Five Minute Friday — Park

The promptmasters at Five Minute Friday have been very, very inventive with their prompts lately. At least for this contributor to the weekly writefest, I’ve had to dig deep into the gray matter. Since I don’t pre-peek into what my fellow writers come up with until I visit Kate’s place ( to post, I can’t wait to see what take these mostly ladies have come up with. I hope you get a chance to visit as well … and maybe contribute!

The prompt this week is PARK. The timer is set for five minutes, so I guess it’s time to GO

It’s been a long time since I thought about parks. In fact, I rarely think about parks. So I decided to dig into my mental files to reflect on parks through the years.

When I was a kid, my usual “park” was a vacant field on East 19th Street. It was there the neighborhood guys would congregate for a pick up game of baseball or football, occasionally being pestered by the girls of the neighborhood. There were also real parks with regular park things like swings and monkey bars and such, and there were neighborhood parks, well defined, some with stone walls like the one in People’s Park. And there were bigger parks like Eastside, Westside and Pennington. Eastside at the time featured rolling hills, great for sledding. Westside and Pennington were on opposite sides of the Passaic River … STOP

submarine… connected by a footbridge. Westside featured the forerunner of the nation’s first submarine, the Holland submarine built in Paterson and tested in the Passaic River, as well as a deer pen where kids could visit and feed the deer. Pennington boasted the first fenced in little league baseball diamond, while Eastside had two home plate to home plate fields, one fenced and the other not. While Westside was fenced in, it was angled and high, I loved playing Little League games in the fenced fields where a well-hit ball would fly over the fence as opposed to me actually having to run around the bases {some things never change}.

Well, that’s what seeped out of the memory box this week. Now it’s time to post and see what the girls have written.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.

Posted in family, Five Minute Friday, Friends, growing up, Life, love, Memories, New Jersey, relationships | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dreams … Dreams … Dreams

I have been called a dreamer … and I would never dispute it. Psychologically, a dreamer is a person who lives in or escapes to a world of fantasy or illusion. Again, I would never dispute that. And dreamers tend to dream. Again … me.

I’ve always been a dreamer and I always had nighttime dreams. They’re especially vivid after a repast of sausage or pepperoni. I’ve even shared some of them with you in the past.

But I’ve noticed something “different” since my tiny brain bleed. First, it knocked me out. I can’t get enough sleep … five minutes here … 15 minutes there … early to bed … late to rise. And each and every time I dream.

It’s like all the files in my mind have been tossed out of their neat little compartments to rustle through the caverns of my grey matter. And they’re intermingling with the free range thoughts grazing my brain.

It makes for some interesting entertainment when my eyelids droop.

On short trips to la la land, the eyelids screen highlight little pop-ups like puppies jumping for frisbies, sunrises, sunsets, rolling clouds, geometrical shapes, silhouettes and waves.

Nighttime REM dreams have been just as regular and vivid. I can’t say I remember them all, but I remember I did dream. The other night, after binge watching The Good Wife final season, I dreamt of Diane Lockhart and Cary Agos  interviewing a smart ass Goth teen, dressed all in black except for bright red fishnet stockings. Go figure. Another night I was dressed as Santa Claus entertaining kids on a train on the way to South Dakota {???}. Still another was a rerun of the day a young sideline reporter {me} was tackled by a 270 pound lineman on a sideline sweep at a frigid Sparta-Franklin game.

I’ve also noticed I am more active in my dreams over the past month. Typically, my “action” dreams were narratives where I watched the action. Since the bleed, I’ve actually been involved in the action {nothing strenuous, but, hey, at least I’m walking; that has to count for something}.

I dreamily recalled taking my grandmother to Connecticut as an 18 year old in my Studebaker Silver Hawk. The dream was limited to my hands on the wheel, the road ahead through the windshield and the Hawk’s long nose and the mother of pearl dashboard with my tach locked at 3500 rpm. Grandma again asked me why I was driving so fast. In another, I was visiting with my other grandma in dreamland, eating a biscotti while she sat at the kitchen table in her signature apron and housedress.

I dreamt of walking down a trail as the leaves changed with Sonni hand in hand. And I dreamt of getting a kiss from Karen  as we walked the boardwalk in Seaside Heights.

As I reflected on these dreams and mini dreams, it occurred to me they were all good memories. No nightmares. No unpleasant thoughts. No dark shadows.

That makes me smile. All is well with my unconscious self.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Encouragement does for the soul what fresh water does for the body. We need it! It revives and refreshes us. It brings hope for a better tomorrow and helps us get through today.


Posted in dreams, family, Humor, Laughter, Life, love, Memories, relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Five Minute Friday — Mail and Catching Up

I’ve been missing in action from Five Minute Friday for a few weeks. There are a lot of reasons … my health … falling behind … catching up … literally finding time. But the exercise is so important to me. It’s part of my routine {even if I do generally get to post a day late}. I value the camaraderie of my fellow writers as we open our minds and reach into our souls to put down five minute’s worth of words {hopefully} worth reading. Then we congregate to Kate’s place ( for the most important part of the exercise — sharing. It’s as much of the routine as the writing. I invite you to stop by any time or even share your thoughts or try your hand at the writing.

But back to being MIA. I found the prompts difficult and kicked the writing down the priority ladder. I also feel a tremendous loss. So I decided to provide a synopsis of what was missed. I’m not going to stick to the time limit … just write. I hope my fellow writers accept this departure from form and I hope my other followers appreciate the post. It’s not pithy. But it is in the spirit of community.

So, here goes …

The four prompts I missed were:

Five: I was truly confused by the prompt. Five? Why not six? or eight? or 27? or three? Of course there was a reason for the post — the launch of our special Five Minute Friday book, celebrating the wonderful representation of what we’re all about: A safe place for writers to gather around one word and write free and unedited. I am proud to say I am one of the contributors {available at Amazon CreateSpace  }. The secondary reason for the prompt was the fifth anniversary of the death of Kate’s mother. Her words were heart-wrenching, heart-warming and something each of us can relate to.

Collect: I literally was running around to doctors’ appointments and trying to keep my business moving. My contribution is simple. It was time to collect my thoughts and assess my life … even if that meant foregoing putting those thoughts in print.

Test: Again, plenty of thoughts, too little time available time. We are tested over and over in this life. In fact, tests are part of life. My test was an unexpected illness that landed me in the hospital for three days resulting in a barrage of medical tests.

And this week, Mail: Another Five Minute Friday perk … snail mail. It started with a tweet a long time ago and turned into an ongoing ministry. Members of Five Minute Friday have been sending each other snail mail once a week over predetermined six-week periods, and it’s so amazing! I join Kate and the rest of the crew in definitely encouraging you to try it out. If you’re not a Five Minute Friday participant, do it anyway. A word of encouragement by e-mail or snail mail could lift someone’s day. In addition to sending snail mails to my FMF friends, I regularly send out e-mail words of encouragement weekly to my friends and daily to my family.

Well, now we’re caught up. See you next Friday … or Saturday.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Stay the course. Keep believing. You may be tired, discouraged and frustrated, but don’t give up on your future. Our God is faithful.

Posted in encouragement, Faith, Five Minute Friday, Friends, health, Life, reflect, relationships, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Year Without ‘Sonni’-Shine

I received the news a year ago today. My very close friend Sonni had died, less than two weeks after suffering a debilitating overnight stroke.

Over the past few years, Sonni and I had become very close friends, She was the salve that helped heal a broken heart — not repair it, not fill it, not replace it. She learned from experience and took me under her wing.

10462798_705210946212149_4533542319486351694_nI like to think we were helping each other get through the days of widow- and widower-hood. We talked just about every day — if not directly, then certainly through messaging and e-mail. I knew when something was troubling her. She knew when I got into my “moods.”

I’m reminded of her every time I pass her house. Before she died, that casual trip would evoke a sense of security. The brick and mortar had an aura of love and compassion that lived within. You could sense it. That aura has left. It’s just brick and mortar … another house down the street.

I was furthered reminded of how much I lost last week when I did some spring cleaning of my phone messages. {I’m not big into cleaning things out.} There she was. “Sweetpea. I’m going to Wegman’s this afternoon. Do you want to come with me?
It was a combination request/command. It was Sonni at her best.

I remember the day she made the call. I WAS going through some emotional issues. She knew that. I HAD to step away from reality for a little bit but wouldn’t have done it on my own. She knew that. I NEEDED human companionship. She knew that.

She called a little later that day. This time I was home and answered. Her words were simple. “I’m leaving in about 15 minutes. Be ready. I’ll pick you up.”

Needless to say, I was ready in 15 minutes. We went to Wegman’s … ate one of their $5 meals … stopped at Friendly’s for an ice cream cone … went to her house to watch a movie and talk. It was a respite. She knew that.

I miss Sonni. I miss her laugh. I miss her hugs. I miss her words. I miss her guidance. I miss her unconditional friendship. I miss Sonni.

I’m a pretty independent guy. I like to think I think things through. But the truth is, before I make a decision, I rely on tons of opinions, deciphering {at least trying to} fact from fiction. And I have always relied heavily on the thought of strong women to ground me, corral me, give me a greater perspective. I had that for 40-plus years with Karen. I had that for six-plus years with Sonni. I don’t have that now.

In my mind’s eye, I can see Karen and Sonni sitting there in heaven chatting, Sonni with her Diet Pepsi and Karen with her water turned into exquisite wine. I can see them laughing at the foolish things I say and do without their physical sphere of influence. I see them taking turns proverbially whacking me in the back of the head when I REALLY do or say something foolish (Hmmm, maybe it wasn’t really a stroke after all).

I really miss them — both of them  — every day.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Often we spend so much time focusing on where we want to get to, we forget to enjoy the things along the way.

Posted in death, encouragement, Faith, family, Friends, grace, heaven, Karen, Life, love, Memories, relationships, Sonni, women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

If We’re Honest

Here’s a share of my sermon this morning at West Fayette Presbyterian Church.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.

If we’re honest — notice how I linked the sermon topic — do we really believe that? Do we have the power to make extraordinary things happen? Can we change the natural order of things?

I believe we do and can, although I say that with a little caveat. We cannot do it, but our faith can. That, my friends, I believe, is what Jesus was saying in the opening words of today’s gospel. And Matthew (17:20), Mark (4:30-31) (9:23) and (11:22) echo Luke’s words, All things are possible to him who believes!

All my life, I’ve been a pretty positive guy. I always looked at the “half full” side of the glass. Even in dark days I could look beyond the storm. Okay, some times I had to be forced to be still and remember God is God and in control. And I will never say I totally understand the whys of life.

But I have learned to accept the daily ups and downs and recognize I am not in control. I want to be, Lord knows, but I’m not.

After we learned the prognosis of Karen’s illness, my mantra song was Dare To Believe by Ray Boltz. I would crank it up when it played on the radio or if I had popped in the CD. Everyone knew I was coming … they could hear me.

There’s a miracle inside you
It’s just a mustard seed of faith
But by the mighty hand of God now
You know that tiny seed was placed …

For the God that we serve
He is much more than able, yes, He is
So don’t be afraid
Stand up and say, I dare to believe

I dare to believe
That miracles happen, yeah
That mountains still move
And demons must flee …

I believed that with all my heart. I still do, although God’s results didn’t move my mountain.

There are many other traditional hymns and contemporary Christian songs that address God NOT moving mountains. They are reminders to me to keep the faith … to trust … remind me who is in control … and most of all to look forward, not back. A contemporary favorite of mine is Trust in You by Lauren Daigle. The chorus says it all …
When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Let’s be honest. THAT is extremely difficult. Our faith does get shaken. Our focus does get diverted. We retreat into ourselves or we lash out at others. We get hurt. We get disappointed. We get disillusioned. We can’t make sense of the violence or abuse or illness or even the death of someone close.

Truth is we don’t have to. There is a greater Power who has all the answers. My job — your job — isn’t to figure out the answers. My job — your job — is to trust in the God who has been there through the good and bad times. Isn’t it exciting to know we have an anchor in the storms of life?

That’s what makes it all worthwhile. That spurs hope for a future. That’s the seed of faith germinating inside you and me.

Despite the dark words of Psalm 137 and our first reading in Lamentations, the darkness is replaced with light by way of hope. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…

And Paul shares with us the words to Timothy in today’s epistle reading, telling us to rely on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

But, again, let’s be honest. We can hear the words, but do we HEAR the words? Do we believe them? Do they resonate with us? Do they change us?

Well, maybe … or least for an hour on Sunday morning with perhaps a short bump as we walk through the everyday, mundane tasks of our lives. But generally, and unfortunately, Scripture words are just words and not life changing. When we leave here we return to the “real world” and revert to our “real lives.”

Jesus’ tells us if you want to increase your faith, have faith the size of a mustard seed. Believe in that power. Believe while we may not be able to move mountains, God can. And, sometimes, maybe He doesn’t want us to move the mountain but figure out a way around or over it that gives us the opportunities to shine His light.

By the way, the Jews of Jesus’ day probably understood this phraseology better than we. “Removing mountains” was a common phrase known in the day as meaning “to remove difficulties”. And, of course, in the agrarian nature of the time, they would have understood the significance of the mustard seed, one of the smallest of seeds which can overtake a garden and have been known to blossom to a large shrub that commonly reached the height of eight to ten foot around the Lake of Galilee.

Today’s parable is almost like Jesus telling the apostles — and by extension, us — “You already have faith you silly disciples! You just aren’t using it!” A little faith can go a long way.

See, the disciples were asking for the wrong thing. They didn’t need to increase their faith — they needed to increase their faithfulness. They needed to increase their faithfulness. There is a big difference.

Faith is a gift from God. He gives us the amount of faith we need and it never runs out. Actually, to ask God to increase our faith is kind of an insult.

Faithfulness, on the other hand, is our response to our faith. It’s what we do with our faith. And that is entirely up to us.

Faithfulness is defined as being loyal and obedient to the person we put our trust in. If we put our faith in Jesus, then we also have to be faithful to Him.

When we accept Jesus as Savior, we put our faith in Him. When we accept Jesus as Lord, we put our faithfulness in Him.

The second part of today’s gospel deals with our relationships with a parable about masters and slaves. Jesus is telling us to do what is expected of us … and then some. By today’s standards, the whole slave/master thing might seem wrong or archaic. But I think it’s a little deeper with an underlying challenge.

I’ll share a story.

A young man applied for a job as a farmhand. When the farmer asked for his qualifications,  he simply said, “I can sleep when the wind blows.”

This puzzled the farmer. But he liked the young man, so he hired him.

A few days later, the farmer and his wife were awakened in the night by a violent storm. They quickly began to check things out to see if all was secure. They found the shutters on the farmhouse had been securely fastened. A good supply of logs had been set next to the fireplace.

The young man was sleeping soundly.

The farmer and his wife then inspected the rest of the property. They found the farm tools had been placed in the storage shed, safe from the elements. The tractor had been moved into the barn. And the barn was properly locked. Even the animals were calm. All was well.

It was then the farmer understood the meaning of the young man’s words, “I can sleep when the wind blows.”

Because the farmhand did his work loyally and faithfully when the skies were clear, he was prepared for the storm when it came. And (SLOW) he could sleep in peace.

There was nothing dramatic or sensational in the young farmhand’s preparations. He just faithfully did what was needed each day. Consequently, peace was his when the winds blew, when the storms came.

Those who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior can sleep  when the wind blows as well. Their salvation is assured.

Now the challenge. We live for Christ, and to do His will, not for reward, not for praise, not for gain, but because I am to love God and to love my neighbor as myself. It isn’t the things you do, it is the things you leave undone which will give you heartache. The message is easy to read over, but aren’t like we often like worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!

Again, let’s be honest. That’s our nature. We do what we ought to do and often very little else. We — you and I — are broken and we — you and I — often let that brokenness pave our path. We — you and I — often look for the praise and adulation and forget our purpose in life, to shine the light of Christ in a dark world.

If we’re honest, we would see how God has taken us on our individual journeys. Whenever there were difficult encounters or joyful events, we can — or should — see Him at work. He has taken us from our youth to today — 10 years, 20 years, 50 plus years. Remembering His faithfulness is like looking at the mustard seed to remind us He is real. He gives life its purpose. Our heavenly Father provided our sacrifice for all times — His Son– as redemption for us all! That’s why we are reminded to give thanks in all situations and to praise Him for all He is and does.

You and I have a chance to change the trajectory of our lives, right here, right now. As you’ll hear in our special song from Francesca Battistelli,
“Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine,
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides.
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest. If we’re honest.”

Our lives may be the only sermon those around us will ever hear or, more important, will ever see. We say things like, “I’m not ready yet. I’m not prepared enough. I need to learn more. I need God to give me more faith.”

No. Show grace to the world around you, to those God sends into your life and make your broken life a glorious sermon.

Faith. Belief. Trust. Hope. Grace. Honesty. Brokenness. Love.

Personally, I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.

Amen and Amen!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What if you lost everything … all your possessions, your family, your health, your money, your job security, your friends … would you still love God?

Posted in ecumenism, encouragement, Faith, God, grace, Life, love, Music, relationships, sermon, songs, West Fayette Presbyterian, worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

September 27

Some dates seem to have more significance than others. August 20 — my birthday. August 31 — the day I got married. November 20 — Karen’s birthday. March 25, April 12, May 19, November 4, November 8 — my children’s birth dates.

September 27 — the day my life and my family’s lives changed forever … the day Karen died.

We’ve been through the details before. If you’re interested, just page back to this date over the past four years.

For the most part, I’m doing fine eight years after the fact. I’ve been able to navigate through the early days of widowhood and the ever-expanding realization of life alone. The bright spot is you can get away with more — working late, sneaking snacks, watching what you want on TV, not sharing the covers — but it’s really just a flicker.

Karen and I were married for 40 years. That’s a lot of memories. That’s a lot of togetherness. So, yes, even though I’ve been maneuvering through life for the last eight years, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought of Karen. It’s not melancholy. But the joy of life is dulled. As countless widows and widowers following long relationships can attest, there is a hole in your heart. It closes over the years, but you still wear the scar. And it’s not just the same going through life alone … especially after being yoked together for so many years.

I’ve tried to maintain a relationship with Karen beyond the grave. I’ve maintained many of the traditions we had — like morning coffee and cartoons, flowers, our conversations still. Those, however, are less frequent because she is in Maine and at least half the month, I’m in New York.

I certainly miss her. But even more, it saddens me she never got the chance to meet three of her grandchildren or her two great-granddaughters. Even as I move forward, there is a twinge of sadness Karen isn’t sharing those adventures. You can blame her for my fascination with Maine and, while she is there now, it’s inside an urn.

There is a Funky Winkerbean cartoon taped to the file cabinet next to my {her} desk. I look at it every day. Les Moore lost his wife to cancer and he is driving with his daughter Summer. She asks, “Dad … Do you still miss Mom?”

Next frame, Les responds, “There hasn’t been a day. But after a while, you begin to understand …” Jump to frame three. “… That you can’t let your grief become the substitute for the one you love.”

We always kidded each other. I would say “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone” and she would respond, “No, no, no. You’re going to miss me when I’m gone.”

Once again, she was right.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What if you knew you had one day to live.

Posted in anniversary, family, grief, Karen, Life, love, Memories, relationships, wife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


As I’ve done before, I thought I would share my words from the other side of the pulpit at West Fayette Presbyterian Church.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I want to do some visualization this morning, so sit back and relax. You can close your eyes but only if you promise not to fall asleep.


The setting is a little hospital chapel. The chaplain is behind the pulpit delivering his sermon. There are a few doctors and nurses and a couple of people from the community in the congregation. And there is a woman with three small children under the age of five.

Since it’s a chapel, there are no tables for the two and four year old and since this is in the dark ages — early ’80s — there were no tablets to keep the children entertained.

The two and four year old were on their knees, backs to the preacher, coloring on pieces of construction paper in the pew. Whenever the two year old needed a different color, he would get up, go to the next pew, go through it and return to his pew, get the crayon and reverse himself. Of course, he did this as quietly as a two year old could be … and it seemed he needed a different color just about 10 seconds.

After a couple minutes of this shuffling, the four year old girl started to get annoyed … especially when the two year old wanted the exact shade of red the four year old was using. With a chorus of “I’m using it now!” and “But I want that color” their little voices got louder and louder. Mom, rocking the newborn, tried to hush the other two, but their actions started riling the sleeping infant who started with a small whimper that evolved into a cry.

The padre had had enough. He scolded the woman. “Can’t you control your children? They’re disrupting my sermon!”

The exasperated woman, with tears in her eyes, stood up and grabbed the children. As she walked out of that chapel, she turned to the priest and said, “I’m sorry, Father. I was just trying to be a good Catholic and go to Mass.”


I’ll get back to that in a sec. The more important question is, WWYD, What would you do?

The story, unfortunately, is real. I was there. And I can tell you what I and my fellow Mass attendees did.

That’s right. Absolutely nothing. Nothing to help the woman. Nothing to help the children. No response to the priest. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

There were no souls saved that Sunday morning. There was a few, however, that may have been lost.

In my defense, I did react to the scene in my mind. I know what I should have done. I know what I wanted to do. But I just didn’t do it. I did nothing but watch a crying young mother leave the chapel with her three children.

What I was formulating in my mind was helping the young woman by taking her out of the chapel before the rude comments by the chaplain. It was a hospital … a small, rural hospital which, on a busy week, had about 25% of its rooms occupied. I wanted to — no, I should have taken her into the hall, flagged down a nurse and brought her to a vacant room where she could watch the service on closed circuit television while giving the two and four year olds a little space. I wanted to — no, I should have colored with the youngsters and kept them occupied with a story or two. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I should have done.

Instead. I did nothing but sit in my pew as a silent witness to a religious meltdown. I couldn’t listen to the chaplain or his sermon. My mind kept racing back to the woman.

Now, that’s what I didn’t do. The question again is what would Jesus have done in that situation?

I believe in my heart, my reasoning was in line with Jesus’ thinking and action. Yet I failed to deliver. At that moment in time I was a Pharisee. I was about as far away from being a Christian as I could be because I knew what should have been done, yet I did nothing.

So, again, what do you think Jesus would have done?

In truth, I honestly don’t know what Jesus would have done in that situation. I don’t think He would have rebuked the woman had He been the preacher. I think He would have somehow helped the woman either directly or indirectly. I could see Him putting the children on His lap to settle them down.

Those are pictures painted in Scripture. The problem is pictures aren’t real life. We don’t act with parables. We act with action.

And truth be known, we know very little about Jesus. Sure, we have the Gospels and Epistles (letters) which give us a glimpse into this man/god we call Jesus. But what do we know of Him?

It has been claimed women speak about 20,000 words a day, about 13,000 more than the men. Yet, according to Swordsearcher, a bible study research tool, we have about 2,026 words actually spoken by Jesus … in more than three years of public ministry! That’s more than three times less than an average day for us men and about a tenth of what women say.

That’s not a heck of a lot to go on.

That makes the words and actions contained in our modern day Scripture so valuable. We savor every word. We, like Luke, our current guide, seek answers. We should research and make it a point to verify the accounts that have been passed down. We believe the four canonical gospels to be the cornerstone of God’s revelation to us and central to our belief system. We preach and teach the four canonical gospels are an accurate and authoritative representation of the life of Jesus.

But we can also learn from the apocryphal, non-canonical, Jewish-Christian and gnostic gospels. While that is a higher level of theology than most of us want to get into, nonetheless, in some cases, those writings substantiate canonical writing. In other cases, they contradict traditional Scripture or veer off in directions we may not want to consider. These non-canonical gospels might include the Jewish-Christian gospels, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Judas, infancy gospels, Harmonies, Marcion’s Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of the Lots of Mary. While it isn’t important to know the details of these writings, it is important to recognize their existence and how they influenced our current canon. In some cases they give us a different perspective. In other cases, our present canon points out the heresy of the day and provides a homogeneous collection of thought.

The same can be said about oral tradition of the day and folklore — the preferred means of everyday communication in the days Jesus walked the earth.

I bring this up because the tradition of the day may have been the prompt for Luke’s inclusion of today’s parable about the rich man and Lazarus. If you remember from last week, a parable is a short, fictitious narrative designed to illuminate a spiritual truth, in this case the reality of heaven and hell. With its vivid journey to the afterlife, and its exaggerated imagery of contrast, this parable fits the form of an apocalypse parable. An apocalypse serves as a wake-up call, pulling back a curtain to open our eyes to something we urgently need to see before it is too late.

It is plausible Jesus — through Luke — is addressing the Pharisees who were known to talk the walk but not necessarily to walk the talk. They had a tendency to be ritualistic and, although not as bad as the upper class Sadducees, snobbish toward the poor and disadvantaged. In fact, Luke characterizes the Pharisees as “lovers of money” (16:14).

In the Lucan tradition, this is another of those reversal of fortunes texts pointing out material wealth doesn’t equate to  eternal salvation.

Luke makes clear over and over the poor are a focus of Jesus’ ministry. In His inaugural sermon, Jesus declares He has been anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to bring good news to the poor (4:18; see also 7:22). Jesus admonishes His followers not just to invite to their parties the friends and neighbors who can repay them, but to extend their invitations to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (14:13). This is echoed when Jesus describes the kingdom of God as a wedding banquet where the invitation has been extended to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (14:21).

In a Scrooge-like way we get to see the two principals engaging after death, despite the fact the rich man had no part of the beggar Lazarus during life.

I suspect the rich man had a great funeral in which many dignitaries attended. Speaker after speaker probably related what a great, wonderful, religious man he was. He had to have been blessed by God because of all the wealth he enjoyed. I’m sure they reported he had gone on to his reward in heaven. But one split second after the rich man died, he got the strange feeling something wasn’t right. This wasn’t heaven.

In contrast, when the beggar Lazarus had died, it doesn’t say he was buried like the rich man. His body was probably dumped on some garbage pile. Yet Jesus said the angels escorted his soul into the presence of Abraham — heaven as it might have been understood at the time.

The first realization the rich man had was being able to look up and see this beggar in the bosom of Abraham. And he remembered all he did and didn’t do. And recognizing his fate in what we call hell today, the rich man realizes there is no hope for himself so his thoughts turn to his family. He had five brothers, and they were all like him, religious but lost. So he says in verse 27, I beg you, Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment. Suddenly, the rich man in hell becomes a wannabe soul winner. He develops a missionary spirit. He expresses a concern for the lost people in his family. It’s too bad he didn’t have that same fear of hell before he died!

The rich man rationalizes if Lazarus is allowed to go back and warn his brothers to stay away from hell, when they see a man from the grave warning them, he is certain they will repent.

I tend to agree with the analysis of David Dykes, who taught, “Imagine I’m not a Christian and somebody knocks on my door some evening. When I open the door, I’m shocked to see an old boy whose funeral I attended a few weeks earlier standing there. He says, ‘I’ve come to talk to you about Jesus, can I come in?’ After my initial shock I say, ‘Of corpse you can come in.’ The man begins to say, ‘I’ve just come back from heaven to especially warn you there is a hell because your older brother is there now. He asked me to come warn you not to come to that place. So if you will admit you are a sinner, turn from your sins and trust Jesus, you can be forgiven today. Would you like to bow your head right now and receive Christ?’

“Something like that would literally scare the hell out of me — scare me out of hell.”

But Abraham said, “If they don’t believe God’s Word, they won’t believe if someone rises from the dead.”

Huh!?  Not the response I would have expected.

If this parable is an apocalypse, then Luke is situating the audience not so much in the role of either Lazarus or the rich man, but in the role of the five siblings who are still alive. The five siblings still have time to open their eyes. They have time to see the poor people at their gates before the chasm becomes permanent. Send Lazarus to them, that he might warn them, cries the rich man on behalf of his brothers, so that they do not come to this place of torment. The terrifyingly vivid apocalyptic journey to Hades awakens a sense of urgency on the part of Luke’s audience — you and me, right here, today.

In this story, God’s eternal judgment has everything to do with how we use wealth in this life and whether we attend to those less fortunate in our midst.

A few weeks after Jesus told this story to the Jews, He  was crucified, buried but most of all resurrected — and some still scoffed and rejected Him. They still do today.

Like the rich man’s five brothers, we have been given all the warning we need. Will we see? Will we heed the warning, before it’s too late?

Let’s close by playing “what if” for a moment. It’s an exercise Dr. Dykes proposed to his congregation at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX. What if God offered to let you spend 30 seconds in heaven or 30 seconds in hell today? Which would you choose? This is not forever; it’s just a 30 second visit. Which location do you think would make you a stronger, more mature follower of Christ? Seeing the glory and majesty of heaven would probably make you a stronger Christian, but would it give you a greater burden for lost people?

If God gave me that option,  I would ask Him to let me spend those 30 seconds in hell. I know the Lord and I know I am going to spend eternity in heaven, but I think 30 seconds in hell would change me for the rest of my life. If I could see the agony and hear those voices, I think I would come back and be the most evangelistic Christian on earth. According to the parable, people in hell are concerned for lost people who are headed for hell. That’s something from hell we need to do … be concerned as well.


And the people of God say … Amen!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What if Jesus had decided He didn’t want to endure the most horrific pain and suffering imaginable for people who don’t deserve any of it.

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