Saturday, December 6, 2008

Advent Calendar

I found this online Advent Calendar at Christianity Today. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I am.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The sport of politics and the nobility of public service.

The two heavy-weight contenders boxed it out 'til the bitter end. Round by round the punches flew. Along the way their respective "corners" repaired the damage and patched their boxer so he could keep fighting on. When the final bell rang the exhausted and bloody fighters came out of their corners one last time for the victor to be declared. And then... what did they do? They hugged! They claimed to be friends! They promised to work together for the good of others. How strange is that?

Politics is sport. Campaigns are a game. The politicians know that. Unfortunately, many others are not as quick to forgive and forget as are the players in the game, especially since the flames of division continue to be fueled by those who profit from controversy and debate.

This week I had the opportunity to attend a forum in Washington D.C. with government and faith-based leaders to discuss ways to collaborate for the common good of the poor and suffering. I've come away with a new appreciation for the many brilliant people of faith in both parties and throughout government agencies who are working together behind the scenes to address real human needs. Politics is sport, but true public service is a noble endeavor. I pray for people to raise above the fray and find ways to work together to preserve life, care for the suffering, reduce poverty, prevent injustice and strengthen families.

The game is over, now it is time to come together. The challenges before us will demand that we put our faith into action by sacrificing for the sake of others. Government can't do it alone, the church can't do it alone, private enterprise can't do it alone, and all three can't do it together without God's help. It truly is time to humble ourselves and pray, and turn from our destructive selfish ways, and seek the heart of God for others.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election Thoughts

I have been trying to think of a way to respond to people's questions about the election and then I saw this blog post by my friend and colleague Jeff Leake, pastor of Allison Park Church. I can't say it any better, so I here is how I wish I had said it first...

As Election Day approaches, I am being asked this question from a growing number of people. What do you think? McCain? Obama? Who should a Christian vote for? Now, I know in just listing this question on the blog, there is the potential for a flurry of comments for or against candidates and issues. Can I ask for you to guard your words in leaving comments? Please don't use the comment section as a plea for one or another of the candidates.

First, my hope for the future of the USA does not rest in this election. I believe in voting. I also believe that good leadership is critical to any nation, church, family, or business. But I believe that God is big enough to work in and through whatever happens on Nov 4th and beyond.

, my primary concern is with the Kingdom of God and not with the United States of America...

Read the rest of his blog post by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reason for Hope

Are bad times good for us? Apparently so. That's what author Andy Crouch writes about in a recent article in Christianity Today. It's a long article, but if you have the time I recommend it to you.

Thanks, Don, for pointing me to this.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Silver Linings

It's been a while since I've made a blog entry, but with all the scary rhetoric about the economy and the election I feel the need to think out loud. I don't pretend to have the answers to the economic crises nor do I think that either of the presidential candidates are the magic solution to these or other major problems facing our nation. But I'm the kind of person who likes to see the silver lining within these clouds of despair.

Regarding the economy I share the anger and fear that everyone is feeling. But the silver lining is that we are collectively learning some hard lessons about the dangers of unchecked greed, unmanageable debt, and the vanity of money as our source of security. Check out what the Pope said about this. Could it be that our generation will learn the hard way what our parents and grandparents generations learned the hard way in the 1930's? Will there be a spiritual awakening as a result of all this material shaking? I hope there will be.

Regarding the election I find it more difficult to see the silver lining. The politics of fear and hate coming from both parties, the spin-meisters, and the crazy internet character assassins creates an uneasy atmosphere among friends, families, co-workers, and even fellow believers.
I am a peacemaker at heart and it grieves me to see the damage this is all causing. Politics is a blood-sport and I am ready for this election to be over. I don't know why anyone would want to go through this process in order to be elected. But one silver lining is that many Christians are becoming more focused on the reality of an eternal kingdom that is not limited by national boundaries and dependent on any one political party or candidate. Here is an interesting opinion article that a friend sent me about the ways many evangelicals are returning to the "good news" roots of evangelicalism.

More and more I am falling in love with and looking to Jesus as the source for my hope, my security and my inspiration on how to live a meaningful life.

What other silver linings might there be in the clouds of despair out there? I'd really like to hear your thoughts. I'm sure if we look we can find many more.

Friday, August 15, 2008

May God Bless You

At the conclusion of his message at the Willow Creek Leadership Conference last week, Craig Groeschel read the following Fransciscan Benediction. Thanks to Don Greb who was there and shared it with the rest of us during our staff devotions this week.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain in to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

May we all be so blessed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Peace of Wild Things

There are times when I wake at night and my mind fills with concerns about the issues of the day -- problems my children are facing, struggles weighing heavily on people in the church, or fear of things that could go wrong. It doesn't help matters when I've had a cup of coffee too late in the day.

It was nice to pull away from things around here and have my family together for a few days in Cape Cod last month. It was our first time there but hopefully it won't be our last. The natural beauty and peaceful surroundings made it a special time for all of us. I even found a new appreciation for bird watching. I confess, though, the whale watching was a little more exciting.

One evening before our meal my daughter Bethany read the following from a book of poems she had been reading:

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendel Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds,
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I hope you have a place where you can go to escape and, as Jesus said, "observe the birds of the air and the flowers of the field." I find rest from my worries when I remember that the God who cares for them cares even more for the things that bring me anxiety. Maybe that is why I slept a whole lot easier when I was on vacation.

Monday, June 30, 2008


"Who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)

In order to pass the faith from culture to culture and generation to generation, the early church formulated "rules of faith." These summaries of the Apostle's teachings helped to preserve and define the faith as it was being tested by Judaism, gnosticism and other Egyptian and Persian religions b
efore the canon of scripture was affirmed as authoritative by the Council of Carthage in A.D. 457. The Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and Chalcedon Creed arose out of the debates and discussions over competing interpretations of scripture and apostolic teachings.

In my preparation for a message on creeds I came across a modern creed formulated by Masai Christians in Africa. It is a beautiful re-writing of the creeds using the language and imagery of their culture. Several people asked for a copy of it so I put it here for all to read. Tell me what you think. Who you YOU say that Jesus is?

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible,
that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe,
born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Andy Rooney remembers (after a brief commercial).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Facing the Giants

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life has taken his gifts of strategic thinking and communication to the next level. When I read his first book, The Purpose Driven Church, years ago I thought to myself, "This is so simple, why hasn't anyone else written this book?" The book truly added no new information to the existing studies of church growth, but what it did do was take the information and made it simple, practical, and doable. Likewise, he is the first to admit that the information in his mega-bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life was nothing new, yet he was able to put the information in a way that it sold more copies than nearly any other book in history.

The genius of Rick Warren is his ability to take complex problems and abstract ideas and turn them into simple and measurable action plans. This is why Riverside is embracing his vision of The P.E.A.C.E. Plan to combat the five Global Giants of our world. And, yes, we do believe it is the church's responsibility to address the giants of Spiritual Emptiness, Self-Serving Leadership, Extreme Poverty, Pandemic Disease and Rampant Illiteracy. To think that it is government's job alone to deal with these ills and the church's job is only to care about "saving souls for heaven" is to forget that Jesus healed a lot of sick people, comforted the poor and afflicted, exposed injustices, and provoked the wealthy and powerful to have compassion for the weak and helpless.

Anyone who gains such visibility and is audacious enough to create such a plan is going to be the target of criticism, and Rick Warren gets more than his share of that. But I am glad that he is using his gifts to help our generation of Christians and churches face these global giants as God enables us.

Tell me, what do you think of the P.E.A.C.E. plan?

Saturday, April 19, 2008


This has been a record breaking year for people who have been infected with influenza. But there is another virus sweeping the country that is even more dangerous than the flu. Please read the following article to find out if you are suffering from affluenza.

"It's not your typical virus, but rather a highly contagious disease of epidemic overconsumption, and the symptoms include compulsive shopping, high debt, overwork, inability to delay gratification, a sense of entitlement, obsession with externals and "having it all," wastefulness, and stress. The disease is called afflueza... (click here to read the rest of this excellent article).

Michael Dungan is a Christian financial planner who wrote the book, "Prodigal Sons and & Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child's ATM." He helps people to "do" money in ways that honor their values. His simple philosophy of "share, save, spend" helps adults and their children find the antidote to hyper-consumption. Here is another brief article from Physicians Money Digest that does a good job of putting Dungan's ideas into practical advice for someone suffering from affluenza. Read especially the information at the end of the article.

Jesus said where our treasure is our hearts will follow. He also said we cannot serve both God and Money. Is it possible to be a sincere Christian if one is infected with "affluenza?" Do you think it could ever be labeled a true "disease"?

Tell me what you think.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Real Financial Heroes

Sometimes humor gets the message across better than the direct approach. I laughed out loud at these videos - especially the second one! Thanks, Libby.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It all goes back in the box?

It all goes back in the box. But where does the box come from, and where does it end up?

In response to the man who asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance, Jesus warned the man to, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." (Luke 12.15) Then Jesus went on to tell the story about the landowner who built bigger and bigger barns only to discover that his dream of a luxurious retirement was cut short. The point of the story, according to Jesus, was this is how it is for those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.

Do we have enough stuff? How much is enough? Is there never any end to this rat race? Do you ever wonder how we get all our stuff and where it ends up? And, why does it seem we have to keep buying more and more? The image below is a link to an interesting website that has been getting a lot of play. The brief film on the website is simplistic, but it will provoke you to think about the consequences of our consumer culture in a global economy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

He's Baaaak!

Beginning this Sunday we are starting a six-week series called, "Slaying the Monster of More." Four years ago we addressed this topic, but the monster is wreaking havoc more than ever. While we go through this series I intend to use this blog to dive deeper into the issues with those who are interested.

Pass this on to your friends and invite them to come with you.
Here are a couple teaser videos.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Luke Twenty-Four, final reading.

Here we are on the last day of Lent and the last journal entry from the Gospel of Luke. I hope it has been a good exercise for you. I am curious about how effective this has been so I added a couple survey questions on the right. Many of you have not been commenting within the blog entries but you've been reading along. Would you please take a minute and answer the questions for me?

Now that we've completed the Luke journal, I hope to expand the nature and subject matter of this blog so we can keep the conversation going. Thanks for all of you who had added your comments along the way. Traci, you get the prize for being the most consistent commenter. We've enjoyed your emotion and honesty. I hope to hear from more of you as I try to spark greater conversation in the future entries.

Reading: Luke 24.36-53

Scriptures: Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." - Luke 24.45-49

Observations: Jesus' final words launched his followers into their future. He gave them their core mission and the message that was to be preached. But his words included a promise too. Jesus was not going to send them into the future alone, they were to receive power from on high for the task before them, and they were to wait in Jerusalem until they had received the promised Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts picks up where the Gospel of Luke ends. Luke's sequel takes the story from Jerusalem to the corners of the Roman Empire.

Apply: Luke's story of Jesus that began with an angel's visit to the young virgin mother ends with him ascending into heaven after promising to send the Holy Spirit to his followers. But truly, it was not the end at all. The story of Jesus is still a living story that is continuing to be written though the actions of his followers, who are His presence on earth today.

So I ask myself: How am I adding to His story? Where will I take Jesus that he has yet to go? Am I continuing to be open to the Holy Spirit's presence and power for the mission he has for my life?

Prayer: Thank you Jesus for fulfilling the mission the Father had for you. And thank you for those who came after you and fulfilled the mission you had for them. As you were sent, so you sent your followers. Now I understand that the baton has been passed to my generation. May I carry it in a way that accurately reflects your grace and displays your sacrificial love for this broken world.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Luke Twenty-Four, part two

Reading: Luke 24.13-35

Scriptures: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning him...When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

Observations: On the road to Emmaus an incognito Jesus conversed with two of the followers, one of whom was named Cleopas. I'm not sure how he disguised himself or why they didn't recognize him, but I find it amusing that Jesus walked with them and listened to them tell the story of what happened as if he didn't already know.

And even when he went through the scriptures explaining everything about him they didn't recognize him. By the way, that is one sermon of Jesus' that I wish was "caught on tape."

Finally, it was when he broke the bread that their eyes were opened and they recognized him. I think he did this to impress on them the symbolism of the broken bread so that they would remember his presence and his sacrifice every time they ate a meal.

Apply: I like the thought that Jesus meets us along the way and walks beside us when we don't recognize him, and that he listens to our concerns and questions when we aren't even aware of it. I also like the thought that Jesus shows up in unexpected ways and places. And one more thing, I like the thought that our daily bread is infused with a reminder of his provision and presence.

Prayer: Lord, when I pause before I eat, may I not only thank you for your provision of food for my body, but may I remember your provision of grace for my soul and your presence in my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Luke Twenty-Four, part one

Reading: Luke 24.1-12

Scriptures: In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!"...When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others...But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. - Luke 24.5-6a, 9,11.

Observations: Expecting to find his body and finish the burial process, the women instead found an empty tomb and two radiant messengers. The women were reminded of what Jesus had told them, and then they ran to tell the "Eleven and all the others." Do you ever wonder who all the others were? I wonder why, after the women were not believed, the angels did not appear to Peter when he got to the tomb. Could it be that God sent the angels to the women first precisely because of the way women were disregarded in that culture? Why would God announce the greatest news ever, that Christ had risen, through the mouths of women, and hide it from Peter, if God didn't want to elevate the status of women?

Apply: Christ is risen! Death is not the final chapter! In spite of everything Jesus had said, no one expected an empty tomb and an earthly resurrection. And for God to entrust the news to women means that this was news that everyone was called to proclaim!

Prayer: Lord, help me to believe even though I haven't seen. Thank you for the women who were the first to believe and the first to proclaim the good news! Help us to believe that You fully trust that women are capable and called to help lead the way to the resurrected Christ!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Luke Twenty-Three, part three

Reading: Luke 23.44-56

Scriptures: It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Observations: Even nature joined in to grieve the death of Jesus. For, though he was fully human, he was also fully God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...Through him all things were made." (Jn1.1-3) So on that fateful Friday creation couldn't bear to watch the Creator suffer such agony.

And then the curtain of the temple tore in two and the doorway was opened to the Holy Place. No more separation, no more sacrifices, no more would God be contained.

Apply: My heart joins with the Roman Centurion, who probably had carried out orders to crucify hundreds of people, in praising God because this was no ordinary crucifixion, this was The Righteous One.

Prayer: I fall on my knees in praise to you, Jesus! That you would go through this to tear down the division between God and humankind humbles me completely. Who am I that you would care so much? How am I to process that? What am I to do with that? Teach me your ways, O God, that I may walk worthy of your saving grace.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Luke Twenty-Three, part two

Reading: Luke 23.26-44

Scriptures: When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals - one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." - Luke 23:33-34

Observations: The horrendous event was recorded in the simplest of terms, "there they crucified him." He was placed between two others who were crucified with him that day, Matthew and Mark say they were thieves. Apparently this form of execution was so common that Luke and the other gospel writers didn't need to describe the brutality. Everyone in the empire had witnessed crucifixions. It was the empire's way to keep the peace. How ironic. Imagine a culture where the regional "king" (Herod) can chop off the head of a preacher who rebuked him (John the Baptist) without fear of reprisal, but petty thieves are "justly" crucified for their acts.

Jesus, naked and nailed to the wood, prayed for their forgiveness as his clothes were divided among them, the rulers sneered, the soldiers mocked and one of the soldiers insulted him.

Apply: Such love, such mercy, such grace the world has never known. Who can ever claim that God does not understand injustice, or that God has not done enough for them? On this Monday of holy week, my heart is heavy as I ponder the cross. Our world needs this message as much now as ever. I need this messages as much now as ever.

Prayer: Jesus, forgive us. Jesus, forgive me. Jesus, let your people, your earthy body, display such love, mercy and grace in our world today.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Luke Twenty-Three, part one

Reading: Luke 22.66-23.25

Scripture: Then Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Finally, they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. (Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day.)

Observations: The events surrounding Jesus' sentencing is a perfect example of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." These rival authority figures joined forces to sentence Jesus to the cross. The council of religious leaders turned Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pilot. Pilot turned Jesus over to Herod, the ruler in Galilee, and Herod taunted and ridiculed Jesus and then sent him back to Pilot, who, in turn, turned him over the religious leaders and their mob who cried out for Barabbas, the insurrectionist murderer, to be released instead.

Unlike when he was brought before both the council and Pilot, Jesus defiantly stood silently before Herod, not wanting to dignify him with a response. Herod, the egotistical tyrant who murdered John the Baptist, took his opportunity to belittle the popular rabbi before sending him back to Pilot, his new friend. Pilot, the consummate politician, took the opportunity to increase his approval ratings with the mob.

Apply: I can't imagine the self-restraint it took for Jesus to remain silent before Herod. What did he have to lose? He knew he was headed to the cross, why not return insult with insult?
But Jesus refused to stoop to the level of those authority figures who were controlled by their vain self-interests.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus for showing us how God's strength is made perfect through weakness, and how man's strength is so weak in comparison to your courageous sacrificial love.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Luke Twenty-Two, part four

Reading: Luke 22:47-65

Scripture: When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.

Observations: The disciples see what's going down and their "fight or flight" instinct kicks in. Before Jesus can stop them, swords come out and Peter (John's Gospel says it was him) starts swinging and someone's ear got in the way. Jesus steps in to stop them, then he reaches out and heals the man's ear.

Though he told them to take the two swords they had (verse 38) he never intended for them to use them. Or, perhaps he knew this kind of thing would happen and he intended to make the point that he was going to return evil with good. Either way, the point was made, and Jesus let darkness have its way.

Jesus refrained from using the power available to him to defend himself and crush his enemies and instead offered his life up in love for his enemies.

Apply: From the perspective of our instinctive thinking Jesus' surrender and sacrifice looks impractical, irresponsible and insane. We think revolutions happen through the power of the sword. But Jesus had surrendered just moments earlier to the Father's will, and his willingness to suffer paid off three days later. His resurrection launched a Kingdom revolution of sacrificial love that we are a part of today.

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, for instinctively reaching for a "sword" when I should be reacting with grace. Help me to be so in tune with You and the Father's will that I can react in difficult circumstances in a way that reflects your sacrificial love for others.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Luke Twenty-Two, part three

Thanks for the great comments some of you've been leaving! Please, keep it up.

: Luke 22.39-46

Scripture: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." - Luke 22.42

Observations: Alone in his distress, Jesus agonized in prayer. Alone? Not totally. For when he prayed he was never alone. The cup of suffering, could it pass by? Would it pass by? Jesus wished it could, but he understood that it was for this moment he had come. An angel was sent to strengthen him, and with the added strength he prayed even more earnestly.

Meanwhile, his disciples slept through it all.

Apply: Do you think we can truly realize the extent of Jesus' suffering? Sometimes we think his struggle with temptation was not like ours because of his divine nature, but this passage clearly indicates that he felt the full weight of this decision. Where would we be if he had insisted on his will rather than surrendering to the Father's will?

How many of our prayers are trying to get God to do our will rather than trying to hear and surrender to God's will? Or, am I simply sleeping my way through the opportunities that God puts in my path?

Prayer: God, give me the faith that says, "Yet not my will, but Yours be done."

Luke Twenty-Two, part two

Reading: Luke 22.24-38

Scripture: "But you are not like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." - Luke 22.26

Observations: I'm amazed at how quickly the conversation around the table turns from who of us is going to betray him to who will be the greatest? The pecking order must be established. Jesus tells them that in his kingdom there is no pecking order. Unlike the kingdoms of the Gentiles where the powerful lord their authority over the weak, the greatest in Jesus' kingdom will use their authority to serve the weak. And, by the way, Peter, you're going to learn this lesson the hard way, you are going to be humbled by your failure. But when you learned your lesson, strengthen the others (v.32).

Apply: The pecking order mentality is as old as Cain and Abel. And, it is rotten to the core. Jesus had been teaching all about the kingdom and now he is about to demonstrate the deepest truth of the kingdom of God to his disciples, who at this point still had not understood. That deepest truth is that the kingdom of God comes, not through power and swords, but through weakness, suffering and sacrificial love.

Prayer: Jesus, it is so easy and human to rank ourselves with others. Forgive us of our prideful urge to figure out how we can get above others. May we see that true leadership is serving others with Jesus' love in Jesus ways.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Luke Chapter Twenty-Two, part one

I'm going to slow the readings down considerably this week so we can focus on the events that lead up to Good Friday.

Reading: Luke 22.1-23

Scripture: "Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present." - Luke 22.2-6, NIV

Observations: Judas agrees to betray Jesus. Why? Neither Luke nor the other gospels tell us why. Luke says only that "Satan entered Judas." Was Judas angry at Jesus? Some think he was trying to help Jesus by putting him in a position where he had to exercise his power and bring in God's kingdom. Or, was Judas simply in it for the money and he realized that following Jesus was getting him nowhere? We don't know. Luke doesn't mention Judas' remorseful suicide (Mt. 27). He only mentions that Jesus was aware of the betrayal and was resigned to the plan, for Jesus knew that this Passover meal would be far more meaningful than usual. And from then on people have gathered around the cup and the bread... "in remembrance of [him]."

Apply: I don't understand why Judas did what he did, and I don't think we're supposed to understand. What I do understand is that Jesus didn't stop him, for Jesus willfully went to the cross, and in that awful event he offered himself as a sacrifice for all who, in small ways and sometimes great ways, like Judas, would betray him.

Prayer: How can I ever say "thank you" enough, Jesus, for forgiving me for the ways in which I too have betrayed you? May my deep gratitude be evident in the way I live for you and in the way I treat others, especially when I may feel betrayed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Luke Chapter Twenty-One

Reading: Luke 21:1-38

Scripture: They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourself. For I will give you words and wisdom...and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. - Luke 21.12b-15a,16b-19.

Observations: In extremely graphic and metaphorical language, Jesus predicts the events that took place in 70 A.D. when the Roman army leveled Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. This passage also speaks to Jesus' followers who would be dispersed throughout the empire and the persecution that would come to them on account of his name. For proof of these words all one has to do is read Luke's second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. Those who would endure these times were to do so because they had a firm conviction that death is not the final word for the Christian. As Christ suffered and died in order to initiate the new resurrection life of God's kingdom, Jesus' followers would also endure suffering with the sure hope that the kingdom of Jesus would spread and that resurrection life awaited them.

What a great way to invite people to follow Jesus! "If you follow Jesus you may be put to death! But don't worry, he'll tell you what to say when they are stoning you." And yet, that is what Jesus was telling these people. And, more astounding, that's what they did. And because they did, the gospel took root all over the empire.

And we complain about giving our tithes and offerings.

Pray: Forgive me, Lord, for complaining about any small sacrifice I may make because I'm following you. May I joyfully give of myself in any way I can so that your kingdom may spread in my generation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Luke Chapter Twenty, part two

Reading: Luke 20.20-47

Scripture: "Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Observations: The Parable of the Tenants inflamed opposition from the powers that be in the city of Jerusalem. They determined to stop him, but they had to do it in a way that wouldn't spark a riot among the people who were so enthralled by him. They tried unsuccessfully to arrest Jesus and then they sent spies to trap him with a question that would either get him in trouble with the Romans, who wanted the taxes paid, or the Jews, who did not. Jesus saw through the trap and adeptly avoided it.

Apply: Can you sense the politically-charged atmosphere in Jerusalem? Reading this account is like watching a television journalist asking a presidential candidate what he thinks about abortion, the war, or universal health care. No matter what answer the politician gives he will alienate half of the voters. If Jesus answered one way he would be accused of being unpatriotic, if he answered the other way he would be deemed irreligious. Jesus refused to be labeled and marginalized by the smear tactics of the "media." Of course the message he proclaimed had political ramifications, but Jesus' upside-down kind of kingdom refused to be pigeonholed into the conventional partisan politics of his day. We would do well to avoid the tactics of those duplicitous politicians in Jerusalem and follow Jesus' example.

Here we are 2000 years later and we see that politicians and media are using these same tactics with greater sophistication than ever. In the coming weeks and months we will be barraged by the best that money can buy. May we be as sly as Jesus to discern the smears and half-truths that are used from all sides so we can avoid being manipulated by it all. After all, no matter who is in the White House, Jesus' kingdom will always be the upside-down, in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world, Spirit-filled, loving-the-least-of-these force in the world.

Prayer: Lord, may we be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. With all the lies and distortions that are being spread about our potential leaders, help us to be at peace knowing that You are our true Leader and our Lord. And may we display your wisdom and your ways when we are tempted to stoop to the deceitful tactics of this fallen world.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Luke Chapter Twenty, part one

Reading: Luke 20.1-19

Scripture: "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?" He replied, "I will also ask you a question: Tell me, John's baptism - was it from heaven, or from men?" - Luke 20.2-3

Observations: The religious establishment in Jerusalem decided to have a talk with Jesus in order to put him in his place. Who did he think he was coming into their city and harassing the temple merchants? He responded to their questions with a brilliant question of his own which put them in predicament. As John the Baptist didn't need their approval, neither did Jesus need it. He followed his question to them with a pointed story that left no doubt where he claimed his authority came from and what he thought of them.

These leaders were merely religious politicians who were only concerned about pleasing the people in order to hold on to their power. Jesus, on the other hand, wasn't concerned about political power because he knew from where is authority came. Pleasing his Father and loving the outcasts and underdogs were the motives of his heart.

Apply: Political power comes from pleasing (and using) people. Authority comes from pleasing God and loving people with pure motives. Self-sacrifice rather than personal power is the true test of a person's motives.

Prayer: Lord, help us to lay down our desire for personal power and popularity and fill us with your genuine love for others.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Luke Chapter Nineteen, part two

Reading: Luke 19.28-48

Scripture: Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it... - Luke 19.39-41

Observations: As the crowd shouted praises to the long-expected Messiah who was making his entry into the city the unbelieving Pharisees tried to keep a lid on the commotion. Jesus, however, had no plans to keep his entrance into the city a secret. Traveling down the hillside across the valley from Jerusalem tears of sorrow fell down his cheeks. Jesus predicted the total desolation which would come to them when Rome would besiege the city in A.D. 70. But adding to his sorrow was the sad realization that they would fail to recognize God's coming to them. Before the next sabbath the crowds would be calling for his crucifixion and Jesus would be executed.

Apply: Every year as I contemplate this last week of Jesus I imagine myself in the crowd or one of his followers. There is a part of me that thinks I would have figured everything out and when it all came down I would have stood by his side. But there's a more honest part of me that realizes that I too would have chosen to follow the crowd. Or, if I was one of his disciples, I too would have betrayed him in order to protect myself.

I'm so thankful to be on this side of the resurrection! Even so, the temptation is still great to follow the crowd and run for cover when we should be standing up for Christ.

Prayer: Jesus, I confess that there are times when the voice and pull of the crowd are stronger than my faith. Forgive me for those times when I fail to represent you accurately, and may your Spirit empower me to be the person you are calling me to be.

Luke Chapter Nineteen, part one.

Now that we are coming to the last week of Jesus' life as told in Luke's gospel I'm going to slow down the pace of the readings as we walk through these last two weeks of Lent.

Reading: Luke 19.1-27

Scripture: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. - Luke 19.10

Observations: Jesus' reputation preceded him in Jericho to the degree that crowds lined the streets as he was traveling through the town. I get the image of a parade where Jesus was riding on the celebrity float. Then there was this little guy, hated by his countrymen and ostracized from the Jewish community because he collected their taxes, kept a chunk of it for himself, and gave the rest of it to their Roman oppressors. No wonder they hated him!

So when Jesus, who was loved as much as he was hated, came to town, Zacchaeus climbed the tree in order to get a glimpse of him. Jesus saw him, knew his name (he was that notorious), and invited himself to Zacchaeus' home. The people gossiped about it, but Jesus proved that even undersized Napoleon-complexed people can have big hearts when they discover his love, acceptance and forgiveness.

Apply: I am always amazed how Jesus was able to love the difficult ones who are outcast from society. There is no one so lost that Jesus doesn't know their name. He specializes in lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons, and even lost tax collectors.

Pray: When I come across people who I think are unlovable and unredeemable, Lord, may I see below the surface someone who is lost and in need of Your love, acceptance and forgiveness.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Luke Chapter Eighteen

Reading: Luke 18.1-43

The blind receive sight, the poor and children find easy access into the kingdom, and a widow receives justice. Tell me, blog readers, which of these is your favorite story? Which challenges you? I'm interested in your thoughts too.

Scripture: But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I tell you that this man, rather than the [Pharisee], went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. - Luke 18.13-14

Observations: Over and over again we see Jesus' concern for the weakest of society and his prophetic anger toward those who are on the top of the heap. In this one chapter we see him point out the injustices of the powerful (judge), the pride of the self-righteous (Pharisee), the trappings of wealth (rich young ruler), and the unconcern for the littlest and disabled (his disciples and the crowd). At the same time we see his incredible heart for those whom society tends to ignore.

The gospel is incredibly personal, for each of us must come to grips with Jesus. But those who find the gospel for themselves must be the good news for those whom society overlooks. Therefore, the gospel is also incredibly social.

Each of these stories calls us to see ourselves in them. We are to pray persistently for justice because God cares about justice, unlike the judge who responded simply to get rid of an annoying woman. We are to humble ourselves before God, unlike the self-righteous Pharisee. And we are to come to God empty-handed, like children, like the poor, and like the blind beggar, for it is only in our emptiness that God can fill our lives with things that are of eternal value. And it is only in our spiritual emptiness that we can see the truly empty with the compassion and concern for justice that Jesus has.

Prayer: Jesus, I fill my life with so many things expecting that each of them will bring me more happiness only to find out that those very things end up crowding out the One who is most important to me. Forgive me and help me to learn what it means to be spiritually empty, hungry, and poor so that I can be filled with more of You and be more concerned for those who truly are empty, hungry and poor.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Luke Chapter Seventeen

Reading: Luke 17.1-37

Scripture: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the Kingdom of God is in your midst." Luke 17.20-21, TNIV

Observations: The Pharisees expected the messianic kingdom to be a visible kingdom where the Jews in Israel would return to a place of power and prominence. They had such clear expectations of what they thought would happen based on their interpretation of the prophets that they missed the true Messiah when he was in their midst.

Jesus went on to tell his disciples of a future day of judgment that would come unexpectedly, but before that day would come Jesus would have to suffer and be rejected by his generation. But judgment would happen when people lest expect it to come.

Apply: If the Pharisees who could quote the scriptures by memory got it wrong about the messianic kingdom, I have to be humble when it comes to my understanding of scripture, especially when it comes to things yet to come in the future. I try to avoid being too dogmatic about things that are supposed to be a mystery. One thing is for certain, the end will come for all of us, and it could come suddenly. That is a morbid thought, but the comforting thought is knowing that when the kingdom of God is "within" a person the future is not to be feared.

Pray: Jesus, I don't know what the future holds, but help me to hold onto you no matter what comes with the peace of knowing that you will never let go of your own.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Luke Chapter Sixteen

Reading: Luke 16.1-31

Scripture: The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16.8-10

Observations: This is a confusing story. Is Jesus praising dishonesty? Is he saying that the ends justify the means? This sounds like the story of Robin Hood.

It is important to note that Luke 16 is all about money. It begins with this parable about the shrewd manager and it closes with a parable about a rich man and Lazarus with some comments about money grubbing Pharisees and keeping the law in the kingdom of God in the middle. Obviously, if adultery is still adultery in the kingdom (v.18), stealing is still stealing. Jesus was not condoning the shrewd managers thievery, but his shrewdness. Jesus was pointing out that even a crook can figure out that money is better spent making others happy than on squandering it (remember he was fired for wasting the master's money). And if such a lousy person can understand that his life is better when he gives money away, why can't the people of the light manage to get it right?

Apply: Jesus talked about money and caring for the poor more than any other subject. We can't serve both God and Money. Earthly money is a small pittance compared to eternal treasure. Use your money to make eternal investments by helping people see the generosity of Jesus through the generosity of his followers.

Prayer: Lord, help me to spend my money in ways that will bring people closer to Jesus.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Luke Chapter Fifteen

Reading: Luke 15.1-32

Scripture: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him...But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15.20, 32

: Is there a more beautiful portrayal of the heart of God than this chapter? This description of God was so important that Jesus told the same story three different ways. A shepherd, a woman, and an elderly father are all pictures of a God who wants, more than anything, to recover those who are lost. It is about God who seeks, who finds, and who extravagantly celebrates. It is about repentance. And, sadly, it is also about the brooding son who missed out on the celebration because of his selfishness and pride.

: When commenting on the compassion of God as expressed in this chapter, Bill Hybels says, "You have never locked eyes with someone who Jesus doesn't love." How differently will we treat others when we see them as Jesus does? No one is beyond hope, it is never too late to turn back to God, and all the angels in heaven join in the celebration when someone returns.

: Lord, let me see others with the eyes of God who loves them and who wants, more than anything, to throw a party to welcome them home.

Luke Chapter Fourteen

Reading:  Luke 14.1-35

Scripture:  The servant returned and told his master what they had said.  His master was furious and said, "Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame."  After the servant had done this, he reported, "There is still room for more."  So his master said, "Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.  For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet."  - Luke 14.21-24, NLT

Observations:  Jesus is invited to a banquet for the "respectable" Jewish elite whereupon he observes the guests positioning for the best seats.  He teaches them a lesson on humility (v.11), then he gives an even deeper lesson on generosity (12-14).  Then, when one of these privileged guests at the fancy dinner makes the statement about the Messianic feast to come in the kingdom of God, Jesus responds with this story about guests who are invited to a great banquet but find lame excuses to come to the banquet, and so the master opens the invitation to the poor, crippled, blind and lame; and when that doesn't fill all the seats, the messengers are sent out to compel anyone who could come.  
 The meaning was clear to all who heard the story.  The Jewish elite who thought they had the inside track to God's kingdom were rejecting Christ's invitation to grace, and the door was being thrown wide open for the outcasts and underclass.  The implication is that the invitation would also be extended to those who were far away, meaning the Gentiles. 

Apply:  People find the lamest excuses to avoid Jesus' loving invitation to God's grace, especially those who believe they have better things to do.  It is those who know they need God that are most willing to accept the invitation of grace.  Pride is our biggest roadblock to experiencing life with God.

Pray:  Lord, may I be humble enough to accept your grace.  And may I be willing to go out into the "highways and byways" to extend your invitation to all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Luke Chapter Thirteen

Reading:  Luke 13.1-35

Scripture:  At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else.  Herod wants to kill you."  He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'" - Luke 13.31-32

Observations:  I find it interesting that the Pharisees are concerned for Jesus' well-being after all the confrontations they have had with him.  And, I find it interesting that Jesus doesn't directly confront Herod as John the Baptist did, but neither does he cower from Herod's threats.  This interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding Herod reveals the oppressive conditions of the Roman Empire in the province of Israel.  The chapter begins with news of an incident to the north in Galilee where Pilot killed Jewish worshippers and it ends in Jerusalem with Herod plotting to kill Jesus.  So, as much as the Pharisees may have disliked Jesus' interpretations of the Torah, they feared the heavy hand of Herod more.  They didn't want Jesus to stir up problems in Jerusalem because of the fallout to them and all Jews if Jesus stirs up trouble there.
 Jesus' approach to the politics of his day was neither to revolt against the political oppressors, as the Zealots wanted to do, nor did he pacify them, as the Sadducees were prone to do.  He didn't go out to the wilderness and create a monastic community, as did the Essenes, nor did he fully subscribe to the idea that God would come and rescue them in some apocalyptic event if only they would get right with God, as the Pharisees believed. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world.  Rather it is like a mustard seed that spreads like a bad weed and like yeast that infects a batch of dough.  Jesus ignored the politics of his day because, for Jesus, the kingdom of God had arrived and was demonstrated by his incarnation, his miracles, his teaching, and his imminent suffering and resurrection. 

Apply:  The kingdom of God has come to into this world in the person of Jesus. The kingdom of God comes to us when we surrender to the rule and reign of Jesus in our lives.  The fullness of God's kingdom is yet to be realized, but now is the time to live as citizens of that kingdom.  It doesn't matter who is in political power or under what form of government one lives, the kingdom of God moves forward not because of earthly politics, but in spite of them.  

Pray:  Jesus, may your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Luke Chapter Twelve

Reading:  Luke 12.1-59

Scripture:  "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say."  Luke 12:11  
And also, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Luke 12.34

Observations:  Luke's gospel paints a picture of Jesus that is far different than the meek and mild Jesus that most of us learned about in Sunday School.  His harsh words against the Pharisees, his stern warnings about hypocrisy, greed and spiritual slothfulness, and his predictions about the divisions and persecution that would come to his followers give us a window into the volatile setting of the New Testament world.  
Luke was the Apostle Paul's traveling companion and he witnessed the very kinds of persecution that Jesus predicted. Notice He says "when" not "if" you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities.  Luke stayed a faithful companion to Paul throughout his years of imprisonment long after others had deserted him (2 Tim. 4:11).  Hard times call for deep commitment. Persecution followed the spread of the gospel because it was so antithetical to the controlling powers of the kingdoms of this world.  But Jesus' followers are to seek first God's kingdom and treasure the things that are of eternal worth.

Apply:  The kingdoms of this world will always pressure us to trade our eternal treasures for temporary pleasures.  Let the parable of the Rich Fool (vs. 13-21) remind us of how futile it is to spend our lives just to store up treasures on earth.  

Prayer:  Jesus, help me to find my greatest pleasure in pleasing you.  May I remember that living simply and serving others is the way to true riches. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Luke Chapter Eleven

Reading:  Luke 11.1-54

Scripture:  One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."  Luke 11:1

Observations: I am intrigued by Jesus' prayer life.  Apparently his disciples were too.  Jesus prayed differently than the common ways his followers had learned to pray.  What was different about Jesus' prayers?  When asked to teach them to pray, Jesus told his disciples to begin with, "Father..."  In our English translation, the word "father" seems somewhat formal, not too many of us talk to our dads by using that term.  When Jesus taught them to use the common term for "father" as we would use "dad" or "daddy" in their prayers, it opened a whole new understanding of the intimate relationship he, the Son of God, had with his father; but what is most remarkable, was that he told his disciples that they could pray to God on such intimate terms too!

Apply:  When we struggle with how to pray or what to say, think about how you would talk to a parent who loves you unconditionally and wants the best for you.  Let God know your heart, and take time to listen to God's loving reply.

Prayer:  "My Father who is is heaven..."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Luke Chapter Ten

Reading:  Luke 10.1-42

Notice the theme that is woven through all three stories in this chapter.  

Scripture:  Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.  Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.  Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him...  Luke 10:33-34

Observations:  What a masterful story!  Jesus was a genius (no kidding, Bill).  In the previous chapter we see Jesus' own disciples wanting to call fire down on a Samaritan village (9:54), and here Jesus tells a story in which a Samaritan, not the Jewish religious professionals, is the hero of the tale.  It is also interesting in the next story that it is a woman "sitting at his feet" as a disciple who is recognized as the one who is getting it right, not the one who is doing the culturally expected "woman's work."  Jesus was the ONLY Rabbi of his day who would have permitted a woman to be his disciple.  And, referring to the beginning of the chapter, who would have thought that a bunch of poor powerless (like lambs among wolves) pairs of people could be so miraculously used to be the front line messengers of the kingdom of God?

Apply:  Sometimes the truth is best conveyed in wit, irony, and satire.  Jesus was a great satirist who used stories, miracles, and provocative social interactions in order to break down the social and religious barriers to the gospel of the kingdom of God.  I wonder how often our religious traditions and cultural prejudices get in the way of the gospel?  

Prayer:  Jesus, help me to always have a heart that is open to the ever-reaching, ever-loving, ever-stretching gospel of the kingdom of God.

Luke Chapter Nine

Reading: Luke 9.1-62

Scripture: "If anyone wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?" - Luke 9.23-25 (NLT)

Observations: In this chapter we see Jesus preparing his followers for the suffering that awaited him and for the sacrificial life that awaits those who carry the gospel of the kingdom of God. The chapter begins with the disciples being sent off to preach the kingdom of God and heal sick while taking nothing with them for the journey and the news that Herod, who beheaded John the Baptist, was now searching for Jesus. The chapter ends with disciples arguing about who would be the greatest, wanting to call fire down from heaven on the Samaritans, and Jesus describing the level of sacrifice his followers were expected to make. In other words, the disciples had a lot to learn.

Apply: I can’t help but compare Jesus’ call to selfless, cross-bearing, take-nothing-for-the-journey, no-place-to-lay-his-head discipleship with the follow-Jesus-and-you-can-have-it-all brand of Christianity. What Bible are those preachers reading! Sorry…I can’t help myself sometimes.

Prayer: Lord, I confess that I also want it all and Jesus too. Help me to hold loosely to the things of this life that do no last so that I may find deep meaning and true life. Forbid that I would gain the things that I cannot keep and end up losing what lasts forever.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Luke Chapter Eight

Reading:  Luke 8.1-56

Scripture:  But the seed in the good earth -- these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no mater what, sticking with it until there's a harvest.  Luke 8.15 (The Message)

Observations:  Jesus taught using stories that were simple to remember but sometimes difficult to understand.  In this parable we see that Jesus provides the meaning to his disciples who needed it spelled out to them clearly.  Simply put, he tells them that many hear the word of God but the devil, life's testing times and people's preoccupations with other things (busyness) prohibit the harvest that only perseverance over time can bring.  

Apply:  Although we don't live in an agricultural community, I can't help but think that this parable is even more relevant in our culture than it was back then.  How easily we can become distracted from the thing that is most important to us -- hearing and "sticking with" the message of Jesus!  How many people "try Jesus" as if they are trying a new diet only to quit before they see any results?  Following Jesus isn't a sprint, it's a lifelong journey, and only those who follow him for the long haul can get to experience the treasures of a life well-lived.

Prayer:  Lord, when the hot trials of life beat down upon my faith, or when my heart is being crowded by all the thorns of life, may I hang on to You no matter what.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Luke Chapter Seven

Reading:  Luke 7.1-50

Again, there is so much in this chapter to think about I had a hard time choosing.  I would like to hear from some of you who focused on other parts of the chapter.  What are some of your thoughts or prayers?  Here are my thoughts...

Scripture:  John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Luke 7.20

Observations:   John the Baptist had been languishing in prison since he boldly spoke out against Herod Antipas (Luke 3.19-20).  Although John had been confident of Jesus' identity as the Messiah, he now was needing reassurance, so he sent his disciples to Jesus to get some answers. Perhaps the loneliness of prison and fear that he may be killed caused John to doubt.  Or perhaps John was expecting Jesus to be more confrontational like he was, pronouncing judgment upon the sins of the king and the fallen nation.  The time for judgment, however, would come in due time, now was the time for salvation.  Jesus' answer to John pointed to the ways in which Jesus was doing the things that the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be doing: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, he deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."  (See also Isaiah 35:5-6, 61:1) 

Apply:  Loneliness, fear, suffering, and persecution can cause the best of us to doubt our faith in Jesus. If Jesus came to set the prisoners free, why did John remain in prison?  We hear stories of the miracles Jesus does for others, but when they don't happen for us we begin to doubt.  When that happens it is good to remember that Jesus not only works through miracles, healings and help for the poor, he also works through suffering.  John the Baptist's preaching and subsequent persecution set the stage for the people to reject the world's kind of kingdom as typified by Herod and accept and enter the kind of kingdom as typified by Jesus the Messiah, the Kingdom of God.

Pray:  Jesus, when things don't go the way I expect them to go, or when you don't seem to fit my expectations, encourage me by helping me to remember the things you are about; and may I be willing to do whatever it takes for the others to see your kingdom on display in my life, whether in good times or in bad.