Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15                   Luke 16:19-31



Listen to today’s Scripture!

Listen to God’s word.

Listen and you’ll hear the stories of the response of two men who listened to God’s word.

Jeremiah…and his Israelite brothers and sisters were in a bad way.  They were surrounded and about to be conquered by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was held prisoner…held prisoner because he had listened to God and prophesied the downfall of the king who had imprisoned him and God’s punishment of the people because of their failures.

Jeremiah heard God speaking to him again.  This time God said his cousin was going to visit Jeremiah and offer to sell him some land his cousin possessed…land that had been a part of the family’s possessions.

We’ve all seen stories of people who have made great sums of money by buying land at the right time at the right price.  There is a number of people who are quite wealthy today because they have been successful in their property dealings.

My guess…however…is that very few of them got that way by buying land that was under control of a conquering army…at a time when that army was conquering their homeland…and likely to take them prisoner and take control of their lives.

Yet…that’s what Jeremiah did.  His long-lost cousin visited him…and Jeremiah took that to be verification of the word of God that he had heard…and to which he listened.  Jeremiah bought the land.

Buying that land was an act of faith…based only on the word of God and Jeremiah’s faith in God…and defying much of the logic of that day…defying much of the logic of this day.

When Jeremiah signed and sealed the deed he was banking on God’s ability to deliver on his promises.  By faith he was making an investment in the kingdom of God.  In his commentary on the book of Jeremiah…Derek Kinder wrote…”To buy land overrun by the world’s conqueror, and then to take elaborate care of the title-deeds was a striking affirmation, as solid as the silver that paid for it, that God would bring his people back to their inheritance.”  Even though Jeremiah would not live to see that day…he made sure the documents would be around to prove that God was faithful to his promise.

Do we have faith to act on God’s promises… even if some of them will not be fulfilled until the end of history?  Jeremiah had that kind of faith.  He made a major life decision based on what God promised.  Jeremiah listened…and acted.

Christians make the same kinds of decisions every day.  They do strange things because they trust the promises of God.  Some Christians get married.  How odd!  With the divorce rate so high, why would anyone want to get married?  Christians get married because God tells them to do it and because they trust his faithfulness for the future.

Some Christians raise families.  This…too…is becoming increasingly radical.  A Christian woman went to see her dentist…whose wife was expecting a baby.  The patient told the dentist how wonderful it was to raise children.  Afterwards…the dental hygienist told her she could tell whether or not people were truly Christians by what they said to the dentist about having a baby.  The hygienist said those who deep down inside were not truly Christians talked about what a nuisance it is to have children…but real Christians viewed them as gifts from the Lord.

Some Christians go to distant lands as missionaries…which is even stranger than raising a family.  They leave behind all the conveniences of American culture.  Why on earth would anyone do that?   They do it because they listen to God when he tells them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and because they trust his promise that he will go with them.

The list goes on and on.  Some Christians move into the city…on purpose.  Some Christians feed the homeless or tutor the uneducated.  Others reach across ethnic and economic barriers to form friendships.  Still others give up one night a week to study the Bible and pray in small groups.   Some Christians even give away ten percent of their income…or more…for the work of the church.

All of these behaviors may seem strange to people in today’s world.  There is only one good explanation for the strange things Christians do.  They’ve listened. They’ve heard. They believe the promises of God.  They trust what they’ve listened to God say…and they act accordingly.

The wealthy man Jesus described…knew who the beggar was because he would later recognize him after both their deaths.  But…day by day…as the rich man passed through his gate wearing his fine purple robes…his perfumed aroma contrasted with the beggar’s stench.  Occasionally their eyes met…but with no recognition and feeling by the wealthy man.  The beggar was simply part of the landscape…an unpleasant site a person had to endure.

How could this rich man…who considered himself a son of Abraham and a blessed member of God’s people be so heartless?  He believed in God.  His spoken theology matched that of the leaders of the faith.

So…why did he have this total lack of compassion?  He might have heard the Holy Scripture…but he certainly didn’t listen.  God’s word through the prophets had been consistent about the need for mercy and compassion.

The rich man knew the Ten Commandments.  He knew that the last six Commandments prescribed how to relate to people.  He understood the rightness of compassion.  He simply did not listen…and did not act.

What do these two lessons have to say to us who live in the light of the Cross and the Resurrection?  We too have heard from Moses and the Prophets that we must love God and love others as ourselves.  Are we listening…and acting?

We have heard the witness of Christ who rose from the dead…and told us he would be with us always.  Are we listening…and acting?

We have heard the New Testament writings…including the Sermon on the Mount and the many ethical teachings of the epistles.  They tell us how to live in relation to others…including the use of our riches.  Are we listening and acting?

As with the rich man…our use of wealth in relation to the needs of our neighbors reveals our true spiritual state.  If we claim to be Christians…as the rich man claimed to be the son of Abraham…but our material wealth is gathered for our own pleasures…if we are not generous and compassionate in our use of our wealth…if we hoard our money…if we only give what amounts to crumbs to others…then we are not truly listening to God’s Word.

Listen to the stories of the response of two men to God’s word.

Listen to Scripture…hear God’s word…and act.




Jeremiah 8:18-9:1               Luke 16:1-13


As I read and reflected on the parable in Luke’s gospel…I reflected on some of the people with whom I have the opportunity to interact daily.  You see…in my role as fundraiser for the college…I must find and interact with people who have or control substantial funds.  They are the people with the capability to give substantial funds for the work of the college…or to other ministries in our community.  And…I also reflected on those at the opposite end of the wealth spectrum…those who barely have enough to survive.

The story of the shrewd manager speaks to basic attitudes in how we handle the resources we’ve been given.  Jesus made it clear that money and other material resources we possess are not really ours…to be used how we please.  Rather…Jesus’ point is…they have been placed in our care in order to meet the needs of others around us.  We earn resources in order to help the needy and to share with them.   Paul made a similar point in his letter to the Ephesians.   (Eph 4:28)  “… use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.” (NLT)  Not all of us are capable of work, but all of us are capable of helping those in need.

This understanding of resources runs counter to the values of many in our culture.  They have the idea that what we have earned is ours and that we can use it as we want.  Jesus makes the point that what we have is entrusted to us…and God watches how we use it.  When you look at it as Jesus did you see something that is above the debates about which economic system is endorsed by Scripture.  Instead we are told to reflect on what God does when he gives us our resources and encourages us to consider how to direct their use. God has entrusted us with His resources.  Are we trustworthy…faithful managers?

The value Jesus wishes for his disciples has to do with service…generosity…and people.  Resources ought not to be counted and hoarded but planted for a harvest of generosity that serves others and meets their real needs.  The stewardship of money is not an end…but a means…where others can see acts of caring from those who say God cares.  However…check and you will find that greed and selfishness still have a deep home in the human heart.

There are three lessons in this parable.

Jesus said “…use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9 NIV)  What is clear here is that our wealth and possessions are to be used to win eternal friends.  This is the proper use of what we have.  We must give generously of our resources for the furtherance of the gospel.  If we are not doing so…we are not making proper use of what God has given us and we are not enhancing our eternal friendships.

It is not enough to give money…we must devote our personal resources to the making of eternal friends as well.  Eventually…our worldly wealth will go somewhere.  How are we choosing to distribute it?  Do we have an estate plan…a will…for the use of our resources when we’re gone?  Do we have a plan and are we taking action for Godly use of those resources today?

Jesus…in his telling of the parable…next taught that we must be trustworthy with our resources…”Whoever can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much…” (Luke 16:10 NIV)  We are merely stewards of our material wealth.  God is the true owner.  How are we…all of us who claim to be Christians…rich or poor…managing on God’s behalf?

In his “Commentary on Peter and Jude”…Martin Luther put it this way…”…we must use all these things upon earth in no other way than as a guest who travels through the land and comes to a hotel where he must lodge overnight.  He takes only food and lodging from the host, and he says not that the property of the host belongs to him.  Just so should we also treat our temporal possessions, as if they were not ours, and enjoy only so much of them as we need to nourish the body and then help our neighbors with the balance.  Thus the life of the Christian is only a lodging for the night, since we have here no continuing city, but must journey on to heaven, where the Father is.”

Luther would probably ask whether we are one who fills our suitcase with towels, soap and shampoo when we leave the hotel.  There are those among us who would do so and not give one thought to sharing the resources they have been given by God with those who are needy.

Jesus’ third lesson was pretty clear.  It’s impossible to serve both God and Money.  There is no middle ground.  If we are devoted to money, we will despise God with our intellect and hate him with our emotions.

Now…we all go through times when a material focus is required.  We live in a material world…which requires attention.  Also…the possession of wealth…even great wealth…does not make one a materialist…though it greatly increases the danger.  There are wealthy people who live very well and are not materialists…and there are wealthy people whose only love is money and what it will buy for them.  I encounter both routinely.  Furthermore…if you lived in Uganda you could easily say “all of you Americans are wealthy.”

I am sure however…that many of us attempt to serve both God and money.  Some of us are good at it…so good that we think we are serving only God.

But…often we are failures.  And…we know it because of the way we talk about these things with our spouses and friends.  Is the conversation about your house…shopping…a new car…about the church building or…is it about using our wealth to build the church’s ministry…using our resources to serve God’s purposes?

Like all of Jesus’ teachings…this parable has been around for a couple thousand years.  How faithful are we in managing the resources God has given us?

Let me share some data and ask you to answer the question for yourself.

Consistently…the annual research by the Barna Group has shown that only five percent of those professing to be Christians tithe to their churches.

And…consistently again…the annual research by Giving USA…shows that roughly two percent of the income received by Americans has gone to all charities….religion, education, human services, arts and humanities and others.

How faithful are we in managing the resources God has given us…serving God not money?

In their new book “Public Faith in Action,” a Harvard University professor and Harvard researcher, ask voters and candidates to consider these questions and points both before and after the election.

“Is it actual wealth that we are creating?  What passes for wealth in some cases is illusory, no wealth at all.  For instance, the bundling of life insurance policies into marketable bonds puts the bonds’ buyers and sellers in the position of betting on the deaths of other people and rooting against unforeseen improvements in public health.

Are we creating wealth without relying on exploitation or oppression?  Goods that originate in the exploitation of others via unfair wages, harsh labor conditions, and the like are corrupt and corrupting.  Ill-gotten goods may appear to promote the flourishing of those who oppress and exploit.  But no one can truly flourish while wronging others.

Is wealth creation environmentally sustainable?  Any supposed wealth creation that relies on the unsustainable degradation of the natural environment is actually wealth destruction.

Do our ways of creating wealth leave space for proper rest?  Given that humans are co-creators with the God who rested on the seventh day, human beings are made not just for creative work but also for celebratory rest.

Are there ample opportunities for all to be involved in creating wealth?  Because we are created to be creators and not just beneficiaries of created abundance, it is important that our societies create wealth without excluding large portions of the population from the productive work.

Is the kind of wealth we create broadly accessible so as to potentially help life go well for all people?  Giving more people access to genuine goods is important because God intends for all human being to enjoy creation.”

As we think and act in public and in private…how faithful are we in managing the resources God has given us?

Lost and Found

“Lost and Found”

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28              Luke 15:1-10


Did you notice where Jesus was and who he was with?  Did you notice what the leaders of the faith said about that?

As the parables pointed out because heaven rejoices over the return of one sinner…Jesus seeks those sinners just as the shepherd sought the sheep and the woman searched for the coin.  God calls us to do the same…to pursue the lost.  The hope that is shared in these parables is that in seeking the lost we will find some and lead them back to Jesus.

The three parables that make up chapter 15 of Luke tell us that God is committed to finding the lost.  Jesus is committed to the same and the parables show us the temptation among many believers to ignore the lost…though we are commanded to find them…be among them…and bring Jesus to them.

In these parables Jesus chooses the scribes and the Pharisees to make his comparison.  Today he would choose those for whom the so-called proper thing is considered most important.  The scribes and Pharisees could not believe that Jesus would spend so much time receiving sinners and eating with them.  Such table fellowship represents an absence of the separation they think goodness demands.  Jesus told them…however…that spending time with the lost is a demand of the call of God.

Anyone who has ever searched for something lost knows how maddening it is to look for it and not find it.  This frustration is the beginning of the two parables.  The first story fits the agricultural…rural setting of Palestine.  A shepherd counting a hundred sheep came up one short.  The shepherd is a person of modest means.  He went to look for the lost animal.  The hunt was successful.  The shepherd rejoiced at finding the valuable sheep.

Jesus’ point is not one about the recovery of lost property…it is a comparison of the effort the shepherd makes to recover the lost sheep with Jesus’ own work at evangelism.  It’s the same idea as Isaiah’s word of God’s tender care for us.  That’s the model that Jesus would want to be our model in relating to the lost.

The recovery of the lost sheep leads to joy that is shared.  The shepherd calls his friends and neighbors to celebrate.  This is a picture of God’s heart and God’s joy at the turning of one sinner back to him.  Jesus said there will be the same kind of rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…more  than over 99 righteous who do not need to repent.

The second parable is similar.  This time a woman hunts for a lost coin.  It’s value is equal to that of a day’s wages.  It is a modest amount.  Her search takes time and effort.  She lights a lamp, sweeps the room and searches carefully until she finds the coin.  When she does she is as excited as the shepherd was.  She also calls her neighbors to celebrate.  Again…this is a picture of heaven’s joy at a sinner’s repentance.

These parables are among the simplest stories of Jesus…communicating both truth and emotion.  God wants servants who understand his great desire to restore sinners.  In both stories…the search takes work.  In both stories what is searched for seems…on the surface…to be a modest object.

But…in fact…the search becomes a priority.  In both cases…the recovery of what was lost leads to great rejoicing with others.  The stories underscore God’s desire for disciples to share the goal of winning the lost back to him.  The focus is on the joy at the recovery of a sinner…not on the fact that Jesus is the only one to do it.

The idea expressed here is basic to the church accomplishing its mission.  God does not want believers to isolate themselves from the world to such a degree that they never relate to the lost.  Jesus was constantly out among people…especially people who did not know God.  Though some grumbled that he had the wrong associations… Jesus knew why he was building such relationships.  He knew that something might develop to influence a person who did not know God to consider him seriously.  People like Matthew and Zaccheus were discovered this way.

Another feature that bridges the centuries is Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees.  They kept their distance from sinners and refused to accept a spiritual leader who seemed to love and associate with them.  Jesus challenged their attitude…not only during his ministry…but especially in his death for the lost…the death that restores sinners to relationship with God.  The heart of the gospel…and of the work of disciples…is reaching out to the sinner and helping to make a way for their forgiveness.

It is easy to dismiss as insignificant the many kinds of people our culture has cast aside or views with contempt.  People who suffer from debilitating diseases…people on some kind of public assistance…alcoholics and drug abusers…people of other faiths and no faith at all.  Jesus pursued these very people with such vigor that the religious community of the first century questioned his character.  These parables explain why this pursuit meant so much to him.  He knew that rescue was possible…and love pushed him to rescue the perishing.  We are called to the same action.  Jesus wants us…also… to search for those who are lost.

These parables say much about the heart of God…trying to engage those who are not interested in Him.  He cares enough to go looking for them…even when they have chosen to stay away.  He wants you and me to be like raiders searching for great treasure…that treasure is the lost vulnerable sheep.  The search is not always easy but the joy at the end makes it worth the effort.

Jesus wants believers to be engaging the lost in meaningful relationships.  Too often…in the church however…we see the opposite.  We withdraw for fear of compromising our own testimony.  As a result there is no one around to testify to.  Like the shepherd and the woman’s search to find the lost…it takes effort…time and energy.  Our Lord calls us to get out among people and build the relationships that allow us to draw others to God.

You may recall that I once earned my living selling radio advertising.  My first sales manager was not much of a teacher.  He said, “Here’s a phone book, rate card and order forms.  Now, go make some sales.
My second sales manager…Howard…was just the opposite…a great teacher.  At every weekly sales meeting…in addition to always justified praise and criticism…he taught.

One day Howard cautioned us to not be engaged in “plate glass qualifying.”  He said that was the practice of car sales people who stood or sat in their air conditioned showrooms watching people outside looking at cars.  He said those sales people would decide whether to approach those people as potential customers…based on what they observed through the plate glass.  One weekend I tested Howard’s teaching…didn’t shave or shower for a couple days and went to the lot of a dealer who was one of my clients.  None of the sales people even greeted me.  A couple weeks later I went dressed in business clothes and three sales people greeted me.

On another occasion Howard said, “I bet we drive by more business than we write.”  That week he rode with each of us as we made our daily rounds.  The next week he rode with us, but as we drove he would periodically tell us to stop.  We went in the business and Howard did the talking and listening.  He didn’t close a new sale each time…but he did open doors for us to close sales in the near future.

On this day of national and personal remembering…there are many opportunities for contacts that lead to finding the lost.  Let us reach out to those who still hurt because of loss…real or perceived…suffered that day fifteen years ago.  Let us reach out to those for whom hurt and anger caused by a radical few have turned to hatred for many.  Let us reach out to those whose faith…though different from ours…causes them to be shunned, ridiculed and hated in the communities we share.

Let us not engage in “plate glass qualifying.”  Let us not in our habits or haste drive past an opportunity to find a lost person.

You see…just as he did…Jesus calls us to be on the lookout for the lost…and to be prepared to take the initiative in helping them find their way home to God.



Jeremiah 18:1-11       Luke 14:25-33


          On this Sabbath…this day of rest…you…and I …and God…are working.  As John Wesley would put it…you and I…are “working toward perfection.”  And what is God doing?  God is working to get us there.

The main reason that God took Jeremiah to the potter’s shed was to warn him about judgment.  But…at the same time…the picture of the potter and the clay should give us comfort.  If God is the Potter…then he can make something out of the most unpromising blobs of clay.

In 1983…Eugene Peterson…a retired pastor,  college professor and author…wrote a book entitled “Run With the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best.”  In this book he wrote about each of us.   “No one has ever been able to make a clay pot that is just a clay pot.  Pottery is always changing its shape as potters find new proportions, different ways to shape the pots in pleasing combinations of curves.  There is no pottery that besides being useful does not also show evidence of beauty.”  That’s how God sees his creating work.  That’s how God asks us to see his creating work in ourselves and others.

It takes a patient artist to make a pot that is beautiful as well as useful.  It takes the kind of potter Jeremiah watched…one who refuses to give up on his work.  When there was a flaw in the clay, he did not throw it away; he worked it into something else.  The British preacher and evangelist…F. B. Meyer…calls that pot “a memorial of the potter’s patience and long-suffering, of his careful use of material, and of his power of repairing loss and making something out of failure and disappointment.”

Though they were crushed for a time…as Jeremiah prophesied…God remade his people…Israel…into a beautiful kingdom.

The same can be said of every Christian.  We come into this world like so many clay pots.  Our lives are pitted…with blemishes and impurities.  We are neither useful nor beautiful.  As clay goes…we are not all that easy to work with.  We need to be created all over again…which is what the Holy Spirit does in the life of a sinner who trusts in Christ.  The Spirit works to make him or her into something useful and beautiful.  If you know Christ…you are a memorial to God’s patience and long-suffering…his careful use of material…and his power to make something…even make something out of failure.

In words that are often misinterpreted…Jesus told us how to work with the potter.  Those words…”If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters…yes even his own life…he cannot be my disciple.”  Certainly…when you look at and understand the New Testament…Jesus was not demanding an unqualified absolute hatred.  How could he command to honor your father and mother and demand we hate them?  How could he command husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…then advise them to hate their spouses?    We can focus on our family too much.  We can dote on our loved ones too much…but we cannot love them too much.

What Jesus was saying was that our love for him must be so great and so pervasive that our natural love of self and family pales in comparison.  We are to subordinate everything…even our own being…to our love and commitment to Christ.  He is to be our first loyalty.  All other relationships must take second place.

So…with a harsh phrase…Jesus yanks everyone from their dream world.  It’s like he was asking…”Do you see yourself as a disciple?  Do you think you are going to follow me?  Do you really want the potter to re-shape you?”  If you do…he’s saying…”then you must love me so much that your love for your family seems like hatred in comparison.  Otherwise…don’t pretend.

This is tough for some.  Some fall short.  For many of us…our family is at the center of our world.  That is proper.  But some of us love our wives, husbands and children more than we love God.  We miss the mark when we put their development athletically…intellectually…culturally…artistically… socially ahead of their spiritual well-being.  We fall short when we spend more time in the car in one day shuttling them to activities than we do in a month in prayer for them and with them.  For some…their lives reveal…using the phrasing that Jesus used…that we hate God and love our family disproportionately.  We are not Jesus’ disciples.  We are not letting the potter shape the clay.

The paradox is that the proper way to love others is to “hate” them…as Jesus used the word in teaching his disciples… because our greater love for God will enable us to love them with an even greater love, also.  True disciples are the best lovers of God…and of family…and of friends.  Disciples must always be ready to “hate”…to give second place to everything and everyone else.  The relational cost of discipleship may seem harsh at first.  But in the right perspective and priority this focuses our lives and makes them richer and fuller.

On this Sabbath…this day of rest…this is our work…as it is every day.

On this Sabbath…this day of rest…be reassured in knowing that the potter is at his work.

Let us come to the Lord’s Table re-committing ourselves to discipleship as Jesus would have us do…placing Jesus first in every way.  Let the potter re-shape us.