WWJD? WWYD?

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.

Ready?

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.”

thWWJD

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.

WWJD? WWYD?

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.

Posted in ecumenism, encouragement, Faith, God, Life, relationships, sermon, West Fayette Presbyterian | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Want To Own a Newspaper?

How would you like to publish your own newspaper for a $250 startup?

That’s the opportunity I am offering … kicking and screaming.

It’s real hard to walk away from something you believe in, but it’s time to hand over the reins of the Reveille/Between the Lakes, an official subscription-based Seneca County, NY, weekly newspaper.

I’ve been in the business for over 50 years and in upstate New York for over 22 years. Newspapers have not only been a job, but a part of my life … a very rewarding part of my life.

I went the traditional sales route, but after talking with a fellow publisher in Vermont facing the same issues, I decided to follow his lead of offering his — and my — paper to a new owner who demonstrated the same values we had.

That made sense to me. I don’t want to step back, but Father Time is catching up to me. In fact, a medical issue last week accelerated the decision. While I was mapping out a plan, it became painfully clear sooner was more important than later. That’s why I am sharing this news now rather in the upcoming weeks.

I want to see the Reveille/Between the Lakes continue to serve Seneca County and its environs. I believe in the community and I believe my subscribers are not just customers, but vested stakeholders who are informed and entertained by the newspaper. I often say, we are not the biggest, but we do strive to be the best. We are a voice – your voice – in Seneca County and the only newspaper completely owned and operated in the county for the county.

rbtl-092216-01-page-0011The plan is simple. I am offering the Reveille/Between the Lakes to someone with a passion for the printed word in a two-step contest. For $125, participants will receive a subscription to the newspaper, a prospectus and a guide to the area published by the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce. With that information and an additional $125, prospective entrants are asked to write a 500 word essay on their vision of being a publisher and a synopsis of a business plan that addresses editorial, advertising, distribution and marketing of the paper in today’s publishing environment. Those responses will be evaluated by a panel of judges and scored independently. The winner will receive the name, good will, advertising and circulation lists and introductions in the community. There is no real property involved.

I want the new owner(s) to be able to invest their personal capital on improving and expanding the paper. I believe there are opportunities for growth in all areas. Over 20 years ago I started putting my mark on this paper, but it’s time for new blood, new thinking and blending tradition with fresh approaches. It’s time for someone else with a passion for print to carry the mantle. I don’t want to be remembered as the paper’s last publisher.

The Reveille/Between the Lakes has been a staple under different banners since 1855. The current flag has flown since 1994 when I came to Seneca County.

Publishing is not for the timid. There’s an “it” factor. You have to believe there is a story in the ordinary and be willing to search it out without sensationalism. Weekly newspapers have unique challenges, knowing – and accepting – the fact you will never “scoop” other media, especially given today’s penchant for social media. But it can be extremely rewarding when you put the puzzle together each week and you receive a simple “thank you” from subscribers and advertisers. It has been those “thank yous” that have kept me going.

I have met so many wonderful people in Seneca County and I treasure each as not just vendors, sources, clients and customers, but truly as friends. I look at my subscription base as an extended family who have stood by me through good times and not so good times. It will be tough to walk away, but I recognize you can’t stay at the dance too long. There are other things I want to do without being tethered to a deadline.

This is the formal announcement of my plans with the official rules following.

The plan is to continue the contest until Nov. 15. I do reserve the right to control the nationwide contest in whatever way I deem best for me and the community. I am looking for a minimum of 100 entrants.

Each journey begins with a single step. This is my first step.

new-logo

Contest Rules

WIN THE REVEILLE/BETWEEN THE LAKES
OFFICIAL ESSAY CONTEST RULES & ENTRY

Name(s)
Mailing Address
Telephone No.:                    Work No. (Optional)                    Cell No. (Optional):

E-mail:

I, the undersigned have read the Essay Contest Rules below and agree by submitting my entry and fee to abide by the rules as noted below.

Entrant Signature

Declare your intention by submitting a $125 down payment by credit card at squareup.com/store/reveille-between-the-lakes/ or attach to the above entry form with a money order or certified check to:

Reveille/Between the Lakes Essay Contest
P.O. Box 557
Seneca Falls, NY 13148-0557, USA

To continue participating after receiving  a subscription to the newspaper, a prospectus and a guide to the area published by the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce, submit an additional $125 by credit card (atsquareup.com/store/reveille-between-the-lakes/) , money order or certified check along with your essay.

 ESSAY CONTEST RULES
1. SUBJECT/THEME: The essay shall address the following theme as its subject:
Why I would like to own and operate a paid weekly newspaper, founded in 1889.

2. DEADLINE:  All entries must be physically in the hands of the publisher of the Reveille/Between the Lakes by no later than Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 at 5 p.m. EST.  This is a newspaper: no exceptions or extensions shall be granted.  Entries should be sent to the Reveille/Betewen the Lakes by e-mail, revblt@rochester.rr.com or addressed to The Reveille/Between the Lakes Essay Contest, P.O. Box 557, Seneca Falls, NY 13148-0557, USA.  Responsibility for lost, late or misdirected entries rests with the entrant.  Any entry postmarked after Nov. 15, 2016 shall be returned to the entrant.
Sponsor reserves the right to unilaterally extend the deadlines of the essay contest entry and determination of the winning entries for a period of up to thirty (30) days.  Notice of such extension shall be posted on the contest website: wisdomfromafather.wordpress.com/.
3. SPONSOR: This is an essay contest of skill, ability and knowledge.  The winner will be selected by the criteria stated below as measured and evaluated by a panel of judges from the industry and community.  This contest is sponsored by Reveille/Between the Lakes, having its principal office at PO Box 557, Seneca Falls, NY 13148-0557, USA (“Sponsor”).  Sponsor shall not correspond directly with entrants but shall post any necessary supplemental information to the Reveille/Between the Lakes Contest website: wisdomfromafather.wordpress.com/.  Sponsor reserves the right to modify, clarify or change rules as necessary throughout the competition as it deems fit. Posts will also be linked to Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/joe.siccardi and Twitter@revblt.

4. ELIGIBILITY: The essay contest may be entered by anyone worldwide who is 18 years of age or older, unless the laws of your state, province or country prohibit such contests, in which case this contest and offer are void.
Owners and ex-owners of the Reveille/Between the Lakes, their employees, agents and immediate family members are ineligible and may not participate in this contest.  Judges of the contest and their immediate family members are also ineligible to enter.
Multiple entries, with multiple fees are permitted. Each entry must be an original work and must include  a separate entry fees.

5. ESSAY ENTRY FEE: Each prospective entry must be accompanied by a $125 (US funds) down payment by credit card (at squareup.com/store/reveille-between-the-lakes/) or money order or certified check to Reveille/Between the Lakes Essay Contest, P.O. Box 557, Seneca Falls, NY 13148-0557, USA. To continue participating after receiving  a subscription to the newspaper, a prospectus and a guide to the area published by the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce, submit an additional $125 (US funds) by credit card (at squareup.com/store/reveille-between-the-lakes/), money order or certified check along with your essay. All entries shall be deemed received whether or not the essay adheres to the technical requirements as set forth herein.
BY ENTERING THIS CONTEST, YOU ACKNOWLEDGE YOU HAVE READ AND AGREE TO THE ESSAY CONTEST RULES.
Absolutely no refunds shall be made by reason of non-compliance or for any other reason except as stated below. There is no limit on how many entries will be received by the sponsor.  A minimum of 100 actual entries will be necessary for the contest to go forward.  If 100 entries are not received, the Sponsor, in its sole discretion, reserves the right to accept fewer entries and/or cancel the contest. In the event the contest is cancelled, all entry funds received only will be refunded. Down payments will not be refunded.

6. JUDGES: Essays will be reviewed and ranked by a panel of five judges, including a representative of the Sponsor. All judges, apart from sponsor’s representative, will not be related to or an employee or agent of Sponsor.  Judges, apart from sponsor’s representative, shall not have financial interest in the business.
The panel of judges shall read and evaluate each essay properly submitted with a valid entry fee based on the following criteria:
* desire to operate a weekly newspaper (25 points)
* creativity (25 points)
* development of tentative business plan addressing content, production, distribution and marketing (25 points)
* structure of essay (introduction, body and conclusion) (15 points) and
* personal background (10 points).
Each essay will be graded independently on a 100 point scale with points awarded based on each category as listed above. The essay with the highest point score shall be deemed the winner.  The second and third highest scores shall be deemed the first and second runners-up.
The names of the judges shall not be released.

7. TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS: Every entry must comply with the following requirements:
* Include a cover letter;
* Consist of a formal essay of 500 words or less in English;
* Shall be typed or computer generated, double spaced, or sent by e-mail as a .doc or .pdf attachment;
* Entrant’s name and address shall not appear on the essay, but be included in a cover letter/page. Acknowledgments will be sent by e-mail upon receipt of essay.

8. DEADLINE FOR DETERMINATION OF WINNING ESSAY AND RUNNERS-UP: The winner will be chosen on or before Nov. 30, 2016, along with the First and Second Runners-Up. The winner of the contest will receive the right to enter into a purchase and sale agreement for the name, good will, advertising and circulation lists of the Reveille/Between the Lakes and introductions in the community. There is no real property involved. If the winner refuses in writing to accept this prize, then it shall be awarded to the first runner-up. Likewise, should the first runner-up refuse in writing to accept ownership then it will be awarded to the second runner-up and forward until an individual is found to take possession of the business.
Transfer  shall take place within a reasonable time following the end of the contest as mutually determined by Sponsor and Winner.  No additional consideration will be required.  Winner shall have five business days to accept the transfer agreement upon notification by e-mail, phone, letter or in person.  Failure to accept the agreement within the time allotted shall constitute a rejection of the prize.

9. COPYRIGHT AND PUBLICATION: Submitting your essay to the essay contest shall constitute an assignment to the Sponsor of all copyrights arising under both statute and the common law and all other rights derivative there from. By entering the essay contest, entrants grant further permission for sponsors to publish all or part of the submitted essay and to use the entrant’s name and photograph and to publicize the winning entries and the names of all the final 20 essays, all without royalty or other consideration.

10. FEES: The winning entrant shall be solely responsible for any and all fees and costs following transfer.  These include, but are not limited to, printing, postage, banking, registrations.

11. DESCRIPTION OF PRIZE PROPERTY: Sponsor will present the winner with a Purchase and Sale Agreement to transfer the following for no further consideration:
*  A current customer subscription list;
* A current advertiser list;
* A past advertiser list;
* An archive of past issues;
* Relationships and on-going agreements with printer and supply companies;
* Goodwill and community support.
Here is what is not included:
* Printing facilities (we print off-site through a third party);
* Any guarantees (this is the news business and it changes every day).

12. ADDITIONAL REPRESENTATIONS: Winner agrees to accept the business as is and understands Sponsor makes no guarantees or representations about the business apart from its own experience of owning and operating this community-based newspaper since 1994 and making a living at it.  Newspaper work is not easy, particularly in the 21st century, and the Reveille/Between the Lakes is not immune from the problems and stresses, but apart from the money (or lack thereof), it is extremely rewarding and the best job Sponsor has ever had.   Winner shall understand he, she or they are taking a community-based business and what follows shall be entirely on his or her shoulders.  Following the transfer, the current owner will be happy to provide advice, informal help and answer questions on a reasonable and limited basis.  The current owner will also take winner around to members of the community for introductions as current owner sees fit, but following the transfer, this will be Winner’s job and Winner will be responsible for assembling, publishing and distributing the next issue following closing.

    13. COVENANT: Winner shall agree to a covenant and condition to continue the operation of The Reveille/Between the Lakes as a newspaper for two years following the transfer of the business.

ENTRANTS AGREE THEIR SOLE INVESTMENT IN THIS CONTEST IS THEIR ENTRY FEE AND SPONSOR IS NOT RESPONSIBLE IN ANY WAY FOR ANY ADDITIONAL ACTIONS TAKEN BEYOND SUBMITTING SAID ENTRY.  ENTRANTS AGREE THEIR SOLE DAMAGE IN ANY CLAIM BASED ON THIS CONTEST SHALL BE THEIR ENTRY FEE.  ENTRANTS AGREE TO WAIVE ANY CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES RELATED TO THIS CONTEST.  ENTRANTS AGREE AN ENTRY HAS NO GUARANTEE OF SUCCESS AND THIS CONTEST CONTAINS AN ELEMENT OF RISK WITHOUT ANY PROMISE OF REWARD.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Words are incredibly powerful and whilst they may be said in a blink of an eye, the impact they have can last for a lifetime.

 

Posted in career, contest, Newspapers, relationships | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Gospel According to Luke

I like to share what I shared in the pulpit today. Here it is …

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

Over the past few weeks, you might have noticed the lectionary has focused on Luke. So, what do we know about the evangelist? Who was he? Was he an apostle? Was he a disciple? Did he know Jesus?

I don’t think Steve has gone into too much of his persona so I thought it would be interesting to look at this writer. And no, he wasn’t one of the 12 original apostles and he wasn’t a first-generation disciple. In fact, although there is some divergent theological thought on who this writer was, there is strong evidence he did not know Jesus personally and probably never met Him.

How in the world, then, does he write so expertly on the life of Jesus?

What most theological scholars believe is Luke was a gentile from Antioch,  a Greco-Roman city on the eastern side of the Orontes River, now in ruins near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey. He was a physician by profession, although that designation doesn’t have the same connotation as today. He was a long companion of Paul, and most theologians again believe Paul was the spark that led Luke to investigating — and writing about — the life of Jesus.

Paul was Jewish from the tribe of Benjamin, but you might remember he originally was called Saul and was one of the biggest thorns to the early Christian movement. He did all he could to undermine it. In fact, when Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr in the New Testament, was killed, Saul was there watching the cloaks of those who were stoning Stephen.

On the day Stephen was martyred, a great persecution broke out against the Christian church in Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  At that time, Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house  he dragged off Christian men and women and put them in prison.  Eventually he obtained letters to Jews from the Jewish religious leaders in Damascus and he went there to bring the Christians — known as followers of the Way at that time — back to Jerusalem to be punished.

As he came near Damascus, a bright light from the skies flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute Me?”

“Who are you Lord?” he asked.

“I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting” and Jesus instructed Saul to get up and go into Damascus. Because of the bright light, Saul had been blinded.  For three days he could not see … in fact, his companions had to lead him into Damascus by hand.

While in Damascus, Jesus instructed a devout follower of the Way to pray for Saul so his sight could be restored as a witness to the Way.  When he did, immediately Saul could see and he was told he would be Jesus’ witness to all men of what he had seen and heard. It was his “aha” moment. Saul got up and was baptized a follower of Christ Jesus and was forevermore called Paul, an apostle to the gentiles (non-Jews).

He met with Peter, James and John.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note Paul and Peter had wildly different views on the Christ. Peter, apostle to the Jews, was more legalistic and concentrated on form as a part of function. Paul had a different zeal, not from first hand knowledge of Jesus, but as a witness to the power of Jesus in individual lives. It’s an interesting study, but it’s just an aside, not particularly relevant to today’s topic.

Getting back to our story, Paul and Barnabas — also not of the original 12 — were directed  to preach in Antioch and spread the word to the Gentiles from there. It is presumed that’s where Luke comes in. Theologians, in dissecting every jot and tittle of early church writings, generally believe Luke first met Paul in Troas on Paul’s second missionary journey.  On Paul’s third missionary trip, we find Luke living in Philippi. It appears he was also a constant companion of Paul through his first imprisonment in Rome and even during his second imprisonment to some extent.

He was Paul’s medical advisor, undoubtedly prolonged Paul’s life and rescued him from many a serious illness.  He was a medical missionary.  Although never explicitly named, it is probable Luke was at the beheading of Paul, perhaps from a distance. More than likely it was the good doctor who buried the body of his friend, co-worker and fellow traveler on the road of life.

There are some life lessons from Luke that have parallels today. We know he was learned and a physician in the Hippocratic tradition, which is patient and holistic centered. We can see Luke’s life and writings minister to the whole person – body, soul and spirit. Dr. Luke used the 52 chapters of the gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts to minister to our physical needs (body), emotional needs (soul) and spiritual needs (spirit).

From his writings and tradition, we can conclude Luke showed humility by not calling attention to himself or his family, but rather focused on the person of the Lord Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Luke used his medical training and ability in the mission field and as a tool to further the gospel. You often find him spending more time on the physical healing than the other evangelists, referring many times to sicknesses and diagnoses.

Luke demonstrated loyalty to his friend Paul. Dr. Luke stuck close to Paul in his darkest hour when everybody else had left him for another task, or even deserted him completely. Haunting words from Paul in  2 Timothy 4:11, Only Luke is with me.

Luke was a man of prayer. He did it and he wrote about it.  Luke ministered, by his life and writings, to the whole person.

So, if Luke wasn’t a first-generation Christian, i.e., not an actual witness to Jesus’ life and ministry, how did he come to write his gospel or Acts?

As I said, most theologians believe he was a learned man. If he had a question, he sought answers. He researched. He made it a point to verify the accounts that were passed down by the two authoritative existing manuscripts of the time, the writings of Matthew and Mark.

Luke penned his words about 60AD, not too distant from actual events. As he explains in the first four verses of his book, it was written to give a reliable and precise record of the history of Jesus Christ’s life. Not only as an historian, but also as a medical doctor, Luke paid great attention to detail, including dates and events that happened throughout the life of Christ.

Luke took advantage of this time in Israel and visited the sites in Jerusalem, Samaria, Perea and Galilee where Jesus had ministered and he interviewed the people who had seen and heard the Jesus. I suspect he spent time in Nazareth talking with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and obtained the details of the birth of the Lord Jesus from her. The account in Luke 1 and 2 was written included ample medical language. Perhaps he stopped in Naim to interview the widow woman’s son who was raised from the dead (Luke 7:11-17), an account only Dr. Luke recorded as a medical miracle. Luke had access to historical records and other contemporary writing. He carefully researched and interviewed the disciples and others who were eyewitnesses to the life of Christ and incorporated those words into his. Luke is careful to give a detailed and accurate record of his investigation so readers can trust with certainty Jesus is God.

A theme emphasized in the Gospel of Luke is the humanity of Jesus Christ and His perfection as a human. His conclusion was Jesus was the perfect man who gave the perfect sacrifice for sin, therefore, providing the perfect Savior for humankind.

Luke, perhaps because of his Hippocratic background, portrays Jesus’ profound interest in people and relationships. He was compassionate to the poor, the sick, the hurting and the sinful. He loved and embraced everyone. Our God became flesh to identify with us and to show us His genuine love. Only this perfect love can satisfy our deepest need.

Luke’s Gospel gives special emphasis to prayer, miracles and angels. Interesting to note, women are given an important place in Luke’s writings.

So that’s the persona of Luke as most theologian view him. It doesn’t really have much to do with today’s particular reading, which is in itself a kind of strange inclusion in the book, but gives you a little insight into the background of the writer.

But we should address this week’s words. I’m pretty sure most commentators and those standing on this side of the pulpit would have difficulty with this text. I know I did, which is one of the reasons why I opted to give some general background rather than try to explain the parable of the shrewd manager.

Despite a close connection with the other synoptic gospel writers, Matthew and Mark, this account stands alone in Luke. It may serve as a bridge between two other stand alone parables — the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) of last week and the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), which we’ll discuss next week. Like the prodigal in the preceding story, our dishonest manager has “squandered” what was entrusted to him (15:13; 16:1). And, like the story that follows, this parable begins with the phrase, There was a rich man (16:1, 19).

So there appears to be a series of lessons on money by Dr. Luke. But how or why they are incorporated into his text is really not known since only Luke addressed the three parables, not Matthew, Mark or John.

The story itself, actually, sounds quite contemporary. A dishonest manager is about to lose his job because he has misspent his employer’s assets. Because he doesn’t want to do manual labor or receive charity, he goes around to all the people who owe his employer money and reduces their debts. He does this so they will be hospitable to him after he loses his job. To our surprise, though, the employer commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

Why is he commended? What is Luke trying to tell us? What is the connection he was trying to make?

Although our dishonest manager does not repent (like the prodigal) or act virtuously (like Lazarus), he nonetheless does something with the rich man’s wealth that reverses the existing order of things. For Luke, reversals of status are at the heart of what happens when Jesus and the kingdom of God appear in everyday life.

Some commentators have suggested the manager has reduced his own commission in the debts owed and this is what is being commended. Yet others have suggested more generally the employer is simply commending the manager for responding shrewdly to a difficult circumstance.

Still scratching your head? I know I did.

We have to remember this is a parable — a short, fictitious narrative designed to illuminate a spiritual truth — and not an example story in which we are told to go and do likewise. In fact, we need to be especially careful not to treat this text as an example story.

Lois Malcolm, a professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, proposes four interpretations of the employer’s commendation.

First, the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light (16:8). In other words, Jesus’ disciples — often referred to as “children of light” (see John 12:36) — could learn something about acting prudently from the “children of this age.” Or, said another way, there are ways to approach problems than old traditions.

Second, what they could learn from the “children of this age” has to do with making friends for themselves even by means of dishonest wealth so those new friends might “welcome them into the eternal homes” (16:9). Instead of using “dishonest wealth” to exploit others (as the rich often do), disciples are to use wealth to “make friends for themselves.” If friendships are based on reciprocal and egalitarian relationships, then releasing other people’s debts not only enriches them, but also establishes a new kind of reciprocity with them.

As a broader context, Luke often depicts how Jesus’ and His followers’ ministry is dependent on the hospitality of others (8:3; 10:7). Moreover, hospitality is often provided by those who are considered religious outsiders or lower down on social hierarchies (e.g., the good Samaritan, 10:33; tax collectors, 5:27-39; 19:1-10; Cornelius, 10:48, etc.).

Third, there’s a connection between being faithful (or dishonest) with “very little” and “very much.” How one deals with “dishonest wealth” and “what belongs to another” says much about how one will deal with “true riches” and “what is your own” (16:10-12). How we use the resources at our disposal in this life — especially in tight circumstances — matters, even though our “true riches” can only be found in that place where no thief can draw near and no moth destroys (12:33-34).

Finally, the capstone is no slave can serve two masters … you cannot serve God and wealth (16:13). This reiterates a central theme in Luke. The kingdom of God entails giving up all other commitments, including the commitment to economic security (14:33; 18:18-25). Luke places great emphasis on how the reign of God reverses the status of the rich and the poor (1:51-53; 6:20). In Acts, the Christian community is one where disciples share all things in common, distributing to all, as any had need (2:44-45). These texts cannot just be spiritualized. Luke is talking about a different way of using wealth. Our wealth — no matter its source — belongs to God and is to be used for the purposes of God’s reign among us and not simply for our own interests.

So, again, why is our dishonest manager shrewd?

Even though he is still sinner who is looking out for his own interests (6:32-34), he models behavior the disciples can emulate. Instead of simply being a victim of circumstance, he transforms a bad situation into one that benefits him and others. By reducing other people’s debts, he creates a new set of relationships based not on the vertical relationship between lenders and debtors (rooted in monetary exchange) but on something more like the reciprocal and egalitarian relationships of friends.

What this dishonest manager sets in play has analogies with what happens when the reign of God emerges among us (17:21). Old hierarchies are overturned and new friendships are established. Indeed, outsiders and those lower down on the hierarchical ladder will become the very ones we depend upon to welcome us — not only in their homes in this life, but even in the “eternal homes” (6:20-26)! The lesson of the parable is not that we should be dishonest, but rather we should use every means at our disposal to prepare for our eternal home.

That being said, maybe, just maybe, this text shouldn’t even be read as an ethical issue but a missional issue. A reply to a commentary — not the commentary itself — proposes this tact. Perhaps the point is, for “children of light”, we’re supposed to be giving away what was never ours to begin with. Perhaps we’re supposed to be giving away what the “Owner” has entrusted us with — the grace and love of Jesus Christ. It was never ours to begin with … and perhaps if we were giving it away — or at least sharing it — the “Owner” would commend us as well.

Just some food for thought.

And the people of God, maybe perplexed with the text, would say … Amen!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What if we stood in the gap for the lost, lonely, homeless and hurting instead of standing on the sidelines.

Posted in ecumenism, encouragement, Faith, Friends, God, Life, love, sermon, West Fayette Presbyterian | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Minute Friday — Listen

It’s Saturday and time for the latest Five Minute Friday installment. I just awaiting test results so it’s as good a time as any to sit down and let the mind wander on this week’s prompt. When finished, I’ll join the other writer’s at Kate’s place (http://katemotaung.com/2016/09/15/five-minute-friday-listen/) to swap and share experiences.

Just as a little update, I’m doing fine from the very, very minor stroke of last week. God sent His guardian angels to plug the bleed quickly and localize the damage to my peripheral vision. I am so blessed.

So this past week my mind has been prodded and probed and predictably what was found was a bunch a free range cells running around. Let’s see if they’re just as free spirited with the prompt — LISTEN.

The timer has been set, so, let’s GO

I am not a good listener. My wife would often tell me she had to whack me with a 2 x 4 to get me to stop and listen to her. I try and I try, but as words hit my ears, my mind starts processing them into possible solutions.

I would like to think in the latter years of our marriage, my listening skills improved. I learned sometime you have to stop thinking and actually listen to find what is bothering, in this case, my spouse.

And I’m not just a lousy listener as a spouse, but other areas of my life as well. God knows that all to well. And sometimes, He has to whack me with a 2 x 4 to tell me to stop and listen to what He is trying to say. I got the message.

Listening is an art. It’s stopping to take “you” out of the situation. It’s making you responsible for others not by deed but by action. It’s … STOP

… taking the time to find out what is bothering, affecting and challenging others so you can respond appropriately. Not immediately. Appropriately.

In my case, God was telling me to slow down. There are about a hundred other ways He could have done it, although I know He’s tried and I wasn’t listening. So, He slowed me down. Period. Out of commission completely for a few days.

I think I’ve learned my lesson. Over the next few weeks I am going to get a lot of instructions. Some of them will be lifestyle changes. Some of them will be simple do’s and don’t’s. I have to discern the opinions of experts and weigh them against my “gut” feeling. And I have to be still and listen. That might be the hardest challenge.

Well, that’s it for this week. Please visit Kate’s place. You can get more information about Five Minute Friday and read some pretty interesting posts. Perhaps it might interest you enough to join in!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What if we prayed for the murderer and rapist on death row instead of wishing they would suffer a horrible death. (Matthew 5:44)

Posted in doctor, Faith, family, Five Minute Friday, God, growing old, health, Life, love, marriage, mobility, reflect, relationships, teamwork, things that matter | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Prayers, Prayers and More Prayers

I don’t like prayer to be directed at me. I would rather be the prayer than the prayee. But there are times the power of prayer is needed for me, and this is one of those times.

Some of you may know I had a very mild stroke last week. It apparently occurred last Sunday but wasn’t diagnosed until Thursday because there were no stroke symptoms except a sudden loss of peripheral vision on my left side, leading me to seek ophthalmic care. My ophthalmologist gave my eyes a clean bill of health, indicating this was a neurological issue. That’s when the scans discovered a small bleed in the brain. After a few days of tests, rest and observation, I expect to be released tomorrow and I fully expect the vision to return to normal in the coming days, weeks or months.

This event was important because I am scheduled to fill the pulpit at West Fayette (NY) Presbyterian Church for the next three weeks. Which leads to the prayer a) I am able to preach and b) that the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:4).

I’m not implying my words will be resoundingly poignant, but I have learned through the years, the more obstacles when presenting issues of faith generally means the devil is working overtime to block the message. And this sudden illness appears to fit that pattern. Something I’m presenting over the next three weeks has Satan shaking.

Over the week, I have turned over the stroke to the Lord and I know He has been directing the doctors and has sent and legion of angels to watch over me. There is something that has to be shared. I’ve read and re-read my sermons and I don’t see it. But it’s there to help someone find their way to the Lord.

I have prayed the words and meditation I craft ARE pleasing to the Lord. And that’s what I ask of you, my friends.

This week I expect to preach on The Gospel According to Luke. Next week it will be WWJD and the final topic is If We’re Honest with the assistance of Jen Gray as special worship leader, combining contemporary praise music with traditional hymns.

So, if you happen to be in the Finger Lakes area of New York, I welcome you to join us at 9 a.m. at West Fayette Presbyterian Church, on Route 336 just east of Route 96A and a few miles south of Geneva and north of Sampson State Park. I invite you not to listen to the guy in the pulpit, but to enjoy the fellowship of the little church with the big heart.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What if we stopped killing babies and gave them the right to chose the path they wanted to take in this life.

Posted in Faith, Friends, God, prayer, relationships, sermon, West Fayette Presbyterian | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Pete’s Dragon

When I found out the Center Theater in Dover-Foxcroft, ME, had booked Pete’s Dragon while I was there, I have to admit I was quite excited. I don’t know why.

Despite three kids (two came later) and a well-used VCR back in the late 70s, I had absolutely no idea what the movie was about. I remembered Helen Reddy was one of the stars – she played Nora – and there was this not so frightful animated dragon Elliot. But that’s about all I remember about the original. I didn’t remember the plot. I couldn’t give you a synopsis.

But I knew I had to watch the reboot. So, with the tune Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary – I know, I know, wrong dragon – swirling in my head, I trudged across the street, paid my admission and settled in to watch the “new” Pete’s Dragon.

I wasn’t disappointed. Disney tastefully crafted a nice little tale that flowed well and kept my younger audience mates glued to the screen.

My son asked me if the remake was as good as the original. It’s a question I really can’t answer. But it was good enough to take his kids to see.

petes-dragon-poster-lgOur new Pete (Oakes Fegley) was orphaned at age five when Mom and Dad died in a car crash in the middle of the forest. Of course, he was taken in by a friendly magical dragon with a pronounced chipped tooth he names Elliott after the puppy in a book he was reading at the time of the fateful accident. They live together for the next six years or so, with Elliot playing with and taking care of Pete. Presumably, Pete has little if any contact with the civilized world. He is content in his magical world.

In the story line, Pete is “found” by 11 year Natalie (Oona Laurence), who chases Pete through the forest. She, of course, climbs and summarily falls from a tree, her screams attracting her father Jack (Wes Bentley) and his girlfriend, Park Ranger Grace Meacham ((Bryce Dallas Howard). Pete tries to run away, but Gavin (Karl Urban), Jack’s brother, accidentally knocks him unconscious and the boy is brought to the hospital for an evaluation. Pete wakes up and escapes in an effort to return to the forest. Before the police can catch him, Grace finds Pete and convinces him to come live with her by promising to take him to the forest the next day. After receiving a drawing of Elliot from him, Grace takes it to her father, Lampie (Robert Redford) who liked to tell stories about a mythical dragon he discovered as a young man.

After “returning” to civilization, Pete howls and jumps over things and is somewhat tamed only by Natalie.

Meanwhile, Gavin , who sits on his brains, figures he can show up big brother by capturing this dragon and he and his mighty band do just that with tranquilizer darts. Of course, they don’t know what to do with it after they capture Elliot, so they tie him to a flatbed trailer and bring him back to the lumberyard.

Pete and Natalie set out to free Elliott in a convoluted scheme that includes stealing him with Lampie behind the wheel.

In the “action” part of the movie, Gavin sets up a roadblock at the bridge to stop them. A failed attempt to fly by a still groggy Elliot damages the truck’s brakes, causing the truck to plow through the barricade and come to a stop at the other side. Confused and frightened, Elliot perches himself atop the bridge and starts breathing fire at police. The bridge begins to collapse under the intense heat, causing Grace and Jack’s truck to fall through. Elliot tries to prop them up, but the bridge suddenly gives way and they all fall into the ravine. At the last second, Elliot emerges with Grace and Jack on his back. With a military helicopter approaching, Pete decides to flee with Elliot back to the woods.

Pete pleads with Elliot to stay with him, but the dragon concludes as long as they stay close together, Pete will always be in danger. He points out Pete’s book to try and convince him to go back to Grace and Jack. After a tearful hug, Elliot returns to the mountains, while Pete goes to live with Grace and Jack.

The movie is neatly wrapped with Grace and Jack getting married and adopting Pete as their son. Elliot slowly fades from the town’s memory.

Nevertheless, Pete and his family find him while on vacation. It seems Elliot had a reunion as well … with his fellow dragons.

I don’t know if Elliot was reunited with his dragon “family” back in 1977. I do know, if this is the same Elliot (“a dragon lives forever, but no so little boys” – sorry, I told you it was in my head), he migrated cross country from New England to the Pacific Northwest. And I was told in the original, Elliot had some purple flakes in his fur.

My only critique was continuity. I mean, when we first find Pete he’s a five year old boy with a limited vocabulary. Six years later with no schooling and no verbal communication with Elliot or the outside world, he seemed to fare quite well in town. Sounds like a kid’s fairy tale – street (forest) smarts and book smarts and no classrooms.

I would give it four out of five stars.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: What if we replaced racism, hate, jealousy and pride with love.

Posted in children, family, growing up, Life, Movies, relationships, Review | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

I Guess I’m in Deep Doo Doo

I’m going to be the first to say. Sometimes I don’t think. I don’t mean to go off course … but sometimes I do.

Take last night — or more appropriately this morning — for example. I was heading home from Maine to New York. That’s something I’ve been doing for over a year. It’s nothing new. However, I forgot one little detail and — holy moly — have I heard about it. I didn’t tell my kids when I exactly was leaving — and since I don’t text and drive and they hadn’t heard from me {remember, I usually send them a good morning message} my now grown up little urchins shifted their imagination into overdrive.

Now, a couple of things. I HAD told them I was going to leave after the game. Well, they assumed  it was the early Green Bay-Jacksonville game and I would be on the road around 4-5 p.m. Or it could have been the 4 p.m. Detroit-Indianapolis game which would have put me on the road around 7-8 ish. I actually decided to stay in Maine until after the nighttime New England-Arizona contest. That put me on the road around 12:30 this morning with the plan being to stop when the taillights started dancing. Only I didn’t share my plans. After all, I’m 69 and I didn’t think I had to check in.

Annnnt. Wrong.

In my defense, I didn’t want to send a group text at 12:36 a.m. I know how annoying they can be, even on vibrate. And when I finally laid my head down at 3:04 a.m. for an hour and a half power nap, I just didn’t think about it. When the sun started climbing I was driving and … I don’t text and drive.

I love my kids and apparently they love me because my lack of response to “Dad, you safe?”unearthed a series of events that could only be portrayed in the movies …

First there a call to the property manager, but it was still early so Dave wasn’t in yet. Next it was a call to the Dover-Foxcroft Police Department to request they check on me {apparently they did}. Then a call to Mayo Hospital to make sure I wasn’t slacking off with some unknown disease. Then it was a check of state police reports. Then a call to the Maine, Massachusetts and New York State Police {I guess they forgot about New Hampshire} to make sure there wasn’t any problems and to be on the lookout for me. {I guess I was Silver Alert}. However, all they knew was I was driving a Subaru they identified as tan {it’s technically seafoam green} and New York plates {no one knew the plate number}. It must have been an interesting conversation with dispatch.

So I pull in at 12:01 and advised all I was back home safe and sound … and that’s when the doo doo hit the fan. My girls are in a panic. Middle son says, “Relax … whatever is going on, one thing dad wouldn’t want us to do is freak.” My older daughter chimes in, “I know he doesn’t want us to freak out, but we need to know he’s safe … It’s not like him to not communicate with us!” {I created a monster} My younger daughter adds, “The repercussions to this irresponsible behavior will be handled. If we pulled this as kids we’d have our asses locked in a room with only 2x a day supervised potty breaks.”

My texting late argument didn’t fly. Nicolle adds, “I was worried sick because you exhibited unusual behavior {?}. I guess you can call that a mommy gene {ut oh, she’s calling in the wrath of Karen!} .” Adds Dee, “I’m with Cole … and mom. Don’t pull that crap again. Text. Text. Text.”

Now middle son chimes in. “You know, too bad we didn’t live closer. We could have all sat on the couch and waited for dad to walk in and said ‘We need to talk.'”

I appreciate and love their concern. I’m sorry I was insensitive and made you worry … needlessly. My only  concern now is how many times I will get pulled over when I go back to Maine.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: We are here on this earth to be here for each other. Time and kindness are free and should be given often.

Posted in children, family, football, Humor, Life, love, Maine, plan, relationships, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments