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.