Tag Archive: Matthew 25

I can’t believe it!  It’s raining.  We haven’t seen substantial rain for some time.  Earlier today I  decided to walk around in it for a few minutes.  It felt so good.  

My lawn is happy.  I don’t like to throw money out the door, so I don’t water my lawn unless it really has to happen.  I was thinking about it this week till I looked at the weather report and saw the coming rain.  The brown will turn green soon.  Not for long, though, it’s going to go dormant soon.  

The temperature is a bit cooler as well.  This is going to cool things down a little bit.  Here it is two o’clock in the afternoon, and it’s only 74 degrees.  Compared to the long hot weather we have had all summer, this is heaven.  

Maybe our air-conditioning can catch a break.  I admit we keep our house pretty cool.  If we ever take a ride together, the air conditioning will be on.  I’m a naturally hot person.  I’m the kind of person that has to sleep with the fan on and one sheet or cover.  Meanwhile, my wife acts like we live in northern Montana.  She is naturally cold.  85 degrees is reason to put a sweater on.  She would wear a winter coat in the house if I let her.  

Some of my friends think this area of South Carolina is the hottest place they have ever been.  Sometimes it’s not really hot but humid.  The humidity drives the heat index up sometimes (more then a few times this summer) over 100 degrees.  I like to call summer in the Lowcountry “three shirt days.”  If anyone does anything outside, he or she will be changing shirts at least three times.  

However, this is not the hottest place I’ve been.  About 17 years ago, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Australia.  I went with a guy who was studying Biology, and he wanted to experience the different biomes of the island.  There are four different biomes in Australia, including a rainforest.  If you include the Great Barrier Reef, there are five biomes.  I have to admit, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef might be the most awesome experience I have ever had.  Ever!  

As we were traveling from Sydney to Darwin to see the rainforest, we missed our plane.  So we had to catch a flight out to Alice Springs and then on to Darwin.  Alice Springs is in the desert region.  When you go to Outback, check out the Alice Springs chicken.  I can guarantee you one thing.  There are no chickens in Alice Springs.  It’s too hot!  It is the only time in my 60 years that my shoes melted to the black top.  I am not exaggerating one little bit.  

We had a five-hour lay-over so we decided to go to a small park.  We didn’t stay long.  We didn’t want to die from heat stroke.  I’m not sure what the actual temperature was, but it was plum hot.  A graph on Google shows that it can get to 45 degrees Centigrade.  That is 113 degrees Fahrenheit.  I don’t care what anybody says.  113 is just way over the top.  I believe it was that hot when we were there in early January.  It might be winter in the USA, but it’s summer in the land down under.  

When I was much younger people shared Jesus with me.  Often I heard the question, “You don’t want to spend eternity in hell do you?”  Being a real young one I asked, “What is hell?”  The reply was often, “It’s fire and brimstone, very hot!”  No way did I want that.  Even when I was a young lad, I asked some questions that caught others off guard.  So I asked, “Is there air-conditioning in heaven?”  Let’s just say nobody answered that one immediately.  They probably thought I was hopeless.  

The Bible does talk about hell being a place of fire and brimstone.  The lake of fire is the picture we have of the second death (eternal punishment).  In Matthew 25, hell is described as being a place of darkness.  I can remember a pastor trying to correlate a dark hell with fire.  Sometimes we try too hard.  

Hell is without question a place of severe pain.  There is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s a place described as being one of death and destruction.  One guy who is condemned to hell asks for a drop of water to sooth his parched tongue.  Again, we have an idea that it is hot.  But, is this reality or actuality?

It was not until I was much older that I came to understand that hell is the absence of God.  God is the essence of all things good, pure, and holy.  Heaven is being in the presence for eternity.  Not a jot or tittle of evil will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

So hell, therefore, is the opposite of heaven.  There is not the jot or tittle of goodness.  Therefore, instead of living in the spirit of love, those who do not follow Jesus will live in the spirit of hate and death.  Often somebody will tell me they don’t mind going to hell.  They will be there with their friends.  I don’t think so.  I see it more as a place of total isolation, tormented by all that is evil.  Forget hot!  The absence of God will make the heat of Alice Springs seem like a cool bath.  The Bible describing hell as hot is the only way they could describe misery that all would understand.  

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Jesus, light and life are guaranteed.  All he says to do is follow.  We don’t have to wait for relief.   

Even though it is the middle of summer and we have many more days to go till fall, there is change in the air.  The change has nothing to do with nature’s seasons.  The change is for the modern day church ,and it has nothing to do with the type of music sung or which version of the Bible is used on Sunday.  Its cultural change, and it’s coming fast.

Unless you have paid no attention to the news and live in a cave, we should be aware that our culture is not changing but rather has changed.  News flash!  There is more change in the air, and we are not going to like it.  

It is a fact that the voting base will shift to the younger generations in the next election. The baby boomer generation, which is the most conservative and “Christian” of the existing generations, will lose its political clout.  Let me rephrase that.  It has lost it.  There are more people of age that we would classify as “millennial” who can vote than baby-boomers.  As the Eagles sang in 2007, “It’s Your World Now.”  Honestly, we of the baby-boomer generation don’t like it and are scared about it.  

I’m not so sure we are scared for gospel reasons.  I personally think we are scared for life-style reasons.  That’s a discussion for another day.  It will probably have gospel implications.  I’m not being a prophet, but these are some changes in the next era we will probably see, barring a revival unparalleled in our history.  Again, I don’t think they are all that bad.  It all depends on how one looks at them.

One of the first changes coming will be the loss of tax exempt status and possible taxation on certain things we never dreamed would be taxed in the church.  It doesn’t even have to be due to religious reasons.  Our government is running out of money.  If there is a pot of gold out there somewhere, they will get it one day.  It has already happened to a certain extent.  By raising the exemption level so high, fewer “givers” are able to claim their gifts and tithes as a tax exemption.  It’s only the beginning.  

As I said before, that’s ok.  We will be called to give our gifts and tithes by God’s calling not the tax deduction.  If the government taxes our properties for the right of holding religious services, then we will find out where our hearts lie.  That happens often throughout the Bible.  Look up the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.  Their heart was not with God but rather how they looked before man.  Everything really is a heart issue even if we don’t realize it.  Giving our offering is a heart issues as well even when we don’t get a tax deduction.    

I do believe a day is coming when bi-vocational pastors will be the norm instead of the oddity.  Most churches in America are small in size.  There are more pastors serving in churches under 200 than in those over 200 in attendance.  With the financial situation and the already aging of American congregations, along with the decrease in attendance by the younger generations, there will be fewer and fewer churches able to support the pastor much less have a paid staff.  If these churches want to continue, they will have to sort out the issues that will arise with a bi-vocational pastor in place.

Again, that’s ok.  I see two possible benefits.  Pastors might make better decisions since their main pay check is no longer dependent on keeping the members happy.  Along with that, members may realize they cannot replace the pastor they have so easily and therefore extend grace more than ever before.  

Along with bi-vocational pastors comes churches with less or no paid professional staff.  The burden of ministry will fall to the attenders.  Did I just hear local pastors say “Amen.”  All of this will probably put many things back in their right place.  Instead of putting on a show, we might just relate to one another.  Instead of depending on the youth pastor to show our kids the way, they will have to get it from us (of course they still do, we just don’t realize it).  Instead of being a busy church, we might become missional churches.  Paying less staff leaves more money for “the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the stranger, the imprisoned.”  (Matthew 25).  See, it’s not all that bad.

The biggest change ahead is already happening.  It is not going to be popular to be a Christian ,much less a verbal Christian.  The shift has happened.  It happened when Generations X and Y (by the way, they are close to retirement now) walked out of the church instead of staying with their spiritual family.  Their children are growing up with very little God influence.  Therefore, it’s simple math.  It’s a spiritual war.  The apostle Paul said we are “wresting with principalities of the air,” meaning there is a constant war against the name of Jesus.  It’s coming fast.

That’s ok.  We don’t have to pay large sums of money to go on mission trips.  Our mission field lives right next door.  It is a great time to be a Christian when the lines get drawn.  It might hurt.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians about two graces given to us by Jesus.  One is the grace of salvation.  The second is the grace of suffering.  We all are aware that if something has great value we will suffer for it.  As far as I can tell, there is nothing more valuable than the name of Jesus.  

That is OK! 

Last week I traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas to officiate a wedding.  It was my first time in Arkansas.  While it was a quick trip, it allowed enough time to check out Hot Springs.  Two things were hot.  The water coming out of the ground was between 135 to 160 degrees.  No wonder they named the town “Hot Springs.”  They could have named it the same since the air temperature was hot as well.  There wasn’t a breath of wind the entire weekend.  

Hot Springs is not only known for the water temperature but also the Bathhouses.  Enterprising individuals built bathhouses mainly for the rich and famous to enjoy the renewing elements in the hot water.  They didn’t know at the time that there is very little mineral content in this particular water.  It didn’t matter. The warm baths attracted the mafia and baseball teams for spring training.  What a combination!  Bathhouses, mafia and baseball teams make quite a mix for such a small town.  The history is rich.  The water is hot.  The town is small.  There it is…Hot Springs, Arkansas.  I might have left out that it is also the hometown to President Bill Clinton.  Now you know a couple answers on Jeopardy.

While there I was reunited with an old friend from Maryland.  When we get together, we love to talk philosophy, religion, and life for hours.  He challenges me to think beyond the norm, and I challenge him.  We don’t argue.  We sharpen.  Everybody needs someone to sharpen him or her.  Without people like him in our lives we can easily become dull.  

We both agreed that a key element to a church we consider “alive” is outreach to the poor.  Jesus said to take care of “the least of these,” naming various people groups (sick, convicts, homeless, and others) in Matthew 25.  Growing churches tend to look beyond their walls and call their church family to care for the poor.  Often we think it’s the governments responsibility.  Not according to Jesus.  

As we were talking, he made a statement that has preoccupied my thoughts for days now.  He said, “The poor are those who are outside of their established community.”  He actually made me pause.  I asked him to define his statement.  He took about 10 minutes explaining that some element of depravity, especially sin, tends to separate us from family, neighbors, church and work.  Once separated, we suffer, and, since we are made by God to be in community we will seek community.  Those secondary communities are often destructive instead of supportive.  

Consider the alcoholic.  His addiction tends to destroy his community.  Looking at Matthew 25, we see that each people group Jesus mentions is out of community.  The “hungry, thirsty and naked” defines those who are homeless and without family.  The sick cannot enter community.  In Biblical days they were unclean and purposely exempt from being connected.  The alien or stranger is outside of community simply by being new in town.  When a visitor comes to our church, is he immediately welcomed into the family?  The Bible says they are to be given the best seat in the house, fed, and welcomed into a place of rest.  The imprisoned were already mentioned.  Did you know that only 10% of all federal prisoners received visitors during their internment?  And we wonder why they become repeat offenders.  

As Jesus came to welcome us into the Kingdom of God called the church, we are to welcome in those outside of the community of God.  If not, they will seek community elsewhere, and I don’t mean another church.  We were not made to be alone and isolated.  Love, grace, and forgiveness are given us by God to come back into relationship with him and with our brothers and sisters.  Reach out to the poor.  It is those who are outside.

They have their issues.  They have their sin.  So do we.  Meanwhile, Jesus still welcomes us home as the Prodigal Father welcomed the Prodigal Son back into his family without question, without payment, and without judgment.  Now that is Christianity.  Only by grace are we recognized as members of His family.  Go and do likewise.  

Jesus was emphatic as he constantly described the modus operandi of the Kingdom of God.  He had to!  The world or kingdom we are entrapped in abides by a different set of rules.  Jesus made that clear as he talked to brothers James and John a few days before he entered Jerusalem.  He describes it as the “rulers of the Gentiles.”  

In the kingdom of this world, the first are first.  Man should look out for his own good (narcissistic at a certain level).  It isn’t the servers who rate it’s the one being served that holds the upper hand.  Jesus said His kingdom is quite different.  He said, “Whoever must be great must be a servant; whoever would be priest must be a slave; you are to serve not be served; and follow my example give your life as a ransom for many.”  Earlier he said, “Whoever wants to find his life must lose it.”  Living as a member of God’s kingdom is vastly different than what we think it is.  I fear we have adapted the kingdom of God to the kingdom of the Gentiles and the offspring is not pretty.  

The life based on love of God and then love of our neighbor was so unique the community at large in a city called Antioch gave us the moniker “Christian.”  There is no indicator it was used to mock them as it is used often today.  Is seems that the early Christians overwhelmed their neighbors with the love of God both in word and deed.  

There is a document found in Rome that described the effect the plague had on the city.  It gives mention to a group of crazy people who ran to the plague instead of away.  Guess who they were?  The Christians.

I read of a recently discovered document that described a horrid situation in the city of Ephesus.  Unwanted and/or babies with a defect were thrown into a dump outside the city.  Again, a group of people would rescue the babies and adopt them raising them as their own children.  Who were these people?  The Christians.  

Now these are dramatic representations of the love described by Jesus in Matthew 25.  These manifestations of love are epic in proportion.  More than likely the Christians in Antioch were loving each other and their neighbors daily.  Often the daily love is harder than the dramatic love in tough times.  

Daily love and grace are long and hard and full of ups and downs. They’re dirty too.  

Last week I wrote about this puppy we adopted over Memorial Day weekend.  Vader (yes, we named him after Darth Vader) has awakened me, to of all things, God’s love and what it really looks like.

Take last night.  I have been trying to let the 8-week-old bundle of energy learn to play by himself.  I have given him plenty of distractions.  However, as a dog, he wants and needs my attention and love.  At first I sat and read a book while he played.  Then I moved a little closer to him hoping to settle him down.  Eventually, I sat down on the floor.  What did he do?  He left all his chew toys and came up and sat on my lap with a strong desire to lick me and bite my ear.  As I sat and talked to him and rubbed his ears and belly, he settled down.  Bonding and love happened.  Why?  That’s what a puppy does.  That’s what a puppy needs.  

I know there are some out there that believe one should beat their dog into submission.  I have trained two dogs now and know that love is a much deeper and better bond.  I have learned over the years people need love too.  Only no bellies rubbed.    

When Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you,” it was not an option.  It’s the modus operandi!  He tells us to go and love our neighbor the same.  What kind of love is that?  The kind that sits on the floor.

King David described the love of God as being “a father to the fatherless and a defender of the widows.”  Jesus has a special place for the downtrodden and suffering.  It’s who He is.  It’s who He desires us to be.  There are no “if’s, buts and maybes” in His call to live a different life that reveals the nature of Jesus.  It’s not a sit afar off and hopefully they will figure it out.  

Hey Church!  Tired of the decay in our society?  Repent for our failure to get down on the floor with somebody and bind his or her wounds, share in his or her pains and suffer along with him or her.  Remember, not because God forces us too.  It’s because of who we have become.  In Antioch they used the word, “Christian.”  

I did something absolutely crazy this past weekend.  I adopted a dog.  Let’s get specific.  I adopted a puppy.  He is an 8 week old black, part Lab, part Hound puppy.  We named him, Vader.  Eventually I want to give him a command “Darth.”  Yes, I have lost my marbles.  My wife cannot believe it.

I’ve had him for two days.  He sleeps through the night except to go out around 3 a.m.  From there he makes it till 6 a.m.  Other then chewing everything in sight, wanting to play every waking hour and the continual effort to figure out his “movements” it’s been a blast.  

Vader has awakened me to life outside of my own circle.  As we grow older, the kids move out and have families of their own it is not very hard to have our lives shrink.  We might get involved in some things we like to do but truthfully, our lives get smaller and smaller.  Maybe that was the point of the odd movie “The Odd Case of Benjamin Buttons.”  In that one, Buttons developed into an infant as he grew older.  There was more to that one than meets the eye, I do believe.

Having Vader around disrupts my schedule.  It is hard to write this article as he tries to nibble on my elbow seeking to gain my attention even though he has 3 chew toys at his disposal.  A morning and evening walk is required.  Vader has extended the waking hours.  It’s been a long time since we had a pup in the house.  My life is no longer mine.  It’s mine and my dog’s.

Thinking about this new venture I think it resembles our lives as believers in Jesus Christ.  Many of us accepted Christ as our Savior since it sounded a lot better then going to hell.  Let’s just say with a bit of sarcasm that possibly we bought fire insurance in Jesus.  For many raised in a “Christian” home we said early prayers so that we get to be with our loved ones in the golden streets and live in a mansion at our new address in heaven.  Little did I know till around the 35 years old that being a believer in Jesus Christ is so much more.

We like to think our belief will cover us at death when we are to enter the pearly gates and live a peaceful eternity in the kingdom of God.  Isn’t that the gospel?  It sure is.  However, there is a lot more that is often covered later instead of earlier.  

Jesus and the Scriptures talk a lot about living in the kingdom of God now.  Yes, right this very moment was the idea.  Living in the kingdom in the future simply extends living in the kingdom today.  What does living in the kingdom today look like?  Possibly not what one thinks.

Jesus was asked directly who gets to go to heaven in Matthew 25.  He did not answer with customary methodologies like devotions, prayer lengths (Jesus commended the short and sweet ones), Bible studios and small group attendance.  He said his sheep would do stuff like, give water to those who are thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, care for the sick, invite the stranger in and visit the imprisoned.  Hum, not what I thought in the first 35 years of my life.

Basically if we add the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control) to Matthew 25 and throw in love God and your neighbor and one more, think of others better then yourself, we have a kingdom life whereby we cease being narcissistic lovers of ourselves and become lovers of others especially those we would naturally not have in our lives.  We literally look for need and pain and address it with grace and love.  This is the real Christian life.  

It’s funny actually sad. Christians revel in the opening scene of Les Miserables when the priest gives the family heirloom candle holders to the their who already stole the family silverware displaying an incredible act of grace overwhelming the desperate man with grace he could not forget.  However, to have the same viewers display the same grace in forfeiting their lives for the sake of incredible grace let’s just say there will be no movies or plays written for our often poor response.  

Looking through the Scriptures and history Jesus often goes silent when his people shrink the life that Jesus gave.  He makes his people desperate for his grace.  It is often not pretty.  He gets his points across and brings his people back into an understanding of real life in Christ.  I have no idea how he is going to drive us back to Him.  All I know is he will.  

Got to go!  Vader just woke up and I don’t want to have to clean the floor.  Again.  

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever losses their life for my sake will find it.”  Matthew 10:39

If you are a regular reader of this column you are aware that I go to great lengths avoiding political and controversial topics that generally leave many in a no win situation.  It is easy to tell which topics fall under this category.  Get a Facebook account and look for topics that end up with opinions that run from east to west, beach to mountaintop.  Those are the ones that have the power to end friendships and split a church.  For me, they aren’t worth the time and type.

The other problem is these issues tend to be ones that have opinions based on the all or none principle.  Either you agree 100% with someone or you are not worth the time of day.  Somehow in our culture we have lost respect at just about every level.  With the loss of respect we have lost the ability to listen and appreciate another persons view even if it does not align with mine.

Often these issues are wrapped tight with a right or left, conservative or liberal, democrat or republican agenda.  It doesn’t take long to get off the main point and follow a rabbit trail that leads to nowhere.  Our opinion is the trump card and we like to use it.  Those opinionated rabbit trails are dangerous journeys these days.  What’s worse is they seldom generate any productive change to a problem, social injustice or blight in our society.

I’m going to break the mold in the next few lines.  I have to.  I was told in ministry that certain events would catch me.  We deal a lot with death.  There would be the one death or funeral that would keep me up at night.  The same goes down the line.  Members would come and go but there would be the one loss that shakes my world.  It’s true.  It’s like God takes a moment in time to bring some things together causing us to see this world for what it is and often it is plain ugly.  For me this past week it’s the senseless murder of 17 students/faculty at a high school in Florida.  This one has my attention.

I prayed last Sunday, “Lord I’m tired of kids killing kids.”  I’am truly tired of this.  At this point I use great caution.  I don’t want to make this a political issue.  I don’t want this to be a whimsical Christian motto or trite answer either.  So where do we start?

It starts with a broken heart.  When the news broke my heart literally hurt.  It hurt for kids who lost their lives, kids who witnessed it, parents in a state of terror and it hurt for the broken young man who somehow decided he would kill innocent people to medicate his own hurt and pain.  There was no moment of peace in my heart.  A truly Christian response begins with brokenness.  Life has been broken for a long time and it will be broken into the future.  Are we broken?

There are no pat answers that solves the problem.  I’ve heard rants about gun control, mental illness, respect, a faithless society and broken homes.  All are true.  The danger is to throw a token response to quell the fury thinking a little water on the forest fire douses the flames.  It’s worse for the Christian community to go silent.

I have heard that the Christian community has the answer.  His name is Jesus.  Again somewhat true.  However, mentally ill, broken Christians are just as capable of reaping death and destruction as a non-believer.  The power of depravity is very strong.  St. Francis of Assisi was known for his attitude of being an influence for Christ beyond mere words and trite prayers.  The Christian community to St. Francis was to fill the gap, respond beyond political and denominational correctness.

Can the Christian community address the gun issue?  Are we assisting with those who are mentally ill?  Do we even look out for anyone in church and the community who is burdened and breaking?  Do we honor our parents and respect our authorities when we disagree with them?  I use the word “respect.”  It involves more then being non-committal.  Do we purpose to minister in our broken homes and communities being a strong influence in fatherless and motherless homes or do we just rant about causes and bad decisions?  Do the broken want to attend your church or is it a place for the outwardly successful?

Jesus is the answer.  The only problem is he calls the Christians to not only have the answer but to be the literal answer.  Check out Matthew 25:31 – 46.  Our other choice is to be like the mass media; wait till the event loses its punch, let our spiritual ADD kick in, and go about our merry lives until the next time the broken  world reaps death and destruction on the masses.  Just as long as it doesn’t happen to me.