Separation

Scripture Reference: Luke 16:19-31

Two people in this parable find themselves separated from each other. They are separated by man-made systems that were built during their lives and now they find themselves separated by a great chasm in the afterlife.

We are told in verse 19 that “the rich man was dressed in purple and fine linen and (that he) feasted sumptuously every day.” By contrast, in verse 20, is the injured and starving poor man, who was apparently dumped at the gate of the rich man. 

The rich man was not only in great health, but he was dressed in the finest clothes and ate all he wanted and more. Purple and fine linen were reserved for the wealthiest and highest in status. It’s likely the poor man did not even have a change of clothes. We also know from this story that the rich man ate very well.  

In Greek, the word, translated as “‘sumptuously’ denotes brilliance and splendor.”  The word used for “feast” is a word that denotes special occasions.1  So, while the poor man starved, the rich man had Thanksgiving dinner every day. 

There are occasions on which some splurge on an expensive restaurant. We pay a premium to feel special and to dine in an atmosphere of opulence. In these moments, the night out becomes more than a shared meal, it is a dining experience. We pay a premium to feel special for a moment. The white tablecloths, fine china, linen napkins, and silver settings take us away into another world. In this case, we encounter a man who splurges in this way every night. It has been said that looking at one’s spending will prove one’s priorities.2 Looking at the rich man’s spending, it is clear that his priority was in separating himself from the needs of others and setting himself up for comfort and overindulgence. 

What is it that separates us from each other in this life and what bearing do these separations have in the life to come? I believe the deciding factor on how our life in the hereafter is affected is the heart behind our behaviors. 

We know there will always be poor people. Jesus said so in Matthew 26:11. Does being poor automatically create a connection between you and God and does being rich automatically consign you to eternal torment? Not a chance. I can say that with complete assurance because I know that our salvation is granted through faith in Jesus Christ. That means that poor people who come to God through faith in Jesus Christ are saved by their faith, not by their poverty. Rich people are saved also, through their faith. 

This parable is not directed toward rich people simply because of their wealth. It is directed specifically to the Pharisees. More generally applied, it is also directed toward any who think their social status on Earth has solidified their place in heaven. They use their social status to separate themselves and others from God. 

There is separation. Separation of classes and separation between rich and poor, humble and proud, heaven and hell. The Pharisees separated themselves from everyone else, setting themselves up as the gatekeepers of God’s Word and of God’s temple. They interpreted the law to justify themselves and create a barrier between themselves and the rest of God’s people.

In their pride and love for money, the Pharisees were as guilty as the rich man in the parable, in that they gathered wealth solely for personal gain. Like the rich man, the Pharisees retained control and power over others and, like the rich man, they oppressed the poor and needy. 

Here is our main point which serves as an important warning, there is separation in many things in this world but the worst kind of separation is that which eternally separates ourselves or others from God.

Eternal separation from God is only an extension of the separation we created here on Earth. God does not separate Himself from us, we separate ourselves from God. Once we die, the chasm we worked so hard to create becomes one that is impossible to cross. Our calling is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We carry out this calling by connecting others to God. 

We have to answer two questions to clarify our main point and to keep from this eternal separation. how do we separate ourselves from God and how do we separate others from God?

First, how do we separate ourselves from God? We separate ourselves from God by becoming unteachable. Some of us have grown up in church and feel like we have heard it all. We have studied and listened and have come to the point that we don’t feel we have any more to learn. So, we start shutting down. We reason that with so many interpretations of Scripture, what use is it to listen to preachers and teachers? We decide we know enough, we have heard enough, and decide it is time for us to live according to our own understanding. Following this line of thinking, some have stopped going to church. 

Some have let hurt feelings take them out of the fellowship of the disciples of Christ and in so doing have removed themselves from the place of worship, corporate prayer, shared smiles, warm hugs, friendly handshakes, and loving smiles. 

We become unteachable in separation from the things of God. Separation leads to isolation. Isolation leads to destruction. Whether it is isolation from other people who have the Holy Spirit of God within them or isolation from God’s love, isolation is deadly. If you are too ill to get out of the house, make sure someone with the Spirit of God within them is visiting you regularly. If ours is the only voice to which we are listening, we will become and remain unteachable.

We separate ourselves from God by becoming unreachable. We become unreachable by creating impenetrable barriers with our pride. We create unpassable chasms by dulling our senses with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, pornography, possessions, food, and activities, among other things. We find it difficult to take time to listen to an invisible God amidst the noise of the constant temptations around us. So, we don’t stop. We don’t notice that our soul is poor and starving at the gate because we are too busy feeding our flesh and giving in to distraction.

Second, how do we separate others from God? How we treat others has an eternal bearing because it is a matter of the heart. Our hearts have separated from the love of God and we have extended that separation to others. 

We have separated ourselves into white, black, Hispanic, and Korean churches. We have pushed people away from our tables of fellowship, pushed them out of our churches, and placed them out of their minds. Yet, they are no less precious children of God than anyone else. All of God’s children are highly valued. 

The outcast, the unloved ones, the humble and lowly tend to be separated in our society and yet find a connection with God much easier than those who are well off. Why? Because they are hungry and they know it! They are starving for fellowship, thirsting for righteousness, seeking to know more of God and learn more about how to please God. The outcast who has found the love of God through Jesus Christ has made it past the judgmental glances and words of the Pharisees to find freedom. They have heard words of acceptance, love, and deliverance from their Savior Jesus Christ, and have gratefully run into the presence of God.

The torment of eternity comes to the faithless and the proud whose hunger is fed by the things of the world. They have great celebrations, the best of everything, the biggest churches, and the best houses. On the outside, they appear well off, while in reality, their spirits are isolated and empty. Their chasm has been created and unless they start finding ways to connect themselves and others to God, their souls face eternal separation.

The worst kind of separation is that which eternally separates ourselves or others from God. Make a decision now to stop separating yourself from God. Stop separating others from God. The time to connect to God is now. The time to connect with other children of God is now. Invite God in. Invite others to come. Just as you are. Just as they are. Drop the barriers. Lay down the pride. Be teachable. Be reachable. Pray to God and enter through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Works Cited

  1. Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Gospel of Luke. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington, Kindle Edition ed., vol. 3, Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 1991.
  2. Sethi, Ramit. “How You Spend Money Reflects Your Priorities.” Business Insider, 19 February 2019, http://businessinsider.com/how-you-spend-money-reflects-priorities-2019-2. Accessed 26 September 2022.

Acceptance Awareness

There are many who struggle with acceptance awareness. Overcome with shame from past mistakes, we are prone to lose self-respect, self-love, and self-acceptance. Our loss of care for ourselves grows in our speech and actions, and we turn increasingly inward to shield ourselves from love. Left unchecked, we can become angry, bitter, and isolated.

There is a shift that has to occur. Instead of denying acceptance, we must be aware, amazed, and grateful for it. This acceptance begins with our awareness of God’s prevenient grace. God tells the prophet, Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’ (Jer. 1:5). God created us. God reached out to us first. Not only that, God sets us apart from a world of hate and corruption appointed to love others. To do that, we have to love ourselves first. 

Jesus said, says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” Jn. 15:13. God sent Jesus Christ, God’s only Son to die for you. Yes, for you. God’s love is expansive, unconditional, and healing. It’s time to step out of the darkness of self-doubt and self-loathing. Step into the light of God’s love and acceptance.

May God bless your journey,

Pastor Don.

Photo credit: Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Love With All…

There is a recurring theme in the New Testament that ties faith and love together. In Luke 10:27, Jesus said that the path to eternal life is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” 

It seems many have overcomplicated salvation and have made connecting with God difficult for others. If we say we believe the words of Jesus Christ, then we have no business adding requirements for salvation that do not exist. No special prayer has to be said, no outline has to be followed. On the other hand, repentance is clearly required, as the call to repent is found in both the Old and New Testaments. One question left unanswered is, repentance from what exactly? 

One problem is that too many fill in the blank for others. There are those who take the grace of God for granted and feel entitled to do and say what they want. There are also those who add additional rules and regulations on others. We see both extremes. We see people making Christianity too burdensome and we see others foregoing the idea of repentance completely. Where do we find the balance? Based on what Jesus says in Luke 10, I believe we find it in our devotion to God and others. 

When I love God with ALL my heart, my words and actions are guided by God’s love. When I love God with ALL my soul, selfish desires are overcome. When I love God with ALL my strength, my energy is focused on living our lives for God. When I love God with ALL my mind, my thoughts are guided by God, rather than by the world and my own desires. When I love my neighbors as myself, I make better choices, speak with more patience, and give because I care. Let us come and bring others into life eternal through Jesus Christ, our Lord, with love.

God bless you,

Pastor Don

Scripture Reference: Luke 10:25-37

Photo credit: https://www.freeimages.com

Imprisoned & Guarded

“Imprisoned and Guarded” are the words used in Galatians 3:23 to describe the way we were before we came to faith in God through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote that without faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ we are “under the law.”

The faithless imprison themselves to the lusts of the flesh and desires of this world because they hide from a reconciling God. The faithless guard themselves from redemption through Jesus Christ because they have become jaded. They don’t believe such incredible grace could be possible. The norm is to think there will be a payment expected; that there must be some kind of catch. So, they free themselves to indulge their desires and open themselves to that which pulls them farther from God.

So, why am I writing to believers about the effects of faithlessness? Because these same effects can creep into our lives if we are not careful. Our world is full of voices that would imprison us from faith, grace, and redemption. Perhaps we stop praying as intently as we once did. Or, maybe we get out of the habit of reading God’s Word. Before we know it, our guard starts coming back up and we are pulled deeper into shame and farther from the love of God. 

The ways of evil are deceptive and subtle. So, I remind you, as people of faith in God through Jesus Christ, to remember what Galatians 3:27 says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Since, in baptism, you were welcome into God’s fold and since you are clothed in the redeeming love and grace found in Jesus Christ, remember the beauty of your calling. Revive your faith daily in prayer and by reading the Word of God.

You are free! Free to thrive as strong believers in a vibrant church of redeemed warriors who will continue to grow in Christ, proclaim the Word, and serve others.

God bless you,

Pastor Don.

Scripture Reference: Galatians 3:23-29

Holy Spirit Peace

In many churches, including ours, we celebrate Pentecost and are reminded once again of the fire of the Holy Spirit. We wear red and drape our communion tables, lecterns, and pulpits in red remind to remind us of the tongues of fire that were seen above the heads of those who received the Holy Spirit for the first time. After which, they spoke words “about God’s deeds of power.”

In John 14:16, Jesus said that he would send us an “Advocate to be with us forever.” We can be comforted by these words for sure. The promise of God’s power continues in verses 26-27, where Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that he said to us. These promises are especially important to those who are anxious about speaking to others about God. Whether we preach in a pulpit or proclaim the wonders of God in our communities, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to share.

One of the most powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of peace. In a world of darkness, fear, anxiety, and depression the fire of the Holy Spirit burns bright within the hearts of the believer to burn those things away, leaving peace instead.

So, as we wear red and look at the red that is all around us this Sunday, may we remember the powerful fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within us, teaching us what we need to know, reminding us of Jesus’ words, and burning peace within our hearts. With the Holy Spirit of God within us, we will be changed and we will bring change to the world. 

Blessings,

Pastor Don

Peace

Though we serve a risen savior, we are often faced with difficult situations. Those we love perish, and grief grips us. Our finances crumble, and fear overtakes us. We face physical, spiritual, and mental losses and wonder how or if we will recover.

The disciples of Jesus Christ were very familiar with grief and fear. They saw what happens to those who go against the status quo. So, they went to the upper room, closed the door, and locked themselves away from the world.

Have you ever felt so afraid and so beat down by the world that you just wanted to close the door and lock yourself away? It’s in moments like those that we need to listen to the words of Jesus, “Peace be with you.” The peace of Jesus comforts us in our grief and overcomes our fears.

We notice a few things in Jesus’ encounter with the disciples. First, Jesus proclaims peace to them more than once. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that peace is with us. Second, Jesus sends them out. They could not remain behind locked doors forever. Third, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22). 

While the Holy Spirit is received, peace is realized. In other words, the words of Jesus are not a wish that they would find peace, rather it is a proclamation that peace is already there. 

Jesus comes to us while we are locked up in our grief and fear and proclaims that peace is with us. He calls us out of our private spaces and sends us out to proclaim God’s peace to all. Jesus Christ has breathed life into our souls, we have received the Holy Spirit of God. Now, all we have to do is unlock the door, open it and walk into the peace that is with us all.

Distraction

Holy Week is one of those weeks that remind me of a dark time in my life and how God brought restoration and renewal. I had become distracted by activities, ministry, education, and service to the point that distraction wrecked my life. You might ask, “How can distraction be so powerful?” Distraction takes hope and turns it into depression. It takes love and turns it into selfishness. It takes peace and turns it into shame and guilt.

I allowed distractions to lead me away from everything I loved, including my children, career, and marriage. You have heard the warnings against distracted driving and how dangerous that can be. Distracted driving is nothing in comparison to distracted living. When our minds wander from God, we forget God’s gracious gifts of salvation and sanctification. This leads to confusion, anxiety, stress, discouragement, and loss. Thankfully, there is always an offramp to distraction and an onramp to God’s grace.    

2 Cor. 5:17-18, saysSo if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (NRSV). 

When I refocused on God, renewed my commitment, and realized the hope, love, and peace that was freely available all along, my life began to change. God lit the way out of the darkness and held my hand as I moved from distraction to focus, from shame to grace, and from death to resurrection. That is why I love joining God in “the ministry of reconciliation!” I know what it’s like on the other side and I don’t want anyone to get stuck there. May we all help each other and those around us stay free from distraction and live into God’s resurrection power.

Be Loud

Why do so many people find it difficult to praise God out loud? When the scriptures tell us to praise God with our words, songs, and even our lives, why do we remain silent?

Maybe they praise God inwardly and quietly. Maybe people are distracted by what is going on in their lives or the multitude of thoughts going through their minds. Maybe they are afraid they will be singled out. Could it be possible they have yet to have built a close enough relationship with God to proclaim joy at God’s presence and power?

In Luke 19:29-40, we see Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As Jesus entered the Holy City, his disciples expressed their joy and adoration by loudly proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” When the Pharisees said that they should stop, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

What led the disciples and others to praise Jesus?  Maybe, they were convinced the Messiah’s time had come. Possibly, they thought Jesus was finally going to take control and free them from Roman rule. Certainly, the days that followed left many, if not all of Jesus’ followers discouraged, frustrated, disappointed, and confused. The days that followed were certainly somber, quiet, and reflective days.

Then, Jesus was risen from the dead and ascended into heaven! After Jesus’ sacrifice, we learned the fullness of Jesus’ mission, sacrifice, and love. Now, fully aware of the true mission of Jesus, we can once again shout, “Hosanna!” In every gathering of Christians, we should be shouting praises to God and singing with all our hearts. If you are not filled with the joy of Jesus Christ, ask yourself why? Pray to God to help you realize what great love has been given to you! Pray for peace in your soul, connection with God, and a realization that leads you to loudly proclaim the joy of God’s presence and power. 

Now

In Steve Cordle’s, A Jesus-Shaped Life, he writes about having an urgency regarding those who do not yet believe in nor follow Jesus Christ as their Lord. I think that sense of urgency should extend to all whether they believe in Jesus or not. 

If we think all we have to do is believe that God is alive, we are in trouble. James 2:17-19 says, “So faith by itself if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.”

I do not think we should come to God just to escape hell but we should remember that we all have a very narrow window within which to come to faith and to learn to live like Jesus. That window is open only as long as we live. Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are spiritually dead and believers who are not living for Jesus are not any better off. Faith requires action and the time to act is now.

2 Cor. 6:1-2 says, “As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, now is the time to believe. For those of us who are believers, now is the time to live as though we believe. Now is the time to spread the Word of hope, give to those in need, visit those who are sick and in prison, and live our lives for God.

Pastor Don