Rich Man / Poor Man

Read 
Luke 16: 19-31
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.”Verses 19-21 (NIV) 

Reflect 
I think because my parents knew the hardship of coming to Canada with two kids and only two suitcases, they also knew the hardships of those who just did not have enough. Although I do not remember my family being generous in a monetary way, they were always there with food, clothing, and the labour of their hands (and our hands as well). One thing was certain, there was never any negative or bad talk about poor people around our house. It was not allowed. 

Jesus and the prophets of God who brought God’s Word to the people, had sympathy for the poor and often rebuked rich people who were selfish and did nothing for the poor. In this parable, the poor man Lazarus, who died, was carried by angels to Abraham’s side in heaven, and the rich man was sent to hell, where he was in torment. 

The rich man had lived for his own pleasure and had ignored the message of Moses and the Prophets. Lazarus had no comfort in life, but in death he received the blessings of life with God in heaven. 

I have read that this parable was a comfort to many slaves in the American South in the 1800s. One of their spiritual songs speaks of God as the “Rock of my soul” in “the bosom of Abraham” – an expression referring to “Abraham’s side.” Where could those slaves find justice when their children were ripped from their arms and sold down the river, when the earthly powers and people were stacked against them? But the Lord saw their plight and he will bring justice to their oppressors. 

In this parable, the rich man’s sin was not that he was rich; it was that he refused to care for a person in need. His stony heart ignored the call to share food with the hungry and to provide shelter and clothing for people in need (Isaiah 58:7). There are still many who look for kindness and justice and search in vain to find it. As followers of Jesus we are called to be that kind word, that hand up and the voice of justice and peace. 

Pray 
Lord, instill in us your heart of compassion, and lead us to do some good with the earthly treasures you have given us. In the name of the Jesus who has compassion on us, Amen. 

But Not Them

Read 
Matthew 13:10-17 
“The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Verse 11 (NIV) 

Reflect 
I remember well spending extra evenings at language school trying to figure out some of our lessons. Naomi caught on right away, but Kiswahili was going to take some time to sink into my brain. When we got to Nygezi, Tanzania, where we would work and live, the constant exposure to the language finally made the lessons from school understandableEven though I became quite comfortable conversing in Kiswahili, I realized in a short time that I would not be able to preach in Kiswahili because Biblical terminology  (things like sin, righteousness, grace, redemption, etc.) was not part of everyday conversational speech and the flow of a sermon was completely different than having a conversation. 

Our verse for today is stated in a slightly different way in the gospel of Mark. In Mark 4:11, Jesus states, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.” 

Jesus called his disciples, and they followed along with him as their teacher. They were willing to spend time with him and learn from him constantly. In fact, they spent all their time with him, and eventually they learned and began to understand his purposes. They knew what it meant to live continuously in his presence. 

To those who are willing to live fully in his kingdom, Jesus gives the secrets of the kingdom. But all who are not willing to turn to Jesus, and to ask and learn why he has come, will stand at the edge of the kingdom, unable to understand the nuances, the mysteries, the fulness of love that flows from the Father in heaven. 

Do you need to press further in? Do you need to spend more time listening to the whispers that Jesus speaks to your heart? He wants us to turn to him and be forgiven, and to have life to the full! This is the only condition for life in his kingdom. 

Pray 
Lord Jesus, help me to press into you and immerse myself in the full life of your kingdom. In your name, Amen.

Inheritance

Read 
Proverbs 13:20-22 (NIV)
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.  Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things.  A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous. 

Reflect 
I have not had any personal experience, but I have been told of families that are torn apart relationally because of arguments over an inheritance that was left behind with no will or any kind of instruction.  

Inheritance issues can be controversial, but, in the Bible, inheritance is also a great example of a good gift because it’s given by grace – not earned – a windfall received from God, who loves us. Psalm 136 celebrates the way God gave the promised land to Israel “as an inheritance.” Again, and again the refrain echoes, “His love endures forever.” As history shows, Israel had done nothing to earn that inheritance. God was creating a new nation that would bless all nations by providing a Saviour. 

The tribe of Levi was different.  They did not receive land as their inheritance. They served in the ceremonial worship of God as priests and teachers and temple workers. And because of this intimate relationship with God, it was said, “The Lord is their inheritance”.
(Deuteronomy 10:9) 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). And 1 Peter 1:4 describes salvation as “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” Like Israel we did not earn this inheritance, nor do we deserve this inheritance. We have this heavenly treasure all by grace, through faith.  Thanks be to Jesus for all we have. 

Pray 
Thank you Father for the inheritance that we have in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen! 

Peacekeepers

Read 
Matthew. 5:9-12
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Verse 9 (NIV) 

Reflect 
We just celebrated Canada Day and one of the qualities of the Canadian culture is that we are peacekeepers. Not just active peacekeepers on the international stage, but generally we are known as peace-loving people. 

The concept of peace here in this text, is based on the meaning of the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom refers to a way of life in which justice, peace, goodness, rightness, and flourishing abound for all people. This is life as God intends it to be, in which everyone lives in harmony with God and with their neighbors.  

Jesus came to bring and restore us to peace with God (John 16:33; Romans 5:1). And now we are invited to be peacemakers together with Jesus, not just peacekeepers, but peace makers. Just as he is the Son of God, so we become children of God as we join in his mission of peacemaking.  

Shalom-making involves everything we do – in our work and play, in the way we handle our finances, in all our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Shalom guides us to build unity across racial differences, break down barriers that keep people in poverty, call for legislation that helps life to flourish, and point to God’s way of living that brings full life for all, including care for God’s creation.  

Being a peace maker or a shalom maker calls for us to be like Jesus in how we live, how we play, how we act and how we interact with people and the world. We know from Jesus words that the world will hate us (John 15:19), so we need to walk in the power of Jesus. 

Pray 
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  Numbers 6: 24-26 (NIV) 

Contagious Forgiveness

Read 
Matthew 6:9-15
“If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Verses 14-15 (NIV) 

Reflect 
These verses from the Lord’s Prayer have been said by us time & time again. But do we really know what we are praying. The teaching here might be confusing. It almost sounds as if we have to earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. But we also know that through faith in Jesus, we are already forgiven by God (Acts 2:38Romans 3-8). So how do we view these verses and how do we apply them to our lives. 

In my childhood home we used a thin rectangular sponge at the kitchen sink. When that kitchen sponge hadn’t been used for a long time and you put it under the tap, the water ran right over the sponge. But if you set that sponge in a sink of water for a few minutes, it softened and became usable again 

Our hearts can be like that sponge. When we hold onto resentments and bitterness, feeding our anger, we can become as hard as a rock, and God’s grace for us will be like water running over a rock. It doesn’t soak in. 

But when we are open to forgiving others, we become soft like a moistened sponge. The Lord’s deep grace soaks in and envelopes our hearts, and we become available to share his grace. Just as a wet sponge moistens other things when it touches them, we can share grace, helping to wipe others’ dirt away as we forgive themAs Colossians 3:13 puts it, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” 

Verses 14-15 in the Lord’s Prayer is about our willingness to forgive. It is about our attitude and our spiritual heart’s willingness to offer grace, while at the same time, die to our anger, resentment, and bitterness.  

Pray
Soak my heart, Lord, in the depths of your abundant grace and mercy, that I may overflow with grace and mercy for others. For Jesus’ sake, Amen. 

Clenched Hearts

Read 
Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Verse 3 (NIV) 

Reflect
Make a fist and squeeze as hard as you can. After a few moments that feels uncomfortable and creates some tension in your entire body. Now imagine that your heart is like that: clenched, closed, so tense and tight that it almost hurts – but in a strange way, that tightness feels safer than letting anyone in to hurt you.

Jesus begins a powerful sermon, declaring, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …” It’s as if he’s saying, “Of course your heart wants to clench up. It feels inadequate; it is wounded and weary; it feels threatened, like it’s under attack. It wants to protect itself.” 

But we know that a clenched heart might also shut out the love of God. So, Jesus invites us to open our hearts, just as they are, wounded and weary. It’s as if he is saying, “Be real; be vulnerable, be open hearted.”  Many of us are sensitive and actually poor in spirit, but we hide that from people around us, so we clench our heart. Being poor in spirit is not something to hide, it’s a way to be blessed. 

My dad told me that if I really wanted to get to know someone well, I should find a way to work with that person on a common task. Our strictest professor at Bible College was very hard to get to know. One summer he hired me to do a significant amount of work in his backyard. The great surprise was that he decided to work alongside me. During those days, his hard exterior came down. We had some very personal discussions and we got to know each other at a different level.  

That September, back at school, I encountered the same strict, hard professor but I knew the heart of the man just below the exterior. It made for a much more enjoyable learning experience. 

Open your heart! It will bless someone else and you at the same time. 

Pray 
Lord, thank you for inviting me to come to you as I am. Help me to open my heart to others – and to show your love. Amen. 

Community is Caring

Read 
Romans 12:3-13
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Verse 6 (NIV) 

Reflect 
In my many years of pastoral work I have been blessed to see the church community act and react with all of their gifts, to be the warm embrace of Jesus in our world. When a middle-aged couple lost the baby they had waited so many years for, their sorrow was unbearable. I watched as people gathered around them to console their broken hearts. I watched as older wise men sat with the husband and responded to his questions about “Where was God in this tragedy?” At the funeral, a young mother who had also lost a child sat with this grieving mom and simply offered her shoulder and an understanding of pain. For weeks following the funeral people dropped off meals, flowers, and cards with expressions of sympathy and support. The entire community cared for them in whatever way they could. 

When the apostle Paul talks about the body of Christ in Romans 12, he urges his listeners to use whatever gifts they have been given to their fullest ability. It doesn’t really matter which gifts we might have. What matters is, that we use them to the best of our ability for the good of others. That expression of caring and love makes the body of Christ strong, resilient, and attractive to those outside the community. 

In community, people care for each other. They use their gifts to help each other and to see that anyone who is wounded, or hurting, or in some other difficulty, is looked after and loved. Sometimes healing is possible. Other times mourning and support are needed when healing doesn’t take place. 

There are times when we all need to know is that someone will care for us. Having a community around us to do that is essential. 

Pray 
Father, help us to use the gifts we have been given to care for each other, and help us to receive care when we need it. Amen. 

Canada Day

Read 
Luke 10:27 (NIV)
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 love your neighbour as yourself.

Reflect 
My parents and two older siblings immigrated to Canada. For my parents they always celebrated Canada Day and told us on a regular basis that they loved being Canadian. 

When they had visitors from Holland, they always remarked on how much space there is here and how much distance between towns. They notice how each house is different from its neighbour. They were also surprised how hot it is, because they always came in the summer. One of our visitors believed that it was cold in Canada all the time. He wondered how we could keep large farms under glass to allow things to grow. Lake Ontario was often called “the sea” by mistake, because lake is much smaller in Europe

Being a fairly young nation, Canada has so many amenities: straight, well-maintained highways, indoor shopping malls, playgrounds, comfort centres, fast food outlets, and churches with insulation and air conditioning.

God’s been good to us. There’s room for all here. We’re friendly. We welcome those from other countries, and all religions are free to worship here. We’re open-minded. We’re known the world over as peacemakers. I suspect that we might, in fact, be just a little apathetic, taking our blessings for granted.

Whatever the part of the globe that we call home, we need to stand on guard. We could lose our freedoms very easily. As patriots and as Christians, we must be good stewards of this part of the globe that we call home. This means taking care of everything from voting to littering. We need to be informed. We need to keep the Golden Rule, loving our neighbours as ourselves.

As Christians, this world is not our home. We belong to God’s kingdom, and one day, we will live with Him there. We are different from worldly people. God has placed us here to be salt and light – not to be assimilated into the world, but to have an effect on it. We are His ambassadors. 

Let’s remember to be light in the darkness. 

Prayer
Father in heaven, we praise You for our own country, for Your creation, for blessings, and for freedom. Help us to know our true purpose: to serve and to “Stand on guard for Thee.” Amen. 

A Community of Saints?

Read
Matthew 12:15-21
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…”  Verse 20 (NIV) 

Reflect
I remember well my first congregation. I was young and allowed first impressions to guide my assessment of the people in the chairs. It did not take too long to learn that church people were just like any other everyday people – except they were forgiven, and Jesus lived with and in them.

It was not long before the real stories behind the smiles began to appear. Adoptive parents that watched as their adopted daughter broke every boundary and pushed back at the love she had received from this couple. Hearts were breaking and yet there they were each Sunday sitting in the congregation. A couple, young in their faith and working through all of the implications of a history they shared that was less than beautiful. Secretly there was talk of separation. There they were in the same seats each Sunday morning.  A well-established family suddenly shocked by the disclosure of a gay lifestyle from one of their children. They were there sitting in the chairs on Sunday morning with their heads hung very low and not knowing what to do next. A man in his twilight years wondering what was wrong with his Christian walk. Was it doubt? Was it fear? He just could not find a hook to hold onto, but he was at church service every Sunday morning.

When I first became a believer, I thought that there were two kinds of people: normal ones and messed up ones – bruised reeds. It did not take too long to understand that there are no “normal people” as I described them but that most people have some kind of hurt in their history.

The church is a community of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. Often there are folks in churches who pretend to “have it all together,” but no one’s life is free of trouble and struggle. Thanks be to God that he is not looking for perfect saints but for forgiven and humble saints. I pray often that the church will become a healing centre for bruised reeds and not the place of pointing out our failures, so we feel useless and unworthy. In reality, we are all unworthy, but praise God that he does not break broken reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks.

Jesus forgives, heals, encourages, and supports bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. Thank you, Jesus.

Pray
Lord, we are bruised reeds, smoldering wicks. Thank you for tending us with your care and grace. Amen.

Walking With God

Read
Genesis 3:1-10
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…Verse 8 (NIV) 

Reflect 
As a dad, I remember the days that I was away at work and due to long days and significant travel distance I would not see the kids for a week at a time, sometimes longer. When I saw them on Saturday and Sunday it was like a reunion and it was so good to see them and hold them again. 

At the beginning of earthly time, daily interaction between God and his human creatures was a natural thing. Humans were able to walk with God and hear his voice and enjoy his company. 

But sin changed all that. Instead of listening to God with childlike wonder, Adam and Eve chose to question God’s words and to doubt the sincerity of his relationship with them. They listened to the serpent, the devil, as he planted doubts in their minds. Then they disobeyed God, causing separation between themselves and him. Now they could no longer simply enjoy the company of God. And out of fear and guilt, they hid from him, knowing they had done wrong. 

Jesus told the disciples that it was important for him to leave the earth so the comforter, the Holy Spirit could come to live with and in believers (John 14:15-18). Paul in Romans 8:15-18 clearly states we are co-heirs with Christ, a part of the family of God.  In Christ we see God coming to walk alongside us again, and in the ascension, we can see our fellowship restored anew. 

Walk in fellowship with God, know the joy of His company. When sin enters into the relationship, ask for forgiveness and restore the fellowship and enjoy His company again. 

Pray 
Father God, forgive us for our selfishness that separates us from your love. Help us to hear your voice and to enjoy your presence as a gift. Heal and restore us, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.