Monday, January 31, 2011

Let the Children Come

Luke 18:15-17

Several years ago I took my family on a trip. We had intended to camp in various campgrounds along the way to minimize expenses. I was amazed at the number of campgrounds which did not allow children, although dogs were welcome. I was also amazed that some cities were so geared to retired people that families with children had trouble finding housing.

While I realize that many children are unruly, part of the problem is that they have never been exposed to people who know how to behave so they can learn. One grand mother forbid her children to bring her grand kids to her house, because she didn’t want them disturbing her. In talking with her daughter learned that she’d avoided spending time with her own children, leaving them with other relatives so she could do what she wanted without interference. I guess it’s not surprising her kids weren’t sure how to teach their children how to behave. It’s shocking to realize that we have become so selfish as a nation.

The same attitude has been absorbed in many churches. As a result, Several large churches have a policy forbidding bringing young children into the church because they might create a disturbance and quench the Spirit. Apparently the Spirit they are dealing with is not as powerful as the Holy Spirit the Bible speaks of, who has all the power of God and would not be hampered by a mere child. Even the disciples were afraid that children would interfere with their program.

“And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” (Luke 18:15)

Infants are too small to benefit from hearing Jesus teaching, but the mothers wanted Jesus to touch them. The disciples were probably concerned that the babies would create a distraction, especially if they began to cry, so they forbid them to bring them.

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” (Luke 18:16)

Jesus specifically forbade excluding the little children. Clearly, he was not concerned with any disturbance they might cause. Pastors and evangelists who demand that children not be allowed are in direct opposition to Christ’s command, and their excuse is invalid.

Many groups hold that child cannot be saved until a certain age, often called the age of accountability, is reached. Such a teaching is found nowhere in the bible. Jesus said the kingdom of God is made up of children. He goes on to state that anyone who does not receive salvation as a little child will never be saved. He does not mean that no adults can be saved, but that their faith must be like that of a little child.

A child simply accepts people’s word without question and takes action on it. Those who accept Christ must have that same childlike faith to act on God’s promise. Since that faith comes naturally to a child, it is easier for a child to accept the Lord than for an adult. Unfortunately, it is also easier to convince them to make a profession, so it is critical that we not be aggressive in our presentation, to avoid causing false professions.

One thing that must be remembered is what Jesus said in John 6:44. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” When working with children it is imperative that we allow the Holy Spirit to draw them, rather than using psychological tricks. They cannot be saved unless it is the Holy Spirit who draws them. Probably the best way to be sure of our results is demonstrated in what we see repeatedly in various stories in the book of Acts.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached. The people’s response is described in Acts 2:37. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The Ethiopian Eunuch asked Philip, “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” in Acts 2:37. The Philippian jailer asked Paul, “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” in Acts 16:30. In every case those who had been moved by the Spirit asked what they needed to do. If the Holy Spirit is working, the child will ask. If you have to approach him, he may not be ready yet.

I suspect that many adults are misled the same way. A major theme in the book of Hebrews is dealing with those who think they have been saved but are not. Our modern invitations contribute to the problem, substituting psychology for the Holy Spirit’s working.

Too Good To Be Saved

Luke 18:9-14

One of my former employers was a very successful and well known business man. He attended one of the local churches and donated regularly to various churches and charities and was involved with the school, trying to give the kids something to do besides get into trouble. He campaigned for programs to prevent drunk driving and spousal abuse and managed to get several to go into treatment programs, even paying them so their families didn’t suffer.

Because he was such a nice guy and doing so many good things, few people realized he was an alcoholic himself. He definitely didn’t consider himself to be a drunk, thinking that those who went to that point were being pretty stupid. When he was stopped for erratic driving, because he was so well connected the charges were dropped, but he was convinced it was because they really weren’t sure he’d been drinking. While he apparently never physically abused his family, his first wife left him and his children got to a point where they avoided him because of his abusive talk and embarrassing behavior when he was drinking. He was convinced he had his drinking well under control right up until open heart surgery led to doctors warning him that any more drinking would probably be fatal. He was shocked to find out how hard it was to quit, having been convinced he could quit at any time, because he wasn’t an alcoholic.

Sadly, he was typical of a lot of people, convinced that they are better than others, because their sin is less apparent. They have no clue that others are suffering because of their behavior, or that they are sinning, because they never stop to think about it. The story of the Pharisee and the publican portrays this vividly.

“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.” (Luke 18:9-10)

The Pharisees were the most devout religious people in Jewish society. They tried to follow God’s commands in the Old testament law perfectly, considering any deviation unacceptable. They tried to avoid any association with those who did wrong. Publicans, on the other hand, were Jews who had accepted employment by the Roman government, common civil servants. As such they had to be willing to overlook Roman behavior that was clearly unacceptable by Jewish standards. They were considered as corrupt and untrustworthy as common criminals.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11-12)

Just as my employer was convinced he wasn’t an alcoholic because he had never allowed his drinking to make his family go hungry, ort been convicted of drunk driving, the Pharisee thought he wasn’t a sinner because he didn’t do the same overt sins as some others. In fact, he wasn’t even as bad as the Publican who probably associated with those others. He did so many good things, giving to the church or charities, going to church and even sacrificing his own pleasure to participate in various church activities. He’s one of the good guys. Just ask anybody, if you don’t think so.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)

The publican was ashamed of what he’d become. He was embarrassed to even come into the church and sat way in the back, hoping no one noticed him, knowing he had no right to expect anything from God. He couldn’t even raise his hands toward heaven like others did to pray, but bowed down and asked to be forgiven.

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Undoubtedly, the Pharisee left feeling very virtuous and spiritual for having gone to church and prayed, but the publican went home at peace with God. Notice that the Pharisee prayed with himself. God never even heard the prayer. While praying the scriptures or some other eloquent prayer may make us feel good, God wants us to communicate with him honestly. Only when we quit trying to impress God with our knowledge of scriptures or our good deeds will he hear our prayers. There’s no reason for God to answer a prayer for someone who got what he wanted just by saying the prayer.

People who are convinced they have nothing wrong spiritually don’t need any help. There’s no reason for Jesus came to help those who were not able to help themselves. Mark 2:17 says, “…They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Only when we are aware of our need will we be willing to take the cure. I John 1:8-10 warns, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Friday, January 28, 2011

Communicating with God

Luke 18:1-8

A stereotypical behavior we see portrayed on television comedies is of a teenager locking themselves in their room and spending time talking to their friends on a cell phone rather than talking with their family. As time passes, they begin to feel alienated from the family and grow quite rebellious. As they become more self centered, their demands begin to look ridiculous to the parents, who are increasingly apt to refuse. They never realize it is their refusal to communicate that is causing the problem, not a lack of love by their parents. Youth programs, school activities, peer pressure and social standards all contribute to make the problem worse.

A lot of Christians relationship with God is very much like that of the spoiled teenager with their parents. The only time they stop to pray is to demand something. This is aggravated by lessons like the one from Child Evangelism Fellowship that declared, “Prayer is asking.” If the only time we talk to God is when we want something, our relationship to him will be as unsatisfactory as that of the selfish teen to his parents.

The teenager who gets to know his parents as people, rather than just as a source of income begins to appreciate that they also have needs and goals. As he tries to adjust his demands to their needs, the sense of alienation disappears. His demands become less outlandish, and easier for his parents to understand so they are more willing to give. The relationship grows stronger as they communicate more effectively.

Prayer is communicating with God. The most meaningful communication between a child and parent or husband and wife comes as a result of discussing everyday things in an informal friendly manner, one on one. The most effective prayer comes from informally talking privately to God about our everyday concerns and his. Doing so helps us to understand and accept his will, and believe it is for our good, and he tells us. Failure to do so leaves us feeling he is just arbitrary in his response. Jesus stresses the importance of consistent communication in his next parable.

“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.” (Luke 18:1-3)

The judge has no concern for anyone. He is only concerned about himself and his own convenience. No one else matters to him. When the widow came to him for help, he refused because he saw no benefit to himself.

“And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.” (Luke 18:4-5)

Though he had no interest in the woman or her problem, the selfish Judge decided to accede to her request to prevent her from nagging him. He doesn’t do it because it is right, but only to keep the peace. Unlike the selfish judge, God cares about us, and about what is right. There is no need to nag him about things.

“And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:6-8)

Growing up, I learned that if Dad promised us something, he would get it as soon as he could. Living fifty miles from town, that might be several days wait. I also learned that if I bugged him about it in the interim, he was hurt because I didn’t trust him. Loving my dad, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Like my Dad, God will keep his promises at the earliest possible date. Repeatedly asking for the same thing implies we do not trust him to keep his promise.

I learned to trust Dad by talking with him about everything that happened, and seeing how he dealt with different situations. Had I shut myself up in my room and not developed that relationship, I would not have learned. Jesus asked, “…when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” I believe he is literally asking will people have so neglected their relationship with him that they can’t trust him to do anything. Sadly, there are few who truly do in our day. Are we really praying in faith, or are we trying to force him to act by nagging him because we don’t trust him?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

When Will The Lord Return?

Luke 17:20-37

“The Lord will return before 1960.”

I was just child when I heard an “evangelist” make that claim. His description of the events to come was terrifying, even though I had already been saved. In the intervening years, there have been hundreds of attempts to set the date for the Lord’s return. As a result, some Christians have decided it is nothing to be concerned about and may not even happen, while others, less jaded with the recurring claims are desperately seeking another date. It’s not a new situation.

For centuries, the Jews had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Much of their teaching, while purporting to be scriptural, was designed to feed cravings for sensationalism or knowing something others didn’t know, resulting in distortion of the scriptures. What they had come to expect over the years was far different from what actually happened when Jesus came.

The Jews were looking for the Messiah to come as their fairytale white knight in shining armor, wiping out their enemies and rescuing them. As a result, they ignored what God said they needed to do in their own day, looking forward to the day he came. Many approach the prophecies in Revelation the same way, glossing over God’s warnings and instructions to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 to get into the part where the Lord comes back to destroy our enemies. As a result, the majority of the Jews were completely unprepared when Jesus came as we saw in the first few chapters of Luke. That is what the Pharisees were still looking for when they consulted Jesus.

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

As Jesus points out, the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, rather than a physical kingdom. When Pilate asked Jesus whether he were a king or not, Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence,” in John 18:36. It will not be seen with physical eyes, and people will not be able to tell you where it is, because it is in our hearts. Some today refer to it as the Christian life. What the Jews were looking for will not happen until after the tribulation described in Revelation, as Jesus then explains to his disciples.

“And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” (Luke 17:22-25)

Jesus had already warned his disciples a few times that he would be killed, although they didn’t understand or accept what he had told them. He warns them again of his death, and the nations of Israel’s rejection of him. There will be times when people desperately want the Lord to return, but he won’t. They must not allow themselves to get caught up in these false teachings and running after the teachers. When the Lord comes back, it will be apparent to everyone just like lightening is. There won’t be any special signs. Mark 8:12 is pretty clear. “And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.” The old song that says “signs of the times are everywhere” is exciting, but unscriptural.

“And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.” (Luke 17:26-30)

Only those who obeyed God’s instructions were delivered when God sent the flood in Noah’s day, even though Noah had warned others that it was to come. There was no small preliminary rain as a warning. If they refused to heed Noah’s preaching, they perished. Most people just went on, convinced that there was nothing to worry about until the flood came and killed them. Lot tried to warn his own daughters and their husbands, but they refused to believe him and died in Sodom. Their first intimation of danger was when the fire and brimstone began to fall. Until then they were busy with their own life. Preoccupation with our worldly life will have the same result on people when the Lord returns.

“In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot's wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:31-33)

We are warned that if a fire starts in a home, we should not waste time trying to save our things. There are no things worth losing your life for. Lot’s wife made that mistake, not being willing to give up what she had. People who make the mistake of putting the worlds things above obeying God will lose everything just as she did. It will be a very selective process. Those who are prepared will go, and those who are not will be left.

“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” (Luke 17:34-36)

The disciples wanted to know where they’d be going. Just as a flock of eagles go to where a dead body is to eat, his chosen people will go to where he is.

“And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” (Luke 17:37)

I Thessalonians 4:16-17 tells us, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Did God Ever Do For You?

Luke 17:11-19

“And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:11-14)

According to Jewish law, because of the infectious nature of leprosy, lepers were not allowed to come in close contact with healthy people, or even to handle things others might handle later, to prevent spread of the disease. The means of identifying the disease and rules for dealing with it are given in Leviticus 13.

When the group of men asked Jesus to alleviate their suffering, he told them to go down and show themselves to the priests. At the time there was no cure for leprosy, although it sometimes just went away, so the law made provision for identifying one who had been healed. Leviticus 14 describes what was to be done if a person was healed of leprosy. The faith of the men is demonstrated in their obedience. They were healed on their way. Their faith resulted in taking action, completing the faith, just a James 2:22-26 describes in referring to Abraham and Rahab. They act because of their faith, resulting in healing. It is still the faith that produces the healing.

“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:22-26)

When we flip a switch to turn on a light, we do not light the light. All we have done is allow the electricity to flow to light the light. We have nothing to do with lighting the light itself. In the same way, our action flips the switch allowing our faith to work. If power is present, electricity will flow through the bulb, heating it up. The side benefit of the heating is light, which was what we were after. Funny that we say we turned on the light when in fact we didn’t. We just turned on the electricity, resulting in light. If there is no light, it indicates that power is not getting to the bulb properly.

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:15-16)

Of the ten who were cleansed, only one thought about what was happening. The others were so focused on being declared cleansed, they didn’t stop about how it happened. A lot of people in churches receive what god has done with no consciousness of what was required for them to get it. They just take it for granted. As a result few really get involved and experience the fullness of the Christian life God has for them.

“And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Luke 17:17-19)

Just one of the lepers, and that one a Samaritan, was appreciative enough to go back and say thanks, or to give God the glory. The others just accepted it as their due. The one realized Jesus had done something special for him. God wants our appreciation, and love should give it. I Thessalonians 5:18 commands, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

The writer of Hebrews stresses the special privilege and blessing we have as a result of Christ’s sacrifice. Realizing it should result in continual praise, which he defines as verbally giving thanks in Hebrews 13:15. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” He didn’t owe you, he did it because he loved you. When we’ve done everything he asks of us we still owe him.

Did you say, “thank you” for what he‘s done for you? Maybe the reason he didn’t tell you “thy faith hath made you whole” like he told the Samaritan is because you didn’t stop to say thank you so he could.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Merit Pay

Luke 17:7-10

A line at the bottom of the menu stated, “18% gratuity added for all tables with six or more people.”

In other words, an item on the menu listing for $14.99 actually costs an additional $1.04 tax, bringing the price to $16.03, 18% of that amount is $2.89, so the real price for that item is $18.92, or $3.93 more than what the menu shows if there are more than six people at the table. Isn’t that false advertising? In addition, larger groups buy more, making it possible to make more. Why would you want to penalize them? Most other businesses give a volume discount instead of charging a premium.

Tips were originally given as a way of rewarding an exceptional job. As such, they were not obligatory. Today, tips are expected as part of the waiters wages, and are sometimes split with the manager or other employees. The automatic collection of tips rewards people whether they have done an exemplary job or one that is less than satisfactory. As a result, there is no incentive to do a better job for tables where the tip will be collected automatically, and many times they receive less service.

If they work for the restaurant, they should be paid for the work they are expected to do without tips. If they are not, then the restaurant is not being fair with their employees. It is unfair to demand that the customers pay a tip. It is no different than the huge bonuses some financial employees got when the government bailed out the banks. A bonus should not be a standard part of the pay, but a reward for having done something extra. This is the concept of what Jesus teaches now.

“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.” (Luke 17:7)

An employee should not expect or demand extra for just doing his job. It is just what they agreed to do. Anything less is grounds for dismissal. It is unfair to those who have done their part to give a bonus to those who haven’t. God is a just God, and will not reward those who’ve not done their jobs.

“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)

The Prodigal son’s older brother doesn’t need to worry that his little brother will wind up with just as much as he does without doing his share of the work. As we look back over the last several lessons, we see that one common theme is that each person will be judged for his own actions. It will not be possible to claim credit for what others have done, or to blame others for one’s own sin.

Matthew 16:27 warns, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” The Lord introduces himself in Revelation 1, and in Revelation 22:12 he declares, “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” Our salvation is based on what Christ has done and all will be equally children of God. Our rewards, however, will be based on what we’ve personally done, and some will have far more than others. There will be no bonuses for those who haven’t even done their job.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Increasing Our Faith

Luke 17:5-6

While a lot of Christians liked to sing the old song, most churches and Christians lived the opposite way. When they wanted to change the direction of our political system, Christians formed a huge coalition of religious groups called the Moral Majority to make it happen. Mega churches, the Million Man March, Promise Keepers, Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer conferences, and Billy Graham crusades all demonstrate our absorption with big things.

We forget that God had Gideon send thirty two thousand men home and only keep three hundred. While Saul had the entire army, Jonathan and his armor bearer won the victory. Elijah stood alone against the prophets of Baal, and the Lord used a little boy’s lunch to feed five thousand men. Periodically, we need to be reminded of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians.

“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” (I Corinthians 1:25-29)

Far too often Christians just don’t try because there is no body around to take the responsibility, and they are afraid to act independently. They want to wait until some celebrity Christian or famous preacher supports their action. They are afraid to go to the mission field or take the pastorate of a small church for fear there won’t be enough money. The problem is frequently that our faith is small, so we are afraid to commit. As James 1:6-7 says, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”

Mark 4 describes Jesus sleeping through a storm that terrified the disciples. Finally, they awoke him, so he could take whatever action was required to escape, convinced there was no hope. “And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:40) Matthew, referring to the same incident, says little faith. Numerous other times he refers to them as having little faith. The disciples wanted the Lord to give them more faith so they could stop being stymied by their lack of it.

“And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Jesus says that faith like a mustard seed is all that is required to do great things. A mustard seed is far smaller than that of most crops the Jews planted. “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.” (Mark 4:31-32)

Like the mustard seed, faith has to be planted and grow to become something great. It will never amount to any more until it is activated. James 2:20 asks, “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Until we act on that tiny amount of faith we have, it will never accomplish anything. James describes how Abraham and Rahab acted on their faith, and it was completed by their actions in James 2:22. “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” It is the exercise of our faith by acting on it that makes it strong. Just like muscles, faith grows by repeated use. Maximum growth comes from frequent repetitions. Also like muscle strength, it is lost if not exercised.

There are a lot of spiritually and weak Christians for the same reason there are so many flabby weak Americans. They don’t use their faith to do anything. In I Timothy 4:7-8, Paul directed Timothy, “But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”

Too often we want to be spectators, rather than players. If all the people who watch Monday Night Football got out and played a game instead, think how many healthier people we’d have. Of course, since a team can only have a set number of players, ther’d be a lot more small teams where less skilled players could take part. Because there wouldn’t be as many spectators, professional athletes and coaches wouldn’t make as much money, or become as famous.

The same thing would happen if Christians quit being spectators, found a church where they could be a real player, and started serving the Lord. There wouldn’t be many mega churches or famous preachers, but there’d be a lot more spiritually healthy Christians in more local churches. My study of the scriptures indicates that to be God’s plan.

Just as the growth professional sports have led to decreased physical activity and health,because only the best are allowed to play, professional religion has discouraged involvement by ordinary Christians.

Friday, January 21, 2011

But He Keeps Doing It

Luke 17:3-4

One of the biggest problems in our public schools is the number of dropouts. Most schools claim that the sports program is the only reason even more don’t drop out. Having spent a good many years teaching and working with kids, both in and out of church, I believe that many of the kids do not see the relevance of what they are taught, and various studies support that belief.

I believe that a major part of the problem is our approach to teaching. We want to isolate each subject so we can concentrate on exactly how this is done, and in doing so, we make it appear unrelated to other aspects of daily life. When teachers taught their students all day, and made their own lesson plans, they could integrate all the subjects, with the result that each subject was part of the whole educational experience. The modern system of specialist teachers loses that ability, and students don’t understand the relevance to their lives. The modern method of teaching spiritual matters topically has the same flaw.

Jesus was the ultimate teacher, and he is to be our example. While he taught about various topics they are always related to other areas of life. He never stays on a particular subject to the point of producing boredom, but moves from topic to topic in an orderly and logically connected manner. He recognized that repetition was more conducive to remembering a subject than long lectures, so we find that he repeatedly deals with the same subject in slightly different form, not using the same story to avoid boredom.

Jesus has taught this group about God’s love for every person with the parable s of the lost sheep and coin. Then built on it with the story of the prodigal son, making us aware of God’s forgiveness and rewards. From there he moved to the story of the rich man and Lazarus, teaching that there are opportunities to repent, but that judgment is also final if there is no repentance. Building on those lessons, he starts chapter 17 with taking responsibility for how our actions and teachings affect others. Only as we study the entire lesson do we get the whole teaching. Today’s passage is just the next step.

“Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

In the parable of the prodigal son, the older brother was hurt. His attitude could easily have torn the family apart, driving away his younger brother. His father prevailed on him to understand that his attitude was in error and to not offend with it. An unforgiving attitude can be very discouraging and offensive to those who are sincerely trying to do what is right.

Jesus cautions us about our response to those who do wrong. From time to time, when porcupines get together, there will be accidental injuries. To minimize their occurrences, people need to be informed so they know what not to do. To rebuke means to gently point out what is wrong. If we don’t, they may not know they are doing wrong. However, it is critical that we do so gently, recognizing our own propensity to sin. Galatians 6:1 commands, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” We’re not to chew him out.

If the person repents, we are to forgive him. Many people confuse an apology with repentance. An apology acknowledges responsibility, but that is not repentance, it is only a confession. Repentance means to “turn from,” a commitment to not repeat the action. Anyone who has made a resolution knows how hard it is to change one’s habitual behavior. Habits are behaviors we have practiced until we do them without conscious thought. They become instinctive behavior, our automatic response to a situation. To change requires consciously deciding how to react, rather than responding automatically. Even the most determined to change struggle with reacting properly, so we may find it necessary to forgive them repeatedly because they can’t live up to their commitment at first.

Forgiveness of a person who is unrepentant, on the other hand means nothing to that person. They refuse to admit they have done anything wrong, so there is nothing to forgive in their mind. To them, you are, in effect, acknowledging that it was wrong to be upset. They had every right to do what they did. It is the attitude of the person who says, “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt,” as compared to the one who says, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” The first accepts no responsibility.

God has commanded us to forgive repeatedly, and as Ephesians 4:32 tells us, our forgiveness is based on the example he sets for us. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” We are not to reject Christian brothers who sin against us, because God does not cast away his children who sin against him.

For those who refuse to repent, to turn from their sin, it may be necessary to separate from them to prevent others being harmed. I Corinthians 5:6-7 deals with such a case. “… Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:” Even that is to be done in hopes that they will turn to the Lord.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Den of Porcupines

Luke 17:1-2

In February 1962, the temperature at Navajo, New Mexico got down to fifty two below zero. Imagine, if you will, a group of porcupines huddling together in a hollow tree to keep from freezing. In their fur are thousands of quills capable of inflicting serious pain, injuries, or even death. Armor similar to that of an armadillo would simplify things a lot, but they have only a soft skin. A careless action by any of them could easily hurt several. Survival requires that every porcupine do nothing to hurt those around him.

Like porcupines, people can unintentionally hurt others, even with the best of intentions. Others have no armor to protect them from our barbs, so it is imperative we learn to control them. Jesus addressed the problem in this passage.

“Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1-2)

Because people are particularly sensitive about certain things, depending on what they have experienced, it will be impossible to prevent misunderstandings and hurts completely. However, for those who have caused such hurts by acting without consideration for others, and those who have deliberately caused hurts, it would be better if some one drowned them to keep them from doing it. It would be less severe than God’s judgment on those who do so.

One of the hardest things I have found in my ministry is trying to straighten out situations where people have been hurt. Proverbs 18:19 declares, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” The worst and most painful hurts come from those we have been close to. One who has been hurt is afraid to get close again, because his trust has been destroyed.

As Christians, it is especially important that we not hurt others. If the Holy Spirit dwells in us, he will try to produce the spiritual fruit described in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

Love is that deep concern for others. Joy and peace will keep us from being us from being upset and taking it out on others. Longsuffering will keep us from retaliating even when we have been hurt. Gentleness is the characteristic of deliberately trying to keep from hurting others accidentally. Just being good will avoid a lot of offensive situations. Faith allows us to trust God when we are wronged. Meekness doesn’t demand it‘s own way, but yields to others. Temperance, or self control will prevent over reacting.

Obviously, offenses and conflicts are the result of an unspiritual state. While it is important for every Christian, it is vital for those in positions of leadership, so in his requirements for pastors in I Timothy and Titus, Paul tells how to know whether a person is spiritual or not. James warns that leaders will be even more severely judged than others, because of their position, in James 3:1-2. “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” The ability to control the tongue indicates the spiritual attribute of temperance in every area of life.

Paul gives some instructions on how to avoid giving offense. In Romans 14:1 he commands, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” Literally, he says we are not to involve weak Christians in arguments over things that can be understood in more than one way. While I believe that baptism is a way of demonstrating that we have placed our faith in Christ, and failure to be baptized indicates that person has not in fact, surrendered to Christ, others insist that it is essential for salvation. Both positions have dedicated men of God as supporters, and to demand that others take our position is clearly an indication of an unspiritual attitude. They have the right to their opinion, even if it is wrong. Such arguments turn a lot of people away from the church, and we do not have the right to turn them away over such matters. As the rest of Romans 14 makes clear, they are not accountable to us, or for what we believe, but for what God wants them to do.

Rather than trying to impose our standards or opinions on others, Romans 15:1-3 states, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.”

In I Corinthians 11:16, after dealing with all the reasons for not doing certain things, Paul concludes, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Though there were many reasons for taking the position, it was not God’s command, and neither the Apostles, nor churches who truly believed in God would make an issue of it.

As Romans 14:2-4 makes clear, to demand that others agree with us is to usurp god’s authority. “For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”

Instead, Romans 14:13 commands, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” In I Corinthians 8:13 Paul promises “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” Romans 14:21 advises, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” It makes no difference how strongly I believe something, if the scripture leaves any doubt, I should not make it an issue.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Happens When We die?

Luke 16:19-31

Nearly everyone believes in giving second chances, especially when they are the one asking. The same man who killed a person for some idle comment thinks he should get another chance at life. A man who divorced his first wife on suspicion of messing around thinks his second wife should forgive him when she caught him for the third time.

The same attitude is observed in most people’s religious beliefs. Many religions believe in some form of reincarnation, in which a person gets another chance to live a good life, either as some kind of animal or a new person. If they finally succeed, they supposedly will attain eternal rewards, while failure will require another try. If they are too wicked they may be stuck here. Buddhism is probably the best known of these religions.

A modified form of this is seen teaching of some kind of a “purgatory,” in which a person who did not measure up completely can have an opportunity to make up for his failure after death. The Catholic teaching is the best known of these beliefs. Shows such as The Ghost Whisperer, or Crossing Over, portray some of these beliefs.

In the following Parable, Jesus lays out the basics of the Christian doctrine. In the process, he challenges many common practices and beliefs of our day.

“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” (Luke 16;19-21)

Many times wealth is looked on as an indicator of God’s blessings. A friend of mine was told that he could not come into the main service of a church because he wasn’t dressed well enough. A missionary friend was informed he couldn’t preach without a “proper” suit and tie. A church where I was to speak would not allow people who were not wearing a suit and tie to participate in the services. God only knows how often dress and financial standing has been the basis for excluding people from churches. Jesus emphasizes the difference between the two men for a reason.

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:22-23)

Both men died. The beggar immediately went to be with the Lord. His poverty was in no way held against him, nor did it indicate anything about a lack of spirituality. For the believer, as Paul says in II Corinthians 5:6-8, we are either with the Lord or we are still alive. “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” There is no in between for the believer, and there is no where in scripture that indicates we become angels.

The rich man died, and he woke up in hell. His fine clothes and wealth didn’t save him, and there was no purgatory. He went directly to hell. No where in scripture is there any suggestion of having another chance after death. Few consider that God has given every person their entire life to make things right. We wouldn’t consider that a woman ought to continue to give more chances if her husband will not stop abusing her or committing adultery after years, so why do we think God ought to give unlimited chances? Apparently the idea is that we shouldn’t be punished at all.

Romans 2:3-6 points out that the reason we live as long as we do is to give us a chance to straighten out. “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds:” Failure to act while we are alive indicates we have no interest in changing, and we just heap up additional sin and punishment for ourselves.

“And 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; for I am tormented in this flame.” (Luke 16:24)

A great many people believe that one will just be burned up in hell and it will be just a momentary suffering. Mark 9:44-48 repeatedly states that it would be better to be seriously handicapped here on earth than to go into hell because it is a place, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” We read of people in hospital burn units who have been horribly burned. Even though they are no longer in the flame, they continue to feel the pain as if they were. Many times the only way to stop their screams is to drug them to the point they lapse into unconsciousness, and even then they may whimper and moan in pain. They have the advantage that eventually they die. Those in hell never do.

The rich man considered the momentary respite he could receive from a single drop of water something to be of immeasurable value. Burn unit patients beg for anything, however small or fleeting to relieve their suffering. In hell, there will be no relief. The things we had here on earth cannot be carried over.

“But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” (Luke 16:25-26)

Many believe that after a time in hell, they will be given a pass to go on to heaven. Jesus was very specific that there will be no way to go from hell to heaven. It is a permanent commitment. There’s no time off for good behavior. It is not just a life sentence, it is eternal, with no possibility of parole. They don’t get to come back and terrorize those on earth, or even to hang around to help them.

While in High School, I tried to talk to a girl on the bus about the Lord. She told me she’d rather go to hell because that’s where all her friends were going. The rich man didn’t want his friends and loved ones to experience what he was experiencing. The girl simply had no idea what hell is really like. The level of pain will make one unable to enjoy his friend’s presence, while he will be aware of their pain. Feeling that it was your fault they were there would only make it worse.

“Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27-28)

Frequently, I see people pulling a portable oxygen bottle on a little cart in stores. What really amazes me is how often I see them standing outside the store smoking one last cigarette before they go in. Their lungs have already been so destroyed they can’t breathe naturally and they continue to smoke.

Over the years, hundreds of former smokers have tried desparately to convince people to stop. Some have lung cancer or emphysema. One former baseball player has had his entire jaw eaten away by cancer resulting from chewing tobacco. Nicotine causes contraction of the blood vessels. In about one in every eight thousand people in the United States, this results in Buergers disease, with the contraction being so extreme that the capillaries no longer permit flow to some cells, resulting in cell death, gangrene, and amputation or death. It is only found among tobacco users and workers, so the cause is clear.

Despite warnings on tobacco products, education programs, warnings from people who have suffered the consequences of using tobacco, and seeing people suffering from doing so, some people, including many doctors and nurses, continue to use it. They have chosen to ignore the warnings. People also ignore warnings from God. It is their choice.

“Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:29-31)

Deaths from tobacco use have been occurring since it first started being used recreationally, even though people didn’t understand the causes at first. The old saying that what you don’t know won’t hurt you is false. Not knowing is not protection in most cases. However, Romans 1:19-21 advises, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

Just as ignorance doesn’t protect tobacco users, ignorance will not protect those who reject God, but they can’t plead ignorance. Even the things around them make it clear he exists. It requires willful denial to say he doesn’t. Standard mathematical calculations of probability, when applied to the existence of God, show at least a fifty-fifty probability of his existence, even when every possible indicator of his existence, such as the existence of good and evil, is set at zero. As the great mathematician, Pascal, stated, it is foolish to insist there is no God when denying every evidence still leaves at least an equal chance he does exist.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Rules Don’t Change

Luke 16:13-18

Jesus had just finished the parable of the dishonest steward, and how it looked like a very wise move to the world. How we react in small matters indicates ones character, and what one will do in other matters. He finished up by stating that decision must be made because it is impossible to live with divided loyalties.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.” (Luke 16:13-14)

A lady in our church had often blamed her unsaved husband for her going to native ceremonies instead of church. Several months after her husband died, after a service she admitted that she’d still been using the excuse, but that since he was dead, it couldn’t be him any longer. The Pharisees had used the Roman occupation as an excuse for ignoring the moral standards set by the law. After all, it wasn’t practical to do all those things under Roman law. It was silly to demand keeping them.

“And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16;15-17)

Jesus states that the Law was in effect until John the Baptist came. God would judge on the basis of the heart attitude rather than sheer outward behavior. Since John’s time, when he preached repentance, the standard was in fact higher.

In Matthew 5:17- 19 he stated, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus stated that all the law could be summed up in two laws in Matthew 22:35-40. “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

In reality, the individual Law requirements deal with showing love in specific cases. In some situations, the specific laws actually work against the intention, which is why God made specific exceptions for emergency situations for example. Love is the overriding intent and as such is actually more demanding than the mechanical keeping of the specifics of the Old Testament Law. God’s standard is never to be repealed as long as the earth remains.

Under the Old Testament, divorce was permitted due to the hardness of people’s hearts. The Pharisees and lawyers spent considerable time discussing what were valid grounds, several times raising the issue with Christ. Jesus points out that in fact, the law’s requirement was actually lower than God’s standard. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the same statement.

“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18)

Literally divorce does not free one to remarry. While the Jewish standard was more strict than that of the Romans, it still didn’t meet God’s standard. Malachi 2:14-16 addresses the problem of divorce among the Jews. Malachi 2:16 quotes God’s statement. “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away:…” This is an area that is just as relevant today as it was to the Pharisees. Divorce is one of the few things God says he hates. It is troubling that it is so common among people who claim to love God.

A genuine love for God will result in a desire to do what he wants. A real love for others will avoid doing anything to hurt them. We ought to follow God’s standard, not human ideas.

Character Counts

Luke 16:1-14

“Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19-20)

Bernie Madoff was known for years as a great financial advisor and millions trusted him with their life savings. He had everything, because he took advantage of that trust to steal billions. While his wife complained that she couldn’t live on the three million the courts left her, people in their eighties were left homeless by his actions. Unfortunately he was only one of many.

Ken Leigh used his position at Enron to rip off investors by implementing what he called cost cutting measures, selling off profitable divisions to eliminate expenses and show a growing cash reserve which impressed investors. In exchange, he received stock and cash bonuses totaling hundreds of millions, as did many managers, while the they eliminated all the productive jobs, and left the investors with an empty shell of a company. Hundreds of other good companies have gone bankrupt or are struggling because their leadership has done the same thing.

Banks approve loans because they can sell the loan to some one else, and make millions. Drug companies and doctors make billions treatments like chemotherapy, which is known to be effective in less than five percent of the cases. Politicians blatantly lie and cheat to get elected then take kickbacks and gifts to pervert their decisions, making millions. One pundit asked, “How can a man spend millions to get elected to job that only pays a hundred fifty thousand per year and at the end of his terms in office have ten million more than he started with if he isn’t dishonest?”

Everywhere we look it seems like only those who cheat win. Some athletes now say that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. Christians are surrounded by this culture, and many succumb to the temptation.

“And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.” (Luke 16:1-2)

The steward or business manager was accused of not managing the business properly and losing money. The owner, or in modern terms, the investors demanded an accounting and tells him that he will be fired. They also call for and audit to make sure no money has been stolen.

“Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.” (Luke 16:3-4)

After being the manager and living so well it would be too humiliating to go back and take a menial entry level position such as digging ditches or working at McDonalds, and he doesn’t want to just beg on the street corners, so how can he live? He has an idea that will make him popular with the customers of the company so they’ll feel obligated and help him when he gets fired.

“So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.” (Luke 16:5-7)

He redid all the books and receipts to make it appear that they owed less than they did. Some he discounted fifty percent and others twenty percent. By presenting it as a personal favor, they will feel a personal obligation to him, because the owner will be unable to collect the full amount. Even better, it made his mismanagement less obvious, because the missing amount appeared to be less than it really was.

“And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8)

We are told that we had a balanced budget during the Clinton administration. Most people never check to learn that rather than congress voted for expenditures, and then raided Social security to cover the deficit, leaving the Social Security program bankrupt. The balance was strictly an accounting trick, but people thought the country was in good shape financially. The same practices were followed during the Bush years, and now we are reaping the consequences, but at the time everyone praised Clinton and the congress for doing so well. They seemed much the smartest at the time, and that was a major factor in Obama being elected.

“And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9)

By going along with the corruption, politicians and regulators can assure themselves of support from those they have helped. If hey lose their position they are likely to obtain high paying positions in the companies they dealt with. Christians may be tempted to do the same thing. A person who cheats at baseball will cheat in other areas as well. True character shows up in everything we do.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)

While the world may overlook some dishonesty, God will not. What might be obtained by fudging a little is only temporary. It will not matter in eternity. Though it may appear that the world’s way pays better, it will not pay in the long term. We need to decide if we are going to serve God or the world. You can’t have it both ways.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.” (Luke 16:13-14)

Choosing to follow God and do what is right in every case will often result in people making fun of you and considering you a failure, because you could do so much better if you’d just give a little. Some of the biggest detractors may well be those who claim to be Christians.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Older Brother

Luke 15:25-32

The third main character in the parable of the prodigal son is the elder brother. He has continued to work with his dad faithfully. He has never demanded any special consideration, just consistently doing what was asked. Now he comes home and and stumbles into a party for his brother, that he didn’t know about.

“Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.” (Luke 15:25-28)

They’re having a party for the brother that took everything he could and left. They’re using what the older brother helped to earn to pay for it, and they didn’t even think it important enough to tell him. It’s as if all his work counts for nothing. His dad must love his younger brother more than himself. Imagine the hurt he feels. He expresses what he is feeling to his father.

“And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” (Luke 15:29-30)

A lot of people would have condemned the older brother and told him he couldn’t feel that way. It would not have changed his feelings. He would have just felt guilty for having them, and resentful at such unfair treatment.

His emotional response is common among Christian’s when they see the excitement over some new Christian’s actions. It is easy to feel the same way when we look at the story of the workers in the field in Matthew 20:1-16. After all, if those who only worked an hour receive the same pay as those who have worked all day, it seems pretty unfair. You could have goofed off all day and still earned just as much. The workers clearly thought it unfair.

The father does not condemn the older brothers feelings. They are based on what he perceives to be true. Instead, he points out some facts his son had overlooked.

“And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

We must learn not to trust our emotions, because they tend to respond without considering all the facts. Although nothing has changed, a tiny difference in perspective can completely change our emotions. The person who was thrilled about finding a hundred dollar bill yesterday can be depressed today because it wasn’t a thousand, even though he still has the hundred. The emotions are irrational, and thus must not be trusted.

While the son felt unwanted and left out, the truth was that everything the father had left was also his, and his father was working with him to make it grow. He was welcome to participate in the party, but there had been no opportunity to tell him about it, and he had been there all the time enjoying time with his father.

That his father gave a party when his son returned was proper, because for all purposes the younger brother might well have been dead. Instead he has returned safely, and that in itself is cause for rejoicing. They know where he is. The same type celebration would have been held if the older brother had just returned. Knowing that his father was that excited about having his son home demonstrated how much he loved both his sons. The emotional feeling that he didn’t love him was entirely false, and was causing him to miss out on the great blessing of having his brother back, as well as the realization of how much his father loved him.

While the laborers in Matthew 20 felt cheated because the owner paid those who worked on hour the same amount as he paid those who worked all day, they were overlooking a couple of important facts. They had received exactly what they contracted to do the job for. They had not been cheated. If the owner chose to give others money for doing nothing, that was his choice. It was his money. They had not been cheated, despite their feelings of being wronged. The owner was entirely within his rights.

It is the tendency to follow our emotions that leads to many of the problems in life. For example, a wife found out her husband had withdrawn several hundred dollars from their checking account and not told her. Immediately she concluded he must be having an affair and after a huge blowup, left him. A friend of mine bought two cruise tickets from the husband at a real bargain because he had bought them as a surprise to celebrate their anniversary and no longer needed them.

Emotions are like taking a Rottweiler for a walk. If they are well trained and disciplined, it is a real pleasure to have their company. If they are allowed to do as they please, however, they will drag you wherever they want to go and it will be a miserable walk. It’s up to you which you have.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Loving Father

Luke 15:20-24

The second major player in the parable of the prodigal son is the father. From him we learn a lot about dealing with those who have gone their own way. The first thing we see is that he did not withhold what was due his son. He didn’t hold back or attempt to coerce his son. He allowed him to make his own decision.

He also didn’t chase after his son in an effort to get him to come back. He honored the son’s decision. Along with that, he didn’t enable his son to stay in sin by sending money when he got into trouble. He allowed him to suffer the consequences of his actions. Probably the worst thing a parent can do to a child who gets into trouble is to bail him out. Only by learning what it costs will he learn to avoid the situation.

Some parents deliberately set their children up to fail if they do not obey. When the child learns about it, they will resent being manipulated. They need to be treated just as one would treat anyone else so they can learn the cost of their actions. If they are doing something that you would report to the police if another did it, they need to know you will report them, but they also need to know that you are treating them fairly. They also need to know that you will not allow them to manipulate you. Only then will they make mature decisions.

When the young man realized where he had gotten, he realized continuing would eventually destroy him. At that point, he decided to change his behavior. The father had been watching for his return.

“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

The father had never given up hope. He was eagerly awaiting the first sign of repentance. He didn’t wait until his son got straightened out to go to him, but met him half way. In dealing with others, we need to learn not to try to chase them down, but to be willing to meet them as soon as they show real evidence of wanting change. God doesn’t make us wait until we are straightened out before saving us.

“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” (Luke 15:21)

No change of attitude will be made until a person genuinely acknowledges their own part in what has happened. Too often we try to help people that blame others for their plight. Human nature does not want to accept responsibility because we don’t like to make changes. While the parents may have been abusive or domineering, the child doesn’t have to keep a bad attitude when he leaves home. If he does, it is his choice, and it will not change until he decides to change it.

When pride is swallowed and responsibility is taken forgiveness is instantly available. I John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Verse 8, on the other hand warns, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” We are not being honest with ourselves, and in fact call God a liar, as verse 10 tells us. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” In such a case, forgiveness is meaningless.

Because he acknowledged his guilt, the father was able to restore him as his son with no lingering reservations. He receives all the privileges of a son instantly, with no further action on his part.

“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:22-24)

Like the shepherd who found the lost sheep or the woman who found the lost coin, there is great rejoicing that the son has returned safely. I can only imagine the celebration.

The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-19

The scribes and Pharisees had murmured about Jesus associating with sinners, and in response he’d shared the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin to drive home the point that every person is so important to God as to be worth a huge sacrifice of time and energy. He continues with a very familiar parable. In it he teaches some very important points about dealing with people.

There are three principal characters in the story, the Prodigal son, his father, and his older brother. All three teach some important lessons. We start with the younger son.

“And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.” (Luke 15:11-12)

Both sons have been raised in the same home and have had essentially the same teaching. The younger one wants to get away from his father’s authority and step out on his own. This is a normal and even healthy thing. Sooner or later, no matter how hard they or their parents try to prevent it, it has to happen. God never intended children to remain under their parents authority for life.

Even his request for what is rightfully his is not completely out of line, although it indicates a selfish and impatient attitude. He isn’t concerned about the rest of the family at the moment, so he demands everything immediately. He probably assumed he could do better than his father at business, and he wanted to try.

“And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.” (Luke 15:13-16)

God gave each person free will. They are intended to be free to make their own choices and take the consequences. Because children lack the knowledge and wisdom to make good choices, their parents are entrusted with teaching them to make wise decisions. Learning to make decisions requires practice, by making decisions and experiencing the consequences. Parents can control the decisions and limit the risks for a while, but eventually the child will have to step completely out of his parents protection. When he does, he incurs full responsibility for his own actions, and cannot blame others. They have no further obligation to him.

The younger son made the same mistake others have, spending more than he earned because he seemed to have plenty. In his book, The Start-up Entrepreneur, Jeff cook stresses that a person must never accept free offers such as grants or special low interest loans from the government, because while they might make it easier at the moment, they result in not developing some aspects of the business properly, which may cause great hardship later. It’s too easy to spend the money foolishly.

Two young men I know bought a very successful plumbing and construction business. Because they had a good income from jobs the previous owner had contracted, and a very favorable loan arrangement, they saw no reason to worry about saving money. Both bought new cars, and began to enjoy expensive entertainment and gourmet dining. Within a year, their creditors were forced to foreclose on them. They simply hadn’t realized that the money wasn’t theirs until all the bills were paid. The younger son made the same mistake, entertaining all his “friends” until the money ran out. They had no time for him when he ran out of money, and he wound up taking whatever he could find to survive.

An economic downturn made normal avenues of work unavailable and he finally wound up on the streets, homeless, and offered to care for a farmer’s hogs in exchange for sleeping in the barn and eating some of the hog’s garbage. He was nearly to starve to death. His father had nothing to do with the things that happened to him, they were solely the result of his own decisions and natural events around him.

“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.” (Luke 15:17-19)

Only when he came to the point of having no hope of doing anything for himself did he consider going back to his father. One of my cousins got into drugs and wound up in prison. Later he asked my aunt why she let him sponge off her and didn’t turn him far sooner. If she had, he might not have gone so far, and in any case, he wouldn’t have hurt her so bad.

You can never bribe someone into being a Christian, nor can you force them too. They have to take responsibility for themselves. As long as they are trying to hang onto their own lifestyle and pride they will never submit to God. They will never receive him as savior. Helping them get what they want just enables them to put off making a commitment. Our efforts to help enable people to continue in sin rather than turning them to Christ.

Over the years, I have watched a number programs to salvage drug addicts and alcoholics. Time after time, people have gone through these programs begging for food or housing, only to return to the old lifestyle as soon as it gets warm enough. The shelters just provide a temporary place of safety for most who come. As such, they merely enable most of the people to escape the consequences of their choices. “It’s not too bad, after all, you can always go to the mission for a handout, if you can‘t find anything else,” as one said.

Our efforts to help, when done in the flesh, may make the problem worse. Only with the Spirit’s leadership can we know how to respond in every situation. Acting in the flesh almost always results in failure and frustration.

The only thing the father could do was allow his son to suffer the consequences of his actions and stay out of the way until he decided to change. Many times, all we can do is warn people, then get out of the way and let God work. Offering help may quench the Holy Spirit, cooling his efforts to effect change. While we are to help the downtrodden, we are to help resolve the problem, not just enable it to continue.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ya Gotta Get Your Hands Dirty To Succeed

Luke 15:1-10

A lady I know had just moved to Farmington, and applied for a secretarial position at one of the local Oilfield companies. After the interview, She was very upset and stated that she’d never work for that company. When asked to come back and fill out employment forms, she refused to go, telling them she’d found something else.

As she explained to us later, when she went for her interview a few minutes early, the owner was in the back, and had to be called to meet her. Before he could talk to her, he had to stop and wash up. He conducted the interview sitting on the corner of his desk, dressed in a work shirt and blue jeans like any common laborer. A person who had no more concern for appearances than that would never be successful, and she wasn’t going to let her standards down and work for someone like that.

The funny thing is, the man she referred to started the company in his garage as the only employee about thirty years ago. He now has offices in four or five cities, and employs about a thousand people. Their annual sales are hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the reasons for the success is that the owner regularly goes out on the well sites and works alongside his workers so he knows what they are facing. As a result, he is current on the problems that are faced and the new technologies.

His intimate knowledge of the work enables him to explain to prospective clients what will be needed and to assure them that potential problems can be resolved. His employees know that if there is a problem, he will be available to help resolve it without blaming them unfairly. He has one of the lowest employee turnover rates and best safety records in the entire oilfield industry. Despite the woman’s opinion, he appears to be fairly successful.

Sculptor Shalah Perkins has received numerous honors for her work. For over fifty years they ran a family ranch in southeastern Colorado. Shalah was frequently offended by reporters who insisted that she surely didn’t actually work the cattle herself. They don’t understand that it is the experience with the work that makes her sculpture so powerful.

The Pharisees were like a great many religious people of today, convinced that the Christian was supposed to set themselves above the world as some thing to be attained. After all you will not reach the wealthy if you don’t dress as well as they do. They ignore the fact that the majority of the people will never be wealthy. Those who are not wealthy are rarely able to associate with those who are so an effort to reach the wealthy isolates us from the vast majority of people.

“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

The sculptor and the business owner described earlier both are willing to get involved in menial work to accomplish what needs to be done. It has made them successful far beyond the scope of that immediate job. Jesus’ willingness to associate with the ordinary people drew them to him, even as the scribes and Pharisees condemned him for it. Jesus explains the importance of direct involvement with a couple of parables.

“And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:3-7)

One of the problems with business today is that many managers want to sit in their office and draw the big checks while someone else does the work. This attitude has led to the bank crisis and collapse of a lot of companies. Like the sculptor and business owner I described, a successful shepherd must be willing to get involved with the day to day care for the sheep. He can’t just wait for someone else to do it or the sheep to come back by itself.

He actively goes to where the sheep might be, searching in concealed spots for the one, though he knows there will be just one. He does so at great cost to himself and his pride, getting tired and dirty and scratched and tearing his clothing in his search. Others may well look and say it’s just a sheep and isn’t worth the trouble, and in immediate dollar value it may not be. The good shepherd looks beyond the immediate money value however, and is willing to give up his comfort and convenience for it. To him, finding it is worth a lot. Please note that he would give the same effort for any of the other ninety nine. The rejoicing is that they have been found. The same principle is illustrated in the next parable.

Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:8-10)

Far more businesses have failed because the manager was not willing to do the actual work than because he wouldn’t “Dress For Success.” Far more people will be in hell because Christians refused to get involved with their neighbors than because they didn’t maintain a proper social standing.

When it is obvious we care that much, people will come because they can trust us no matter what. When they feel we don’t care about them, the only time they come is as a last resort when everything else has failed. It is probably the reason why most people only come to the church when their whole life has collapsed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Counting The Cost

Luke 14:25-35

In the preceding verses, Jesus described a group of people who were invited to a free dinner with the king. While there was no charge for the dinner, it would require giving their time and energy to travel to where the dinner was held. Most of those invited were not interested enough to put aside their own plans and goals to attend. As a result, they lost the opportunity to partake. Jesus continues with the same subject in this passage.

“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27)

Many Navajos find it difficult to give up their Navajo tradition for Christ. Others will not go against their family. Many musicians or athletes are unwilling to give up their aspirations to become Christians. Jesus said they cannot be saved if they are not willing to do so. The bumper sticker which advises, “Try Jesus” implies a false understanding of what faith requires. Jesus said that would not work. There is more involved than simply saying a few words.

When Paul said that if we believe in our hearts in Romans 10:9-10, he was not speaking of simple mental assent, but as recognizing that he is the only possible way of salvation, as demonstrated by his resurrection from the dead. That belief must be strong enough to produce a commitment to follow God whatever happens. The same type of commitment is required in many areas of life.

"For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30)

No qualified contractor or lumberyard will take the contract for materials to build a home unless they are sure you are able and willing to commit enough to do the job. They wait until the commitment is made before starting work, because they do not want to lose on the job. Christ is not willing to throw away his sacrifice on someone who isn’t willing to commit. What an embarrassment it is to see people who started out but quit.

“Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.” (Luke 14:31-32)

It is just as foolish for a king to commit to a war without considering what will be required. If he cannot commit to winning, failure is certain. He must be willing to give everything it costs before he begins. Anyone who is not willing to make such a commitment cannot be saved.

“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)

Baptism is the first demonstration of that commitment. Refusal to follow through on even the first step implies there was no meaningful commitment, and thus no real faith to begin with. Without the necessary ingredient of faith that makes him different than others, the person is just a facsimile of a Christian. He may give every appearance but he is not real. He is of no value anywhere. He’s like some kind of salt substitute.

“Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:34-35)

Real salt can’t lose it’s flavor. It is an inherent part of the compound. Salt substitutes, on the other hand have to have a flavor added. Without it, they are worthless, as they cannot do the other things real salt would do, and cannot provide the proper taste. Disposing of them may pollute the ground they fall on. False brethren harm the cause of Christ by turning others from the truth as Paul points out in Galatians 2:4, when he talks about the effort to turn people back to their old culture and prac

Monday, January 10, 2011

No Take Out

Luke 14:12-24

A common advertising gimmick is to offer a free gift to get you to listen or read the sales promotion. Frequently, you find out that in fact, you not only have to listen to the spiel, but buy the product as well to receive the gift. If you have to buy the product to receive it, you are paying for the “gift.” While you may be getting a discounted price, it is not truly a gift at all. It was offered to get something in return.

Christmas gifts are often given based on what is expected in return. For example, a company may give regular customers a catalog, but the largest ones something far nicer. Individuals sometimes give in the expectation that they will receive something nicer in return. When we give with the expectation of receiving something in return, it is no longer a gift, but a trade. God teaches us to give freely, in situations where there is no possibility of return.

“Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Until we learn to give freely without consideration of what we will get in return, we are no different than any other person. Even the worst crooks will give a little to get more. Luke 6:32-35 states, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” God’s blessings are for those who give without concern for what they will receive in return, not for those to whom it is a way of getting more.

“And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 14:15)

Nearly everyone knows that if you own your own business, you get to choose how things are done and receive all the profits from your labor, instead of just a small portion like you get working for someone else. There are tax benefits, and special discounts, and a measure of job security that no employee of the company will ever know. Despite the benefits, most people will never start their own business. Some do not start because they are so busy at their job they don’t have time, while others lack confidence to try. Others decide they’re just not ready to start yet. Only a very few will actually even start, and many of them will fail because they are not willing to invest themselves in the business.

In much the same way, most people think going to heaven sounds like a great thing. After all, who wouldn’t like to never feel pain again? Especially those who’ve lived with severe pain. Who wouldn’t like to never have to worry about money again, and especially if you just lost your job? However most people will not go for almost the same reasons that most people don’t start their own business. Jesus parable illustrates some of the reasons.

“Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” (Luke 14:16-20)

One has bought a piece of land he and now he’s going out to see what it looks like? I imagine he checked it out pretty carefully before he put up the money! Same with the oxen. It’s just an excuse because to delay. One decides it is too important to take care of his family right now, so he can’t come. In every case, something else is more important to them than the benefits of attending the dinner.

“So that servant came, and showed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.” (Luke 14:21-22)

The opportunity was extended to everyone in the kingdom, even those who had nothing, and made others uncomfortable by their presence. Many of them were not able to do anything else, but still not enough came to even fill the tables, though it was free and all that was required was to take the trouble to come.

I can only imagine the excuses that were used, but knowing modern excuses, some would have included not being willing to dress up or not having a proper outfit, or having to miss the football game. Others would ask if a certain person would be their and decide based on whether he will or will not go. Some wouldn’t go because they might be embarrassed by not knowing how to act.

“And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23)

The servant is to go back and deal with all their excuses. If they lack proper garments, substitutes are available, they can follow other’s examples to know how to act, and they will be welcomed despite visible flaws that might make them unwelcome in other situations. Anyone who didn’t attend the dinner missed out because he refused to go. Every effort had been made to ensure that he could go.

“For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.” (Luke 14:24)

No one will be allowed to take food for people who refused to come. They could come any time during the feast, but once it was over, there would be no more chances.

God’s invitation for salvation extends to every living person. It is available throughout their life, but once they die, their chance is over. They will not get another chance.

It would be ridiculous to get upset that part of banquet wasn’t saved for you if you didn’t bother to show up until two days later. Why should we expect God to have a plate saved for us, Especially when he is providing it free of charge. The fact that we didn’t show up while it was available implied we didn’t want it. He didn’t owe us salvation to begin with, and has no obligation to provide it if we change our minds and decide we want it after all.