Tag Archives: parable

Why pastors lie at funerals

28 Jan

Funerals are a place where we pastors can be guilty of lying…a lot.

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself.  So this is my confession: how to do I lie at funerals?  I almost always talk about the person who passed away as definitely being in heaven.  As if there is no question about their eternal destiny.

Should I say that the person who passed away is in heaven?  Do I really know this?  No, I don’t.  I am not the judge.  Only God knows for sure.  So why do I say that the person is in heaven?

I know why I say it. Oftentimes the family has beat me to it. After the person draws their last breath, almost immediately family members start saying their loved one is in heaven. So it can be very daunting and even offensive for me to say at that moment, or anytime in the coming days, “Well, I know your loved one just died, but you don’t really know for certain that they’re in heaven. So let’s talk about that.”

I don’t do that. Instead I just go along with it. But should I?  Am I promoting a lie?

For many of them, based on the life the deceased lived, it is almost certain that their loved one was a true disciple of Jesus, and we can say with confidence that they are in heaven.  Some of them when they were living may have been very vocal about their faith in Christ, some were obviously committed disciples of Jesus.  But for others we are not so certain.  We wrestle with how much theological hairsplitting we should get into with a grieving family.

My thought is that in their moment of crisis and tragedy, I’m not going to make things worse by trying to suggest that maybe their loved one is not in heaven. Instead I have a strong desire to comfort them as they mourn.  I want to help them walk through sadness in a healthy way.  So I choose not to quibble with them about whether their loved one is in heaven or hell.

I’d like to believe that my choice to avoid the discussion is not actually lying.  Instead I look at it as withholding the conversation for a different time.  In fact, that different time is usually during the funeral, though indirectly.  I don’t address the family of the deceased, in the middle of the funeral, asking them pointed questions about their loved one’s eternal destiny.  But I do share with the entire audience about what the Bible teaches about eternal matters.  From there the family can decide for themselves if they want to engage a further discussion.  And you know, while it has been rare, a few courageous ones have had that discussion with me.  They usually ask “I loved my relative, but I don’t know if they are in heaven or hell.”

So, what happens when we die?  Is it possible that we can know now what our eternal destiny will be?  It sure would be nice!

This week in our study of Luke, Jesus tells us a parable set in eternity.  Check it out at Luke 16:19-31.  Perhaps this parable will help us? Or maybe not?  If you haven’t clicked on the link and read the parable, let me warn you, Jesus teaches some rather bizarre details about heaven and hell.  Is he serious?

Join us at Faith Church this coming Sunday, as we’ll talk about this further!

How God’s Kingdom can change the world – Luke 13:10-21

21 Dec

We Christians talk a lot about the Kingdom of God, but what exactly is it?  Just a place people go to in the afterlife?  Heaven?  Jesus often said things “The Kingdom of God is among you, is near, has come.”  What in the world did he mean?  The people in his day often seemed confused about the Kingdom of God.  I wonder if we are too.

In Luke 13:10-21, Jesus has the perfect opportunity to talk further about the Kingdom.  After ticking off the local synagogue ruler for doing a healing on the Sabbath, Jesus tells two super short parables about the Kingdom.

First is the Mustard seed; it’s tiny, but grows huge. I’ve never seen this in real life, so I’m going to take Jesus’ word for it. 

The second is about Yeast; again it is tiny, but infects a huge lump of dough. How huge? Massive. The NIV says “large amount of dough”, but Jesus actually uses a specific measurement here. If you’re reading in the Greek, it is 3 satas. A sata was 12-13 liters. So about 36 liters worth of dough. Who can do the math to convert that to gallons? 9.5. You can make a lot of bread with 9.5 gallons of dough. To his main point, Jesus is right. Even a tiny amount of yeast will expand, multiply and spread through that dough.  Again, I haven’t worked with yeast before, but some bakers I’ve talked with vouched for this story.  They told me that it is amazing to watch work through some dough.

What is the Kingdom of God like? In these two parables Jesus teaches that the Kingdom starts small, but grows and expands with surprising hugeness.

What in the world is Jesus thinking here? Why would he want to tell these two parables at this point?
With the healing having just taken place, and with the interaction about Sabbath, what about this situation caused him to think about the nature of the Kingdom of God?  Could it be that he wants to point out to the people how different the Kingdom of God is to the religious system that they are used to?
The Kingdom of God is surprising like the mustard seed. That tiny little seed grows into something huge. The Kingdom of God, like the Yeast, is contagious, it spreads surprisingly fast through even a large group. The Kingdom of God grows and strengthens as it grows. How does this happen? By following the rules and regulations of a man-made religious system? Nope. Instead the Kingdom’s surprising growth happens in us and through us when we follow the way of Jesus who was willing to follow the way of the Kingdom even if it meant not following the man-made rules of the local religious system.

I love how Jesus refers to this in the Lord’s Prayer that we talked about a few weeks ago. You know the phrase “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”? Think about the dynamic of that. God wants his kingdom to come into our lives so we are transformed by him. Our lives should be growing, changing as a result of following Jesus. Let the Kingdom of God work its way through your life.
Let the Kingdom of God grow in you. Let’s not be a people who brainlessly follow religious rules, like the synagogue ruler wanted Jesus to. Let us allow God’s Kingdom to fully infect us.

How? How do we allow God’s Kingdom to flow through us?  There are at least a couple lessons to learn from this story in Luke 13:10-21:

First, do good, like Jesus did. There are so many ways to apply this.  What does being a do-gooder look like for you in your home, in your office, in your school?

Second, practice the principle of Sabbath: rest, don’t work 24-7, worship, be with your family. I’ve been convicted of this lately. Our denomination sets how much vacation time I get. Pastors start with three weeks of vacation each year. Each of those weeks can include one Sunday off. For every ten years of ministry, you get an additional week off, maxing out at five weeks. Each year pastors are also allowed to be away for one Sunday of Ministry or Study Leave, such as when I was away on the mission trip to Kenya. I’ve been with the EC Church for 13 years in full-time ministry, so I now can take four weeks off each year, including four Sundays away.

Frankly, I’ve done a terrible job of taking my vacation. Don’t applaud that.  Sometimes employees where it as a badge of honor that they don’t take vacation. There is a great reason for vacation, and no matter your profession it is very wise to take it. I say that based in the principle of Sabbath. As much as you and I should be finding weekly time for rest, family and worship each week, we should also use our vacation time.

I am not trying to impose a new rule, a new Sabbath day, or anything like that. I am saying that we should look at the principle of Sabbath, and we should apply it to our lives. There are some other ways to allow the Kingdom of God to infect you:

  • Be disciples who make disciples – watch the Kingdom grow through you.
  • Pray for the filling of the Spirit.
  • Immerse yourself in the Word of God – Read the Word.

Do you ever think, “What can I do? I am just one insignificant person?” But that’s exactly how the kingdom of God starts. Through one person. Start Small. One little thing. If each person did one thing, imagine the impact. We can too easily think that our one life impact is too small, doesn’t matter. We don’t have to get massive attention, or right away make a radical impact. Our culture loves to highlight the big splashes. But what about all the people who are just faithful in small ways? They never get a news story about them. They never become famous. But they are being faithful. Put together they are a massive impact.

This is one of the reasons why I love that in our school district we have a ministerium that works together in unity.  Churches of all shapes and sizes have joined together to promote Christ and share his love to our community.  In recent years the ministerium started Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services which features a clothing bank and food bank making a difference in the lives of people in our school district.  I’m honored to be a part of that.

Allowing the Kingdom to infect your life might start very small. Like the mustard seed. Like the yeast. But that is okay. Start something!

How to move from Christian “Fail” to Christian “Faith”

9 Oct

The words on the by-line were “Christian FAIL”.

I use two phone apps to read the news: Google Newstand and Flipboard, which are free newspaper, magazine and website article readers.  Earlier this week a Flipboard article with that by-line caught my eye. “Christian FAIL.” I knew what it was going to be about. Something about how Christians were being hypocritical or ridiculous.

Sure enough.  The brief description said this: “A Missouri pastor is accused of stealing more than $21,000 from his church to pay off his 20-year-old mistress.”

Then there was this by a blogger: “A friend she spent years of her childhood in a cancer ward, and recalled her friends dying on a regular basis. She said ‘Christians would come in and read us books about Jesus, and say he was going to heal us. You learned real quick that they were just there to make themselves feel good. Kids still got rolled out of the room in the middle of the night, and you knew they’d never come back’.”

For situations like this and others, there is an impression some in our society have of Christians, and Evangelicals in particular, that we are not loving and have not followed the teaching of Jesus.

Christians are doing a lot of good, and there are many who strive hard to follow Jesus.  But as we read about the Christian Fails, a healthy response is to ask ourselves if we are perpetuating the impression that Christians are not loving, not following the teaching of Jesus.  No one is perfect, and we Christians need to humbly admit when we fail.  Because we do fail.  And when we confess, we need to renew our commitment to the way of Jesus, and actually do what he teaches.

This Sunday at Faith Church we come to what is arguably the most famous teaching of Jesus: Luke 10:25-37, the parable commonly known as the Good Samaritan.

How many of you could tell me how the story goes without clicking on the passage and reading it? I suspect lots of you know at least the basics.  We hear about Good Samaritans in the news regularly.  That’s a good thing, because Good Samaritans are people who help others.

The danger with something familiar, though, is that we will check out and not listen. And in this case, if we do not listen, we could be in danger of many more Christian Fails.  And yet, if we do listen as we should to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, we’re going to hear him challenge our thinking.  So I ask you to do some hard work and read this story as if for the first time.

There is a reason we Christians have gained a reputation for not being loving or not following the teaching of Jesus. And maybe part of the problem is that we have checked this parable off the list, because we know it so well, we just assume we’re doing fine. But maybe we’re not doing fine. Maybe we can be encouraged to think about The Good Samaritan in a new, different or deeper way.  We’ll see how the Good Samaritan encourages us to move from Christian “fail” to Christian “faith”.

So we would love to have you join us at Faith Church this Sunday to hear more!

That time Jesus purposefully wanted to confuse the audience

10 Jul

My family and I started gardening a couple years ago.  When we lived in a city rowhome we filled a couple 5-gallon buckets with dirt, planted some tomatoes and peppers and stuck them on our second floor outdoor balcony.  Our backyard butted up against a neighboring house that blocked out the sun, so the buckets were a first feeble attempt…and failure.  When we moved to our current home with a backyard and garden, we were excited to give it a new try.  We’ve made lots of mistakes like when we picked our pumpkins in August because we had planted too early.  Each year we learn a bit more, like the need to plant our baby tomatoes far enough away from one another that they don’t become a tangled mess.

We have family and friends that have been very helpful in coaching us about gardening.  They have been a great help, and our garden is all the better for it.

This week our study in Luke gets into gardening.  In Luke 8:1-15, Jesus tells a parable from the world of agriculture, which was a huge part of his society.

I wonder how people in the crowd felt that day.  They came to hear a powerful orator, and what he gave them amounts to Gardening 101.  Check it out for yourself:

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

You pretty much get that lesson in preschool when you plant a seed in a Dixie cup and bring it home to grow on the kitchen windowsill.

Why would Jesus waste his time, and the crowd’s time, and all that ink and paper in those bajillion Bibles over the centuries on a lesson in basic farming?

Plant in good soil, get rid of rocks and weeds, and you’ll have a good shot at a harvest.  Is that all he said?

Nope, Luke tells us that after Jesus told the parable to the crowd, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  That clarify it for you?  Some of you might have heard this parable before, but imagine being there in the crowd hearing it for the first time.  How would you have felt?  Would you be frustrated that all you got was basic gardening principles?  Would you be seeking for deeper meaning?  Would you assume that this famous, powerful spiritual teacher must have meant something more?  Would it help when he says “whoever has ears to hear, let them hear?”

It seems at least Jesus disciples were questioning like that, because they ask him what the parable meant.  Think he tells them?

He responds to them with this “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand’.”

Doesn’t it sound like he is basically saying “I don’t want the crowds to know what this parable means”?  How many speakers get up to speak, give a cryptic speech that no one understands, and feel like that was mission accomplished?  How many speakers desire to confuse their audiences?  Sure seems like that’s what Jesus was doing, doesn’t it?

Or was he?

If you’re not already part of a worship gathering, or you’re just curious to hear the rest of the story, please feel free to come to Faith Church on Sunday.