Contentment

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

If you get a chance to visit the Eisenhower Library and Museum, you will want to walk through his boyhood home.  It is almost shockingly small, yet David and Ida raised six boys in it (one other died young), all of whom had successful careers.  In addition, the family income would have put them below the poverty line if we had had such a thing then.

How did that happen and why doesn’t it happen more often?

David and Ida were deeply religious and well educated, even reading the Bible in Greek.  They had daily devotions with the whole family, strict discipline, rotating chores at home, and loving, nurturing relationships within the family.  Dwight’s decision to apply for an appointment to the military academies deeply saddened his mother who was opposed to war on principle.  Yet, she accepted him as a person and did not oppose his choice.

We cannot judge the Eisenhowers as God does, but David and Ida do seem to be the kind of people Paul encouraged Timothy to be.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  The key word is contentment.  That word seems to apply to the Eisenhower parents.  Not that they chose to be poor, but that they accepted it with grace and dignity.  They also made sure their boys had good skills to survive whatever faced them.

Dwight, Little Ike as a youth and just Ike later, served in the army for 25 years before becoming a lieutenant colonel.  Most men would have given up and taken retirement at 20, but Ike accepted the role of teacher, coach, staff member, all the while learning the skills needed for the time he was to be called on for a top position.

Contentment.  We don’t see much of that in America today.

We do see it in Paul, Lazarus, Jeremiah, and the Psalmist.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Before Jeremiah bought his grave site, before he was thrown into prison for delivering an unpopular message, even before he heard the word of the Lord, Jeremiah knew God.  He trusted God and lived according to God’s directions.  Then when God spoke to him, Jeremiah heard Him.  It’s easy to gloss over that, but don’t.  Hearing God requires living close to Him and being willing to hear.

Yes, God spoke to some people like Jacob and Jonah who were not as happy to hear from Him.  Sometimes God had to poke and prod to get his chosen one to move or to speak, but they did hear and did respond.

Don’t get the idea that Jeremiah was Mr. Perfect.  He had some bad days and some grumpy ones too.  Through it all, he never gave up on God.  To give King Zedekiah one more solid message, he bought his own grave site.  He had already told Zedekiah that all the people of the kingdom would be taken into captivity, but he also told him they would return, though not the king.  If you expect to die in Babylon, you don’t buy a grave in Judah.

Jesus found himself walking in Jeremiah’s sandals as he delivered the word of God to the people and to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes.  Just before today’s reading, we see the Pharisees responding to Jesus by “lifting up their noses” at him.  That is the literal translation for a common Middle Eastern expression even today, one showing complete disdain.

Now, he seems to move on to a topic designed to upset the Sadducees in particular.  That may not have been his intent, but it might as well have been.  Sadducees, as far as we know, rejected any notion of life after death.  Since this is the only life, we must make the most of it, so many Sadducees worked hard to accumulate wealth.  That might seem a contradiction when you learn that most priest were Sadducees.  As far as we can tell, their belief system was centered on the Temple sacrifice and worship system.  They apparently believed God could only be reached by the smoke from the holocaustic fires.

Many Pharisees were wealthy also, so both groups would have been upset by the portrayal of the rich man as so cold hearted.  After all, they put coins in the collection trumpets at the Temple.  Besides, God chose me to be rich.  I deserve it.

That attitude is on display as the rich man says, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  He never speaks to Lazarus, even though he recognizes him, even though he knows his name.

He says, “Father, I am your son.  Send that worthless dog Lazarus to help me.”   He depends on his pedigree to get out of the fire and he still cannot accept Lazarus as his equal.  At least he does not dare chide Abraham for allowing such a nothing person at his banquet.

Abraham responds by accepting the rich man as his son.  In fact, he uses the Greek word teknon, the same word used by the father of the prodigal’s older brother.  It means, ‘my dear son’.  The most interesting point is that Abraham says that Lazarus is comforted.  Nothing was said about being healed or fed.  What Lazarus needed was comfort and the rich man gave him none.  His watch dogs showed compassion on Lazarus by trying to heal his wounds as best they could.  For Jews, dogs were only a tiny step above pigs.

Through it all, Lazarus was content in the knowledge that he was loved by God.  He never said a harsh word against the rich man, not even when he was burning for his lack of compassion.  By accepting the Love of God, he was also able to love.

Being wealthy is not a sin, but it is even more difficult to stay close to God as the bank account increases.  If there is enough ready money, why not buy that new car.  We live in America where God gave us the Interstate system, so we have to have a good set of wheels.  We consume things.  In all that hoopla, it is easy not to hear the voice of God.

Watch for the beggar at your gate.  Oh, the name Lazarus means, the one whom God helps.  My thanks to Kenneth E. Bailey for his observations on this parable.  I recommend all his books.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

A Thief is Saved

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

Δε και is a Greek phrase often used by Luke to link segments of his writing.  It is found at the beginning of Chapter 16, so links the current story with the preceding story, or stories.  In chapter 15 we read the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the famous lost son, or prodigal son.  Therefore, we should understand that Jesus simply went on in the same theme.  Put simply, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager has the same theme as the other three parables.

But if you read Jeremiah and Psalms, you might wonder how they might be connected to the theme of God saving the lost.  Or for that matter, what saving the lost has to do with a dishonest manager.

Paul gives us some help in his missive to young Timothy who was working the difficult mission in Ephesus.  To pull it from the middle of the sentence, God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved.  That is the theme.  God wants every human to join Him in His New Jerusalem.

The problem is that we all sin.  Thus, Jeremiah records his own fears for the people.  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.  God had said in 8:13, What I have given them will be taken from them.  Jeremiah knew the suffering the people would soon experience and he wept for them.  But when we complete the reading of Jeremiah, we realize that he also knows that the suffering is a just punishment meant to force his people to return to the Ways of God.

We are fond of Psalms 23, 19, 117, and many others because they praise God and thank Him for His wonderful care.  79 is a bitter pill.  It was sung in the Temple to remind the people that God can and will punish evil.  It was particularly a reminder of the bitterness of the long captivity in the hands of Assyria and Babylon.  Yet, even here, we have the theme.  May your mercy come quickly to meet us. 

So what do we make of the rascal of a steward?  First, he has a great deal in common with the people carried into captivity.  He is a sinner.  His master has called him to account.  He is facing prison or slavery for himself and his family.  He finds himself on the way to Assyria.

As we know from the reading, that is not what happed.  For reasons the steward cannot understand, the master simply fired him.  “I cannot have a crook keeping my books.”  We modern Americans understand that position.  Send him down the road to fend for himself.  Neither would we be surprised if the employer filed criminal charges.

In Jesus day, firing the steward was unheard of.  Yet again, Jesus takes a common experience and stands it on its head.  I wonder how often people listened to Jesus, thinking he was going to say one thing, when he suddenly says the wrong thing, and they are turning to their neighbors asking, “What did he say?  Did he really mean that?”

Yes, he meant that.  The land owner fired his steward without sending him to prison, requiring him to pay back the stolen money, or selling him into slavery to pay him back.

Don’t get the idea it was all sweetness and light.  Once word got out he had been fired, the steward could never get another job; no one would trust him again.  He and his family would probably starve to death.  So he took advantage of the master’s soft head, or heart.  Without bothering to deny or haggle the issue, another common feature of the times, he rushed to get two of the larger tenet farmers to come to him and had them reduce their debts to the landowner by five hundred denarii each, about eighteen months wages for a worker.  Then he turned in the books demanded by the master.

This is where the story takes another twist when Jesus turns a thief into a hero.  The common people listening would have loved it, being David and Goliath, or the more modern Robin Hood.  By this time, the whole town is buzzing with the great gift the wealthy landowner has granted to the two men.  They are not talking about the dismissed steward.  The landowner knows he can never ask for the money to be returned.  The people would hate him instead of loving him.  He simply lets the man walk away, free and unpunished.

How is this like the lost sheep, coin, son?  In each, the mercy of God is at work.  Sheep are about the simplest minded animals on earth.  If one gets lost, it will stay lost until it is found.  Only by risking the herd can one shepherd find one lamb, yet he will take that risk.  The woman who has so few coins will expend great energy searching for the one that is lost.  The father who watched the road for his lost son and then disgraced himself by running through town like a mad-man to receive his son is perhaps the greatest expression of Grace except for the Cross itself.

There is an important addition in the current parable.  Grace is given to a thief who tricks his master and two renters.  He has not repented, but he avoids the suffering that is his due.  Jesus uses the common technique of lesser to greater.  If a wealthy landowner will allow grace to fall on an unrepentant thief, how much greater is the Grace of God?

The suffering predicted by Jeremiah was not as harsh as described.  God’s Grace returned His chosen to the land and prepared them for the coming Messiah.  It is by the Grace of God that the Jesus Messiah has once and for all bridged the gap caused by sin.  In spite of my sin, I can stand in the presence of God.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

God’s Patience

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

I spoke with Archangel Gaveriel in an effort to understand what Yahweh is doing with the Adams.  It is still confusing and I daresay I would have destroyed them long ago, but the One I serve is all knowing and I trust Him completely.

Gaveriel reminded me of Yahweh’s words to the Adams, that He would be faithful to them.  Yet, I remember Him saying, ‘What fools my people are!  They have no idea who I am.  A company of half-wits, dopes and donkeys all!’  Why does he waste His Preciousness on them?  I do not understand.

Gaveriel pointed out that even King David, a forerunner of Yahweh’s Son, said, Yahweh looks around to see ‘Useless, unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd.  The ninety and nine follow their fellow.’  Adam follows Adam instead of following Yahweh.  How can Yahweh care for them?  Even King David failed Him.  Why does Yahweh not do what He has promised to do?  He even allowed Jeremiah to catch a vision of it.  ‘I looked—this can’t be!  Not a man or woman in sight.’

No doubt!  Any Adam who does not turn back to Yahweh will be destroyed.  That is His promise.  The fire will burn away the evil of earth.  Nothing will be left but good, if there is any good to be found.

Yet, Gaveriel has pressed me on another point, Yahweh loves His Adams.  He desires all of them to be at his banquet table.  He wants the New Jerusalem to be filled with them.  He wants to spend eternity with them.

It is beyond my understanding.  Yahweh’s Son volunteered to become an Adam just so he could search out those who were lost and help them to see Yahweh again.  He suffered greatly for his effort, but I agree that their lives are changed.  Perhaps it was that very suffering that made it possible for the Adams to see God.  I have never known suffering, so it is difficult to judge.

Saul, or Paul as the Adams know him now, spoke of Grace.  As I understand it, an Adam who commits evil will be allowed into the New Jerusalem.  Only Yahweh and his Son seem to understand the policy.  Even Gaveriel was vague on it.  He said that the fires would burn away the murders committed by David and Paul and leave them otherwise untouched.  In some way that I do not understand, a sinner can now stand before Yahweh without the stain of sin.  There is something that the Son did, or does, that makes it possible.  I do not understand it.  I know it is true.  I trust Yahweh.

Quotes from The Message

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Can I be a slave too?

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

“Onesimus, I am sending you back to Philemon and you will carry a short letter from me.”

Master Paul, are you no longer happy with my work?”

“I keep telling you not to call me your master.  You are no longer a slave.”

“But if you send me back, I will be a slave to Master Philemon.”

“No, no, you are free in Christ and the equal of all who follow in the Way.  Philemon sees it that way as well.  You will return to work side by side with him in our true Master’s plans for you.”

“I like working with you and the others.  You are in prison and need me to bring you food and water.  Why are you sending me away?”

“Come, sit beside me and let us talk.  You were a good slave to Philemon, were you not?”  Onesimus shook his head in agreement.  “As I have said, you are no longer his slave and you are not my slave.”  Onesimus wasn’t sure which way to shake his head.  “But you have been teaching me what it is to be a slave.” Now Onesimus looked doubtful.  “Oh, yes.  I grew up in a house with slaves to wait on me.  I took them for granted.  I had no understanding of what it was about.  You have taught me important lessons.”

“There is nothing to being a slave.”

“Of course there is.  I have learned to take orders, to look out for others first.  I know now how hard it can be to work when others are resting or having a good time.  I even have to do dangerous things when my Master tells me to.”

“You are in jail now because God wanted you here.”

“That is right.  I take my orders from God, so I am a slave too.  That is why we are the same, you and I.  We are both slaves of Jesus.  Remember what God’s prophet, Jeremiah wrote, ‘If someone goes astray, doesn’t he turn back?’  Jesus is always showing me the true way.  When I stray, all I need to do is look to Jesus and the way is clear.”

“You never stray.”

“Onesimus, I stray every day, but Jesus always brings me back.  I am a slave who has to be constantly watched and corrected.  All too often, I want to do please myself instead of pleasing God.  God wants me to serve Him and everyone else first.  You know how hard that is.  You used to wake Philemon in the morning and still be working for him after he was asleep for the night.  You were a good slave to him and you are a good slave to Jesus.  You always think of others first.  That is a hard lesson to learn.  Jesus said that we must be willing to give up our father and mother to follow him.  We must even be willing to give up our lives for him.  Being his slave is not easy, but he makes it easy because our reward is great; the reward of life with God forever.”

Onesimus shook his head in agreement.  “I will return as you request and I will continue to be a slave beside Philemon.”

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence