Jesus Knows

Jesus tells an eye opening story one day about two men who enter the afterlife– to much different ends.

Lazarus gates

One of them is known only as “a rich man” and the other is Lazarus. Lazarus is a man down on his luck–big time. He is laid, apparently immobile, hungry and covered with sores at the gate of this rich man. He is ignored by all but the dogs who see him as a chew toy covered with sores that they find quite tasty–insult added to injury. While the rich man within the gates feasts daily in his opulence and revelry. Mindless and uncaring about the beggar dying  in the shadow of his mansion. The rich man never new his name.

Jesus knew.

And his angels were watching. Lazarus had barely closed his eyes for the last time when they swooped in to carry him off to paradise to feast with Father Abraham. The “rich man” then dies also, surrounded by luxury, and is buried in a tomb of great value–leaving his treasure behind. He is carried off as well, more like cast down–straight into Hades.

bosom of Abraham

The rich man then begs from his place of torment for Lazarus, whose name he suddenly remembers, to be sent back to warn his brothers–but it ain’t happen’. They, like him, had their chance. Now justice is served.

cast into darkness

What I see here in this story is hope. Hope and a challenge. The challenge is—if we were to die tomorrow would we wish we could go back and tell those we love that there is more to this life than satisfying the flesh, more to this life than this life—so don’t waste it you only get one shot? Would we be satisfied that we had told everyone we could about Jesus so that they didn’t end up in a place of torment, from which there is no relief or recourse?

Have you lived your life with the mindset of storing up your treasures in heaven as a priority over building your own stores of wealth? Or have you been faithful with your blessings to use them to also bless others, to help those left at your gates as though in so doing you are helping Jesus?

‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Mat 25:40

Because in the end there is always justice. The piper always gets paid. As the line from old theme song from the 70’s cop show  Baretta used to say; “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

And the hope is—no matter how badly this world and this life treats us, we can look forward to an eternity of joy in a place, in a kingdom where all our tears are wiped away, where there is no more sickness and no more death, and where the wicked can no longer mistreat, abuse, mock or use us.

So long as your heart is right.

Jesus was addressing the hearts of those who despised and neglected Lazarus and those like him here. And because this nobody in the eyes of the world became somebody in the Kingdom of our God, we know that his heart had to be right. He didn’t rail against the oppressors and seek ways to steal or deride those who had what he did not.

He didn’t covet their wealth and curse his neighbors or blame God for his misfortune, he only longed to eat and made himself available to be helped by someone who could. But he had put himself at the mercy of a hardened heart, at least in this life—His soul was safe in the hands of his God.

20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. . . . 24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. Luke 16

In the end the one who showed no mercy was the one begging for it.

I can’t help but think of Job when I read  this. Job had lost everything he had. His children had all been murdered in the raid that destroyed his farm and he was left stricken by a horrible disease and a wife who despised him. He was covered with sores and had nothing left to do but put on sackcloth, cover himself with ashes and morn his fate.

the book of Job

 

His friends also came and told him we was a rotten sinner or surely he would not be stricken so—just curse God and die and get it over with.

He would not. And because of his continued faith in the God who was his righteousness, he was restored and he finished his life more blessed than he had ever been before. And his friends were put to shame for their ignorance.

Lazarus too, had lost everything, but he held on to his integrity. We don’t know the back story—only Jesus did. And only Jesus was able to see his final reward, which was of immeasurable worth. Very few knew and certainly no one remembered his name… Jesus did.

But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus,

Jesus knew his name.

He knows my name

He knows yours as well

Jesus knows. . .

Small Things, Big Results

He was breathing garlic, sweating garlic, and s*#%ng garlic. 

They are a couple of short parables, one right after the other, that Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of Heaven that share something real obvious else in common. They are about small things with a huge impact. -A tiny seed producing a large tree; a small bit of leaven affecting a whole lot of dough.

Mustard seed.jpg

Let’s think about the mustard seed thing for a minute. Yes there are bigger trees, but Jesus isn’t talking about trees, he’s talking about herbs. What is an herb? You don’t make a meal of herbs, have you ever said ‘let’s sit down and enjoy a big bowl of mustard!’ (If you have you are very strange)

Or have you ever dined on a plate of rosemary and thyme? You can try it but you’ll probably be sorry. I know there are people who smell like they have eaten nothing but herbs—”eew-wee, did you eat a bowl of garlic for breakfast?” But that’s because it only takes a small amount of most herbs to make a huge smell– and it’s never good second hand.

Garlic Boy

I worked with an electrician once who ate a whole jar of pickled Costco garlic. He told me it was so good he just couldn’t stop eating it. As you know, nothing that comes from Costco is small so this was a good sized jar. I had the misfortune of having to work around him the next day.

That garlic was determined to make its presence known. He was breathing garlic, sweating garlic, and he had to run to the bathroom several times that day to more directly vacate that garlic. He was miserable, and so was anyone who got near him—or that bathroom.

I nicknamed him Garlic Boy after that day.

But the point is, herbs are meant to flavor something, to change the palatability, the taste, to enhance, alter or even preserve food.

Yeast does pretty much the same thing. So when Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed, he’s talking about an herb that flavors and alters whatever it’s put in to, but yet when planted and allowed to grow, unlike other herbs that generally grow on fast growing and low lying plants that whither and die fairly quickly or can easily be trodden underfoot, the little tiny mustard seed is an herb that grows into a strong sturdy long lived tree that cannot be overlooked and draws in, and sustains, life.

“…but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

Remember the point of these short parables—they are conveying what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. So the Kingdom of heaven, though it may seem like these are just insignificant stories of a faraway fantasy place, in the face of other things of this world that seem to undeniably slam into you like Jalapenos and Habaneros making your eyes water and your lips burn, this kingdom is real and it can change the world like nothing else can, it just works differently—diligently, consistently, sometimes imperceptibly.

Until you have a tree that produces more mustard seeds than you can possibly use or plant alone and withstands the storms, the droughts and the changing seasons.

Sounds like the kind of kingdom I want to belong to, sounds like the kind of church I want to belong to.

Are you letting the kingdom take root in your heart? Are you trusting the still small voice, the leaven of the Holy Spirit that continues to give rise to good things if you’ll just give it time and keep it in the proofer of your soul.

leaven Bread

Hide God’s word in your heart, plant his love in your soul, and watch the fruits of joy, peace and hope take root and turn your new year into the most blessed year ever.

Affecting the world for the Kingdom of heaven starts with the small things, it starts often times just with your smile.

smile light.jpg

 

 

 

Worth It?

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

Pastor Dan.jpg

For all it’s challenges, I love pastoring a small church. We had such a wonderful and sweet Christmas eve service just gathering together with old friends, and new; seeing the kids have such a wonderful time as they acted out the nativity story, learning the real meaning of Christmas in the process while reminding and blessing the rest of us at the same time. All this on the heels of Sunday morning and having the kids, all ages together to make up a small chorus, to sing a few Christmas songs.

Props were handmade or came from the Goodwill store and special effects consisted of an illuminated star ornament hanging off the light fixture above the stage, and a halogen work light hidden under a chair to illuminate the angels.

A Hope Chapel family Christmas .jpg

But I can guarantee that everyone left  leave here last Sunday and Christmas eve with a heart full of joy and memories that a professional high budget mega church presentation could never replicate.

I know I was blessed. I’m still replaying the events of those two services over in my mind, it was just so rewarding in so many ways.

But you know, it’s a lot of work, and that’s what I was thinking about between Sunday afternoon and Christmas eve service. Pastoring a church while working full time besides, is a lot of work and takes a lot of discipline and commitment–and then you throw in an extra service?

Now I don’t do this alone, many are involved in making this church work, and we all have responsibilities and challenges, and that’s the point.

IMG_2152.JPG

Blow it off?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just say, the heck with it, I’m going to just pursue my own fortune, spend my time and money on myself, my own pleasure and just worry about me, me, me. Like all those other people. I don’t want to write another sermon, I just wrote one last week! (and every week before that) I don’t want to spend another Saturday alone at the church, I have a lot of better things I could be doing, camping, fishing, hunting, fixing up or even building myself a house.

Or I could just go home after putting in my time at work and just sleep in front of the TV with a beer or two while looking forward to a vacation in Vegas. ‘Been saving up all year, it’s going to be a blast!’ Or maybe something more noble like a trip to the Holy Land or my ancestral Scandinavian home lands.

I could at least try to get a job in a big church so I wouldn’t have to work two jobs and then I could travel to exotic places now and then and call it missions or at least earned sabbaticals.

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

Awaken light of mine.jpg

And just saying all that out loud makes me cringe because down in my heart I know—No, I wouldn’t rather do any of that. Because in the end, none of that matters. What matters is that I am serving my Lord, the bridegroom, in the manner and place he wants me to serve him. If it means standing in a dark place with my flickering lantern ready to be put to good use at a moment’s notice, so be it.

What matters is that you, are being fed, you are getting oil for your lamps. What matters is that those kids, my kids, your kids, are hearing about Jesus, that they know they are loved and that they are important to me, to you and to their heavenly Father.

Christmas girl.jpg

(One of my grand daughters, and a grandson in the background expressing his opinion of the music)

What matters is that I am ready for Jesus to come back at any moment and that I am not going to waste any time. I will keep doing what I can to prepare myself and others in the meantime.

And the joy I feel when I see the smiles of those kids, the treasures I have amassed in my heart at seeing those the Lord puts in my path have a little better day, a little more spark in their eyes and spring in their step and maybe a song of praise on their lips because we simply showed up here and did what the Lord called and gifted us to do, I wouldn’t miss any of that for all the gold in the world.

The world can have their gold, Gold won’t burn in a lamp or light the way to anything. It only weighs you down and adds to your burden. Only love will keep those lights on, those lamps burning. And I have a never ending source of that love, his name is Jesus.

foolish virgins

The NIV study bible suggests that those virgins were “perhaps bridesmaids charged with preparing the bride for the groom.” If that is the case, the church is the bride and I will do all I can to be a wise virgin so that the bride of Christ will be ready for her groom.

We need a lot more wise virgins I can tell you that. Because there are a lot of messed up brides out there who won’t even know who their groom is when he does show up. Because here’s the little secret about the oil—it has to come from the groom.

And once he is on the way, he’s not carrying his supply any more to give to those who ask, the time for preparation is over, the hour has come, it’s His wedding day.

Oil in the scriptures is often a representation for the Holy Spirit and perhaps that is what the oil in this story is. How do we get the Holy Spirit? How do we keep in tune with the Spirit?- live for the Spirit and not the flesh. We have to keep going to Jesus, and to the Father through Jesus. Spending time with him in prayer, in his word, in worship, meditating on his word, seeking wisdom, believing for miracles and intervention, trusting him for our needs while working with the hands and the gifts he gave us.

By seeking his Kingdom first and foremost and trusting that all else will be added unto us as we need, not as we desire.

oil for my lamp.jpg

It’s living for the groom, not for ourselves. Keeping our jars full at all times.

Secret Things

Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?”

light in winter trees.jpg

We all love to learn about things that have been kept secret right? Whether it’s the secrets of the universe we live in, the secrets of the government, the secrets of our neighbors or, more frighteningly, our kids—let me see that phone!

We hate having things kept from us and the more information we are entrusted with, the more valuable or important we feel.

We are a curious lot, insatiably curious; ‘Just what is on the dark side of the moon?’ ‘What is in a black hole?’ ‘What is dark matter?’ ‘Is there life out there?’ ‘What’s over the horizon?’ The questions are endless and our thirst for knowledge constantly leads to more and bigger questions. God created us with a capacity to dream up, explore and comprehend incredible mysteries.

Area 51.jpeg

We are never satisfied; Just what is hiding in Area 51? Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? Where in the world is Jimmy Hoffa’s body? What happened to Hillary’s Emails? Did Noah really forget to load up the unicorns? If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

We may never know.

I mean, how can we? Just how many peppers make up a peck and just where do pickled peppers grow anyway? I do know this— two pecks make a kenning and four pecks make a bushel—and if you give me two bits I’ll stop…

Peter Piper—Now there’s a useless parable. I’m glad Jesus wasn’t just into telling nursery rhymes, tongue twisters and conspiracy theories.

Parables and mysteries

His Parables answered questions, revealed mysteries, that had been kept a secret from the very foundation of the world.

Here’s a head scratcher—If there is no one to ponder a mystery, is it a mystery? If there is no one to desire to know something that is being kept secret, if there is no one to keep a secret from, then are there really any secrets?

So, by that logic, there were no secrets to reveal about any mystery until there was a sentient being with enough self-awareness to ask the question, to seek an answer. And the greatest mystery of all, the most ancient secret, the first heart cry question— “Who!?” And it came from mankind. Who am I, why am I, who put me here and where is he?” It’s the question that reverberates in the heart of every man and woman who has drawn breath ever since.

And then, eons later, comes the answer, the answer with the answers. He is the embodiment of the answer to who we are, why we are and who put us here—Here I am—even before Abraham was, I Am. And he is also the one who illustrates the answers, reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom he brought, with his stories and with his life.

We are beings created by and in the image of God. We are created for good works, to love and be loved by God, and he is now here among us by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit. And we are now citizens of the Kingdom of our God, the King of heaven.

 

sent forth his Son.jpg

Jesus is the answer to the most important questions ever asked, the eternal questions, and he reveals to us that He is the answer, in part through his parables. Descriptions of the kingdom within and the kingdom to come.

The Kingdom of heaven is like. . .

the parable of the weeds.jpg
Matthew 13

We get to know the secrets that people have longed to look upon since the fall of mankind back in the garden. When the Kingdom was lost to us and the restoration promised. That was a very long time to wait, but now we know the secret things of God.

Secret things Deut 29

I Am

We now have the answers to all the mysterious promises made by God down through the ages. And they are even greater than Moses, who wrote these mysterious words from Deuteronomy could ever have dreamed. Because his I Am that I Am burning bush, rumbling mountain, all powerful and awesomely frightening God is now our personal Lord and Savior. The great I Am became a Son of Man and now we can say I am—His.

 

 

Be Ready (The slacker virgins)

Jesus himself said it numerous times, outright and in parables, I will return. In fact, the only thing he would say during his trial, and the thing that got him convicted of blasphemy, was his assertion that they would “see the Son of Man returning on the clouds of heaven.”

Jesus made this point well in the parable of the slacker virgins, (Mat 25)  —that we need to be ready. (Better known as the parable

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

coming meme

Being a preacher is a lot like being a construction foreman in the respect that I have to keep warning people to be ready, to follow the rules, especially when it comes to safety. In both case, it’s not a matter of what we can get away with, it’s a matter of doing what is right because it is right and can keep you out of a lot of trouble.

About this time last year the company I work for, after forty or so years in this dangerous business of construction, had their first fatal accident. It was kind of a freak accident but the bottom line is, a worker was in a place at the wrong time. A place that the  foreman had told him that very morning not to be, and a very large chunk of concrete came loose from overhead, falling and crushing him. One minute he’s working and the next he’s gone.

Of course it hit all of us very hard. I got the phone call from the boss telling me the bad news and after I was able to process the news, pray, and get myself together I stopped work on my project and called everyone together to tell them the news and to have a safety meeting.

We do safety meetings every week but I wanted to let everyone know what happened before they started hearing rumors and because even though it was not my project that had had the accident, I expected OSHA would soon be paying us a visit as my job-site was only a few blocks away from where the accident took place.

I reminded everyone of the general safety rules and the need to be extra diligent because we might be getting a visit from an agency who has the power to fine the daylights out of us. That, and “I do not want anyone getting hurt on this job.” I have never had a serious accident on any of my projects and I intend to keep it that way. I also told them that I pray for their safety every morning, a statement that I could see in their faces that they appreciated.

You know what happened then? All my subs—the electricians, plumbers, tinners, framers—suddenly were throwing away all their damaged electrical cords and calling for new ones. The missing guards on tools suddenly were not missing and it no longer seemed necessary to stand on top of a ladder or to be on the roof without a harness on—weird, all the things I had constantly warned them about and argued with them over, were no longer an issue.

Why? Mainly because the possibility of that dreaded OSHA inspector showing up was no longer just a remote possibility, it was imminent, and the even worse cost of not playing by the rules, the death of a fellow tradesman, was suddenly large in everyone’s mind.

OSHA didn’t show up on my project after all, but they did a months long investigation into the jobsite that had the accident and found that there were no violations directly related to the accident. But they did find a couple of other things to fine us for. OSHA is like the IRS, if they want to find something, they will.

If you have ever seen an OSHA regulation book, you know that the rules are extensive and complicated, you are surely always in violation of something just by showing up every day. But, generally, if the inspectors know you are doing your best to comply, they will not bust you.

construction worker safety danger
Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Slackers?

That’s what the Lord is asking of us, that we just do our best to comply with his ways. He has a very extensive set of guidelines and we are almost always in violation of something just by being human in this messed up world, and he understands that, he was here with us and as us for a while.

If we are doing our best, he will not bust us, he just asks that we act as though he can show up at any moment, that we don’t just see what we can get away with, throw caution to the wind for expedience sake and hope that we get some warning as to when he’s on his way so that we have time to straighten everything out.

Imagine if you are engaged and your fiancé, your pure sweet lovely soon to be bride in white, is running wild, collecting beads at Marti Gras and winning wet T shirt contests in Cancun during Spring break?  “Oh that’s fine sweetie, just make sure you gargle before the wedding to cover the smell of Tequila and vomit and let’s pretend none of that never happened. Tell your good-time boyfriends they need to go home now, I’ll wait here until you’re ready to just be mine.— Isn’t she wonderful?”

Or the groom who thinks the bachelor party is his last chance and excuse to. . .you know, be stupid. “That’s okay honey, boys will be boys, take a shower before you put on your tux.”

I’m sorry if any of that offends anyone but that is just wrong, just as putting off our commitment to faithfulness to the Lord is just wrong. Jesus wants and deserve a pure white bride ready when he’s ready, not when we feel like it. He deserves it because he offers it, he gives us the means to be pure and holy and just wants us to take it, to take him, seriously—to love him as he loves us.

i am his meme

That’s the bottom line—love. We want to be ready, we long to be ready, for him to return, because we relish the incredible love he has for us and want more than anything to be acceptable and pleasing to him long before and during the wedding feast that will surely come.

Don’t be a slacker.