Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Luke 7:31-39 Between the Lines

31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 

Last week we mentioned that the spiritually wise discern beautiful truths between the lines of scriptural fact. Our next two studies will pursue this notion in more detail. The Centurion read the truth about Jesus between the lines. Jesus saw the truth between the lines at Nain. The Baptist was missing the truth between the lines until Jesus invited the two disciples of John to take another look and to 'read between the lines'.

In these verses Jesus exposes the character of those who are not spiritually wise. They judge by what they observe externally and either neglect or refuse to look any deeper. When we read the scriptures merely for academic knowledge we may get the 'facts', but miss the 'truth'. Similarly, when we look at the external behavior of others we may correctly identify their sin, but miss their heart.

The people of Jesus' generation, and every generation since then, tend to think superficially. They can rightly label an adulterer, a thief, and any other sinner by their behavior, yet miss the heart of the person. Jesus looked beyond the sin and touched the heart. He then forgave sin, which was his invitation for all generations to also look past an individual's behavior and seek to know their heart - to be a soul-searcher.

32 They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

The analogy is that the people of his generation were unreasonable in their expectations. They wanted others to conform to their expectations. They never accepted others just as they were. They viewed everyone in a negative light. They could always find something to complain about. No one around them could please them whether they did what was asked or did not. The people of that generation were self-centered, judgmental, and thus their hearts were closed to the grace of God.

The Baptist didn't mix with people, didn't attend their parties, and didn't eat their food or indulge in their drink. Surely the religious elite would have honored such a person. But no. Instead they said he was demon-led. Then Jesus came around and he mixed with the people, attended their parties, ate their food, and drank their beverages. Yet the religious elite didn't like that either. They labeled Jesus a sinner.

Perhaps this passage also indicates that those embraced by Jesus run the gamut between super-conservatives to super-liberals - John being far right and Jesus far left. Were the religious elite simply rejecting extremism on both ends of the spectrum or was Jesus suggesting that the grace of God embraces all people? 

But that was then, right? What about our generation?

Are we content? Are we at peace? Do we see the proverbial cup half full? Do we love others 'just as they are' - whether they are conservative or liberal in their life orientation? Do we look beyond another's failings and see the heart? Do we temper our expectations by reality? Are we reasonable and open-minded in our expectations of others? In other words, are we patient, kind, gentle, self-controlled, joyful, and compassionate in all our dealings with other people?

35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” 

As rendered in the Message Bible, 'the proof is in the pudding'. In other words, the truth about a person is not so much about whether or not they eat certain foods or drink a particular beverage. The truth about a person cannot be quantified by how they dress, where they live, whether they are an introvert or an extrovert, or if they present with a serious or fun-loving attitude. Personality type does not reveal the heart of a person. 

The truth about a person's heart is found in how they love other people. Yet, Luke has already clarified that true love is not revealed by merely loving those who love us, but in loving even those who are our enemies (Luke 6:32-37). The wisdom that vindicates is not revealed in measures of religiosity, or by social pedigree, or in the prestige often gained by great wealth, power, and/or talent. The wisdom that vindicates is found in the love - a love for others that matures over time as we wrestle with life.

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 

37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Luke 7:18-30 When Less Is More

18 The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. 19 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” 20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” 

The OT stories of Elijah and Elisha apparently primed the people of Nain to conclude Jesus was a great prophet rather than the Messiah. On the other hand, the Baptist's skewed expectations for the Messiah led him to question his previous belief - that Jesus was the promised One. The people of Nain were unwittingly blinded by the incomplete truths of scripture, while the John was blinded by inaccurate interpretations of scripture.

As usual, our beliefs shape our understanding of current events. Our culture, experiences, and education unwittingly incline us to see 'dimly'. Add to this the recent discovery that the way we 'see' may also have a genetic basis, and we begin to wonder if anyone can ever see all things as they really are - whatever that means. Yet, all this makes the notion of grace all that more precious.

Next question, why would Luke place this particular incident at this point in his gospel? Was this simply what he understood to be the next major chronological event? The question is raised because the previous pericope is not found in other gospels, yet the conclusion arrived at by the people of Nain was that Jesus must be a 'great prophet', rather than the expected Messiah. Then, Luke followed up with a discussion of the Baptist as a truly 'great prophet'. So again, is this merely coincidental in the chronology of events or does it suggest that Luke had another purpose in mind?

Recall that Luke was leading Theophilus away from simply gathering facts 'about' Jesus and/or jumping to conclusions about Jesus because of any amazing abilities. He did not want Theophilus to become excited about Jesus only as a famous miracle worker, a great healer, an eloquent preacher, nor even as a wise teacher, but to look beyond what Jesus did and to see his compassionate heart for all people. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus tried to teach everyone - don't get distracted by a person's sins, idiosyncrasies, talents, intelligence, or appearance - but look past all this to see their heart. In other words, behold with grace.

If I have rightly discerned the intent behind Luke's choice of stories, we would expect Jesus to value something beyond the fact that the Baptist was his promised forerunner and a great prophet. In other words, Jesus would dismiss any desire to place value on someone merely because they were the son of a priest, a descendant of Abraham, popular among the people, a great miracle worker, or even an individual prophesied centuries before. For Jesus, the greatness of a person is always about their heart. First, who has their heart? Second, does grace rule their heart?

'If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And, if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing' (1Cor 13:1-3).

If Luke worked side by side with Paul, perhaps the apostle's words to the Corinthians influenced Luke's thinking and objective in writing his gospel. In other words, this story about the Baptist was inserted because it is not about being a 'great prophet', but about who has your heart.

21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” 

These three verses appear to contradict our conclusion from the first three verses of this week's study. Jesus appears to have pointed to his 'works' as evidence that he is the Messiah, just as the Baptist originally believed. Yet, is that really what he was saying?

It is not unusual to be so focused on a particular question that we don't see the obvious answer sitting immediately in front of us. For instance, in the well known story where Mary Magdalene searched for Jesus after finding his tomb empty, she couldn't 'see' that it was Jesus right there talking to her (Jn 20:11-15). Her question blinded her to the answer.

On the other hand, it is not unusual to be so focused on what is right in front of us that we can't see the true answer to our question. For instance, the disciples of the Baptist were well acquainted with the miracles performed by Jesus, yet Jesus invited them to look at his 'works' differently - to see past his 'works' and to glean his heart behind each of his miracles. They had only seen the 'fact' that he was a miracle worker, yet had missed the 'truth' - the heart - behind each healing.

Yes, it was a 'fact' that Jesus could cure disease, cast out evil spirits, and heal broken bodies, but the Baptist was looking for a Messiah who would use his power to conquer all the enemies of God's people. Jesus wanted John's disciples to see that Jesus actually was conquering the enemy of His people, but that their greatest enemy was not what they had always believed. Our greatest enemy is 'us' - the choice we've made regarding who rules our heart. Jesus wasn't merely healing bodies, but he was healing hearts. Jesus was in 'fact' a miracle worker, but more importantly he was a compassionate heart healer.

The scriptures have often been interpreted in such a manner that they effectively obfuscate the truth, rather than to reveal it. Often the 'truth' of scripture lies between the lines of the the 'facts' of scripture. The Jews looked forward to the coming of their promised Messiah. He arrived. He healed all who came to him. He preached the good news. He taught the gospel of the kingdom. Many liked him for what he did, but didn't really 'see' him. They saw a miracle worker who could do wonderful things for them. They saw him only as a 'great prophet', a notion Jesus didn't correct - at least at first.

The disciples of John came to Jesus with John's question. Jesus wasn't acting as John assumed the Messiah would/should act. John, like most Jews during this time, believed that the Messiah would appear as a conquering king, not as a gentle shepherd. Jesus didn't take time to explain the difference to John's disciples. He merely invited them to open mindedly observe what he was doing and report back to the Baptist.

Why did Jesus refuse to publicly proclaim that he was the Messiah? Why did he keep the demons from telling this truth? Why, as we'll see later in Luke, did he tell his disciples not to share with others their conclusion - that Jesus was the Messiah? Why didn't Jesus confirm for the disciples of the Baptist that he was indeed the Messiah, just as John originally believed? Why his reluctance to give a straight forward answer to a legitimate question?

Verse 23 offers a hint. 'Blessed is he who does not stumble (Gk. skandalizo) because of me.' Why would anyone stumble because of the miracle working Jesus? At least two reasons come to mind. They would only stumble if they discovered that (1) Jesus had done bad things that undermined belief in him, or stumble because Jesus (2) said/did unexpected things that didn't fit into their worldview. Obviously the former would not have been the reason for Jesus' words in verse 23. So we can assume that Jesus was referring to the possibility that folks might stumble because he fell short of their expectations. This frequently happens in human relationships when we get excited about another person based on what we imagine they are like, only to discover that they are not everything we had hoped for. We often set ourselves up for disappointment because we initially 'like' someone else without having taken the time to get to know their heart.

Perhaps verse 23 was Jesus' invitation to John to rethink his expectations, to re-examine scripture to see if he had been misled by religious traditions regarding the Messiah. This is an important message to all of us. We are only human. We all have hopes and dreams. But, are they realistic?

The next 3 verses explores the nature of our expectations.

24 When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 

'What did you expect?' Whenever we step into a new situation with expectations we have already put blinders on. Of course, this is natural. It is human to have expectations. Yet, we are better served by understanding that our expectations may cause unnecessary pain. How can we move forward more maturely, more intelligently?

In what ways have your expectations - either positively or negatively imagined - blinded you from seeing all that was there to see? This is not to suggest that we shouldn't have expectations, but that we need to hold our expectations lightly. We are better served when we enter each moment with an openness to learn. But, as mentioned earlier, it would be well if we not only engaged new experiences with an openness to learn whatever facts come to light, but to also discover truths behind the facts.

Based on reports, the Jews 'expected' to see a prophet in the wilderness. Then, expecting to see a prophet, they naturally expected to see the kind of prophet they had learned about from their religious training. Jesus' point was that their expectations blinded them from seeing that the Baptist was 'more than a prophet', that his mission involved much more than their expectation. If they clung to their expectations, they would miss so much 'more'. 

27 This is the one about whom it is written, ’Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 

The Baptist was more than a prophet in several ways. First, he was 'the one' that the prophet Malachi said would be sent (Mal. 3:1; Mt 11:14). Scripture does not prophesy about the coming of any specific prophet, except - according to Jesus - in this case. Second, he would not only speak directly to the people about their sins, but he would be 'the one' who would introduce them to Jesus as their Messiah. In other words, while most prophets warn of things to come, John told them about 'the one' who had come. This was unique.

The word we translate as 'messenger' (Heb. mal'ak; Gk. aggelos) is most often translated as 'angel', both in the OT and the NT. The Baptist was not, in the literal sense, an 'angel', yet metaphorically his role was so much like that of the angel Gabriel that he was referred to by the same term, yet the English translation, 'messenger', was applied to him perhaps to differentiate him from an actual angel. He was, in fact, a relative and contemporary of Jesus. Again, we see in this that John was 'more than a prophet'.

In what manner did the Baptist 'prepare the way for Jesus'? There is another verse in Malachi's prophecy that may shed some light on this question as well. 'He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers' (Mal. 4:6). In other words, John was not merely a baptizer, but a 'heart-changer'. His role was to speak to the heart of the Jewish people so that they would be prepared to 'see' Jesus and be ready to enter the kingdom of God. The fact that several of his disciples 'saw' that Jesus was the Messiah and then left John to follow Jesus, speaks to John's success. Few others, after John's ministry, despite the miracles of Jesus, discerned that Jesus was the Messiah. They could only see him as a miracle worker, a healer, or even a great prophet. Yet, Peter, Andrew, James, and John had come to see Jesus as the promised one.

Curiously, as great as John was and as important his role, there was something even much better prepared for those who would follow Jesus.

28 I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 

How can someone 'not be greater than', yet at the same time 'be greater than' the Baptist?

It all has to do with birth (Jn 3:1-21).

'Among those born of women' refers to our first birth. Yet those who are least in the 'kingdom of God' refers to the second birth. In other words, John was not a born again person since the Spirit had not yet been poured out. Yet, despite that, he was unique among men for his faith in God. No one else had walked with God as faithfully as had John - not Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, or even Daniel. Among all those born of women, no one is greater than John in terms of faithfully fulfilling the will of God in so great a mission.

On the other hand, those who have been born of the Spirit and have entered into the kingdom of God 'are' greater than John. This is true in the sense that they are Spirit-led. John lived under the Law. God spoke to him and he obeyed, fulfilling the OT prophecies about him. Yet Christians, hopefully, have been born again, born of the Spirit, and live under grace. Though we may not have as much faith as John, we have the Spirit abiding within us. In this sense those who walk in the Spirit are greater than those who walk according to the Law. The former hear God's voice from the indwelling Spirit moment by moment, while the latter obey God's will as stated in scripture and/or from a vision. 

It is one thing to imagine God as someplace 'up there', someone we speak to and One who speaks to us through scripture or epiphany. It is another thing altogether to know God personally, to know that God is in us, prompting us moment by moment. It is somewhat like the difference between being the only child in the world who is pen pals with the President of the United States and actually being one of several adopted children of the President.

29 When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.

We've all heard the idiom, 'he cut off his nose to spite his face'. It seems to fit here when applied to the Pharisees and lawyers. Rather than to acknowledge the amazing grace of God for all people, the Pharisees and lawyers turned away from the very Person who wanted to bless them. Those we 'scapegoat' are often the solution to our problem, the answer to our question, the actual way forward, rather than an obstacle to moving forward. Our stubborn unwillingness to plumb the depths of God's grace leads us away from God and to vilify the very individuals being used by God to open up our hearts to 'something better'. Beware, stubbornness, according to scripture, is a sign that we may be clinging to an idol (1 Sam 15:23; Ps 81:12; Jer 7:24; 13:10).

Luke presented the kingdom of God as the 'justice of God'. Jesus was sent as the great 'equalizer'. In Christ there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile, free and bond, male and female (Gal 3:28). All lives matter. In the kingdom of God we are all one in Christ. Some folks oppose that notion. They must see themselves as better than others in order to feel good about themselves (Lk 18:11).

Paradoxically, living under grace increasingly enables us to see ourselves in every other sinner, yet also to see Christ in every other sinner. The 'least' in the kingdom of God know that they are accepted by Christ 'just as they are', yet may still have a difficult time paying grace forward to everyone else they meet. This is often labeled the 'first naivete'. On the other hand, the 'greatest' in the kingdom of God see Christ in everyone they meet, including those still in the first naivete. They have matured into a stage of spiritual growth that has been called the 'second naivete'.

Kingdom people are never perfectly mature in their knowledge and faith, but they (at least) know whatever their personal sin, their debt has been entirely forgiven through faith in God's grace (Eph 2:8). Those who have not yet entered the kingdom of God still believe they must merit God's acceptance - either by what they do or who they are in pedigree or position. The former leads to an ever more regular Spirit-led life, while the latter leads to a repressive judgmental posture.

Perhaps we should all ask ourselves the question, are we kingdom people? Are we moving from the least to the greatest? Or, are we still, stubbornly, living under the Law instead of living in the Spirit?    

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Luke 7:11-17 From Death to Life

11 Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. 

Nain is a small Arab village, almost 9 miles southeast of Nazareth, in the province of Galilee. It became a famous place not only because Jesus visited this village, but because this is where, possibly for the first time, he raised a dead man back to life. That being said, this was not the first time the dead were miraculously brought back to life.

Nearby, in the town of Shunem, the prophet Elisha had also raised to life the son of a prominent woman (2 Kgs 4). Later, the double-blessed bones of the deceased Elisha, when touched, reportedly restored life to a dead person (2 Kgs 13). Yet even before Elisha, the prophet Elijah had returned life to the son of a widow from Zarephath - which is a city west of Damascus, now called Sarafand, in Lebanon (1 Kgs 17).

Jesus not only raised the widow's son back to life in Nain, but later, in Galilee, he raised to life the daughter of Jairus (Lk 8), and then Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha from Bethany (Jn 11). Matthew reported that many of the saints were resurrected when Jesus rose himself from the dead (Mt 27). Then, after Christ's ascension, his disciple, Peter, raised Tabitha to life (Acts 9). Finally, the apostle Paul reportedly raised Eutychus to life (Acts 20; 19:11; 2 Cor 12:12).

At first, Jesus' success at raising the dead to life in Nain astonished the people. But, was this a common happening during the time of Jesus' public ministry (Mt 11:5)? Did Jesus as regularly return life to the dead as often as he healed the sick?

Even before his own resurrection, pre-Pentecost, Jesus gave his disciples the authority and power to raise the dead when he sent them out to the surrounding villages (Mt 10:1-8; Lk 9:1-6). Had returning life to the dead become 'old hat' for the disciples as well (Lk 10:17-20)?

All these stories present us with various conundrums. Were these truly resurrections? Is there a difference between restoring life to someone who has died and being resurrected? Were the 'dead' truly dead or had they only experienced near death and had simply been resuscitated (see Jn 11:39)? If they had actually died and were brought back to life, did they all have to die again or were they taken to heaven, like Elijah, at a later time, never experiencing death a second time? The scriptures also tell us that people are destined to 'die once' (Heb 9:27), so when these people were brought back to life, were they given their reward of immortality and incorruptibility at that time (1 Cor 15:54; Mk 12:25) or would they have to die again in order to be resurrected into the spiritual body?

12 Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” 

A woman had already lost both her husband and had then lost her only son. Jesus had surely witnessed scenes like this many times before. Why did this particular case catch his attention and prompt him to respond even though his help was not solicited?

First, we don't know how many times Jesus had previously intervened in such situations. The scriptures tell us that Jesus healed everyone who came to him - sometimes he healed everyone in a particular village (Mt 9:35). Though we assume this was the first time he had restored life to a dead individual since it is the first time such an event was recorded, we actually have no idea if Jesus had done this before or not.

Second, Jesus had just entered this particular city when he encountered the funeral. Did he go to Nain because he knew about this young man's illness? Had the widow sent out friends to look for Jesus to heal her son, but they had no idea where to find him, or by the time they found Jesus it was already too late? On the other hand, had this woman never thought about requesting an intervention from Jesus? Had she ever heard about him before this time?

None of the other gospels include this miracle story. Why did Luke select it? Why did Mark and Matthew not see it as an important story to include? Did they know about it? Surely Levi Matthew, one of the disciples, had been present at the time (Lk 5:27; 6:15).

Remember that Luke wrote this gospel in order to help Theophilus understand who Jesus was. Theophilus probably knew 'about' Jesus, but didn't really 'know' Jesus. Luke seemed to prefer to tell stories that invited Theophilus to capture the heart of Jesus rather than to merely accumulate more facts 'about' him. Thus Luke often revealed the compassionate (Gk. splagchnizomai) heart of Jesus through what Jesus said and did without forcing a conclusion. This, curiously, was the first and only time Luke actually labeled what Jesus felt - 'he felt compassion for her'. Jesus choose to change her sorrow into joy. 

There may be an another reason for Luke's selection of this story. Many people think it is 'too late' for them, and/or that they've done too many bad things to be forgiven. This story screams out - it is never too late. Jesus reached into death and brought this young man back to life. Grace knows no boundaries. It is never too late to know peace and joy.

14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 

While immersed in mourning the loss of her only son, a man walked up to those bearing his coffin and stretched out his hand to touch it. Was this something that was common in their culture? Would family, friends, and neighbors typically reach out to 'touch' a coffin as it was being carried down the street? Or, was this unexpected and even unacceptable behavior?
If the latter, and you were the grieving widow or one of the coffin bearers, what would you have been thinking? How would you have responded?

On on the other hand, they may well have recognized, and as noted above, even anticipated the approaching man as Jesus. If so, they may have halted the procession in order to observe, maybe with hopeful expectation, what Jesus would do. If they had heard that Jesus had raised others from death to life they would certainly have desired the same grace. If they had only heard that Jesus was a great healer, would they have hoped he could do much more, as had both Elijah and Elisha?

I imagine that a hush came over the crowd. Then they heard the Healer say, 'arise'. Did he really have the power to resurrect the dead? If so, had God given him the authority to raise her specific deceased son to life?

Hadn't the Lord promised through both the prophet Jeremiah that He would to 'turn their mourning into joy', and through the prophet Isaiah that He would 'comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting' (Jer 31:13; Is 61:2,3)? 

Note: there are many promises in the scriptures that we love to cling to, but soon discover that they are not automatically fulfilled for every person, in every time of need. To have faith in God is to not only believe in 'what' he can do, but to trust in his wisdom to do things in his time and way. 

15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 

As mentioned in the previous story (Lk 7:1-10), Jesus merely needed to 'say the word' and whatever he commanded, immediately and obediently took place. The weather obeyed. The demons obeyed. Sickness obeyed. Even the dead obeyed. Clearly this was not about physically being able to hear the voice of Jesus. Weather, viruses, and deceased human being do not 'hear'. Jesus, as did Elijah and Elisha, spoke to something else. They all spoke to the that which creates life. We could say that they spoke to the Creator, but Jesus himself was the Creator (Col 1:16,17). So, Elijah and Elisha may have spoken to the Son of God. Then who did Jesus speak to? Perhaps he spoke to the whatever creative force or energy that operates in the universe and commanded it to operated in the way he designed.

Of course man folks do not accept these miracle stories. Do you believe that these miracles actually occurred or do you think these stories are simply legends that developed decades after Jesus? Let's pause for a moment and imagine this miracle, of raising the dead to life, as falling into the legend category. How might this story have served the early church as a metaphor, rather than as having literally happened? What if first century Christians intentionally created these stories as vehicles to transmit an important truth? Is the truth that Jesus could restore life to the dead, or is it something else?

What if we are 'dead' to the world around us? What if our loved ones grieve over us - over the fact that we have given up hope in this life? What if we have become so depressed that we no longer care about anything or anybody? Then, what if someone comes into your presence and 'touches' you - speaking words that restore hope into your heart and embraces you 'just as you are'? What if the love you experience is so amazing that you feel 'born anew'? Is the point of this story that people like Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and the apostles could restore life to the dead, or is the main point that followers of God have great compassion for people who are suffering loss?

Love for others restores life to those who are 'dead' in spirit.

16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” 

If you have been following along in Luke's self-described, chronological gospel, you might have been surprised at the response noted here in verse 16. Jesus had already been healing folks throughout Galilee (Lk 4:36,37; 40; 5:15-17, 24-26; 6:17-19; 7:10). His ability to heal was not something newly discovered by the people. They had, as Luke wrote, already been 'amazed' at his 'remarkable' power. They had, as noted again in this verse, previously glorified God because of Jesus. They had even been struck with fear once before when Jesus healed the paralytic (Lk 5:26). In other words, the people in Galilee were familiar with the works of Jesus.

Was the raising of the young man back to life that singularly awesome to them? If so, why did they consider Jesus a 'great prophet' rather than the Messiah, as had his twelve chosen disciples? Why didn't the disciples of Jesus also just assume Jesus was a 'great prophet'? How did they so quickly conclude he was the Messiah, even before he had effected great miracles? What had they noticed about Jesus? Had the miracles of Jesus become a distraction from the heart of Jesus?

The Jews knew the stories about the two 'great prophets' - Elijah and Elisha - both of whom had also restored life to dead people. Perhaps the ancient stories had primed them to label Jesus as a 'great prophet', distracting them from imagining any further - that Jesus could be the Messiah. God had, they assumed,  again 'visited His people' just as He had through Elijah and Elisha centuries before. No more, no less. In other words, sometimes what we know can blind us from seeing what is (Jn 4:48; Mt 24:24).

As asked previously, why did Luke add this story to his gospel? It is not found in any of the other gospel accounts. This miracle did not prove that Jesus was the Messiah, but merely convinced the people of Galilee that Jesus was possibly a 'great prophet'. Was Luke, cleverly suggesting that Jesus' power to work great miracles was not proof that he was the Messiah, that maybe there was something more important about Jesus that Theophilus should see?

If ancient prophets, and later the apostles of Jesus, could perform these same miracles - including raising the dead back to life - then, obviously, miracle working is not specific to the Messiah. In other words, was Luke instructing Theophilus not to jump to conclusions simply because he may witness supernatural manifestations of power. This is a good lesson for all of us (Rev 13:13,14; Lk 17:20,21). 

Why didn't Jesus simply confess from the beginning of his public ministry that he was, in fact, the long awaited Messiah? Luke had already revealed to Theophilus his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Lk 2:11). He had also mentioned that the people in Jerusalem had wondered if John the Baptist was the Messiah, which tells us that the people - at least in Judea - had Messianic expectations (Lk 3:15). In fact, according to John's gospel, Andrew had told his brother Peter that he had found the Messiah - specifically that Jesus was the Messiah (Jn 1:41). Even so, Jesus had forbidden the demons from revealing that he was the Christ (Lk 4:41). Curiously, it isn't until later that Luke tell us Jesus asked his disciples who they believed him to be. They responded by confessing their belief that he was the promised Messiah. Yet, even then, Luke told Theophilus that Jesus forbade his twelve disciples from telling others this truth (Lk 9:20,21).

What was Luke up to in all this? Why was he, as did Mark, presenting Jesus as one who chose to keep secret the fact that he was the promised Messiah?

17 This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.

Good news travels fast. Bad new seems to travel even faster. But news about the supernatural travels like lightning.

How likely are you to report bad news vs good news? Are your more or less likely to publicly share a supernatural experience? How long does it take for all your friends and family to learn something new about you? How has the internet and the cell phone influenced the kind of things that you share with others? Are you more or less likely to share an experience now than, say, before the internet existed? If less inclined, why? Do the things people present on social media help you know their heart or are they distractions from the person you know them to really be? In other words, are the things we post projections of who we are or are they defensive in nature, obscuring (intentionally or not) who we are?

In what way were Luke's story selections not only chosen to inform Theophilus about what Jesus did, but also to help him to know the heart of Jesus?

It is interesting that this incident occurred in Nain which was in the province of Galilee, yet Luke noted that the report traveled all over Judea. In this case, note that Judea refers to all the land of the Jews, not merely the province of Judea (Lk 23:5).

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Luke 7:1-10 Just Say The Word

1 When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. 2 And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. 

As we begin this week's bible study it is important to remember the context that Luke has given to us in the previous chapter. His gospel was not haphazardly assembled. He stated in the beginning of chapter 1 that he was putting together a chronological gospel with a clear intention - to help Theophilus make an informed decision about Jesus. Thus the previous verses presented Jesus' teachings regarding what it means to call him Lord and to build our faith on him as our solid foundation, while these next verses proceed to nicely illustrate his instruction. If we truly view Jesus as Lord, then we should place our faith in him.

Curiously, Luke - as did Matthew - chose to insert a story about a non-Jew, a centurion, in order to illustrate what it means to live by faith in someone called Lord. This centurion had a slave (Gk. doulos) that he dearly cared for. That in itself was a rebuke to those who cared only for people who believed as they believed and/or looked as they looked. Matthew, in contrast, used the word 'servant' (Gk. pais) when referring to this man, (which Luke also used once in this story in verse 7), yet used the word 'slave' (Mt 8:9) when illustrating who he commands his soldiers.

The 'highly regarded' slave was near death, which moved the centurion to seek help wherever he could find it. In other words, he did not merely pretend to save his slave, nor did he restrict himself only to sources that were familiar to him, and/or acceptable in his Gentile world. His compassion for his slave - as ironic in context as that sounds to us today - led him to hope beyond his usual hope. The centurion was sufficiently open-minded to listen for and to pursue solutions that were outside the typical Roman 'box'. He didn't merely choose to let this slave die and buy another one.

This centurion was, perhaps, more open to truth than were many of the Jews, who assumed that they had all the truth they needed as the chosen children of Israel. So, the first thing we notice by Luke's choice of this story is that he wanted Theophilus, who was most likely not a Jew, as Luke himself was not, to see that God spoke to folks who were not Jews and that just because a person was a Jew did not mean that they 'knew' God and/or lived by faith in God as their Lord. A commendable faith cannot be assumed simply because of pedigree.

3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. 

Matthew's gospel, as already indicated, presented this story somewhat differently (Mt 8:5-13). Though Luke wrote that the centurion sent some Jewish elders to Jesus, Matthew wrote that the centurion himself went to Jesus. This and other differences are insignificant and in no ways diminishes the salient point of the account from either gospel.

The centurion had searched for a cure for his slave. At some point in his search he heard about Jesus. A new hope arose. Desperation often becomes opportunity, especially under the strong motivation of love.

The fact that he 'sent some Jewish elders' to request Jesus help, suggests that (1) he had a good relationship with the Jewish elders at this particular synagogue in Capernaum, (2) they respected him sufficiently to act on his request, (3) they were themselves open-minded - at least to some degree - to go to Jesus, and (4) there may have been some religious/cultural reason for why he didn't go himself (as per Luke's gospel).

Though it is not the main point of this pericope, the Spirit may have massaged events in this particular way in order to also win the hearts of some Jewish elders who may have still been hesitant regarding Jesus. We often expect God to work in some clear, linear manner. Here is the problem. Solve this problem. Yet God seems to cast a large net, using a singular problem as an opportunity to solve many diverse and even unrelated issues.   

4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; 5 for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” 

This is an fascinating insight into the religious thinking of the Jewish elders. 'He is worthy for you to grant...' Clearly, none of the centurions good deeds or love for Israel swayed Jesus. He didn't choose to help folks because they were 'worthy'. Our need makes us worthy of his compassion - whether we are Jew or Gentile, free or bond, male or female - etc.

These Jewish elders were willing to seek out Jesus on behalf of this centurion because he had made himself 'worth' their effort. Jesus, as we have seen throughout Luke's gospel, overlooked the misbehavior's and wrong notions of man, saw through to the heart of the person in need, and acted in response. Grace needs no persuasion. Grace is grace.

6 Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; 7a for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You,..

The centurion, initially thinking only about the life of his slave, sent some Jewish elders to Jesus. He hoped that Jesus would come to his house and perform a miracle of healing. The elders, thinking that Jesus might not be willing to travel to and/or enter the house of a Gentile, spoke about the centurion's 'worthiness'. The centurion, having reflected more thoroughly about his invitation and finding no worthiness within himself, sent friends to Jesus with a newly phrased request.

Had the Jewish elders, having favored this centurion because of all he had done for them, convinced the centurion to make his appeal based on his good works? Had they temporarily led him to see through their religious eyes, effectively blinding him? Were the blind (Jews) leading the blind (Gentile)? This is not to suggest that these Jewish elders acted maliciously. Their counsel was consistent with the way they had been raised to think. When religion loses sight of God as Lord, faith is placed in man's ability to manipulate God into action, rather than trusting in the grace of a loving God.

After the Jewish elders left to find Jesus, it seems that the centurion rubbed his eyes and began to see differently. Why? Had the Spirit spoken to him directly, revealing a more humble approach to the Healer? Had the centurion's slave moved him to think trust in God rather than his good works? Or, had the centurion's friends given him more nuanced information about the nature of Jesus' compassion?

Whatever the case, the centurion thinking shifted from fear of loss to misguided reasoning to humble faith. Isn't this the progression that most of us experience as we mature?

7b ...but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 

The centurion came to a fascinating conclusion. Again, how did he get there? How did his mind travel from being emotionally distraught to skewed religious reasoning to an act of mature faith - 'just say the word'? Had his fear of loss driven him to faith? Or, was his fear an aberration, merely a brief distraction from his normal life of disciplined reason? Or, had the Spirit guided him, speaking to the centurion through his own life experiences, turning them into an instructive metaphor for faith?

Neither Matthew or Luke's narrative of this event include answers to these questions, but they do offer us one important clue. The centurion did extrapolate - whether on his own or as led by the Spirit - from his own military experience and concluded that Jesus ought to be able to work in the same way. If Jesus had the God-given authority to heal lepers, cast out demons, and give sight to the blind, surely all he needed to do was to speak and nature would instantly obey - unless, of course, he was merely a charlatan, a trickster, without any true authority over life. Where authority is given, power is provided.

On the other hand, there is good and bad in the reasoning of this centurion. He used his own experience in life in order to understand the potential healing power of Jesus. That was good - in that his particular career led him to grasp how to live by faith alone, faith in Jesus as Lord.

On the other hand, when many people use their own experience in order to understand God, they often arrive at some very dubious conclusions. For instance, a young man who was regularly physically abused by his biological father concludes that God must also be abusive. He then might assume that God created hell so that he could eternally torture those who never became perfectly obedient to him. Obviously, picturing the nature of God from out of our own experiences is not necessarily a good idea.

Similarly, the centurion might have concluded from his military background that he should just kidnap Jesus and forced him to heal his slave, threatening to kill Jesus if he did not succeed in fully healing the centurion's slave. 

Can the Spirit reveal grand truths about God through our life experiences? Of course. Yet we need to accept that our life experiences, more often than not, skew our picture of reality, of God, and how we ought to behave in this world. Certainly the history of Christianity presents with many examples where life experiences horribly distort the way God's will was understood. Mankind has often believed that they were acting on God's behalf, as God had willed, yet have become the perpetrators of great evil. The various church inspired inquisitions comes to mind.

9 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

This pericope began with Jewish elders pleading with Jesus to heal the centurion's slave based on the centurion's worthiness, not the slave's need. It ends with the centurion confessing his unworthiness, yet his slave's great need. The former requested mercy for the centurion, while the latter asked for mercy for the dying slave. The Jews sought to help the centurion who had helped them. Jesus sought to help the slave who had not done anything nor had even placed any faith in Jesus as Lord.

What has not been mentioned is that this is a story about intercessory prayer. The centurion pleaded for the healing of someone else - a slave. Jesus, though, was on his way to heal the slave, not because of anyone's faith, but simply because of the need presented to him. 

Luke appears to have used this story not only to reveal the nature of true faith in Jesus as Lord, but to expose the nature of religion when it has lost sight of the God it purports to worship. It is also a welcomed illustration of the nature of grace.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Luke 6:46-49 Well-Founded

46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 

Have you ever been asked, 'Why do you call Jesus your Lord?' Why might someone ask that question? Why did Jesus ask it?

If Jesus is your Lord, then you would 'do' whatever he has told you to do, right? What, then, has Jesus asked his disciples to 'do'?  More importantly, what 'is' Jesus telling his 21st century disciples to do? What you do reflects who or what is Lord in your life - which is the focus of this week's study.

The Lord still speaks to us today. Thus, Jesus' voice must still be heard, not merely through scripture reading, but within the heart/mind of each believer. To not know his voice today, is - according to Jesus himself - to not know Jesus (Jn 10). To not walk as guided by the Spirit is - according to Paul - to not belong to Christ (Rom 8). The point Jesus seemed to be making was, if you call Me Lord, then listen to Me and do what I say.

Assuming that Matthew's gospel was one of the documents that Luke had access to, it is natural to wonder why Luke included some of Matthew's gospel and dismissed other aspects. For instance, in this passage written by Luke he used, but abbreviated Mt 7:21-23, rendering it simply as found here in Lk 6:46.

Matthew's account, unlike Luke, helps us to answer the question about what Jesus had asked his followers to 'do'.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Curiously, are we to conclude from Matthew that to prophesy in his name, to cast out demons, and to perform miracles, were not the things Jesus was referring to - the things he asked us to 'do'? Why, then, later in Mt 10:1, did 'Jesus summon his twelve disciples and give them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness'? Isn't this what he wanted his disciples to 'do'? Well, yes and no.

First, notice that Jesus equated what 'he' wanted them to 'do' with the 'will of his Father in heaven'. That is an essential point to always keep in mind.

Second, he also made clear that he 'knows' (Gk. ginosko) which individuals are truly obedient to him, and which individuals - regardless of what they 'do' - don't truly 'know' him. Doing what he says is vitally related to knowing and being known by him.

Third, 'doing' exactly what Jesus gave authority to 'do' can actually be considered 'practicing lawlessness' if the 'heart' hasn't fully chosen Jesus as Lord. To merely address him as Lord, doesn't necessarily mean we have permitted him to be Lord of our hearts. We might have acted upon his 'authority' to cast out demons, speak in tongues, proclaim prophecy, and have the faith to move mountains, but even that doesn't prove that we 'know' him as Lord of our life (1 Cor 13). Remember, Lucifer acts with tremendous God-given power, yet does not yield his heart to God.

In other words, that which is 'lawful' is not merely 'doing' what Jesus once said to do, but it is primarily 'being' who Jesus has called us to 'be' at any given moment. Being a Kingdom person is all about a choice to trust in Jesus as our solid foundation - our Lord. Both Matthew 8 and Luke 7 later illustrate this very point with the story of the Centurion's faith. What we 'do' must arise from whom we trust - the One who has our whole heart. If not, even the obedient things we 'do' are viewed in heaven as 'lawless' deeds. This is what the New Covenant underscores.
47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: 

Before we are able to accurately preach Jesus, we must 'know' Jesus. To know Jesus and to be known by him requires 'coming' to him and bowing before him as our Lord - the King of all that we have and are. In other words, simply reading 'about' what he said 2000 years ago, appreciating what he said two millennia ago, and sharing with others what we have learned about him, merely makes us a person with a predilection for Jesus' ideas, not a Christian. Liking much of what Jesus said and even organizing our whole life around the teachings of Jesus is distinct from founding our whole existence upon the resurrected Person of Jesus.

When Luke wrote to Theophilus he intentionally and carefully parsed out this essential variance. There is an infinite difference between living out a Jesus-oriented worldview and trusting in the moment by moment voice of the living Jesus speaking into your life. Christianity is far more than a useful worldview. Christianity is knowing and being known by the Son of God who became incarnate, died upon the cross, was resurrected the third day, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, and now makes intercession for us, speaking directly and uniquely to each individual.

We can tweak a philosophy as circumstances make necessary. We cannot tweak God.

48a he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; 

This foundation is what differentiates a religion as one's culture, from religion as one's life. When religion is our culture we may not know why we do the things we do, except that we've always done them a certain way and everyone around us is similarly inclined, to one degree or another. In fact, cultural religion tends to be a buffet table of sorts. We don't necessarily perceive any coherence to the whole, thus we choose whatever appeals to us - as long as we abide by the few generally accepted core notions.

When our religion is our life we know why we do everything we do. We conform our thinking, feeling, attitude, and behavior to our core beliefs. We see how everything fits together in a beautiful whole. There is no picking and choosing. We choose it all. The whole is foundational to all that we are, all that makes sense, and all that gives us hope. Judaism had been the foundation for the people of God for centuries. True, for many it was merely a cultural religion, yet for many others it was their everything. 

But Jesus presented a third way, something much better. What he presented was, for all intents and purposes, the end of religion - both as a culture or as a coherent worldview. The Law and the prophets had been the foundation upon which the Jews had built their identify. It had, in Jesus' opinion, been good. It had served it's purpose. It had led them to Him. From now on Moses would no longer be their 'rock'. Rather, Jesus would be. This third way was all about having an intimate, very personal relationship with him. It was not about an external culture or an external paradigm for living in this world. It was all about an internally abiding, intensely intimate God who serves and guides us from the throne of our heart. Christianity is an affair of the heart.

The rock upon which their new foundation was to be laid was a Person, not a religion. Rather than having a foundation centered in the Temple at Jerusalem, each believer became the temple within which God dwelt. It is a Person to person experience, an intimate love. A marriage of lovers unlike any other relationship ever experienced by men and women. There is a non-anxious desire to know everything about the Other, yet an abiding peace when not understanding. There is security in the Person, not in our understanding.

"No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11).
48b and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 

How solid is your foundation in the Person of Jesus, the Messiah? If your foundation is merely made up from what you know 'about' Jesus, rather than in knowing him personally, then 'when a flood occurs', all that you have built will be washed away by the torrent.

Throughout history, love for a person has always been a more potent motivator than even the most exquisite philosophies. Sure, there is power in words. Ideas expressed systematically or in metaphors can move hearts. But love transforms the heart. Love for God transform the heart, mind, spirit, and soul. Love is a bulwark against all storms (Rom 8:28-39).

49a But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; 

Those who know the Good Shepherd, hear his voice and follow him. Building upon the solid Rock is about listening and responding to the living, loving, resurrected Christ - not complying with dead religious notions - which 'is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation. If our faith is not in a real Christ whose beautiful, kind voice lovingly guilds you moment by moment, then our faith is not in Christ, but in Christendom. Christendom is impotent. It is a headless body. Only the living Word has the power to transform the soul. 

A good foundation begins with 'digging deep'. The house built on a solid foundation will be able to weather any storm. Yet, even if we have unwittingly built a foolish house on a good foundation, if a storm destroys our house, the foundation remains.

Our solid foundation is not the church, since believers 'are' the church and we cannot place our faith in ourselves. Our solid foundation is not the Bible, since that would imply that we do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus and, instead, place our hope in the dead letter of Moses, Luke, and Paul. Our solid foundation is not the United States of America, since we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, not citizens of any kingdom of man. Our solid Rock is the Lover of our soul.

That which distinguishes the Christian faith from all other faiths is belief in the resurrected Son of God. Any other foundation is not, by definition, Christian. 

49b and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Woe to the soul who has build his faith upon anything or anyone other than Christ Jesus our Lord. If Christ alone is not our only Lover, than all that we have placed our hope in will collapse in ruin. Nice words, such as addressing him as Lord, are no substitute for a surrendered heart. 

Have you fallen in love with Christ to such a degree that you have eyes for no other?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Luke 6:39-45 Eyes That Cannot See

39 And He also spoke a parable to them: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? 

There are different kinds of blindness. Someone can be physically blind - either because their eyes are unable to sense light or because their brains are not able to interpret what the eyes have actually captured. Yet most humans are, to varying degrees, 'blind' even though they can physically see. How can that be true?

Well, for instance, two people can look at the same thing and perceive something different. Why? Often it is because we look for what we want to see and filter out what we don't want to see (confirmation bias). For example, if we believe Jesus is returning soon, we are more apt to 'see' every news report about disasters in the world as evidence that He is finally returning, maybe even within the next few months.

Another reason for folks not 'seeing' the same thing in the same way is that some people quickly assume something 'big' must have been caused by something really huge (proportionality bias). For example, we witness a devastating tsunami and conclude that it must have been a judgment from God against some particular, unrepented evil inherent among the people who suffered the loss.

One other way that we are blinded from seeing reality is when we project our own attitudes onto others that we 'see', thus assuming that they are doing what we would do, even though they are not. For example, we may 'see' all leaders as control freaks because we, as a leader, are a control freak.

If we are not careful about how we 'see', we will be much more likely to be blind to the fact that those we follow aren't 'seeing' well either. Whether the people we follow are politicians, pastors, teachers, parents, or philosophers, we need to learn how to discern if someone is appropriately 'sighted'. If we do not carefully assess the 'sightedness' of those we follow, we will more than likely find ourselves guided by the blind, right into the proverbial pit.

In other words, Jesus was teaching his disciples to wake up and to think about their thinking, rather than to merely assume that their thinking - and seeing - was faultless simply because they had always thought in that particular manner. As mentioned last week, the gospel calls humanity to be better humans. We need to choose to think more rationally so that we can 'see' more clearly.

It would be useful if we understood what 'critical thinking' means. It would be helpful to occasionally review the many types of thinking that fall under 'logical fallacies'. For instance, an anecdote may be interesting, but it isn't necessarily evidence for a principle. If used as a proof it may be an example of an 'informal fallacy'.

40 A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. 

A teacher can only lead you to see as much as s/he can see. If your teacher is blind to certain things, you will be blind to the same things. You will 'see' as he 'sees'. Maybe that is one of the much forgotten values of a truly liberal education. It offers you a variety of ways to 'see' the world around you so that we don't get stuck in any particular 'box'.

The 'blind' teacher will teach his students to see evil where there is justice and justice where there is evil. The 'blind' teacher will call truth error, and error truth. If the paradigm, from which the 'blind' teacher elaborates, has a sufficient degree of coherence to it, it will appear to make sense. If the teacher is well known, it will seem reasonable not to question him. If the lessons being taught have been taught for many years, by many people, it is easy to unquestionably assume they are valid.

Jesus spoke these words as a warning. Be careful whom you choose as your teacher(s). The criteria for a good teacher/mentor should not be: he is incredibly handsome; she has a degree from Harvard University; he is charismatic and very eloquent; she is famous; he has written many best selling books; or she is a brilliant and gifted individual. None of these attributes guarantee that the person will not lead you astray. 

41 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 

This is not just a command to stop judging others, but a call to do a thorough self-examination. What kind of a person are we in this world? What kind of person do we really want to be in this life? Also, considering the previous verse, what kind of 'teachers' have we been listening to? Have they led us to be kind, gentle, patience, and compassionate in the world? Or have those we call our 'teachers' conditioned us to be fearful, judgmental, impatient, and cruel to others? Have we been led astray?

When our chosen 'teacher' is 'blind', we can expect to be molded in his or her image, to 'see' as s/he 'sees'. In other words, if our mentor is judgmental of others, we will tend to have a judgmental spirit. If our instructor is generous, we may emulate his spirit of generosity. If our chosen teacher(s) are fear-mongerers and into conspiracy theories, we will tend to be the same. If our preferred guides regularly see 'a glass half full rather than half empty', we will be more apt to see similarly. If our leaders measure others by externals rather than by looking for their heart, we will most likely not be able to see others except by their external presentation.

Regardless of who your teacher is, Jesus stops us in our tracks and reminds us 'not to throw the first stone' at another. We are all imperfect. We must all take a close look at ourselves before commenting on or attempting to 'fix' someone else. His words should give us pause. If and when they do, we may discover that our chosen 'mentor' has influenced us to 'see' wickedly rather than to see graciously - as Jesus sees. Do our teachers lead us to edify others or to tear others down? Do our leaders fill us with wrath or build up a compassionate spirit within us?

The choice is ours. The more we learn about Jesus and chose to 'see' through His eyes, the more we will be like him.

42 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. 

This verse assumes, it seems, that we can actually discover and remove the 'log' out of our own eye. It also appears to give permission to 'take the speck out of' another's eye once we have removed the log out of our own eye. If you determine that you can now see clearly, then Jesus gives you the right to go around helping others to see as you see. But is that what Jesus was saying? Many Christians think so.

True, seeing as Jesus sees is assumed to be the way to see clearly. Once we learn to see as he sees, we should invite others into a relationship with him so that they may see through his eyes too. The question, though, should be: how does Jesus see?

Curiously, once we see as Jesus sees we find ourselves altogether losing sight of the speck in our neighbor's eye. In other words, when we see ourselves clearly we become blind to others failures. Before knowing Jesus we saw all the faults of others, which Jesus called 'blindness'. After knowing Jesus we become blind to the faults of others, which Jesus called 'sight'.

43 For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. 

This appears as a false dichotomy. In other words, it leaves us thinking that we are either a 'good tree' or a 'bad tree'. The dichotomous nature of the statement would, unwittingly, also render all people as hopelessly 'bad trees' since we all produce 'bad fruit'. A 'good tree' could therefore not ever exist because even believers in Christ continue to produce 'bad fruit' at times.

So, is this what Jesus intended to say? Not really. Jesus already stated that 'even sinners do good - 'produce good fruit' - to those who do good to them' (Lk 6:33). Obviously 'good fruit' isn't always produced by a perfectly 'good tree'. What prompts the 'good fruit' depends upon who has the heart. When a unregenerate sinner offers 'good fruit' to someone he loves or to someone who has blessed him, it is his heart that was moved to 'do good'. One does not have to be a follower of Jesus to 'produce good fruit' in these cases. The 'natural' man obviously can do this.

Yet Jesus has been calling those who choose to follow him to produce a different order of 'good fruit' bearing. Christians are to bear 'good fruit' even to those who do not love them, even to those who are clearly our enemies. That would not be 'natural' because in those circumstances enemies would not 'have our heart'. On the other hand, if God has our heart we are enabled to love those who do not love us. We 'see' them through the heart of God rather than through our own eyes. We love 'unnaturally'. We love 'supernaturally' - which is what agape love is all about.

When others look at us and they see that we love those who love us and return good only to those who have done good to us, they easily applaud us for being just like most other human beings. Yet, if they see us producing 'good fruit' despite being hated and persecuted, then they can't help but conclude that we are a very different kind of 'tree' indeed.

We could therefore elaborate on what Luke has written and say that not only is a tree known by it's fruit, but also by the context in which it produces good fruit.

45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

The carnal man has a heart, yet his heart is for that which pleases his flesh. From this heart 'good fruit' may come forth, but only for those who make him happy. The spiritual person has a heart of a whole different order. From this renewed, Spirit-led heart, it is not merely responsive to feelings, but to the will of God. A choice is made to be a certain way in the world that exponentially transcends the natural.

The question, as always, is 'who has your heart?'

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Luke 6:27-38 Beatitude Attitude

27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 

The previous verses, Luke 6:20-26, orient and settle the person of faith into the kingdom of God. As kingdom people we are content to trust in God alone - regardless of circumstances. In fact, we become truly free in our humanity when we leave our past, present, and future to God. Well, at least that's our goal.

But how does this work out in daily life? What does this look like in our temporal reality - where the proverbial rubber meets the road? A kingdom person is a citizen of heaven, yet also a citizen in this chaotic and often cruelly unfair world. Though my past is covered by the blood of Christ and my future is secure in God's hands, I live among people who are not, or are seldom, at peace with God. In my daily life I face evil after evil, from without and from within. What, then, does it mean to live in the world, yet not be of the world?

According to Luke, Jesus' sermon shifted from the theological to the practical. Yes, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength - but that love isn't very real-world useful unless is gets translated into love for others, even the nastiest of others. 'Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.' In other words, don't follow your natural, easy, mindless instincts that seek for vengeance - an eye for an eye. That natural reaction damages your humanity. Instead, mindfully choose that which enhances the best elements of your humanity. Discover the heights of human existence by loving the unlovely, making something beautiful out of what has presented itself to you.

Whatever your circumstances, first re-settle your spirit through faith in God. I say 're-settle', because few ceaselessly walk with their spirit in step with the Spirit. Yet we know that a non-anxious mind is best able to reflect and make decisions, so we choose to stop, breath, and choose to align our spirit with His.

The human experience ranges from the insane and beastly to the altruistic and saintly. Where each of us land on that continuum depends on the choices we make. The kingdom of God, the Bible proclaims, presents us with a framework for making the very best human choices. 

29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 

Clearly, this advice runs contrary to our human nature. Thankfully, we are given a mind that can choose to behave contrary to our first inclination rather than in lock-step. Yes, it is human to be reactive. But, yes, it is also within our humanity to act contrary to our nature.

We can take what is and make something beautiful out of it. That is the universal characteristic of spirituality.

We may act like an animal or we can act intelligently. We can choose the easy, automatic way of living, or we can choose the 'road less traveled' and determine to think before we act. We can choose a tit-for-tat, retaliatory approach to life, or we can choose to forgive and move on.  We can conclude that this life is all we have, therefore we must protect what we have and take as much as we can grab - or we can conclude that having to lie, steal, covet, and/or murder just to have more 'things' in this world just is not the way we want to live.

How do you want to define your humanity? What choices in life are consistent with your integrity? Have you decided who you will be in this world regardless of what others may think of your choices? Have you settled into a Jesus-like way of being regardless of the costs? Are you willing to do without what many have in order to live with integrity?

Christ invites us to choose what kind of human we will be in our life. To live in this world, yet not be of this world, is to choose to live by the highest rather than the lowest ideals for man.

31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 

Once we are clear about who we want to be, we have clarity about how to treat others - i.e. according to the highest ideals we have for ourselves. Of course, if you have no respect for yourself, you will have little respect for others. If you only treat those you love as you would want to be treated, then you have unwittingly given those you don't love permission to treat you as you have treated them - as invisible, dismissively, or as unimportant.

The manner in which we believe Jesus would see us and treat us is to be our guide for seeing and treating all others. In other words, since Jesus would see us through the eyes of grace, we should see all others - those we love and those who are not so lovely to us - with grace.

34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 

Grace is unmerited favor. It is loving others as people, regardless of what they have or have not done. Grace does not measure a person for worthiness before treating them with love. Grace does not evaluate what can be received back from a person before treating them with compassion. Grace operates without any ledger or scales. Grace is not transactional. The ability to treat all others with grace reflects our actual belief in God's grace toward us. As John once wrote, if you say you love God, but don't love your neighbor, you are a liar (1 Jn 2:6; 3:16; 4:8, 20). Could this also suggest that if you say you love God, but don't accept yourself as God accepts you, you are a liar?

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 

Verse 36 underscores and summarizes the previous verses. 'Be merciful, just as God has been merciful to you.' To not pay forward the grace received is to be ungrateful. Yet, we all have and continue to receive the grace of God whether we choose to extend grace to others or not. If God only extended grace to those who he knew would be merciful to their neighbors, then it would not be grace, but a favor done with a string attached. Grace isn't merely a 'favor' given, but 'unmerited favor' freely poured out. 

From Jesus' perspective, if we understand grace we will not judge others. God's grace is the Good News of the kingdom of God. Yet, there is one exception to both judgment and grace. Jesus severely judged religious leaders who obstructed the gospel of grace. He didn't judge those who didn't pay forward grace, only those who were in a position of religious authority, those who accepted the role and task of introducing people to God, yet who deceived God seeking people - wittingly or not - about the nature of God's love.

Some folks feel justified in their critique of those who preach tolerance, yet demonstrate their intolerance for certain people groups. Yet, how then should we understand Jesus? He preached grace, yet was intolerant of the Pharisees and scribes? Jesus certainly taught tolerance, but had no tolerance for one small, specific group of religious leaders. Why? Because they were in a position in which they represented God and proclaimed God's will to the people, yet were grossly misrepresenting Him. 

If we believe that a person cannot be a respected preacher of tolerance unless they tolerate all things without any exceptions, such dichotomous thinking tends to undermine the whole notion of tolerance. Similarly, if we believe that grace can't really be grace unless it is non-judgmentally granted to all people without exception, then we will effectively permit powerful leaders to obstruct most opportunities for the teaching of grace.

38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

In a practical, day by day sense within this mortal existence, this verse may appear to be an untruth. The expression, 'no good deed goes unpunished', seems much more accurate to our reality. So, how do we understand Jesus' words, 'give and it will be given to you'? Should this only be understood as referring to the reward of the next world?

If verse 38 is the earned 'next life' reward for good works performed in this existence, then grace is clearly not grace. That being said, maybe what Jesus was referring to as 'and it will be given to you', was the internal, spiritual confirmation in knowing that one has acted with integrity - in harmony with one's choice to love others regardless of how another might respond and despite consequences. In other words, what 'will be given' to you in response to your good deeds may be death, persecution, abandonment, and/or criticism. Yet if you have acted with integrity the Spirit confirms your spirit - and that is sufficient.

Notice what kind of 'giving' is presented as descriptive of Christian 'giving'. That which is returned to you is, in quality, what you have given - 'pressed down, shaken together, and running over'. In other words, when you give, given liberally. Don't pretend to give a lot, yet in actuality you haven't given much. Don't 'stack' your gift so that it looks abundant, yet when 'pressed down and/or shaken' it collapses into a meager 'gift'. True giving, like God's grace, is super-generous. It expresses over-flowing love for the recipient.