Sunday is coming! “The Great Reversal – the Rich Man & Lazarus” Luke 16:19-31

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores.” (Luke 16:19-20)

Jesus tells an apocalyptic story of the afterlife where the fortunes of the two characters in death are reversed. A rich man, who lived a lavish style overlooking the need of a suffering poor man named Lazarus finds himself in the place of torment in the afterlife; while poor man Lazarus who went hungry and had dogs licking his sores, was carried by the angels to live with Abraham. Even with “a great chasm that has been fixed” separates them (Luke 16:26); what Jesus shares is the conversation between them and Abraham. Even in torment, the rich man orders Lazarus and pleads with Abraham to help him and warns his family. Abraham responds, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

What does this story mean?


If you are among the poor, the downtrodden, the despised, the trampled on, the forgotten, the hungry, the ill, and the poor – there is hope in this story. In our culture and throughout history, humans have assigned greater value to the wealthy, powerful and prestigious people, regardless of how many other people’s lives are crushed to keep them there (both by individual wickedness and by systemic oppression). In this story it is the poor man, Lazarus who is named while the rich man remains nameless. There is a reason Christian faith tends to grow vibrant among the impoverished and oppressed and becomes weak among the comfortable and elite. Following Jesus brings hope to the hopeless and always challenges our notions of who doesn’t belong. Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners; fed the hungry; cared for the sick; exorcised the evil holding people’s lives hostage and raised the dead. When we are Lazarus in this story – salvation is coming.


There is something about this story that suggests the rich man gets what is coming to him. His blatant extravagance and luxurious lifestyle ignored the real human suffering and need right at his doorstep. This lack of compassion catches up with him. As the prophets called for justice, and caring for the poor, oppressed, orphaned, widowed and exiled, Israel ignored this calling to pursue its own wealth, prestige and power in the world. Judgment came. Destruction came. Exile came. As Jesus tells this story we see a similar path to destruction. The rich man who gave no mercy receives no mercy. The overlooked and forgotten poor man is restored and made whole. There is no comment on what either character believed. Justice has been served. The great reversal is fulfilled. The last are first and the first are last. Mary’s song of God’s reign has arrived. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away hungry” (Luke 1:52-53). When you are among those who look past the suffering of others by your own comfort this story serves as a warning of the cost of ignoring those in need around you. Judgment is here. Exile is coming.


Like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, there is still hope for the condemned. Scrooge became the most generous of them all. We too can repent, turn away from our selfishness and enter into God’s kingdom of mercy and grace. When we meet our neighbors with the same relentless love and compassion God gives us in Christ our lives become richer, our purpose clearer, the kingdom more present around us. When the church stops pursuing all the frivolous things we do to feel comfortable and starts giving itself away we become more and more the the body of Christ.

What will the religious leaders who ridiculed him (Luke 16:15) say to that?

What will we say? do? change? hear?


Clergy Burnout

Have you ever felt like you have been burned out as a pastor or ministry leader?  Pastor Geoff Sinibaldo shares his story of burnout and how he has overcome burnout.

Sunday is coming! “Who is your Master?” Luke 16:1-15

You cannot serve both God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)

‘Success’ by the world’s standards revolves mostly around the way we treat money: how to gain it, spend it, save it, generate more of it and make it work for us. Because many of us struggle with how we manage money, we are anxious about the use of money, anxious about talking about money and anxious about learning about money. We too often fear that we are worse off than we are.

A first encounter with this parable might inspire us to think that Jesus is suggesting we should be shrewd, dishonest and crooked ourselves, just like this manager who is fired for not making his boss more profit. After wheeling and dealing his accounts at a loss (100 to 50; 100 to 80) the shrewd, dishonest, crooked manager finds himself a place to land after he is displaced in the homes of his patrons. His boss commends him for his craftiness. If ‘success’ is determined by how we use money, what is our analysis on how this shrewd, dishonest, crooked manager too care of himself?

A second look reveals Jesus’ commentary on the story he tells – that we cannot serve both God and wealth. That is not to say we should not use money wisely, strategically, intentionally and generously – the question is raised: who are we serving? Do we do the things we do with money (and all our possessions) because our accounts are our master or are we living lives that seek to serve God by serving others? Could our burdens and anxieties around money and worldly success dissipate simply by remembering it is God’s claim on us that ultimately determines who we are? Our status, wealth, class, position, etc. can change in a moment. If we determine our self-worth by them – it is no wonder why we are so afraid and worried about everything.

A third look at this parable moves past the face value of the characters involved. Luke 16:14-15 reveals that the religious leaders around Jesus don’t like what he’s saying because they themselves are ensnared by the dangers of seeking wealth and are defining themselves (and by implication – others) by it. As we see in our own day, religious people who are focused more on their own assets and standing in the world often become the ones others view with suspicion of scandal – because of their perceived shrewdness, dishonestly and crookedness (whether its true or not).

Ultimately then, this parable serves as a warning to say beware of how the world works – it is corrupt and self-serving; often rewarding those who are crafty and dupe everyone else. The world is full of plenty of examples.

Don’t get caught up in the pursuits of shrewdness, dishonesty and crookedness that lead nowhere. Instead keep your focus on your true Master who gives you everything and points you to se around you. Use what God gives you for the benefit of others. That’s what true ‘success’ looks like and where your eternal home is – even when the crooked world tells you otherwise.


Sunday is coming! “When the lost sheep isn’t you” Luke 15:1-10

“Rejoice with me. For I have found my sheep that was lost.” (Luke 15:6)

Besides being one of the best Christian bands of the 20th/21st century (at least to my peculiar taste – listen to our interview) – Lost and Found  is a central Christian theme. We sing the familiar hymn from the heart, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see” (John Newton, “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound” Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], #779).

There is something special about the message of undeserved mercy and grace to “sinners and tax collectors” (Luke 15:1) when that promise is aimed at you. The appropriate response to that sweet embrace of love is a call for repentance, thanksgiving, and sharing with others the joy that comes from both the finding and being found. The two parables Jesus shares about a lost sheep and a lost coin (the third story Jesus shares about the prodigal and his brother [Luke 15:11-32] is read Lent 4C in the RCL; not this Sunday) result in communal celebration when what was lost has been found. When one finds a lost sheep or coin… and by inference a “wretch like me”; the result is a party on heaven and on earth alike. The cosmos joins in the celebration!

Look closer to where these stories are aimed…

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eat with them” (Luke 15:2). It is “the Pharisees and the scribes “– i.e. the religious people, the churchy-types, the ones that do the ‘the right thing’ regularly, the ones who belong, the ones (as Jesus says somewhat tongue in cheek), “who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7) – that need to hear these stories because of their grumbling.

“Just so I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Sometimes it is the ninety-nine who needs to repent of arrogance and self-righteousness. It often becomes very easy for us on the inside to look down on those who are outside.  It becomes easy for us to become smug towards toward those we feel are not as good as we are, dedicated as we are, devoted as we are, responsible as we are, as law-abiding as we are, as righteous as we are, as humble as we are (...and aren’t we the most humble people we know?)

We need to hear these stories again and again, just as the religious people judging and looking down at the tax collectors and sinners gravitating toward Jesus needed to hear them too. The kingdom Jesus proclaims is for everyone; especially those who have no business being part of it, or have wondered off track someplace and are lost to us. In our grumbling about lost sheep and coins – we become lost ourselves.

Look to the seeking shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine for the one,the woman in the house diligently flipping everything over to find her coin to bring it back to the others (and the father waiting by the road to welcome home the prodigal). Jesus gives us some wonderful images in these three parable of how God relentlessly seeks after us.   

When we see the abundance of unconditional love, mercy, grace, selflessness, welcome and restoration to those who don’t belong sitting at the table with Jesus – we see lives made new and transformed. The only appropriate response is to join the party!  Our calling is to follow Jesus’ lead in looking for those on the outside, inviting those with no seat at the table to come and sit down, advocating for those who don’t deserve to be there, seeking reconciliation with those who have hurt us; eating, drinking and welcoming one another.

Let your go of your fears and reservations as you lean into that joy – even when the responses of others are different from the ones we hope that joy will inspire. Leave the changing of hearts to the Spirit.

In the meantime – keep seeking, inviting, welcoming, forgiving, and celebrating with the angels in heaven when a lost sheep or coin comes home. This is a glimpse of the kingdom to come – all of us will celebrate as we are surprised by God’s amazing grace!

-Have you ever found something you have lost for a while; how did you feel when you did?

-Who are the lost sheep / coins in your life?

-When have you wondered off or been lost – from family, friends, church, etc.?

-Where is Jesus in all this? Where are you?


Listen to NEW CREATION by Lost and Found. The lyrics are great.

Sunday is coming! “The Great Paradox” Luke 14:25-33

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

The great paradox of Christian faith is that salvation comes from God alone through what Jesus does for us with nothing we can do to deserve, earn or gain it; while at the same time discipleship (or following Jesus) is incomplete without a commitment that “costs us” everything else.

What tends to happen among individuals, churches, denominations, and theological approaches is an over-emphasis on either a cheapened version of grace that doesn’t ask anything of us or such demanding expectations that that they either crush us or turn us against one another by a falsely held feeling of superiority.

Too often we think of grace and discipleship as an either/or choice. The consequences of choosing one over the other can be disastrous.

Grace is good. We cannot earn God’s mercy and love. But cheapened grace can create a smugness by sitting idle and ignoring the pain and struggle of others, or make our connection to Christ or a community something that does not matter to us all that much by becoming just one more choice among many things that vie for our attention in a busy world.

Expectations are good. But when they are unreachable they can break our spirit by serving only to remind us of all the things we have left to do or they can consume us by judging others’ commitment compared to our own.

Both single approaches miss the fullness of life that Jesus offers. Grace and discipleship belong in tension. The great paradox of holding these seemingly opposed trajectories together (there is nothing we can do vs. it is up to us to do it) is the contagious and life-giving joy the Spirit can bring to us; even when things seem dire.

In this passage (Luke 14:25-33), Jesus asks us to consider the “cost” of following him. A builder considers the “cost” before building a tower; a ruler considers the “cost” before going to war; a disciple considers the “cost” of the cross to Jesus before following him. If the cross “costs us” nothing it is seemingly worthless. If the cross is up to us to carry alone we cannot bear the weight of it. Held in tension we see, hear and live a promise from Christ that calls us out of death and into a new life he gives us freely to give away.

Faithfulness to that promise calls us into a “costly” response to God’s outpouring abundant mercy and love. It may sound counter-intuitive at first, but as Jesus says elsewhere, “one cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). The crux of what Jesus is asking, prodding and inviting us into here is this – when push comes to shove, where is the fullness of life to be found? Family, wealth, status, comfort or following him? When we move beyond ourselves to follow Jesus…will the “cost” be worth it?

Only a costly discipleship can answer that question.


Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died in a Nazi prison camp in April, 1945 called followers of Jesus into what he called “Costly grace.” 

He first articulated “Cheap grace” as “preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living incarnate Jesus Christ.”  

In contrast, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door which one has to knock. It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. it is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace costly, because it was costly to God, because it cost God the life of God’s son ‘you were bought with a price’  (1 Corinthians 6:20) – and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s son was not too costly for God to give him up in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God.

Costly grace is grace as God’s holy treasure and which must be protected from the world and which must not be thrown to the dogs (Matthew 7:6). Thus it is grace as living word, word of God, which speaks as it pleases. It comes to us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a forgiving word to the fearful spirit and broken heart (Psalm 51:17). Grace is costly, because it forces people under the yoke of following Jesus Christ; it is grace when Jesus says, ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30.)”  

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, DiscipleshipDietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 4. ed. Wayne Whitson Floyd, Jr. trans. Martin Kuske and Isle Todt. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996]. 44, 45.)

Sunday is coming! “Check your invite and the invitations” Luke 14:1,7-14

“You will be blessed because they cannot repay you…” (Luke 14:14a)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) skips over Luke 14: 2-6 where Jesus heals a man with dropsy (general swelling in the limbs often caused by congenital heart failure) on the Sabbath. To me; omitting this part of the story  does this whole banquet scene a disservice.

Jesus heals on the Sabbath which has already evoked controversy (Luke 13:10-17) in Luke’s storytelling and lurks in the backdrop of this healing and teaching. Jesus tells a parable about taking the lower seat rather than the place of honor, and then insists that when a person hots a party they should invite, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). In context, Jesus just did that very act in front of the banquet guests (who happen to be religious leaders) by healing this man a the onset. The parable serves to reinforce the action.

Looking back to an early part of Luke’s presentation of Jesus; Jesus’ ministry began at the synagogue where he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…Today this is scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-19, 21). Jesus is putting into action this message and mission in real time. And just like the people threw Jesus out of his hometown after proclaiming that message, on the way to Jerusalem the opposition mounting against Jesus is growing. It should not come as a surprise when the church meets the world’s opposition to this same message in our own time.

Check the invitations.

Jesus calls us to invite to the party those who don’t belong; those who don’t deserve to be there; those who cannot possibly repay that welcome and hospitality. Those who are hurt or suffering or unclean or unable to contribute based on societal norms and opportunities. Inviting them into community is the way to live good news.

The parable sandwiched in-between the healing of the man with dropsy and Jesus’ teaching to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind approaches the party in reverse.  As a guest entering a gathering in the shame and honor culture in which Jesus lived; he instructs his followers  to take the lower place of honor rather than the higher one. it is better to serve than be served. Humility is a greater virtue than honor due. Come as one as the recipient of grace and hospitality rather than what is deserved or earned. Yet humility is not passivity, and taking a lower place should not bring pride or boasting. It is looking to others to receive them in their full humanity.

Check your invite.

The gospel reminds us that none of us deserve to be at the party; yet it is Jesus who invites, welcomes, embraces and heals us all. Enter the good news that you are welcome and have a place – not by your own doing but by Christ alone.

Live by graciousness and humility; engage the world with generosity and thanksgiving; treat others with the same mercy, peace and love that God extends to you. These are the things that let you in the door and brought you to the table. Check your invite and the invitations.

Party on!

-Why do we gravitate toward things like exclusivity, celebrity and elitism?

-How does following Jesus show us another way to live?


Sunday is coming! “Jesus brings the fire” Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49)

How often do we describe the work we do (whatever it is) as “putting out fires?”  It seems we often have misapplied our calling as we feebly try to either “keep the peace” or “to make people happy.”

Jesus seems to be saying the opposite.

Jesus is not a consensus builder nor is he an arbitrator of disputes. The message he brings is not one of ongoing compromise or accommodation; it is one of repentance and change. Jesus and his message take on different accents as it is lived and expressed in every culture and time period. Both the challenges and opportunities each time and place draw out of the gospel brings new understandings – yet death and resurrection stand at the center of who Jesus is, what he does, and how he keeps changing the world.

What might it look like to follow Jesus in a post-Christian, digital, secular age in North America that is full of rife and division?  We continue to both struggle with and discover new realities together…

In this passage he declares that “he came to bring fire” (Luke 12:49); not to put fires out.

Jesus asks, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? “ (Luke 12:51a).

Does this sound like a nice Jesus who just wants everyone to get along?

No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51b).

Jesus is not setting people against each other – but what he seems to be identifying is the reality that if we start loving people the way he is on fire for us; there will be some people who do not like it (or us) very much.

Jesus is the great wall destroyer, “For he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14); but what is the cost of the “peace” he brings?

The peace of Jesus comes as a cross; under suffering, death and sacrifice to mend our broken humanity. It is the fire of unconditional; all consuming love. The powers of the world keep peace through violence. Jesus brings peace by handing over his life. Renewal and resurrection only come out of the ashes of what came before it. We cannot have Easter without Good Friday first.

Jesus calls us to give our lives for one another, and for the sake of the other, just as he gives his life to us.  We often claim the centrality of Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” as one of the most universal part of the biblical message.

That is…until we get specific.

Then “loving your neighbor” becomes “too political” or “too controversial” or “too difficult” to do. We fear people fighting with one another or simply just checking out.  Yet doesn’t a fire warrant engagement? Perhaps a fire that draws us into a common purpose and mission is what Jesus is driving at – one cannot take up the cross of Jesus part way.

We seek something easier. Something nice. Something everyone can agree with and get along.

Those aspirations are impossible. To break down the barriers that separate us (See Ephesians 2) means tearing down the distinctions we make around worthiness, heritage, gender, economics, who is in and who is out, etc. as Jesus builds us into a new community. Expect resistance when we are church together. The way to break down barriers and share one’s life with others is not by politeness; but with fire. God’s word is that fire (Jeremiah 23:29). Baptism is that fire (Luke 3:16). The Holy Spirit is that fire (Acts 2). Faith is tested by a refining fire like silver (Zechariah 13:9; Psalm 66:10; 1 Peter 1:7). We are called to live aflame with love of God and our neighbors.

Following Jesus brings controversy and division. Friends and family may turn on you. Neighbors might betray you. Institutions may disappoint you. Expect it. Pray and kindle the fire of faith like the faithful of every generation (Hebrews 11-12). When trials come (and they will) keep going; looking to Jesus who is true life and peace.

What controversies burden you?

How do those controversies keep the community from mission?

Where might Jesus point you to be on fire for others?


Sunday is coming! “Bigger Barns” Luke 12:13-21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” (Luke 12:15a)

What if this parable is not really about storage?

The challenge in this parable about the rich man and his barns presents itself as an attack against planning, saving, and investing in the future. It is shocking and surprising. Shouldn’t we take steps now to get ready for the future? It seems more ‘foolish’ to us not to be prepared than to be proactive like he is doing.

We have many things to plan for in our lives: uncertainty in the global economy,  school, housing, retirement, etc.  This man seems to be not only successful in his business, but is also someone who has assessed his assets carefully and managed his risks accordingly. Shouldn’t he be commended? Aren’t these things we aspire to ourselves? Why do you think Jesus is giving him such a hard time?

The problem is not our barns. The problem is not our things. The problem is greed.

Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed is like a consuming fire. The more it burns, the more oxygen it takes form the air and the more fuel it burns. Greed suffocates relationships and destroys communities. Greed believes in scarcity, thrives on fear and turns people against one another.

Reading verses 17-19 carefully, the rich man uses the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ a total of ten times. He is neither grateful nor generous but consumed by his greed. He thinks about enjoying his life in the future at the expense of isolating himself now by his need for more. His wealth has become his identity: ‘a rich man’ (notice – he has no other name), and it has led to being cut off from everyone else. In this story, the man has no relationships.

Jesus asks, “What good is all of this stuff if you were to die tonight?” (my paraphrase of Luke 12:20). Jesus could take a good look at us, and ask the same.

A parable like this asks us to reflect upon several questions:

(A new self-storage facility being built)
  1. What is our relationship with our stuff? To what extent do we possess our things and how much do things possess us? How much is too much?
  2. How much have we made our lives about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ rather than others?
  3. What things are you storing? Why? No really…Why? What are you saving it for?
  4. What could it mean to be ‘rich toward God’ (Luke 12:21)?
  5. How might the rich man – find redemption in this parable? How might we?

Remember – Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). For him (and his followers who are slow to catch-on) this is a one way journey. Jesus is going to the cross. He has been inviting people to join his selfless movement of restoration, love, hope and mercy who are willing to say goodbye to their attachments and responsibilities (Luke 9:57-62). He has been sending those who are willing to go out into the community to rely on the hospitality of others and face rejection (Luke 10:1-24). He has been expanding the people’s understanding of ‘neighbor’ to include both any person in need and anyone willing to help (Luke 10:25-37). He has opened himself to those who are willing to receive and follow him (Luke 10:38-42). On a one way journey to the cross Jesus has no need for more storage.  Neither do his followers. His life is being demanded of him – right now. Their lives might be demanded of them soon too. With that reality in mind – what might this parable mean to we who are a lot more settled twenty centuries later?

Perhaps we are not as settled as we think we are.


Conversation with Cliff Ravenscraft

Joe has Cliff Ravenscraft on today’s podcast episode.  

Cliff Ravenscraft a business mentor, life coach and motivational speaker. Cliff mentors coaches, consultants and thought leaders through the transition from their unfulfilling day job into their own responsible and profitable online business so that they can live the life of their dreams and do the work they feel most called to do in this world.

Today Cliff and Joe talk about Cliff’s life in ministry and the importance of mindset.  They talk about the need of being a part of a supportive community and they talk about Cliff’s upcoming conference Free the Dream

Sunday is coming! “Teach us to pray” Luke 11:1-4

“Teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)

God. Its me.

You are the author of all that is. Are you there? Are you real? Are you listening?

I want to do the right things which I think is what you want me to do. Too often I get in my own way; or in the way of others; or even in your way. Help me turn to you for guidance rather than to my selfishness for answers.

Every day you give us more than we need. I don’t believe it is enough. I worry about what I don’t have or what I might lose. Teach me to be grateful for your abundance. Move me to share. Push me to serve.

Too often I keep grudges. I pick at my scars to keep old wounds open. I carry resentment. I am burdened by shame. I linger in guilt when I should move on. Help me to live burden free. Teach me forgiveness. Heal my pain. Show me how to let go. Create in me a clean heart that overflows with compassion. Cover me with your mercy and peace.

Keep me and my loved ones from trouble. Please stand with me when I am afraid or tired and everything feels lost. Bend my arrogance and pride into trust and confidence in you. Remind me that your never ending love always wins. Amen.

-Do you pray? Why? Or why not?

-Where? When?

-What do you pray for?

-How do you know God is listening?