Friday, August 25, 2017

Dad Dynamics

This is one of those parables that you must hear again and again.  Its message is clear; yet sometimes we miss the main message when we focus only on the two sons.  Many have tried to be too representative, metaphorical, and even allegorical.  Could the younger son be the Gentiles and the older son the Jews?  Sure.

Could you just read the whole story and preach only the younger son?  It seems to have a happier ending?  Sure.  

But this time I ask that we focus on the father.  I ask that we delineate the dad in this dynamic.  We are going to do some dad dynamics.

What did dad do in this parable?

He granted his younger son’s request and gave him the things that would have been his when dad died.
Dad took care of everyone is his household.  The servants were treated well and well fed.
Dad was looking for his lost son to come home.
Dad did not wait for his lost son to make it to the house.
Dad ran to his son who was as good as dead for so long.
Dad embraced his son who had come home.
Dad kissed his son who had come home.
Dad seemed to be a little deaf as he didn’t pay much attention to this lost son’s well prepared speech.
Dad clothed his son as his son.
Dad knew when it was time to celebrate.
Dad knows how to throw a good party.
Dad did not forget about his other son.
Dad went looking for his other son.
Dad let his older son get some things off of his chest.
Dad never held anything back from his older son.
Dad told his older son that all that he had has always been his.
Dad was full of compassion for both sons.
Dad knew what was important and it wasn’t stuff or money.
Dad wanted his older son to understand what it is to have something that was lost come back to you once more.
Dad wanted his older son to understand what it was to have lost a son and have been given him back once more.
Dad wanted his older son to know what it is to come from death to life.
Dad was full of love.
Dad loved both sons, not because of what they did or did not do, but because he was dad and they were his sons.

The dad dynamic is love. 

It’s not love plus or minus what each son did.  The dad dynamic is love.

A parable sets two things or concepts or ways side by side—in parallel.  Jesus understood things about his Father and his Father’s Kingdom that people did not know first hand.

The people had the Law of Moses.  They had been sent prophets.  They had psalms and proverbs but they were yet to discern the divine dynamic that is our Father in heaven.

I might have a little alliterative fun because I want to consider what we know about Dad’s Divine Dynamic.  Jesus tells a story about a human father so we can better understand our heavenly Father.

Too often, the image of God is of an old man with a long, white beard and a big stick.  Picture Father Time on steroids with a big stick.

This god sits on a throne far above the earth and just looks for us to make a mistake, and then whacks us on the head with his big stick.

He is entitled to do this.  He is in charge of everything.  He made the rules and they are righteous rules so it is just when he enforces them.

Some people think that this god’s name is Karma.

Some construct a god that sends lightning and fire and punishment out of anger.

You can’t blame people too much for having those images.  God is all powerful.  He is the rule maker.  He does what is just.  His anger does burn against sin and rebellion.  He is even known as a jealous God by his own revelation.  He put that one in stone the first time he announced it.

Maybe we should be walking around worried about getting struck by lightning every time we miss the mark—every time that we transgress.

If that were the case, there would be a lot of lightning strikes all around us all the time.

This god who desires punishment over mercy is a god of our own creation. 

This god who decides who gets into heaven by how hard they work is a god of our own design.

This god who discards people who have made a big mess of their lives is a god that is not the one true God.

The God of the Bible that we know so well because of Jesus desires mercy more than justice and sacrifice and offerings.

The God that we know--remember Jesus told his closest friends that if you want to know the Father, then you must know him through me—this is a God who desires none to be lost and to perish.

The God that is truly God is Love.  God is love.

We are taught that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and that fools despise wisdom, but the key word in this proverb is beginning.  Fearing the Lord is the only starting point that points us in the right direction.

The route that we travel and the destination are Love.  God is love.  His perfect love casts out fear.

Dad’s divine dynamic is love.

Jesus has compared our fathers with our heavenly Father before.  Consider the words of Jesus that we find in Matthew’s gospel.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

God is good!  God gives good gifts.  Our Father in heaven is good!

God is love and he is good and he has good plans for us and those plans are to prosper us and not to harm us,  and he lets us make our own decisions.  Oops!  We were on a roll up to that point.

In his love and in his goodness and in his mercy and in his longsuffering—his patience—he lets us make our own decisions.

We are the variable.  God and his love are the constant. 

We can work like crazy trying to earn what has been so freely given or we can live as selfishly and foolishly as we want, but God’s love is always there for us.

He is a good, good Father.  The song touches us in ways that sometimes simple words can’t.

The world and everything that we know are not defined by rules and regulations, or by science and nature, or by things that can be displayed on a scoreboard. 

Our reality is defined by a Father who is in his very nature love.  That is who he is and he is good.

He loves us with an everlasting love.

He loves us in the sacrifice of his own blood to atone for our sins.

He loves us so much that he longs for us to take on his nature which is love so that our lives become full when we love him by loving one another.

I have often labeled Luke’s 15th chapter as lost and found  It’s a good title, but wholly incomplete.  It is completely incomplete.

Whether it is a lost sheep or lost coin or lost son or a son who is disgruntled about his brother who was surely lost; the story that Jesus gave to the lost and the self-righteous and gives to us was one that clearly set forth the divine dynamic of his Dad, who by the way is our Dad.

Dad is love.  Dad is good.  Dad desires the best for us.

He gives us peace in the middle of chaos.
He celebrates when the lost come home.
He provisions us while we are under attack.
He gives us rest and nourishment.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow us for all the days of our lives because that’s what Dad has in store for us.

We know our good, good Father through Jesus Christ his Son who has given us an easy yoke and a light burden. 

Jesus is not only the way and the truth and the life, he is how we come to know our good, good Father.

We are blessed to know him more and more and more with every step that we take in faith following Jesus.

Know with certainty this day that your Father in heaven is love and he is good.

Knowing this, as many of us do, what are we to do in response?

Trust him.
Obey him.
Love him, mostly by loving one another.

These things seem difficult if we are estimating our value to God by what we do or do not do.  They seem overwhelming if we take on the role of one who must earn our Father’s love or one who thinks that we have done so many things wrong that he could never love us again.

Trust, obedience, and love for God and for others is much more natural when we know with certainty that God is Love and that he is a good, good, Father.

Know with certainty this day that your Father in heaven is love and that he is good.

Our Father in heaven is so many things, many of which go beyond our comprehension; but today, know that he is Love and he is Good.


Trials and Tribulations

It seems that today, even and sometimes in spite of all of our modern conveniences, the pressures of the world weigh heavily upon us.  Job uncertainty, pending medical procedures, health insurance, rising costs, death of loved ones, truth that has become so elusive, technology advancing so as to separate generations, divisiveness among people who should just live as neighbors, over half a century of war somewhere around the globe, and recurring Brinkmanship in politics if not outright gridlock and vitriol, all seem to bear down upon each of us.

Jesus said in this world, you will have trouble.  If you have ever wondered if what the Bible says is true, well Jesus nailed this one, don’t you think?  In this world, we do have trouble and problems and pressures—the biblical term for pressure is tribulation.

Jesus didn’t end his thought with you will have trouble in the world.  He said, “Take heart!  I have overcome the world!”  Yes, I added the emphasis, but I think that we all should.  We are not orphaned by God.  We are not in this alone. 

God is with us.  His Spirit lives inside of us.

God is for us.  Let’s not get wrapped up on everything that seems to be against us.

God loves us.  He loves us so much that he gave us the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  When the pressures—the problems and tribulations of the world come upon us—he makes a way to stand firm in our faith and come out of the trials and tribulations even stronger.


It’s not all pressure and problems.  We have celebrations in our journey.  New birth, healing, and the lost coming home should be cause for all of us to renew our own spirit as we run our race of faith.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!


Monday, August 21, 2017

Parables of the lost sheep and lost coin

Imagine growing up where there is an “in group” and an “out group.”  Maybe you don’t have to imagine.  By the time you get to junior high or high school, these things develop all too easily.  But for the purpose of this exercise, imagine that you were and had always been a member of the “in group.”

The rules were made to suit you.  You like the people in your group.  People that you didn’t like were not in your group so you didn’t have to worry about them.  If the rules for the outgroup were not strong enough, then you just revised them.

If you are in the “in group” then it is important that those in the “out group” be kept in their place.  Sure, there was some migration into the “in group” but not without a cost and those who came were never meant to feel as if they were really part of the group.
Most of you have discerned at this point that this exercise with you being part of the “in group” is putting you in the Phylacteries of the Pharisees and other self-righteous religious leaders.  Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew’s 23rd chapter.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

In this encounter, the Pharisees are just watching, but read all of the 23rd Chapter of Matthew to get a better perspective of how Jesus saw this group of people.

Let’s play along a little longer with you being part of the self-righteous group.  You knew that you were right in living the way that you lived.  That’s just the way it was.  It had always been that way as long as you could remember.  Yes, there were rules for you but you could interpret them, bend them a little for you while strictly enforcing them with those not in your group.

You could look at those not in your group and condemn them for just about anything that they did.  You held the power and authority to say what was acceptable and what was not.

Then one day a man—sort of a wild card because nobody knew what group he fit into—came along and talked to you and your group and he spoke as one who had real authority.  He would be a great addition to your group but he also talked to those not in your group and treated them as if they were as important as you and your group.  Sometimes it seemed like he valued them more than he did you.

So using the model that you have grown up with you think, “He is either one of us or one of them.  It can’t be both, and because he won’t be exclusive with us; he must be one of them.”

The problem is that he speaks with real authority.  People listen.  People hail him as an important person.  Crowds gather for him. 

On top of all this, when he confronts your group, you always walk away with your tail tucked between your legs. 

We come to this 15th chapter in Luke’s gospel and this group of people known as the Pharisees.  They are observing Jesus.  They have not confronted him on this occasion but they are looking for something big to hold against him.  They would really like to go one up on him.  They are doing what we might call in therapeutic terms, “self talk.” 

They are reinforcing what they think about Jesus by talking among themselves and reminding each other that this man welcomes sinners.  He doesn’t just tolerate them.  He welcomes them.  On top of that he eats with them.

On this occasion, Jesus was teaching and it appeared that mostly people of this “outgroup” had gathered to listen to him.  Tax collectors and sinners is the term we find in the Bible.  Outcasts, those of doubtful reputation, and even notorious sinners encompass the range of descriptive terms for the people that I have described as the “out group.”

But the Pharisees were there and listening and Jesus knew it.  So, he told a story—a parable—about a shepherd and his sheep.  There were one hundred sheep in this story.  That’s a nice size flock, enough to get the people interested anyway.

But one of the sheep is missing.  Jesus surely has the empathy of the crowd at this point.  People understand what it is to take care of sheep.

How do they understand this?  I doubt that there were any shepherds in this crowd.  They have found something else to do for their livelihood. There’s no way that I am going to take care of sheep.  It’s a tough life.  You have to be on guard against wild animals and thieves. 

On top of that, sheep don’t know what’s good for them.  Of course one is missing.  That’s what sheep do.  They go astray.

The question is, what does the shepherd do?  He goes looking for the lost sheep.  That’s what shepherds do.

He leaves the 99 in the open country—some translations say the wilderness—and he starts looking for this lost sheep.  Jesus then said, when he finds it.  Notice that he did not say if he finds it.  He said when he finds it then it is time to celebrate.

He throws this sheep over his shoulder—remember there are 99 left back to their own care—and the shepherd must get back to them so this lost but now found sheep will move at the shepherd’s pace.

But bringing this lost sheep home is cause for celebration.

This parable hits home because it is something that a shepherd would do.  Think back to the beginning of the previous chapter as Jesus is talking about healing on the Sabbath.

He asks, “What would you do if a family member or a donkey or an ox fell into a well on the Sabbath?  Would you not go right away and rescue this person or animal?”

The questions are rhetorical.  Of course, you would rescue them.  Imagine calling out to your favorite ox—who among us does not have a favorite ox—saying, “Just hold on until tomorrow.”

Recall that the Pharisees remained silent.  Had they actually answered the question with the obvious answer, their blindness might have been lifted, but they would not give an answer that seemed to agree with this man who welcomes sinners.

They had to keep their distance.  They did not want this man who dined with outcasts to be seen as part of their elite group.  They were practiced at sales resistance.

Most of us go to yellow or red alert and shields up whenever we talk with a salesman that we don’t know.  The salesman is trained to get you comfortable with saying yes.

Wouldn’t you love to be in perfect health?

Wouldn’t you love to see your grandkids have their college paid for?

Would you love to have two or three times the pay that you have now?

Of course people answer yes to these questions.  That’s why the salesperson asks them.  He wants you to get comfortable saying yes.  Then he starts on his sales spiel.

The Pharisees had obviously had a club meeting to discuss sales resistance with this Jesus.  Unless, they have a plan to trap him, they don’t want to be trapped by their answers to his questions.

The problem is that Jesus was asking questions that they should have been answering so they too would have eyes to see.  Jesus had nothing to sell. He had life abundant and eternal to give!

Jesus is talking to the entire crowd but the Pharisees should have had the greatest understanding of these parables.  Without any comment from the men adorned with phylacteries, Jesus tells another story aimed mostly at the women in the crowd.

A woman has 10 silver coins and loses 1 of them.  At this point, most of the men have tuned out.   

“OK, a sheep running off by itself is one thing, but how does a coin get lost? It can’t run off.  It should be exactly where she left it.  Right?

I would agree it should be exactly where she left it but I don’t even want to confess the hours that I have spent looking for things that were exactly where I left them.

So she turns the house inside out looking for this lost coin.  She gets a lamp to look in dark corners, probably making mental notes where she needs to vacuum now that she has shined the light over there.

Again note, Jesus did not say if she finds the coin; he said when she finds it.  This woman was going to search until she found the coin.

When she does, she is going to get all of her girlfriends together and celebrate.  What was lost is now found.

If they had today’s technology back then, we could all watch the new reality TV shows, Sheep Search and Coin Hunt.  A little Facebook live and hourly tweets could have kept us all plugged in.

The women were surely plugged in to this parable.  Of course you hunt for the lost coin.  Of course you celebrate when you find it.  Of course you rejoice with your friends.

Lost sheep and lost coins were things that people understood.  You didn’t just write them off.  Today, a 1 % write off doesn’t seem as important.

For the past 2 decades many companies have adopted a strategy of attrition with customers that register recurring complaints.  Voice menus with inadequate options frustrate many customers.  Many just live with the substandard service and others just discontinue the service.  Many companies are just fine with losing customers who complain.  They will not invest the extra effort to retain the 1% or 5% or sometimes even 10%. 

But 2000 years ago, you were not content to leave their status as lost.  You found the sheep.  You found the coin.  You searched until you did.

The Pharisees were content with the in group/out group arrangement.  The outcasts were outcasts for a reason and their status did not need to change.  The Pharisees had a never-ending supply of penalty flags and they were content with many being outside their elite circle.

The problem here is that God was not content to write off the lost.  He was not content to just condemn the sinners.  He actively sought the lost and the outcast and those surely on the fringes of society.

He sought them.  He pursued them.  He made a way for them to be included in this wonderful thing that today we call fellowship.  A couple thousand years ago, we would have called it koinonia.  It’s communion, connection, inclusion.

Fellowship is not a strong enough word these days.  We have relegated fellowship to times when we eat and snack, mostly with our close friends.  Koinonia is connecting with everyone as if they were a close friend.  Koinonia is family.

God desires us all to be family.  His heart desires none to perish. He doesn’t want anyone to remain lost and unrepentant.  This is not God’s wish, as if anyone could grant God’s wish; it is the desire of his divine heart. 

That desire produces action!

God didn’t just speak everything into existence and say, “Good luck guys.  See you at the judgment.”  He has been and remains actively engaged with his creation, so much so that he came himself in the form of Jesus to live in the human condition.

God is so engaged with his creation that he took the sin of the world upon himself when Jesus gave himself freely to be the Lamb of God that took away the sin of the world.  If dying for us is not fully engaged, then what could be?

God is so engaged with his creation that when Jesus ascended to heaven, God’s own Spirit came to be with us.  We call this Spirit the Counselor, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, and the Holy Spirit. 

God has not forgotten one of us.  Consider the billions of people alive now and the billions who have lived before us.  You think that God might have written off some of them early on, but God’s heart longs for all to come home to him.

So when Jesus walked the earth teaching and preaching and healing and rebuking and casting out demons and just showing people what his Father’s heart was all about; those on the fringes and edges of society were clearly in his sights.

Those whom the righteous called outcasts and misfits and sinners received head of the line privileges when the one with the words of life came to town.

Of course Jesus went to the lost.  He came to fulfil the desire of his Father’s heart, that none should perish.  He could have just reprimanded the Pharisees, put them on probation, and returned to heaven instead of going all the way to the cross.

But his heart, like his Father’s and like the Spirit’s who lives inside of us now is a heart that none will be lost—that none will be lost.

Our challenge in this age where shepherds are scarce and our money is mostly in the bank is to have a heart for the lost.

We take care of each other as family.  That’s who we are, but we are not content that so many live outside the family.  So many remain lost.  So many seek the things of this world when truth and life and abundance lie in God’s Kingdom that he has opened to us.

Abundance lies in inclusion in the family of faith.  That said, we do have to do some maintenance from time-to-time.  The mission of the church is to reach the lost, bring them to Christ, help them become disciples, help them take on the easy yoke and light burden of our Master.  Somewhere along the way that includes baptism.

But, we also have to take care of those who are a part of this body.  We have to take care of those who are sent and who go into this world to reach the lost.  We must be wise so as not to focus exclusively on the body of believers that gathers weekly, but we must not neglect them.

The shepherd left the 99 for a short time.  He may or may not have left those sheep in the care of an assistant, but he wasn’t gone for a long time.  He left in search of the lost but he came back to the flock. Tending the flock ensured there was a flock to tend.

Surely, he searched with intensity.  Every sheep was important to the shepherd. 

Everyone in a modern-day congregation is important.  We don’t like being compared to sheep, but the analogy is applicable. 

We are also numbered among the shepherds for we carry the good news.  We go in search of the lost.  We desire none to perish.  We leave the flock for short periods and go in search of the lost.

We need the strength of coming together, but we need the heart of mercy that sends us on a mission with passion and intensity when we go in search of the lost.

We are to search for the lost, not out of duty, but out of love.

Has our heart been shaped like our Master’s?  If it has, we have this compulsion to reach out to the lost time and time again.

We will view the lost from his perspective, not so much that they are lost from our local body, but that they have strayed away from the Good Shepherd.

We are his arms and legs and voice and compassion in this age.  We reach out to the lost.  When only 1 sinner comes home, there is rejoicing in heaven.

Rescuing the lost connects heaven and earth with joy and rejoicing.  When the desire of God’s heart is fulfilled, the result is joy.

God knows when a sparrow falls and numbers the hairs on our heads.  He not only knows when a sinner repents and comes home, he is filled with and heaven is filled with joy.

We know that we do not reach out to the lost on our own.  The Holy Spirit is with us until the end of the age.  If the angels in heaven can celebrate when just one lost person comes home, how can we do any less?

We must celebrate the profession of faith.

We must celebrate the baptism.

We must celebrate every step taken in discipleship for this is where we grow in God’s grace.  We not only work to bring people home but to keep them home.  They become part of the family and grow in grace with us.

We can look at the world as a dismal place full of people who have turned away from God, or we can look at it as so many celebrations just waiting to happen.  There are so many opportunities—so many opportunities to excel.

Let us have a heart for the lost.  Let’s take good news to them.  Let’s be God’s light and love to them.  Let those who do not have the Lord taste his goodness in their every encounter with us.

God is not willing that any be discounted as lost.  He has sent us to rescue them.  Walking with God’s Holy Spirit let us bring God the desire of his heart.

That in itself—that we are in this together with God—is cause for celebration.  God trusts us enough to find the lost and be a part of bringing joy to his heart.
Let us reach out to the lost as never before.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Parable: The Seat of Honor

This pericope may seem more like a direct teaching than a parable but it is generally numbered among the parables.  For us, we can take what Jesus said to the Pharisees and make application to our lives.

Again, this message is very straight forward.  We do not need much metaphor and surely no allegory.

If your goal is to promote yourself, you may do it for a while but in the long run; you will be humbled.  You might just have to give up your coveted seat for someone else.  That’s a little embarrassing.

If you follow Jesus and humbly accept whatever calling he has for you, he will exalt you.  He will say, come on up here and sit with me.  That’s a good feeling.

You want greatness in God’s Kingdom, then you need to seek servanthood in this age.  If you want the best seats and the most attention now, don’t expect that in the age to come.

This last will be first and the first will be last concept is not really about seating arrangements.  It is about the condition of our heart.

Do we trust that serving God now, today, in this age is exactly what we are supposed to do?  Do we trust that being humble now is what we are called to do?

Do we really want to die to our selfish desires and seek God’s Kingdom and his righteousness first?

Or do we tend to be like the Pharisees?  We like the best seats and don’t really consider others.  It is all too natural.

This parable is not talking about getting seats for the Thunder Game or the Kari Jobe concert.  It’s about wanting to be the most favored and seeking this to the exclusion of others.

It is the way of the world.  Everyone is working to be number 1.  We have to beat out our competition. 

Look at the cell phone industry.  It’s not a matter of years between new versions.  It is a matter of months—18 months used to be the norm—now that seems like a long time.

We crave more, bigger, better, shinier, faster, prettier, and of course, newer, devices at every turn.  We never seem to be satisfied when our human nature rules.  We want to have the best of everything as if the world was designed to satisfy our every craving.

But Jesus is talking about a life lived with humility.  Putting others first is a way of life when we follow Jesus.

Consider that Jesus put aside his heavenly domain for a time to live in this world as a human.  He didn’t ride in on a horse.  He was born just like the rest of us.  Actually, most of us were born in a hospital with doctors and nurses attending and the smell of alcohol assuring us everything was sanitary.

Jesus entered this world in what we might call a very humble estate.  Jesus is not preaching to the Pharisees from some pedestal.  He, more than anyone, knew what it was to set aside his status to live the human condition.

At the end of the parable that we call the seat of honor, comes some very direct instruction.  Don’t give banquets for your contemporaries.  Give them for those who can never repay you.

Elsewhere Jesus counseled that even the pagans know how to love those who love them back.  We are counseled to love those who can’t love us back.  They can’t pay us back.

We love those people who can never pay us back.  We have no expectation of being paid back.

But God will bless us for living with the attitude of mercy and generosity and kindness towards those that we might call the least of these our brothers and sisters.

Does this mean that we never host meals with our friends who might return the favor?  No, but we are guarded against becoming exclusive.  We are people of fellowship—koinonia—inclusion; thus, we must guard against becoming an exclusive, country club sort of group or elitist in our associations.

Does this mean that if we are named the Teacher of the Year or the Employee of the Month that we run and hide?  No, we accept the honor, say thank you, and go back to keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

We take the momentary recognition and do so thankfully and gracefully knowing that such recognition is transient, but that humility is our governing state while in this world in an age that is also temporary.

But the heart of the message that our Lord gives us is mercy coupled with generosity.  We need to help and love and be generous with the people who can never repay us. 

We need to understand that we are talking about people who may never improve their life situations.  They may always be short on money.  Their health may not improve.  Socially, they may be rough around edges for the rest of their lives.

This parable was delivered while Jesus was dining with the Pharisees and their elite friends.  We must remember that Jesus also dined with those who were very rough around the edges.

We like to meet people where they are, but we never like to leave them there.  We want to lead them to the abundance that we know in Christ Jesus, but some people are just not going to follow.

How do we not become frustrated when people remain in their poverty and apathy and ambivalence?

We love them anyway.  We take stock of just how blessed we are and continue to live a life of mercy and generosity.

Some who we reach out to may follow our Master, but will do so without attending finishing school first.  They may be following Jesus but still rough around the edges.

What do we do?  We love them anyway. 

We recognize how blessed we are to have eyes to see and ears to hear what our Lord has taught us, and we are generous and merciful and kind and longsuffering with those who may never better themselves.  We celebrate that they have come to know life and don’t worry about the fact that they may not be the picture perfect Christian as we would paint that picture.

They may never change.  We pray that they do.  There is a wonderful life for them following Jesus and being God’s love in this world, but not everyone responds.

We love them anyway.

We don’t take care of their every need so as to subsidize their contentment in their current state, but we still are merciful and generous because of who we are.

We hold a banquet for the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  It doesn’t look like a banquet from 2000 years ago.  The poor are still among us but these categories are not given to the exclusion of others.

Sometimes that banquet is a sack lunch for kids on Tuesdays.  Sometimes it a box of food from the pantry.  Sometimes it’s help with the water bill.  

Sometimes it’s a voucher to get some milk and eggs from Rudy’s.  

Sometimes that banquet looks a whole lot like Pop Tarts and Peanut Butter.

There have been a lot of Peanut Butter Banquets these last few weeks.

It’s not the appetizer or the salad or the main course or the place settings that makes it a banquet.  It is the fact that we do these things for people who in most cases won’t be able to pay us back.

We do these things without the expectation of being repaid. 

Jesus said, let your light shine before people so they can see your good deeds and that this merciful and generous way of living will bring glory to our Father in heaven.  We do the things that we do because we know they please our heavenly Father.

We are not looking for fame and our own glory.  We thrive on the glory of our heavenly Father.  We hunger for the command of our Master, Christ Jesus, that we love one another.

We love because God is love and we belong to him.

How do we know that we love God?  By loving those who can’t pay us back and not considering that anyone owes us a debt.  We give graciously and do not let our hearts or minds register a debt.

We don’t record the debt!

We don’t expect anything in return, but we get a fantastic return from our Father in heaven.

Everything that you have given without expectation of receiving something in return has been stored up for you as treasure in heaven.  We don’t think about this treasure while we practice mercy and generosity, but we have a treasure awaiting us.

One day, in the twinkling of an eye, we will find that our humility has placed us before our Master and he is saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

He will say, “Come, sit with me up here.”

He will say, “Come and share my happiness.”

For now, we continue to live in humility—still bold in our proclamations of Christ’s victory—but humble in how we live.

For now, we continue to live loving one another.

For now, we continue in our merciful and generous ways helping those who can never repay us and not recording the debt.

For now, we seek the seat at the table with the least status trusting that one day, our Master will invite us to come dine next to him.

Let’s set a banquet for those who can never return the favor.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Except for...

Except for…

The church building is a quiet place.  You can get away from the world.  You can enjoy the peace and solitude of a building used only a few hours each week.  Well, except…

Except when the people come on Wednesday nights.
Except when the people come on Sunday mornings.
Except when someone comes needing help with a bill. 
Except when the ladies are cooking a meal for someone.
Except when half a dozen people are making lunches for kids.
Except when someone is decorating for Vacation Bible School.
Except during Vacation Bible School.
Except when someone is facing eviction.
Except when someone traveling is out of gas and sees someone at the church building.
Except when the alcoholics anonymous group needs a safe place to meet.
Except when the Scouts come in force.
Except for a baby shower.
Except when people come to decorate the building for Christmas.
Except when someone needs help with school supplies.
Except for a planning meeting.
Except when it’s time to change to the banners.
Except when someone needs prayer right now.
Except when someone is cleaning.
Except when someone just doesn’t know where to turn.
Except for an elders’ retreat.
Except when kids come looking for candy in October and receive candy plus love.
Except when a family just needs a large place to gather for a meal.
Except when it’s time to receive a dozen cases of plates and cups.
Except when someone is looking for something they left on Sunday.
Except when it’s time for a workday.
Except when it’s time to rearrange the tables.
Except when someone needs to do community service.
Except when the school needs to borrow some tables.
Except when people brings shoeboxes full of goodies and love to send overseas.
Except when someone comes looking for the dish they left at the fellowship meal 4 years ago.
Except when someone just needs to talk.
Except for a wedding service.
Except when a teacher comes to get ready for Sunday.
Except when someone needs to borrow a book on Spiritual Gifts.
Except when someone has a flier to drop off.
Except when it’s time to bring Angel Gifts.
Except for a funeral service.
Except when someone is stuffing eggs with Jesus loves you prizes.
Except when someone needs a prayer blanket to take to a friend.
Except when someone needs a Bible and the bar is fresh out.
Except when people come to sort the coins in the loaves and fishes offerings.
Except when someone needs to make a copy.
Except for a special communion service.
Except when someone needs to practice a special song.
Except when someone is sorting school supplies.
Except for when someone just needs to be told that God loves them.
Except when someone is picking up school supplies.
Except when the schools donate to the food pantry.
Except when it’s time to sort out the dated and dented cans of food.
Except when people share a lunch meal after walking the town with good news.
Except when the football team and cheerleaders come to eat before the game.
Except when someone needs to make a call because they have no phone.
Except when someone needs to use the bathroom right now.
Except when someone has given up on their marriage.
Except when youth football does sign-ups here.
Except for the women’s exercise class.
Except when the UPS driver delivers copier paper and toner.
Except when someone needs to fill a water jug.
Except when the kids gather to head to camp.
Except for when someone just thought they should drop in because.
Except when someone is thinking about checking out of this world.
Except when someone comes to pray at the altar at zero dark thirty.
Except when couples come for counseling prior to marriage.
Except when the ministerial alliance meets in the pastor’s study.
Except when there is a gathering for youth after the football game.
Except when the flowers need to be changed.
Except when someone brings a donation of food or school supplies.
Except when people gather for a one pot meal and filling Christmas sacks.
Except when someone needs to just sit and gaze into the cross and embrace the love that we know in this simple symbol.
Except when the blood drive is held in the fellowship hall.
Except when someone just needs a cup of coffee.
Except when it’s time to clean and reorganize the kitchen.
Except when the Facebook post just isn’t good enough.
Except when someone wants to know that verse from the sermon preached a year ago.
Except when someone has something big they need to share right now.
Except when the people come on Wednesday nights.
Except when the people come on Sunday mornings.

Yes, the church building is a quiet place where you can get away from it all and enjoy the peace and solitude of a building used only a few hours each week.

Thanks be to God for such a place where the church meets and is the light of the world in so many ways!

Thanks be to God that there is a place where people know they can connect with God and others.

Thanks be to God!