children grow up not knowing what their parents believe or value. 7th graders come to confirmation not even knowing the Lord's prayer because parents have not consciously chosen to teach it. The effect of making no choice is real.

Moses argues in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Jesus argues in Luke 14:25-33 that our choices do matter. Experience teaches that the biggest choices aren't one time choices; they are everyday choices that appear in middle of the mundane but that effect our relationship to God and the people God has placed in our lives.

The challenge that scripture gives to us today isn't to make one decision for God; rather its to make every decision for God. For Moses their was no wavering in Deuteronomy 30:19. וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים Choose life. Choose וּבָחַרְתָּ coming from the root בָּחַר the same root that was used to describe God's choice of Abraham and Israel and בַּחַיִּים coming fromחַיִּים (see Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon of the Old Testament).

For Jesus the Cross would be all consuming; and for those who choose to follow in his steps the cross will be equally consuming. We'd like to a have faith that fits neatly into a fine space in our lives; but Jesus doesn't offer such a faith. He offers eternity in exchange for surrendering everything today.