Saturday, April 23, 2016

Luke 13:10-17 The Golden Rule

Monday
10 And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

Jesus, as noted earlier, was a Galilean Jew. The fact that he was often invited to teach at the synagogues on the Sabbath day supports the notion that the synagogue leaders and people believed he was qualified to do so - if not by formal training, then because of his demonstrated knowledge of the scriptures and teachings of the Jews. 

The story that follows occurred on the Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath began at sunset on Friday evening and ended at sunset on Saturday evening. Each day began and ended at sunset rather than at our more familiar midnight hour. The point here is that Jesus was a Jew who kept a seventh-day Sabbath. That stands in contrast to many of us today who are followers of Christ, yet do not keep a seventh-day Sabbath. In other words, we follow Jesus, but we don't do everything that Jesus does. Should we?

He was born 'under the law'. When we are born again, we live 'under grace'. There are things Jesus did that were culturally appropriate to his time and culture, but not ours. There were religious obligations that were required of the Jews under the Mosaic covenant that are no longer required since we are now under the new covenant which was inaugurated at the crucifixion of Jesus. So, Christians believe that we are to be like Jesus in character, but not like the cultural/religious Jesus.   

Recently a friend asked if, at our death and entrance into the heavenly, we should expect to be immediately transformed to a perfect 33 1/2 years old person and remain in that 'perfection' forever. The reason for this was that the scriptures tell us that after our resurrection we will be like Jesus at his resurrection (Phil 3:21) and some folks believe that he was probably 33 1/2 years old at his death and resurrection. 

If we are no longer obligated to the teachings of the OT Law, should we take the words of Paul under the NT literally? If Jesus taught in one of our churches today, how might he explain the meaning of Phil. 3:21?

Tuesday
11 And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. 

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when he saw this woman. According to the text, this woman's sickness - being bent double and unable to stand up straight - was caused by a spirit and she had suffered with this illness for 18 years.

Thankfully Jesus came into her presence and was willing to cure her. The questions, though, are: (1) for what reason was a 'spirit' permitted to do this to the woman, and (2) why had God permitted this woman to suffer for 18 years if it took only a word to set her free?  

Wednesday
12 When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness." 13 And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. 

Was the spirit able to possess and afflict her because she was a wicked woman? Was the spirit allowed to possess her as a punishment from God? Verses 1-9 suggest otherwise, right? 

If the compassion of Jesus, the Creator, moved him to free this woman from the spirit, why hadn't the compassion of God done so earlier - especially if this was not a punishment from God?

Are these accounts designed to teach us that God allows 'stuff' like this to happen simply as the natural course of life in this world and that heaven will only intervene periodically when it serves God's eternal plan? 

Should we conclude that the 'spirits' are permitted to afflict anyone most of the time whether or not a person is good or bad, just as a tower can fall and kill anyone at any time regardless of their relationship with God?

Thursday
14 But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day." 

This synagogue official viewed the Law as more important than people. Yet the Law was given for the sake of people. Many people continue, even today, to view rules and laws as more important than people. Clearly, Jesus didn't.

On the other hand, the woman had been afflicted for 18 years. One more day wouldn't have mattered that much, right? Jesus could have protected the integrity of the Law and helped this woman if he had simply told her that he would visit her immediately after sunset. Yet he chose not to let her suffer even one moment longer, indicating the drift of his 'good news about the kingdom of God'. It is not about rules, but about people. It is not about being religiously consistent, but about being consistently compassionate.

Friday
15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? 16 And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?" 

Why is it that we often show more compassion to our pets than to our fellow human beings? Why is it that we often value our things and our beliefs more than we value our neighbor?

Do we place a higher value on whatever causes us the least grief? What if God treated us the same way? Have we forgotten to do for others what we would have them do for us - to treat others as God treats us? 

When we place greater value on things which we cannot take to heaven and on pets that the Bible says nothing about in regards to heaven, yet place little value on humans whom Christ died to save for all eternity, how can we then say we are followers of Jesus?

Jesus, in verse 16, made clear that it was Satan who God permitted to keep this woman in bondage for 18 years. He also made clear that the Sabbath law only prohibited doing things that would distract us from our weekly 24 hour rest. Being compassionate to others is not contrary to Sabbath rest.

Saturday
17 As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

Though Jesus could have healed this woman either before or after the Sabbath hours, he intentionally choose to do so during those hours. His choice, according to Luke, clearly released the Jews from their here-to-for erroneous understanding of the Sabbath law as one of bondage rather than as one of peace in Christ. 

The woman had been in physical bondage to Satan for 18 years, but the people of God had been in spiritual bondage ever since Moses gave them the Law 1500 years. Jesus came to set them, and us, free.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Luke 13:1-9 Seeing Slant

Monday
1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
 
Many Jews from Judea considered Galileans a wicked people (Lk 23:5; Jn 7:41,52). That fact makes the ministry of Jesus, himself a Galilean (Mt 21:11; 26:69), even more amazing. 

Pilate, the governor of Judea, did not have a good working relationship with Herod Antipas,  the governor of Galilee (Lk 23:12). It may have been rendered a tad worse when Pilate commanded Galilean worshippers to be slaughtered at the temple in Jerusalem during a Passover feast. Of course there were those, such as Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37), who kept agitating the Romans, refusing to acknowledge Caesar and inciting acts of rebellion by the Jews. Pilate seemed inclined to squelch rebellion through the use of disproportionate force which, as we continue to observe in the 21st century, usually escalates conflict. 

Maybe those who presented this particular issue to Jesus were Jewish priests who not only hated Rome, but also the Galilean trouble-makers. Were they attempting to place Jesus in a difficult position as a Galilean, particularly after his remarks (Lk 12:54-56) where he had accused the Jewish leaders of hypocrisy for not discerning the work of God? Were they, in response to Jesus' accusation, suggesting that he himself must weigh in on the 'signs of the times' and declare that the slaughtered Galilean worshippers truly were being judged by God for their wickedness? In other words, had God permitted Pilates soldiers to slay these Galileans because God also hated most Galileans? 
Tuesday
And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?
 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 
Jesus' response presents a warning to all of us. We are to discern the times, but we need to be careful not to interpret with confirmation bias. In other words, from one extreme we have folks who don't seem capable of discerning anything that God is doing in the world, and on the opposite extreme we have those who tend to read far too much into what is happening in the world. Either extreme is destructive to spirituality and to our communities. 

Has God occasionally intervened in the world? Sure, but is every disaster a judgment of God against the people who suffer and/or have perished? No, said Jesus. Yet, on the other hand, Jesus confirmed that there will be a final judgment.
Wednesday
Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?
 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Recall the event when Jesus sent a man to wash at the 'pool of Siloam' in response to the question, 'whose sin caused this man to be born blind?' (Jn 9:1-12). Here, the Jews were again choosing to conclude that the disaster at Siloam was an intentional act of divine judgment against those who died. Jesus, though, challenged that conclusion and re-directed them from knee jerk 'cause and effect' thinking to an introspective examination of their own hearts. 

Was there a tower next to the pool? Did the tower collapse on those who were simply and innocently seeking a drink of spring water? Should we read into that tragedy secret sins in each of those individuals? Jesus says, 'no'. 
Thursday
And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any.
 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ 
At first glance one might wonder why Luke placed this parable at this location in his manuscript. But it really does make sense. When we judge others for not bearing the kind of 'fruit' we think they should be bearing, their lack of fruit may actually be due to our neglect. 

If we see someone who has continually failed to grow, it is the Christians responsibility to first ask 'why', then to make an appropriate intervention, rather than to merely condemn and/or cut the person off from the community. 
Friday
And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer;
 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
If we assume that God has judged a person as unworthy simply because of how they look, or because a bad thing has happened to them, or because they have failed to perform to our expectations, we can be assured that God has judged us rather than them. Whenever we look down on another person that we have not taken time to build a relationship with and been willing to intervene to help, we have acted immorally. 

That being said, if we have put effort into caring for and helping another person, yet that person refuses to accept our friendship and/or our help, then all we can do is to leave that individual in God's hands and pray that some day soon s/he will open up his/her heart. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Luke 12:49-59 Divided

Monday
49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!

There are two major interpretations of these verses, and possibly a third if we believe both are correct from a 'now, but not yet' perspective. The first interpretation is more literal, believing that the 'fire' refers to the end of time when 'even the elements will melt'. The second refers to the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was sent like 'tongues of fire' to the church.

The promise of the Spirit was contingent upon Jesus' resurrection and ascension. It is not that the Spirit wasn't already present in the world, but that the work of the Spirit after the resurrection of Jesus expanded beyond periodic manifestations to dwelling within the heart of believers. That was the 'fire' Jesus wished was already kindled, but he had to first face the cross - his 'baptism'.  

Tuesday51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 

Again, many who prefer the 'end-time' interpretation of 'fire', also prefer to apply verse 51 to the time of the end. Some authors, supposedly not grasping that Jesus' reference to 'fire' referred to the Spirit, conflated OT stories of God's judgments with a literal interpretation of Jesus reference to 'fire' and the removal of 'peace', and created an extremely scary end time scenario that totally missed the point.

The 'division' that came upon the earth began at Pentecost. Folks without the Spirit accused those who were filled with the Spirt of being drunk. What the disciples said and did in the Spirit didn't make sense to those without the Spirit. The world divided between those walking in the Spirit and those who walked in their own wisdom and strength. 

Paul found that living in the flesh, even under the Law, was a chaotic experience. He cried out, 'O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7)' The answer, he said, was found in Christ who sent the Spirit to live within us (Rom 8). The indwelling Spirit would enable us to live the life of faith.   

Wednesday
52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Why would life in the Spirit lead to division in the home? Shouldn't life in the Spirit manifest the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, etc? Aren't those attributes the very things needed in our homes and communities? Shouldn't the fruit of the Spirit bring reconciliation rather than division? Logically one might predict so. But there is more to life in the Spirit than a superficial reading of scripture might suggest.

In the first naivete we initially see life under law in black and white terms. At some point we discover, as did Paul, that we can't seem to do the things we want to do and often feel at odds with God. This angst catapults us into a 'time of trouble' where we begin to question everything about our beliefs and even the existence of a good God. If we are willing to wrestle through this conflict phase we find ourselves delivered into the second naivete where we live in the tension between opposites. We continue to ask serious questions, but sleep well at night because we accept that we will not be able to figure everything out in this world. Moreover, when we find the written command of God to be contrary to what we 'hear' God saying to us, we no longer panic. We make the best decision we can, trusting in the safety net of grace and believing that God knows our mind before we know our mind.

So, with all this in mind, did Judas betray Jesus out of first naivete thinking - believing that Jesus had lost his way or that he somehow came to believe that the prophecies referred to him? Had the devil deceived Judas through the law?  Or, did Judas - in the conflict stage - 'betray' Jesus because it was what Jesus asked him to do so that scripture could be fulfilled, yet Judas couldn't accept the contradictions and terminated his life prematurely?  Or, did Judas - in second naivete - 'betray' Jesus in full obedience to Jesus and then even killed himself also in obedience to Jesus, for the sake of the Kingdom? Was this fidelity in betrayal, as Peter Rollins wrote? 

Thursday54 And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. 55 And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?

Even those without formal education can learn to discern the weather once someone points out the signs. They trust what their eyes see and use it as empirical evidence for a specific conclusion. There is another level of discernment offered to those who walk in the Spirit. It is when we don't trust our eyes and ears, but trust in what the Spirit says to us.

In other words, sometimes what we read in scripture contradicts what we clearly hear the voice of Christ saying to us. Peter once had a vision where the voice of God told him to do something that the God inspired scriptures told him not to do. In order to obey the command of God in scripture, Peter had to disobey the command of God in voice. Sometimes, as with Abraham, we choose to obey the voiced command of God and to disobey the written command of God. When those who do not live in the Spirit observe this type of behavior they naturally step away from us. Abraham realized that his wife would not have understood his decision to obey the command of God to sacrifice their only son, so he refused to tell her. Though believers have been given the ministry of reconciliation, their obedience to the Spirit often calls them to act in ways that make no sense at all to those who do not walk in the Spirit - thus division occurs. 

Friday57 “And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? 58 For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent.”

Of course, living in the Spirit does not mean that we fully reject living by the rules of the world. We are in heart not of the world, yet we do continue to live in the world. As Paul wrote, we best abide by the laws of the world if we want to truly please God who claims sovereignty over all leaders. There will be times when God calls us to act contrary not only to scripture, but also to the laws of our land, yet those will be few and far between. 

Meanwhile, as Kingdom people living out our mortal existence within the kingdoms of men, try to live in peace with all those with whom you interact. There will be a clear division between the prompting of the Spirit in your heart in opposition to what you see prompting the hearts of others, but that seldom needs to be said or manifested. 

There can be unseen division when wisdom rules the heart of one party. In other words, the believer lives comfortably in the tension between being called to reconcile while discerning the division. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Luke 12:41-48 Transparency

Monday
41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 

Yes. The truth is, 'being' a disciple of Jesus doesn't automatically excise bad habits and erroneous notions. The egocentric perspective that, since Jesus called me, I must therefore be ok, is nonsensical. We are called into the kingdom 'just as we are', with the expectation that we have acknowledged our need to be transformed by the Spirit. Our confession and repentance is day one in the sanctification process, which is the work of a life time.

In Peter's question we become privy to his sense of self-importance as one of the twelve-chosen disciples. The presence of Judas is only one indication that calling is not graduation, but beginning. The important question for each of us is, do we continue to see ourselves as a student under the tutelage of Jesus, our teacher, or do we imagine that we have graduated? As we see in the epistles of the New Testament, each of Christ's disciples continued to be a work in progress as they worked for Christ. They continued to be learners. They continued to chose to be slaves to the Master. They never imagined themselves to have become a 'master'. The longer they walked in the Spirit the more humble and teachable they became.

Tuesday
42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 

Are you a faithful steward? If you are faithful to Christ as your Master, then you will remain faithfully his slave - in other words, you will always be alert to his will and immediately responsive to his command.

Are you a sensible steward? If you are sensible in your discipleship you will always realize how dependent you are upon Christ's wisdom. You will always be listening for his guidance and be a noticer of his presence and work around you. A sensible person is a humble, life-long learner.

A faithful and sensible steward is called to lead others. If we are not faithful and sensible, how can we hope to guide others into a relationship with Christ? People seldom rise higher than their leader. If we get cocky about our position, we will begin to care more about our position than about those we are called to disciple. We will neglect to give those under our charge their 'rations' at the proper time. When we focus on our position in the church we unwittingly close our heart to Christ and effectively separate ourselves from his wisdom.

Wednesday
43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 

Transparency is the way of peace. In other words, you should be able to place a camera on me 24/7/365 and find nothing immoral or unethical. You should be able to step into my presence unannounced and not find anything amiss. Will you find perfection? No. You will never discover that I am perfectly aware of my surroundings, perfectly wise in all that I say and do, perfectly in harmony with your values and beliefs, or perfectly happy about all that is happening in my life. Yet, you should be able to find me intentionally acting to the best of my being within my own understanding of morality and ethical behavior. You should find integrity. That's what you should find, but you may find that I have a divided heart. 

Thursday
45 But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 

The imagery presented in the above two verses may well raise our eyebrows. It may come across to us as inappropriately graphic and unnecessarily extreme. Yet, be careful not to read scripture, anachronistically. Jesus was simply contrasting the heart of a believer against the heart of a non-believer in the context of his world, two thousand years ago. The heart of a believer, however imperfect the life, is of far greater value to heaven than than the outwardly more 'perfect' life of one whose heart is far from God.

When we live honestly from moment to moment we need never fear transparency. Whenever the 'master' arrives, if he finds something amiss in our beliefs and practices we invite his correction. Nothing is hidden from him. There is no fear that his rebuke will be harshly excessive. We want to know the truth and be transformed into his image. There are no times or places where we try to escape his notice or to prevent his access. We live with the acute awareness that all things are open to his divine survey. We determine to walk the talk.

Friday
47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 

God is far more miffed at those who know what is right to do, yet refuse to do it, than against those who are falling short out of ignorance or weakness. We often find ourselves rebuking folks who don't know better and making excuses for those who know better but don't apply what they know. This judgmental spirit is reinforced, as we will see in chapter 13, when bad things happen to uninformed people. We jump to the conclusion that God brought judgment upon them because they are bad people. Yet when bad things happen to informed people we simply label it bad luck.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

Saturday
48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Bad is still bad, whether or not we know it to be bad. Bad is more than merely not doing outward harm to another person. Often, our 'bad' toward others is not what we 'do', but what we leave undone.

Clearly, the more we know about what it means to walk in the Spirit, the more God requires of us. Having chosen to avoid knowing more about God won't be a useful excuse if you are called before the throne of God. Note his words, from everyone who has been given much.. We are not only given knowledge, but we are also given opportunities to grow in our knowledge about God. Ignorance is no excuse if God has given you an opportunity to know him, yet you have squandered the privilege.

If we truly believe in a God who reads the heart - a God from whom we cannot hide even our deepest thoughts - then it seems best if we choose to live a life of transparency rather than to pretend that God won't discover our 'bad'.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Luke 12:35-40 Anticipation

Monday

Have you ever used an Anticipation Guide? Let's give it a shot.

Would you agree or disagree - believers in Christ are 'noticers'?
Now read the text for today:


35 Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.

Believers anticipate Jesus. They look for signs of God's presence at all times. Their whole being is finely tuned to hear, see, and even feel God's presence all around them. They dwell in the light so that they can clearly discern and avoid the work of darkness.

Having read the text and my brief comment, revisit the question again. Do you agree or disagree: ‘believers in Christ are noticers’?

Being a noticer is not to suggest a vigilance racked with anxiety, but a watchfulness that arises out of confidence and perpetuates an abiding sense of peace. Believers are ready at all times for whatever happens, knowing that heaven will give those who listen instantaneous wisdom appropriate for the circumstance. Moreover, a noticers trusts that God knows what he is doing in the world at each and every moment.

Tuesday

36 Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door for him when he comes and knocks.

While some may wish the first phrase, 'be like men..', had been written with more gender inclusiveness, such as, 'be like those...' or 'be like people...', but it is what it is - first century, middle-eastern, gender oriented. Curiously, even though it is what it is, it is calling us not to be what we are. Rather, we are to act differently than we normally do.

We, men and women, are to wait in anticipation for the Lord. And when we recognize his voice we are to immediately open our hearts in obedience to his will. That's what it means to walk with Jesus. It is instant obedience to the voice we believe is his.

Do you agree or disagree? Do you anticipate his voice speaking to you at all times?

Do you have a sense of anticipation for the next few verses?
 
Wednesday

37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.

For most things in life, if we live in a constant state of alertness we will wear ourselves out rather quickly. Yet it is different when we choose to be on alert for Jesus. There is an abundance of peace and joy when we hear his voice since we know he is always with us and his yoke is easy. He comes to serve, not to be served (Mt 20:28).

Who would mind being a slave to an all-wise, all-powerful, grace-oriented master? Choosing to become and to remain a slave is unusual, unless you know the master only has your best interests in mind. Most slaves do not look forward to the arrival of their master because the choice to be a slave was not theirs in the first place and the master they serve is usually not very gracious. Yet we find Christians choosing to become a slave to Christ. Why? Or, have we never made that choice? If not, why not?

We could say, then, that whatever/whomever you are enslaved by reveals the thing or the one you have chosen to be your master. What is behind your choice? What do you anticipate when you think about your particular ‘master’?

Beware. Once we choose a master, that master is often tenaciously reluctant to let us go. The choice to enter 'into' a master-slave relationship may automatically remove the opportunity to choose to leave.

When we serve Christ as Master, we anticipate his ever presence and guidance with great joy because we know this:  “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11)

Thursday

38 Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

The followers of Jesus never give up. They don't try to out think him, predict him, or in any way imagine that they are wiser than he is. That does not mean that we resist debating issues with God in order to better understand his will. God seems to encourage that kind of interaction with us, as Abraham negotiated with God and Jacob wrestled with the Angel.
It is only when we 'lean upon our own understanding' that we become impatient with God. Those who trust in the loving grace of God don't try to second guess him. Attempting to predict what God will do is not the same as anticipating that God is at work with our best interest in mind. Thus we live by faith and not by sight. We surrender our thoughts to his thoughts and our ways to his ways (Is 55).

Remember, the Christian life is about walking by faith along a path that exceeds the realm of reason. This is not to suggest that reason has no place in our life, because it does. We live in the world. Yet we often face things that don't make sense to us, things that exceed our ability to understand. It is in those areas of life that we become 'blessed' faith walkers - noticers, those who joyfully anticipate the Lord.

Friday

39 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.

This statement was not an invitation to waste time attempting to discover the day and time of Jesus' return. Far too many folks have pursued that fool's errand. Jesus was actually recommending something quite different. He counseled his disciples to always be ready, then there would be no surprises.

How many of us rush to lock our doors and windows only when we see a thief about to enter our house? Mindful people keep their homes locked at all times. It is far less stressful to live in a state of preventive readiness than to be obsessed with trying to  discover the exact time something might happen.

If we live in anticipation for an event rather than to live in a relationship with a person, we lose the joy and peace that comes from believing in God. Far too many Christians spend far too much effort, time, and money focused on what might happen in the future rather than on living by faith, trusting today that our future is safe in God’s hands.
 
Here’s another ‘Anticipation Guide’ example. Do you agree or disagree that Jesus has been coming back ever since he left? 



Saturday

40 You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.

Just be ready, and the best way to be 'ready' for the coming of Jesus is to walk by faith with him each moment. Those who will be ready for his second coming have already been enjoying his return each and every moment. Those who know him now will be the only ones who will see him when he literally returns (Mt 7:21-23). In other words, if we haven’t received him in Spirit now, we won’t be able to receive him in body later.

If you only focus on the future event of his second coming you will not be ready for it.
There is a long cherished tradition among Christians that the second coming of Jesus is his 'coming' into the hearts of those who were not witnesses of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Pentecost was a type of second coming. In other words, the first 'coming' of Jesus was his actual existence two millennia ago. His second coming is his spiritual coming into the heart of each new believer. Readiness for the coming of Jesus means to live by faith. Every 'eye' that is willing to 'see' by faith receives the coming of Jesus.

Do you agree or disagree?


Friday, March 11, 2016

Luke 12:29-34 Declutter Your Religious Life

Monday
29 And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. 

In order to grasp what Jesus meant when he said 'do not seek..', we have to contrast it with what he meant when he said, 'seek His kingdom' (v. 31). In other words, the way we 'seek' the kingdom of God must not be the way we 'seek' food and drink. The way a person truly seeks God ought to be 'with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength'. When we seek God with a sense of awe and a desire to worship him, our anxieties decrease. When we bring this same 'seeking heart' attitude to things or people rather than God, the result is that we escalate our anxiety.

Jesus is not condemning those who 'simply seek' after food and drink in order to satisfy the hunger and thirst of the day. He was condemning the seeking after food and drink with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength - as if these temporary 'feel good' things were equal with God.

Jesus calls us to declutter our religious/spiritual life of all that weighs us down, distracts our heart, and obstructs our privilege to know God. We've permitted far too many things to anchor us far from the simplicity and grace of the gospel.

What are these 'things'? How can we declutter our life?

Tuesday
30 For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. 

What do you obsess over? What 'things' do you strive to obtain no matter how long it takes or how much it costs? If your house was on fire what would you be unwilling to part with, even at the risk of your life? Is there something you desperately desire to the point you would commit an immoral, unethical, and/or even criminal act in order to obtain it or to hold on to 'it'?

We see people in the world 'eagerly seeking' perishable things with far greater persistence than they seek after eternal things. Sometimes we fall into the same 'worldly' trap.

Maybe it is time to rethink our priorities. What is driving us? What keeps us up at night or maintains our heightened sense of anxiety?

Are we willing to declutter our religious/spiritual life so that we can enter into the joy and peace promised to believers? Maybe we can learn a thing or two about decluttering our religious life from those who are experts in decluttering their home. For instance, have you ever checked out the KonMari method?

Our religious/spiritual life can become cluttered with all sorts of erroneous notions and practices that, instead of clearing the way to God, they actually place obstacles between us and God. That was, in essence, what Jesus came to remove and why he severely rebuked the religious leaders of his day. They were obstructionists.

But, before we blame our religious leaders and denominational policies for our dysfunctional spiritual life, we need to accept that the many of the largest obstacles between us and God are obstacles we have placed there ourselves. Each of us are our own 'satan' - our own adversary. Again, Jesus came to set us free - not simply to free us from misguided religious traditions and/or bad religious leaders, but from ourselves. Paul specified this problem in Romans 7 - 'O wretched man that I am...'

Wednesday
31 But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 

No matter how wonderful your journey, if you are headed to the wrong destination you've opted for greater anxiety, not less. If you imagined that choosing 'the road less cluttered' you will be freed from all anxieties, you may have misunderstood how life in this world really works. Fleeing clutter will necessarily force you to be totally focused on spotting obstacles in order to avoid them. Ignoring or fleeing a cluttered religious life isn't 'the Way'.

Decluttering is more beneficial than avoiding clutter. If we want a healthy spiritual life we need to acknowledge the religious clutter in our life and deal with it - one by one. But, before we can do that we need to start from the beginning.

It is essential that we get first things first. Choose the right direction toward your goal, then whatever the obstacles along the way you will meet them head-on with conviction. Expecting obstacles as a challenge is far less anxiety provoking that fearing obstacles.

In this verse Jesus calls us to get our goal right. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all that you need to successfully conquer each obstacle along the way will be given to you. No fear. 

Thursday
32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. 

We may not want to hear this, but according to Jesus 'the peace that passes all understanding' isn't obtained by a better understanding of this world, but by accepting by faith an unprovable understanding of the next world. When your feet are firmly planted in the eternal Kingdom of God, there is nothing in this world you can't handle. There is 'no fear'. Even when the US presidential election cycle presents us with unthinkable options, we sleep well at night trusting that all things are in the hands of the Lord of all things (Rom 13).

Notice that Jesus sets before us the very first step in decluttering our religious life. It is placing our eyes on God and His eternal kingdom. That requires taking our eyes and hands off the things of this kingdom. Again, if we don't have our direction straight, a good journey to the wrong place will not satisfy. Similarly, even when we are on the right path, avoiding obstacles defeats the purpose of the path. Each obstacle met strengthens the resolve of the heart. It is with the heart that we 'know' God. It is with the heart that we enter the Kingdom of God by faith.

Friday
33 "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 

Verse 33 is the logical application of verse 32. 'Sell your possessions and give the proceeds to charity.'  Was Jesus simply being rhetorical or was this a divine command? Are we to really sell 'all' our possessions or was Jesus only speaking of our unnecessary, excess stuff? If we were to sell everything and give all the proceeds to charity, then wouldn't we become in need of charity as well? How would that be useful? Or, wait. What?

So that was his real point, right? If we say we love and trust in God we will love our neighbor. His point was not that we should never own anything, but that we shouldn't neglect anybody in need.

If we are serious about decluttering our religious life so that we can see and hear God more clearly and to walk more faithfully with the Lord, the first step is obvious. We need to examine ourselves and see who or what really has our allegiance. Who has our heart? Is it to God or mammon? If we don't get this step correct, the rest is fatally pointless. Remember Jesus' command to his disciples when he sent them out? 'Take nothing for your journey...' (Lk 9:3; 10:4). In other words, they had to settle the question as to whether or not they believed and trusted in the Lord. Were they truly people of faith or were they only giving God lip service, but held their heart far from him?

How can we give sacrificially to those in need if our sense of security is firmly anchored in the kingdoms of this world - in our bank account, property, education, and/or reputation? If our hope is in things that will eventually wear out, thieves can steal, or moths can destroy, we have missed the point of the gospel. Such a religious life is so cluttered with anxieties that the Spirit has no room to work.

Saturday
34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I like my 'things' and I enjoy the life I currently live. Yet, I once lost everything.

I once found myself suddenly homeless, without a friend and without even a penny in my pocket. Making matters worse, I was in a foreign country, divorced by my wife, separated from my young children, abandoned by my friends, and even my church labeled me a pariah.

I hadn't realized up until then that I had given God only lip service. The treasures of my heart were my children, career, friends, religion, possessions, and reputation. As with Job, all these were stripped away from me in a moment. I was confronted with the truth about myself, that I truly was 'wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked' (Rev 3:17).

I was forced to rethink the affections of my heart.

A stranger, a 'Samaritan' of sorts, took me in. This person was not a Christian, but was someone who regarded the plight of a 'neighbor'.

Again, I like the life I currently have, but it can all disappear and that would be ok. I've been there before. I know the 'better way'.

I have children, family, friends, religion, possession, and a good reputation - but my spiritual life is not cluttered by these things. I finally placed first things first. I can now live without fear.

What about you?  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Luke 12:22-28 Consider the Lilies

Monday
22 And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 

Can we actually 'reason' our way to 'faith'? Jesus apparently believed so. "For this reason..."  Well, at least 'reason' leads us up to a point where, if we choose to go beyond, we must take a leap of faith.

One such point of departure from reason to faith is when we think about what happens after we die. No matter how hard we may try to secure life in this world none of us know when we will die and nothing we do here can keep death from eventually visiting us. With that in mind it is natural to think about life after death so that we can make better choices about life before death. Yet, how can we think about what happens after death when there isn't any available evidence for what actually happens after death?

The apostle Paul told the church in Philippi, "the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." In other words, the scriptures offer us an inspired insight into the realms in which we have no other source for knowing. Where our ability to find peace through human understanding ends, leaving us full of anxiety, divine knowledge is given to restore our peace. 

If we spend all our energy and time worrying about the things of this life we will not secure the more important life - life eternal. In Christian belief, this life is much more than about this life. This life is preparation for the life to come. Implicit in Jesus' words is the notion that our choices in this life will determine whether or not we enter into the next life. To think about what happens after this life and to wonder about how choices made in this life might have an effect on what may happen after this life, is 'reasonable' thinking.

Tuesday
24 Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds

This life is about more than gathering possessions, feeding our faces, or covering our nakedness. Yet Jesus was not saying that we should never own anything, wait for manna to fall from heaven, and/or walk around naked. In fact, providing for the needs of the poor - a roof over their heads, food to eat, and giving them clothing to wear, is the mark of a genuinely converted Christian. The point here, as in the parable of the wealthy man, isn't about choosing to live in destitution, but in choosing to care for ones neighbor and not merely obsess on ourselves.

God is sovereign. His priority for us is life eternal, not in giving us power, possessions, and privilege in this life. When we embrace the latter as our first priority we are always working outside the will of God. The relative 'peace and security' we may feel as a result of our own efforts is short lived. We end up missing the most important purpose for this life - learning to selflessly care for others less fortunate than ourselves, the best character preparation for eternity.

Jesus asked an important question, but we need to be careful not to read more into his words than he intended. Basically, here's his question, 'throughout the millennia, how many birds have had to plant gardens in order to survive generation after generation?' Do birds need to leave their nests to search for the food God has provided? Of course. Do birds need to carry food back to their babies still in the nest? Definitely. Do birds have to be wary of enemies? Sure. God provides, but - as Ben Franklin said - 'God helps those who seek to help themselves'. Birds have not gone extinct because God neglected to provide food for them. Yet, if they never left their nests in order to gather the God-provided food, they would become extinct.

Wednesday
25 And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span

God has a covenant relationship with his creation to take care of it. We are invited to work with God in the care of this world. Sadly, mankind has jettisoned a lifestyle based on covenant and replaced it with a series of contracts. There is a world of difference between living in covenant vs living under contract.

Covenants bring a community together for the benefit of all individuals in the community. Covenants are established on the second great commandment calling us to love one another. On the other hand, contracts assume scarcity and the fear-based need to grab as much as possible before someone else grabs it. As a result anxiety increases within the community leading to much unnecessary suffering.

The Christian faith is build upon the covenant of grace - knowing we are accepted just as we are, accepting others just at they are, and caring for one another whoever they are. A holistic approach is valued by all under a covenantal relationship. Under covenant, worries decrease and a sense of security increases.

Contracts are very different. They set specific requirements such as 'I will give you such and such, only if you give me this and that. If you are willing to pay me this amount, I will provide as much of what you want until my supply is gone even if no one else is able to get any, since my contract is with you alone. It matters not what the community needs nor what such a transaction means to the environment or to future generations. It is all about the contract between one entity an another. In a community operating with contracts, competition increases insecurity because valued items can be hoarded by the few and thus made unavailable to the many.

Thursday
26 If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters

Jesus called the Jews back to God - to trust in God. To trust in the covenant made between God and man requires trusting in the God of the covenant. Only as we love and trust God can we love and trust one another. That is the necessary basis of covenant living. The new covenant restored the true nature of a covenant - love for one another: love for God and love for neighbor. Living under covenant was designed to be a light to the world - a world that favors contractual living: i.e focused on competing against others and hoarding much more than our share should be.

Jesus taught his disciples to live in this world, but to not be of this world. In other words, they were to be aware of and wisely negotiate the world of contracts, without permitting the contractual worldview to rule their lives. Even when they had to deal with people who only operated by fear-driven competitive hoarding, they were to bring covenantal thinking into the very manner in which they approached contracts.

Worry is a red flag. It highlights our hypocrisy. We can be Christian atheists in that we profess to love God, yet live as if we don't. When our priorities and confidence is in contractual living, our worries will increase. Fear of scarcity will drive us to harm, rather than to serve our neighbors.

Whenever I worry I reveal my natural bent toward atheism since I am only trusting in that which can be seen and touched.   

Friday
27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 

The tools of science have revealed to mankind the awesomeness of the natural world and the universe that surrounds us. Think about it. For most of human history mankind could not 'see' the beauties we now find so 'everyday' because of the microscope and telescope and many other means invented to help man see beyond his seeing. Nothing Solomon every built compares with what exists apart from man's efforts. Nothing man has currently built, however sophisticated and complicated, compares with what the universe has given to us - or as Christians believe, God has created.

The more we learn, the more we are compelled to keep learning. The more we see, the more we want to see. If that which was not seen is now seen, how much more exists that we still can't see, yet may someday see? We are beckoned forward to see beyond what we now see. In fact, the God of scripture invites us to never cease seeking for there is no end to the wonders.

It is with this in mind Jesus calls us to faith. Faith is the 'tool' God has gifted to each person so that we may 'see' beyond what is seen. Faith is confidence in the unseen. Faith takes the word of God as expressed through scripture as 'fact'. Our faith is all the 'evidence' we need.

"By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (Heb 11:3).

"Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb 11:8).

Abraham "believed in the Lord.." (Gen. 15:6). Abraham could accept the promises of God because Abraham put his faith in the Person of God - which is the first great commandment. Sadly, many Christians place their 'faith' in a promise in scripture and when 'it' is not fulfilled they jettison God. Yet the scriptures invite us to first place our faith in God (Mt 6:33), then we are able to trust in his wisdom to apply his promises as he sees best. Note: the 'kingdom of God' is God. 

Saturday
28 But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!

Every Christian is, paradoxically, an atheist. Why? Well, for two reasons.

(1) Christians are atheists to gods that are not 'our' Bible God (2 Cor 4:4), though if we are honest we often give greater 'worship' to many things in this world than we do to our Sunday morning God of scripture. We have all met folks who claim to be Christian, yet we can't help but wonder how they define God - due to the things they say and do. This has even become an election year concern for many conservative evangelicals. 

(2) Faith, according to scripture, is confidence in the unseen (Heb 11:1). Faith leaps beyond where reason rightly ends. Reason operates in the seen, the provable, where there is empirical evidence. If we only believe that which reason can 'see', then we would necessarily be atheists. Faith is essential to belief in God because God is unseen and only faith 'sees' the unseeable. My choice to live by faith is an acknowledgement that through reason alone I can only be an atheist. Yet note, my faith continues to exist only because I continue to acknowledge the limits of reason, my atheism.

As some have long opined, as light does not exist apart from darkness, so faith does not exist apart from atheism. Repentance is a choice to live beyond our atheism, beyond the rational. We can't repent of something that does not exist, thus by repenting from our life apart from God we are repenting of our natural atheism. 

An agnostic is an open-minded atheist in the sense that if God's existence can be proven, only then will belief follow. Yet, if God's existence can be proven, faith is obviously unnecessary, thus the agnostic never becomes a believer in God - unless, of course, s/he chooses to exercise faith rather than cling to reason alone. If proof exists, then faith does not. If faith exists, then proof does not.