Some of you might have seen the recent reality show on Discovery Channel called “Undercover Billionaire.” There’s a notion in our society today that the younger generations no longer have the opportunities to realize their American Dreams like before. Some say the American Dream is dead. Billionaire Glenn Stearns wants to find out whether it is still possible to reproduce his rags-to-riches story.
He made a challenge to himself to build a million-dollar business in 90 days from nothing. Glenn was born to alcoholic parents, diagnosed dyslexic, failed fourth grade, fathered a child at the age of 14 and graduated high school at the bottom of his class.
After high school, he decided to change his life and, to make the long story short, he built a multibillion business, set up several foundations, and received many prestigious awards for his entrepreneurship and humanitarian services.
At 55, he wants to find out if he could do it all over again. Recently, Forbes Magazine reported that he might no longer be a billionaire, but he might only be worth half a billion. However, that’s beyond the point. The point is whether America is still the land of opportunity.
In this reality show, Stearns was flown to a city he has never been to. Without any connection, with only $100 in his pocket, a cellphone, and an old truck, he was challenged to create a business that is worth a million dollars by the end of 90 days pretending that he just quit a corporate job to start a business.
He promised to the Discovery Channel that if he couldn’t build a business worth one million dollars in 90 days, he would give a million-dollar of his own money. This 90-day real-life journey was put together into a series of 8 one-hour episodes, and last Tuesday was the finale, where he revealed his true identity to the team.
In the end, he has proven that the American Dream is still alive provided that you don’t make excuses. His life could have been full of excuses. He could use the fact that he was born to alcoholic parents as an excuse not to succeed. Being dyslexic could be an excuse also.
Many people use the lack of opportunity in today’s world as an excuse. He has proven that none of these excuses are valid. After seeing the show, I asked myself, what excuses do we have against the revival of our church?
Overcoming excuses is an important principle of life. The danger is some of the excuses we have are unconscious. We don’t even know that we are making excuses and end up perpetuating the failure.
How about the spiritual aspect of life? Can we make excuses about not believing? If we do believe, can we make excuses for not bearing the fruit of the spirit?
Woody Allen once gave his excuse for not believing. He said, “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.” He said it with tongue in cheek, and we don’t know if he was serious or not.
Jesus said that it is an evil and unbelieving generation that seeks signs. For such people, even if God did deposit a large sum of money in their name in a Swiss bank, they would still not believe. They might find another excuse or call it a freak coincident.
We know that Bertrand Russel, one of the smartest minds of the 20th century, was serious when he gave the speech, “Why I Am Not A Christian.” He said if he died and saw God in heaven and should God ask him, “Why didn’t you believe me.” His answer would be, “You did not give me enough evidence to believe you.”
However, Jesus said there’s more than enough evidence about God in the world. Those who find excuses not to believe will always find it and he said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Lk 16:31).
He is saying that even the miracle of resurrection cannot change a hardened heart. This leads to today’s scripture lesson, where Jesus told the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I am sure you are all familiar with it.
Unlike Lazarus, the rich man doesn’t even have a name, which means he didn’t do anything significant with his wealth for his name to be worthy of mentioning by Jesus. He was self-absorbed in his wealth with luxurious clothes and sumptuous feasts. He was consumed by the consumables.
Jesus made a stark contrast between these two people:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.” (Luke 16:19-21).
Since dogs are not well regarded in that culture, saying that the dogs would come and lick his sores adds to the degradation of Lazarus’ life.
Both of them died, and their condition was reversed. Lazarus was at the presence of Abraham, and the rich man was tormented by fire.
Then the conversation started between the rich man and Abraham. Jesus used this dialog to deliver spiritual wisdom.
“He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus (he knows Lazarus) to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’” (v. 24).
This rich man was a believer. He called Abraham, “Father.” Abraham also called him, “Child” in his reply. As a descendant of Abraham, he was part of the chosen people, so maybe he thought he would be in heaven by default.
Jesus was hinting that you are not saved by your bloodline. Your parents’ faith does not guarantee your salvation.
He knew Lazarus. He knew the dying beggar was suffering from poverty and pain at his gate. Yet, he did nothing. He didn’t pay attention to the suffering of Lazarus and failed to see that it was his opportunity to make a difference with his wealth.
This makes us think about our stewardship. Are we paying attention to the needs within our reach and connections so that we can make a difference with the wealth God has entrusted in us and bear much fruit?
In order to see the opportunity, we must first value people the way God values them. In the previous chapter, Jesus told several parables illustrating how much we matter to God. Every single human being is valued by God.
We dealt with these parables in the sermons of the previous weeks. They can all be linked together to make the interpretation of each parable more enlightening. All these sermons can be reviewed at FruitfulLife.org.
The reason This rich man didn’t pay attention to God’s revelation is that he didn’t think much about people. He didn’t think much about Lazarus. Even at this very moment, he treated Lazarus as a mere errand boy to be sent to him to ease his pain and quench is thirst.
Abraham said, “Sorry, no one can come to you from this side of the chasm.”
Then the rich man said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” (v. 27-28).
On the surface, it seems that he cares about his family, but he also implies that he is in hell not because of his own fault, but because God didn’t send anyone to warn him. It was God’s fault. Sound familiar?
It’s like Bertrand Russell’s excuse: it’s God’s fault for not providing enough evidence. It goes all the way to Genesis. Adam’s excuse was Eve having given him the fruit to eat. Eve’s excuse was the snake having tempted her to eat. She also hinted that God is to blame for creating the snake.
I remember one of my first driving tickets. I was pulled over for driving on a bus lane. The marking was not clear, so I said to the police, “I didn’t know.” The police said with a smile, “I am sorry, ‘I didn’t know’ is not an acceptable excuse in traffic law.”
The rich man was trying his luck, implying, “I am here because I didn’t know. I was not informed.” That is the most convenient excuse for anybody. Many people love to make that excuse, but it’s not acceptable because of the following reasons.
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’” (v. 29).
What it means is that God has revealed himself through Moses and prophets. This rich man was a Jew, the chosen people of God’s revelation, so he should know better.
For us, that’s the Bible. The Bible is the book of God’s revelations. In theology, the Bible is known as the Special Revelation. You might say, how about those who have no access to the Bible. God loves them equally, and they are not left out.
There are other revelations outside of the Bible called General Revelation. If you just pay attention to your surroundings, you can see God and hear God. King David said,
heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4).
If you pay attention, God’s signs are seen everywhere, and God’s voices are heard everywhere. There’s no room for excuses. Psalm 19 is an example of General Revelation. Even if you don’t have the Bible, you are warned by God’s creation. Read Psalm 19 every now and then.
King David then said in verse 11,
by them is your servant warned; (Notice the word “warned.”)
in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:11).
“Them” means the signs of God and the voices of God in nature as mentioned above. “Your servant” means King David himself. He said that he is warned by these signs and voices. Each time he looked at the sky and sea, trees and flowers, he felt awed and he sensed the warning.
This is what Abraham was talking to the rich man about. You have been warned and you ignored it. There’s no room for excuses.
But the rich man hasn’t given up. “He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’” (v. 30).
He is saying that God’s warnings are not loud enough or obvious enough. “You need to provide bold and fresh evidence. My brothers need a miracle to believe, a miracle of someone risen from the dead.”
His excuse is more demanding than Woody Allen’s, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (v. 31).
It’s a matter of attention. The signs are all over, loud and clear. Complaining about the lack of signs and miracles is just an excuse.
By this parable, Jesus is urging you and me to pay attention to God’s calling to be fruitful stewards and make no excuses for failure.
Faith is futile without fruit. Until we meet again, let’s keep cultivating a fruitful life. Amen!