Tag Archives: wealth

What’s holding you back from following Jesus? Luke 18:18-43

7 Mar

Sometimes choices are hard to make.  I talked about that last week, referring to Luke 18:18-43.  In that story, Jesus met a guy and asked him to make a very hard choice.  This guy wanted to follow Jesus.  He had a bunch of money, and Jesus told him “sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.”

Whew. Do you feel the intense emotion of that situation?   It seems this guy genuinely wants to follow Jesus, or at least is truly interested in the idea. But when faced with the choice, he goes away sad.  His sadness tells me that he hoped he could follow Jesus. Maybe he saw something intriguing in Jesus. But when asked to break free from the hold his wealth had on him, and actually give himself to the better way of Jesus, the man could not or would not break free.

Could you? Would you break free? It is so easy to sit here today and say “Sure! I would give up everything for Jesus.”

So I encourage you to allow Jesus to ask you what he said to the rich man: What is the one thing you lack? What is holding you back from following Jesus? It could be something holding you back from starting to follow Jesus for the first time. It could something holding you back from following him in a more significant way. It might not be riches.

What is holding you back? TV time?  Your cell phone? Really, it can be anything. Ministry. Career. Hobby. Sports team. Something very intangible. Having a clean house.

What are you so preoccupied with that is keeping you from following Jesus?

Social Media. Some of us put a lot of time into social media.

Are children an idol? Over programmed kids can lead to you and your family missing out on participation in your church community.

Or there is Helicopter parenting. Kids used to be allowed to run around town all day, just needing to be home for dinner. But now…not even close.  Now many parents live through their kids.

What about housing? Keeping up with the Joneses. Getting a new car. Are you a slave to appearances? Is this getting in the way of you following Jesus? Do you realize that if Christians in American tithed, gave 10%, we would have more than enough to provide clean water for every person on the planet. But we don’t give 10% because we can’t give 10% because that money is already accounted for in our bills, mortgages, car payments, vacations, and subscriptions and hobbies. And we say that we are just barely making it.

What is standing in the way of you following Jesus more?

Jesus’ disciple, Peter, makes a great statement in verse 28, realizing that the disciples had left all, they allowed nothing to stand in the way of Jesus. And Jesus explains further that we have to remove all blockades to following him. Riches and wealth, but also family!

Would you be willing to pray “Lord, what in my life is getting in the way of following you more?”

Would you be willing to allow God to speak through his people by asking that question of someone who will speak truth “Friend, what in my life is getting in the way of following Jesus?”

There is another person in this story who had to make a choice.  In verses 35-39 we meet a really cool blind man who is persistent in trying to get close to Jesus.

He knew who Jesus was.  He knew he needed mercy. Twice says “have mercy on me”! He had a humble, teachable heart.  Even after being told to be quiet, he gets louder! He knew Jesus was the answer to his dilemma and he got louder! Maybe you and I need to get louder in asking God to come near to us.

Jesus stops. He wants to be with the man. Near him. And then Jesus asks what seems to be a question with an obvious answer: “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man’s response is to be expected, “Lord, I want to see.”

Why would Jesus ask this?  He already knew what the man needed. But Jesus asks him to be specific. There is something deeply faithful about praying a very specific request. When we pray too often we can be safe, vague. “Help the missionaries”. But when we pray specifically, we are putting it out there and saying that God and God alone has to come through in a specific way. It is scary to be so specific because what if what we are asking for doesn’t happen?

If Jesus asked you this question “what do you want me to do for you?” what would you say?

Notice in verses 42-43 where Jesus says the man’s faith healed him. Is Jesus saying that faith will heal anything we ask about? If we have enough faith, we can get what we want? No. Jesus is not making a blanket statement. Instead he is just describing what one man’s faith did in that situation.

And so now seeing, he chose to follow Jesus, praising God. He’s getting loud about God again!  Then others praise God.  They catch on.

Did you notice the contrast between the two choosers?:

Rich man calls Jesus “good teacher”.

Blind man calls him “Son of David”.

Rich man was blind to what was holding him back.

Blind man could see what he needed.

Rich man, after being asked to follow, does not follow Jesus.

Blind man, after not being asked, does follow Jesus.

Rich man goes away sad.

Blind man goes away rejoicing.

We all face a choice about following Jesus. Right now he may be asking you to give up something that is holding you back. What is it? What is holding you back?

The blind man found that following Jesus was the best possible way to live. He had nothing to his name but the shirt on his back, and yet he was happy as could be following Jesus! Jesus changed his life.

Will you choose to set aside what is holding you back? Will you choose to step out and follow him?

I would love to hear what is holding you back! Will you talk about it?

The blind beggar chose well! When we let go of the things that hold us back, we’ll realize that the way of Jesus, the life of Jesus, is so much better than anything this world has to offer!

Jesus’ bizarre depiction of heaven and hell – Luke 16:19-31

1 Feb

Do pastors lie at funerals?  Though we sound confident, usually that the deceased is in heaven, do we really know that?  You can read my thoughts on that in the intro post.  The question I asked in that post is: “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!”

My sermon yesterday tried to address that question.  We have been studying the life of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Luke, and the sermon was about a really bizarre parable he told in Luke 16:19-31.  Before you read any further, I urge you to read the parable and see if you can discover any details that depict heaven and hell in surprising ways.

So now that you’ve read the story, did you see what I mean?  Did you find anything odd?  Here’s what I found that was surprising:

  1. There is a wide chasm between heaven and hell that is so huge you can’t cross it, but it is not so big that you can’t see across it or have a conversation across it.  And people in heaven and hell can see each other and talk with one another.
  2. When the die, people are carried by angels into heaven.
  3. People in heaven could possibly go back (be raised from the dead) and influence people on earth.

Is he for real?  Is Jesus using a literal approach to his teaching? Did we just get a lesson in how heaven and hell/Hades work? I highly doubt it. Actually, it seems much more feasible to understand Jesus teaching a larger principle that is based in this metaphorical story.  It is possible, scholars tell us, that Jesus is a story form that was commonplace in his day.

What do I mean by a story form?  Well, it is like the stories we tell in our day about going to see St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter stories are fabled versions of what will happen when we die. And there are plenty of them.  Here’s a good one I found:

A man died and approached the Pearly Gates. St. Peter told him heaven was getting crowded so he had to test people with the point system. If he got to 100 points he could enter. The man told Peter that he gave to the poor. Peter marked him down for 3 points. The man thought again, then said that he gave to the church. Peter added one point. The man, desperately searching his memory, finally said that he never cussed. Peter added 1/2 a point. By now the man got very frustrated and said that at this rate he could only get in by the grace of God. Peter replied, “Come on in!”

It seems Jesus is using a familiar story form like that, adapting it to his purposes.  And what does he teach us through this metaphorical vision of heaven and hell?

First, Jesus is once again trying to address heart attitude.   Compassion for the poor. Being concerned for the position of others. Not following the letter of the law, but the heart of the Law.  Having eyes that see the neighbor who needs help shoveling snow.

Getting involved in community efforts to alleviate poverty in our school district. I continue to be so proud of Faith Church in this regard. Not only do we collect food in our lobby for the food bank at Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, but we have people who volunteer there every single week. Some are loading food bank shelves, some are working with food bank clients, helping them select groceries. Some are preparing Weekend Blessing bags of food that go out to over 150 children in our school district. Some are delivering food from Faith Church to the food bank. Some are delivering boxes of weekend blessings bags to our schools.

Remember what Jesus says in Luke 14:11? “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  I see that in action in the people of Faith Church so often!  It’s a beautiful thing.

One scholar says that this parable: “…is mainly a call to the rich to examine how they use their wealth. They should know that God is not pleased with a self-indulgent lifestyle that has little care and compassion for those in need. As such, the parable is a call to the rich to repent of their inappropriate use of wealth.”

Next, the parable teaches about the finality of life. The men in the story made choices in their lives, and they were sealed in eternity. I wish I could tell you exactly how this works. The Bible is not precise.   You might respond by thinking “Well, maybe it happens exactly like this parable suggests?” Maybe, but I would say unlikely. There are too many other passages that speak about eternity differently.

What does happen then? Well, one day after we die we each will find out. But I don’t want to leave you in the dark. The Bible teaches that we can be ready for eternity.

One thing I can say for certain is this: Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Or as Paul says in Romans 10:9,10 “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved.”

Putting them both together, we must surrender our lives to be disciples of Jesus. It is a combination of head, heart and hands that all live for Jesus. Then we can be assured, then, as John tells us in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

So I urge you, choose the way of life, which is the way of Jesus. If you are not as certain as what John writes, then I would love to talk with you.

Likewise, eternity is not something that just randomly happens after death. What this parable teaches is that eternity happens now. Did you see how the life choices of the rich man and the beggar impacted their life after death? Eternity starts now.   Our life choices now impact life after death.

This seems to be the heart of what Jesus said in the Lord’s prayer when he prayed “Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that they could live out the Kingdom of God in the here and now.   Maybe not perfectly as it is in heaven, but they could strive for ushering God’s Kingdom into the here and now.

Disciples of Jesus are people who have the privilege of ushering God’s Kingdom into their lives now. As you move and live and breathe in your world, you have the wonderful privilege of taking God’s Kingdom with you.  At work, in your neighborhood, in your school, in your homes, wherever you are, you are an agent of the Kingdom of God. You are seeking to infect all of your surroundings, all the people you come in contact with, with the gracious, joyful, abundant life of the Kingdom of God.

Thirdly, then, this parable is an illustration of how to bring the Kingdom of God into the world we live in now. Last week we saw that in verses 16-17 that Jesus is talking about the Law and Prophets. They come up again here in the Parable as Abraham says that the rich man’s brothers can learn about what to do in the Old Testament, the Law or Moses, as he says it, and the prophets. Jesus is giving a bit of indication, as he did in verses 16-17, that saw within the Old Testament something of great value.

In this case, the OT has plenty of important things to say about human relationships, about what it means to pursue righteousness in relationships, especially in loving one another. Remember what Jesus would say in another place about the most important commands in the OT? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is why the mission statement of Faith Church is Loving God, Loving People. If you could summarize the teaching of the Bible into four words, Jesus tells us that is it.

But there is a problem.

The brothers, the rich man tells us, would not listen to the Word of God. They have major issues. He thinks, however, that they will respond to a radical sign, a resurrection.   But Abraham’s response in verse 31 gets us to Jesus’ fourth main idea in the parable. If their heart is hard, they won’t even respond to a resurrection.

The issue is the heart, and that is the fourth teaching in the parable.

One scholar says this: “Only a responsive heart will listen to God’s message and respond to his great works. No amount of wonder-working can change a heart that is unwilling to be challenged by God’s demand for righteousness. A lack of signs is not why people reject Jesus. Rather, people willfully reject him. The heart cannot see what it is not looking for. Jesus’ message is a call to recognize the need to repent.”

I want to ask you, then, who is your Lazarus? Put yourself in the role of the rich man? Not that you are rich. But put yourself in a position to serve, to give, to love. Who is need around you?

I heard again this past week how Sunday morning is the most ethnically segregated place in America. My school district is at least 25% populated by ethnic minority, why do we not see that here in my congregation?  Perhaps we need to do more to be at a place of readiness to see needs. Eyes wide open. Ready to serve in a moment’s notice.

I recently heard a story from someone at our church who was recovering from surgery in the hospital.  A guy walked into the room and introduced himself as cleaning staff.  But this guy saw his life as much more than cleaning staff.  He struck up a congregation with our church member.  They had great conversation, and finally guy said “can I pray with you”, and it was a great encouragement to our church member.

Can you remember a time when someone reached out to you when you were desperately in need? When the Lord put someone in your life to show interest in you, to encourage you?   Didn’t that feel awesome? What could it look like for you to supply another’s need?

Be willing to provide childcare for free. Mothers with young children could really use the help.

A family from Faith Church who has an elderly neighbor lady, and she lives alone.  A widow. Our church friends will have some extra dessert, which their neighbor lady loves, so they will take it over to her.  Their loves are busy, so they want to drop the dessert off and get back to their tasks at home.  But what the neighbor lady really wants is not dessert.  She loves the dessert.  But what she really wants to do is talk, and talk, and talk. So my church friends will often say to each other, “You give her the dessert this time,” knowing that the person who gives the dessert could be stuck there for a long time.

Sometimes we need to give ourselves in what has been called ministry of presence. The way to care is to be there. To give of yourself. Give of your ears, your eyes, not thinking about what you are going to say next, think next, or eat for lunch. Just being there for people, to listen to them can be so powerful.  I learned of a counselor who said “I think people pay me to be their friend.” Lots of people come in and sit there expecting her to fix their problems. But she waits. Eventually they start talking. And they realize that in her they have a found a person who will truly listen.

So I ask, where is your heart? Are you sensitive to the signs of how God can you use you?  Will you ask him to make you humble, teachable and ready to follow his leading? Will you say, “Lord, examine me. Change me. I want you to use me.”

Finally, are you ready for eternity?

Does God want you to be rich? (and healthy?)

17 Apr

health and wealthHave you ever heard of the Health and Wealth Gospel? It is a view of faith in Christ that has been around a while that basically says “if you are faithful enough to God, he has to bless you with health and wealth.”

If you believe enough, he will heal you.

If you give enough, he will prosper you.

Basically, if you have enough faith, you’ll have the good life.

You can hear preachers on TV that seem to believe this. But is it true?  God definitely wants us to be faithful to him, and to grow in our faithfulness, but does he promise that he will give us riches and health if we reach a certain level of faith?

The clear response across the many books of the Bible is that we live in a fallen world! We are not going to live forever. There are accidents, diseases, and sinful choices that we make, and that others make, that affect us. The result is that sometimes we will face difficulties in this life. We might lose our job, get sick and have pain.

I’ve officiated enough funerals and done enough hospital visits in my short 7 years as pastor to knwo that when someone we love dies, or when something bad happens to us, we are quick to question “Why did you allow this, God?”

I get it that when we’re in a difficult situation, we are desperate for answers, for explanations, for anything to help us make sense of the pain that we’re experiencing. So we quickly turn it on God.

But think about that with me for a minute. Is the pain in this world God’s fault?

Doofenshmirtz with his Deflate-inator

Doofenshmirtz with his Deflate-inator

My kids love the cartoon Phineas and Ferb, and in that show the bad guy, Dr. Doofenshmirtz, creates a new destructive ray gun every episode. He names each gun uniquely, ending with the phrase “-inator”. So there is the “Destruct-inator,” and the “Space Laser-inator” and the “Freeze-inator” and the “Ugly-inator” and about a hundred other “-Inators”. Do we really believe that God has a “Get sick-inator” or a “Accident-inator” or “Marriage break-up-inator” or an “-inator” for all the bad stuff that can happen, and he zaps us with them?

Is the pain in this world God’s fault? When we’re going through a hard time, should we go to God in prayer and ask “Why are you doing this to me, Lord?”

We do that, don’t we? I wonder if we do it because, while most of us don’t believe in a Health & Wealth Gospel, if we are honest with ourselves, we believe it a little bit.

A pastor friend shared the following quote from Jerry Walls that introduced this idea to me:

“Accepting Jesus and following him faithfully does not guarantee or make it significantly more probable that you will flourish physically or financially, or have your best material life now. But having said that, I wonder how many of us who repudiate health and wealth gospel may accept a more subtle, respectable version. In particular, how many of us believe we have been blessed with good health, good jobs, beautiful homes/cars, beautiful bodies, and so on by virtue of thinking God has acted in particular ways to bless us that he has apparently not acted to bless many other persons, including our fellow Christians? How different is this assumption/belief than the version of health and wealth gospel preached by many televangelists?”

That’s a deep question to think about.

Maybe we actually do look at health and wealth as a blessing from God. Maybe we actually do look at sickness and poverty as a curse.

But is it? Is that how God works?

Jesus has what might be a surprising answer for us in our next section of our study through Luke. If you want a sneak peak check out Luke 6:17-26, and if you’re in the Lancaster area and are not involved in church family, we invite you to Faith Church Sunday morning to be our guest!