The Rich man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31

The Rich man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31

This well known parable presents a theological problem because it seems to say that those who enjoy this present life go to hell and those who suffer on earth now enjoy heaven in the afterlife.  But this is not Jesus’ purpose in telling this parable.

Charles Dickens takes this parable and turns it into “A Christmas Carol” As the rich mans talks to Jesus you can almost see old Jacob Marley wrapped in chains saying “Mankind should have been my business”.  Jacob Marley represents the rich Jewish man, lost in his chains. Ebenezer Scrooge represents Christians. Ebenezer is a memorial stone showing Gods’ deliverance, scrooge means to squeeze. Scrooge’s life is a memorial to squeezing people for money.

The true center of this parable is Jesus saying “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

The Jews will have both Moses and the Prophets and someone who will rise from the dead. True to Jesus’ words the vast majority fail to repent. It is not that they are rich and pampered that results in their condemnation, it is their failure to live in accordance with God’s Word. They will not follow Moses and the prophets, and they will not accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness.

You and I are so blessed. We have Moses, we have the prophets, and we have Jesus risen from the dead, to teach us the way to live. In our Bible we have all we need to know to avoid the Rich Man’s fate. We have what we need to unwrap Jacob Marley’s chains.

James 1:27 tells us that true faith is “look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the worlds values.”

Micah 6:8 says “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Isiah 1:16-19 says “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient,”

Will we the church today suffer the fate of the Jews who are wrapped in Jacob Marley’s chains of death? Will we listen to the one who has risen from the dead? Will we receive the Joy of living in heaven with Jesus? We must ask ourselves; are we about our Fathers business?

The Prodigal Son Luke 15:11-32

This is one of the most well known of the parables in the new testament.

The one son works hard and stays on the farm while the younger one parties all the time. The younger one takes all his money and trashes his life. Now he is willing to come back as a servant. The Older son is indignant and will not join the celebration of his brothers return.

Both sons fail to understand what they have. The younger one does not realize the value of his life at home until he is wishing to eat with the pigs. The older fails to value what he has in his fathers love every day. Both fail to understand and accept the joy of being part of the family.

The father has to tell the older son “look everything I have belongs to you. If you wanted to celebrate with your friends, the goat belongs to you!

The church is often like this family. Those who have been there all their life have trouble with those who come late. New people come and start changing things and the others resent it. Their comfortable place is upset.

The person who never strayed to far experiences the love and care of the father everyday. The younger son missed out on the love and care of the father during his time away. The younger son goes through life’s troubles alone.

In our lives and in the Church there are givers and takers, those who always do the right thing, sacrificing for others. Then there are those who just take and never give. People who are like leaches sucking the life out of the givers. The givers pour out all their energy even while they resent having to do it.

I think it starts early in life. The ones who follow the rules on the playground resent the laughter of the naughty ones who break them. The naughty ones resent that they are not loved like the ones who can behave.

What does this parable tell us about Jesus? What is important to Jesus? The money is not important to the Father, his sons are. His goal is not to have the biggest ranch and be the wealthiest person in town. The Fathers goal is that all of his son’s are safe at home and loved.

Do we share the Fathers values? Is our position and status more important then a lost persons soul? If we do not share the Fathers values it doesn’t matter what we have done or where we have been, we do not understand God any more than the person who does not know Him at all.

The church and each of us must value the lost being found, the dead being made alive. The most important thing is that as many as can be saved are saved. 2 Peter 3:9 says “God is patient with you, not whishing that anyone should perish, but that all should have eternal life.” The challenge for us is to share the heart, mind and values of Jesus. The goal of the church is that the lost are found and the dead brought to life. For this is the heart of what Jesus is all about.

Who is my neighbor?  Luke 10:25-37

Just an outline, I was out shoveling snow.

Who is my neighbor?  Luke 10:25-37

Jesus distills the law down to something so simple.  Love God with all you have and all you are and love your neighbor as your self. Then the lawyer asking the questions wants to know who is our neighbor. What are the limits to this love we are to pour out? Jesus’ response is interesting.

Their world and ours are not far removed are they? The priest got as far away as possible from the trouble, The Levite does the same. This is not their responsibility, I don’t know what the situation is, don’t get involved in things that don’t concern you. I would stop and help but I’m busy today. The good excuses are as thick as misquotes on a Minnesota summer day. But this Samaritan is as far from a neighbor as a Jewish person would think of.

Who is your neighbor? The questions goes back to when God ask Cain where his brother able is and Cain responds “Am I my brothers keeper?

Some look at Jesus’ answer and will say anyone who helps me is my neighbor.

The better interpretation is that anyone I see in need is my neighbor.

This parable tells us that our we are our brothers keeper.

Marvel Comics. Who will stand up for the hurting people?

Who needs our help?

How much help do we give?

You can be a hero! You don’t need a mask or a cape, not even a fancy logo, all you need is to stop walking by and get down on your hands and knees and lift the broken among us up.

New Wine Matthew 9:16-17

There was a couple getting ready to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They were digging through boxes of picture in the attic when the woman came across her wedding dress, and he his old army uniform. They snatched them up and headed for the bedroom. As the both try to wiggle into them it’s very apparent they will never make it. They catch sight of themselves in the mirror and begin to laugh so hard that soon the whole family is in on it. Their present life just will not fit into their old clothes.

We like old things, the old quilt, our well worn jeans, our old chair that should have been thrown away long ago. They make us feel comfortable and connected with our past. There is a sense of security in them. And it can be the same in life.

This parable has much to say about trying to fit our new life in Christ into our old way of thinking and living.

This parable about Cloth and wine is given to the disciples of John and to the Pharisees in response about fasting. Fasting was a practice of devout Jews. Apparently Jesus did not push His followers to fast. The new wine is faith in Jesus, the old wine skin was the Jewish system of religion.

One of the things that will not fit is grace. The Jewish religions tow the line or pay the price. Has no room for forgiveness. Obedience of the rules is all they have, and while obedience is important, there must be room for forgiveness. Jesus is teaching that God forgives, God heals, and God renews those who have fallen or strayed.

Another thing that will not fit is relationship. The Jew related to God through the rules and rituals of religion. Jesus related to God personally. The followers of Jesus learned that they could talk to God, both listening and hearing. He taught them that God knew and cared about their personal struggles in life. He taught them that God knew their name who they are and loved them personally. God was not a distant and detached ruler, He is a close friend.

Amy has a husband who abuses her. For ten years she has been beaten, physically and verbally. Amy lives in a constant state of fear. The only time she feels good is when he is at work. Despite all the trips to the hospital and visits from police, she keeps going back to her husband.

Don’t shake your head at her, for we are all like her in some ways. We will go back to that drinking that has destroyed our life. We go back to the same way of treating people though it has ruined all our friendships. We return to the same habits with our spouse even though they have destroyed our first two marriages.

Even though we repent and are forgiven by Jesus we try and take that new grace right back into our old life where it will never fit. We try to fit our relationship to God back into a system of does and don’ts that will never take the place of a God who personally loves us.

The Bible teaches us “That if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has passed away and a new life has come.”

Faith is not about fitting Jesus into or attached to our old life style and values. Faith is about taking up the new life Jesus has given and leaving the old life that has done us so wrong behind.

Have you been trying to fit your faith into that old life sewing that old piece of cloth on only to have your life torn apart time and time again?

It’s time as a person and as a church that we drop that old life behind and live the new life Jesus has given us.


Give them Hope

Last month our church opened up for people in need of emergency shelter during the cold -31 degree weather. One of the people found shelter at the church was Jen. As I started trying to help her I found the plight of single homeless adults to be dire indeed. I discovered no shelters in our community, the nearest being Pine City and St. Cloud. I also found that what help could be found, was difficult to understand and navigate. If I had trouble figuring out how to get help, how much more difficult must it be for a person who is living on the street.

We ended up with Jen living with us in our home. She has been with us for four weeks and will be for a few more. Jen is a pleasant house guest to have around and is working at getting things together. We enjoy having her with us, but we also look forward to the day when she will back in charge of her life.

As I think of all the things that we have given to Jen to help her, the most important thing has not been food, clothes or even a warm bed to sleep in. The greatest thing we have given Jen is hope. Hope that she can put life back together, have a job, have a home, and put the past behind her.

So many people struggle without hope. They feel nothing can really change, in their marriage, their family, their job, their community, their country. Eventually they just quit trying. This is exactly where many homeless and poor people are at.

Jesus gives us hope and we can share this hope with the world. Jesus brings us hope through forgiveness, hope because we know that our past sins and mistakes do not have to limit our future. Hope, because God does love us and God does hear our prayers. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old life has passed away, a new life has come.”

One time a homeless drunk snuck over the fence of the President of Fuller Seminaries yard and was caught stealing a steak off the grill. The seminary President stopped him and got him a plate and sat him down with his family. Four years later that homeless man was my Hebrew Professor at Fuller. Two Years later when I graduated, that once homeless man walked across the stage to cheers, and received His Doctorate.  All he needed was hope.

There are people all around us who need hope. Hope for their broken marriage or broken family. Hope for a new job or a home of their own. Hope for friendship and love. Hope that they can put past sins and mistakes behind and live a new life from Jesus.

Will we give them hope? Will we take a risk and reach out to them? Will we pick them up and hold them up until they can stand on their own? We can show people that they are not forgotten, and they are important to God and to us. It will cost us time, money, and give us emotional stress, but we can give them hope.

Foundations Luke 6:46-49

Foundations Luke 6:46-49

A man had a crack in the wall of his home. He called someone and they fixed the wall, but soon the crack repaired. He called a different person who fixed the wall, again the crack returned. Finally he called a third person who said your problem is not the crack in the wall, it’s your sinking foundation. Until you fix the foundation you will have that crack.

This is a simple parable to understand, yet it is truly profound in it’s lesson. A building is only as good as it’s foundation. Your life, my life, our church and even our nation are only as good as our foundation. Today we spend so much time trying to cover cracks in our world. Gun violence, hatred, prejudice, economic injustice, and the list goes on. We try to cover our broken homes, broken relationships, broken minds and hearts. But soon the brokenness returns. Our government tries to pass laws in hopes of fixing our broken country. It is all just fixing cracks, when the trouble is our foundation. And you cannot legislate a foundation.

The same is true in our lives, they will only be as good as our foundation. There was some flooding in the town where my sister lives. A neighbors house had their basement wall cave in. In our lives the poor foundation can be seen in cracks and other time more catastrophic failures.

It seems that the news is filled everyday with another person who’s foundation is found to be sinking. They have built their life on money, power, prestige and fame. They have thought their money or position would keep them safe only to see their lives crumble on the tv for all to see.

You may have experienced some cracks, some broken places in your life. Some of us have experienced catastrophic failures where our whole life has crumbled before our eyes. We have patched and covered until we are exhausted from the effort, it’s about time we fixed our foundation.

Fixing the foundation is not that hard. Jesus tells us in this parable that we need to hear and do the things He tells us. This is the foundation. Jesus says, don’t lie, don’t steal, think of others first, help those in need, and love God with all your heart. You need to read your Bible and follow what it says. If we will do this our foundation will be strong.

There is a simple little saying that puts this together. “if you always do, what you’ve always done, you will always get, what you’ve always got.”

If you don’t like the results of what you’ve been doing, it’s time to stop the insanity of doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.

What have you been doing to try and repair the cracks and brokenness in your life? Have they really worked? Have you been covering these cracks over and over, only to have them return? It’s time to fix the foundation.

The first fix for the foundation is forgiveness. We need to receive the forgiveness that Jesus died on the cross to provide for us. Simply ask Him. Jesus please forgive me. Then we must forgive others. These are large parts of our primary foundation. As much as we might not want to forgive, we must.

“if you always do, what you’ve always done, you will always get, what you’ve always got.”

If you don’t like the cracks, it’s time for a new foundation.

Mark 4:21-24 The Lamp and the Basket

Jesus often uses the same parable or saying multiple time and in different ways. The Lamp under a basket shows how Jesus did this. The parable is found in Matthew 5 where Jesus makes clear that our faith is to be conspicuous. In mark it is used to say something quite different.  In Luke 8 and in Luke 11 It is used in a different context. You have most likely heard it from Matthew more often than the others. We will look at Marks usage of this parable.

In Marks context the parable less clear. Here Jesus is the Lamp that is to be put on the stand for all to see. It is connected with the declaration that everything that is hidden or secret will be brought out into the open. Jesus could be talking about the plan of God, or the mysteries of God. But the way it is connected to the warning about the measure and the one who has, more will be given, seems to mean that our actions are more in mind here.

Therefore Jesus is the light that shines in the hidden and secret places and reveals our whole life. Jesus reveals our depravity. Jesus’s forgiveness and grace is not a coverup kind of action. The light reveals the sin within us and then like a surgeon removing a tumor, His forgiveness cuts it out of our life.

Even when taken this way there are different ways to take this. Often the interpretation is that Jesus will shine a light on your secret sins. Jesus knows where you hide your playboy and He’s going to hold it up for everyone to see what you were trying to hide. Jesus has your password and is going to publish your email, messages, and your web history.

I look at it in a different way. Jesus is like the bright lights of the surgery room. Under it all things are reviled not to shame us but that they might be removed. Psalm 139 end with “Search me o God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The light reveals our sin that it might be repented of and forgiven. Our sin is not revealed to bring guilt and shame but healing.

Put the holy light of Jesus on a stand and let it shine into all parts of your life. Ask God to reveal all the sickness in your life and cut it out that you may be healed. Jesus is the light it’s time to stop hiding and time to start healing.

The Wicked Tenants   Matthew 21:33-40

This parable is obviously about the Jewish people. God expected them to call humanity to God. They stopped thinking that their God was so wonderful and started thinking they were wonderful. When God sends the prophets to them they reject and even kill them. Then God sends his son, Jesus, and they will kill Him as well. The Jews will be punished and the vineyard given to the new people of God Christians.

The meaning is summed up in verse 42 &43 “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing it’s fruits.”

This is a simple message we need to hear. If we fail to produce the fruit of the kingdom, God will take his blessing away from us and give it to another.  God wants the message of forgiveness to be shared, God wants His compassion and love for the broken and hurting taken to those who need it. Should we fail God will find someone who will take it.

All of this brings us to a choice we find in verse 44, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Everyone of us runs into or trips over Jesus. A place where we realize we are sinful and need saving. When we come to this place we will be broken and surrender our lives to Him. If we fail to be broken before God then the judgement of God will crush us. A simple case of on the stone or under it.

Personally have you confessed to God that you are a sinful person who on your own has screwed up life, asked Him for forgiveness and then asked Jesus to take control and  pledged yourself to follow Him? Have you been broken on Jesus the rock.

As a church we also must ask are we broken on the rock? Are we submitted to God and caring out His mission in the world? Do we like the Jews think that we are entitled to God’s love, or will we fall broken and submit to God.

The good news is that those who are broken Jesus will lift up and heal. God is not impressed by our resilience, He is impressed by our willingness to be broken. A simple question of on the rock or under the rock? Which will we choose? A simple prayer for each of us. “Lord I have sinned and am broken, please forgive me. Give me a new life today and show me how to live. I will follow you.” And a prayer for all of us “Lord Jesus we have not done the best we can to follow you and do your work. We have been prideful and arrogant, please forgive us, transform us from our church to your church. Give us new life to serve you and bear fruit for you.” AMEN

Matthew 24:42-51 “The Wise Servant”

Imagine a place where it never rained, no one had ever experienced it. All the while Noah was building a boat in the hills where there was no water. They went about their lives playing, partying and working. Then the first raindrops started. In the same way the end of life will come. Two men working in the field or two women grinding grain, one is taken and the other left. The end comes as a surprise. While this is true for the ultimate end of the world it is also true for each and every one of us today.

Some who will die from things like cancer will know it’s coming, most will not. For most people they are going along their busy lives when their hour comes. I think as we look at this parable we do it justice to look not at the end of the world but the end of our individual lives.

The question Jesus brings to us is what will our lives be about on that day? If we all got 30 days notice that Jesus was coming for us everyone would get it together after they got their letter. So we have this parable to tell us somethings.

We are described as servants. We own nothing we are not masters, we are the servant. Everything and everyone around us is a possession that belongs to God the master. You have been given responsibility for these things and these people that belong to God.

What is interesting to me is that the master does not quiz the servant on their theology or review their righteous deeds or even their sinfulness. What the Master is concerned with is if you took care of His possession and your fellow servants. How did you treat the people in your life? How have we used what God has given us?

Jesus’ parable is not about guilt for your past, Jesus died on the cross to pay for the guilt. All debts were paid up as of 9:45 this morning. What Jesus is concerned with is how you will treat your fellow servants starting at 11 am today.

I love mountain climbing. I have been to some very difficult places. At times pushed beyond my limits. I found a secret to getting to the top is to not focus on it. On the map I break the trip down into days or even meals. 4 miles to this spot then eat lunch. Ten miles to this spot to camp. Then after lunch or the next day I start toward my next goal. I feel successful and encouraged because I have met a goal. Step by step goal by goal, you get to a place you never thought you could.

This is how the servant of God approaches life. Focus on the choice you have before you and make one wise choice, in that moment. Will I tell this lie, will I hurt this person, will I open this magazine, or visit this website, Will I place this bet, or drink this drink, one right choice at a time, one step at a time.

The only answer to a bad choice you make is to make your next choice a good one. The past, the guilt and the regrets have no place in our lives, all there is the next choice, your next step. God has promised that if we will focus on our next step He will take care of the rest of the trip. We will not be found unprepared when our day comes. The trip God will take us on will be amazing, the things we will see and the things we will do. One step one choice at a time..

Matthew 25:14-30 “The Talents”

This is such a familiar parable. The basic interpretation is easy. What have we done with what God has given us? To often the only result of this asking this question is shame, guilt or a sense of uselessness. But that is not where I want us to go today.

But I first I want to show you some history. This is a chart of our church membership 1997 to 2018. This time covers several pastor’s ministries here at First Press. There is no blaming someone for all our losses, that will not help us. But it does show us that we are not and have not been getting the job done. My focus is not on how we have failed but on how we can turn this chart around.

So we are going to look at the talents that God has given us, what are the things God has given us to work with. God has given us a building, that’s one thing. How are we using this building? How can we use it better?

We have a piece of property how can we use it? What would help people in our area? Perhaps a garden where people could grow veggies for the table.

Perhaps you like fly tying or quilting, crafting or painting, you could gather a group of people with shared interest.

We could have a sportsman group that shares how to hunt or fish, or other adventures. A wilderness survival class.

How about a classic reading group or even a Christian classic reading group.

What about a cooking group where you share recipes and ideas.

We could have a Christian end of life choices, funeral planning, advance directives and such.

A care giver support group.

If you have an interest let me know and we can get things organized. You don’t have to teach or lead all you have to do is show up and talk with people who have the same interest.

The Monday art group. No leader, we just share what we are doing, see what others are doing, talk about life and eat a lot.

How does this help your church?

  1. it gets people in the door.
  2. it shows people that we are more than holy people. We are like them.
  3. it builds relationships with people we might not normally meet.

What talent has God placed in your hand? Your head? Your heart? All these things can be used by God to change lives and even build the church.