Friday, July 1, 2016

Luke 15:11-32 Unmerited Favor

11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 

Most of us have used poor judgment at least once in life. And there is, as we all know, consequences to our less than stella choices. 

So, how should the church respond to those of us who have made a foolish decision or a series of bad decisions? 

This parable intentionally follows the parable of the lost sheep and should be interpreted with that context in mind. As you recall, whenever someone who is 'lost' realizes their mistake, heaven rejoices. More importantly, Christians go out looking for those who have been making bad decisions and 'carries home with joy' those who are willing to change. 

Remember, to repent means to change. Those who never want to change are the 'lost'. A person can be 'lost' as a member of a church simply by being unwilling to change. To refuse to change is to believe one is perfect just as s/he is. God may treat us as if we are Jesus, but if we receive his grace by faith God then begins the work of transforming us. This transformational process, sanctification, is a life-long work. 

The 'irreligious' (Lk 15:1) bring great joy to heaven when they choose to 'change', but the 'religious' can bring great sadness to heaven when they think they have no need to change (Rev. 3:17).The 'Laodicean' church member is nauseating to heaven (Rev. 3:16).

In this parable, the younger son used poor judgment and lost everything.

14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 

How bad can the consequences of poor judgment become? This parable not only describes what could have happened two millennia ago, but accurately portrays what continues to happen every day in American in the 21st century. Poor judgment lands many people - even from good homes - on the street.

Notice another element to this story. Luck, or better said, bad luck. Often, a bad decision does not punish us with extreme consequences. But sometimes, a lapse in judgment even for a moment, can catapult us into consequences that far exceed our bad decision. Why? Timing. 

In this parable, the young man recklessly spent his inheritance AND he happened to do so as a severe famine occurred in the land. Unlucky timing. The reverse is also true. Sometimes a good decision is unwittingly made at a lucky moment and circumstances synergistically work together to supercharge that decision. 

Yet, here's the good news. No matter how bad the circumstances we find ourselves in - or whether we are in those circumstances because of our own bad decisions or happenstance - we can often make new decisions. If we are willing to change - repent - we can do something to turn ashes into something beautiful. 

This young man was willing to make a change. He was willing to humble himself and to return home and to accept whatever punishment he deserved. He recalled the character of his father, something he never cared to think about while growing up at home. He realized how wonderfully his father treated even his hired help. He didn't think to assume his former role as son, but a far lesser role.

Most folks refuse to make changes until the fear of change presents as less painful than the pain experienced resting in the status quo. 

20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The father gave up everything in order to give his son what he suspected his son would most likely squander. In other words, the father gave his son permission to fail. He gave up his son, by giving him the right to choose 'not' to be his son. He did not do this out of dislike for or frustration with his son, but because he 'loved' his son.

Notice how real love applies genuine grace. The father was so glad to see his son returning home that he treated his son as if he had never left. He did not focus on his son's foolish choices or complain about how much money his son had mindlessly lost. The father welcomed his son back into the home requiring nothing but the son's decision to return. This was indeed 'unmerited favor'.

The father died to give all to his son. When the son returned another sacrifice was made. Two deaths and the result was a grand celebration.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 

Say what? 

What the father did was patently unnatural. What the older son did was patently natural. But that is the point of the story. As followers of Christ we are called and empowered to live in the world differently. 

Being willing to give someone the freedom to reject you, is love. Being willing to ignore all the wrongs someone has done against you, is grace. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. Love does not operate 'under law'. Love rejoices in the success of others.

28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ 

The older son made this all about him, which suggests that what he valued was not a relationship with his father, but the things he had access to as the oldest son. The oldest son lived under law. He had a ledger mentality. Everything was viewed according to his rules of fairness. Relationships were secondary to things.

Of course, the oldest son's response is natural. We may talk about how much we value other people in our lives, but as soon as they do something we don't like or say something we don't agree with, we cry foul. This same notion operated among the disciples of Jesus when a woman cracked open expensive perfume to 'anoint' Jesus.

Notice the reasons the oldest son gave for rejecting his younger brother. His brother hadn't assisted his father, had neglected the teachings of his father, had lost his portion of the family wealth, and had slept with prostitutes. He focused on all the 'sinful' behaviors of his brother that made him undeserving of honor.

What the older brother missed in all this was that his younger brother came home. It did not matter what sins he had committed. He was back home. The real problem was that the older brother was home, yet not home. He was 'in the church', but missed the point of being a member of the body of Christ. 

31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Luke 15:1-10 Under Grace

1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. 

This was not something that was considered a 'badge of honor'. Yet for Jesus, this was wonderful. Those who were excluded felt safe being with him. They felt accepted by him. Thus, they were open to listening to him. 

The obvious question is, do social outcasts feel safe hanging out next to us or do they sense repulsion and/or judgment in our expressions and/or body language? Do only those who have a similar lifestyle, educational level, and belief system feel safe around us? Do social outcasts feel accepted by us? 

Should we really expect people to hear us if they don't feel safe around us or accepted by us?  

2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them." 

We all tend to grumble when we feel pushed a tad too close to the edge of our comfort zone. Even when folks are not forcing us to think and act as they do, we just don't like those who are different from us, getting too close to us. We like our bubble. We like to believe that the bubble we have chosen is the truth, that it is reality, and we don't like any other realities challenging our preferred reality. To believe that our reality is the only legitimate reality is to believe all others are deceived. Yet the reality is that there are many 'realities' - few, if any, being 100% reality.  

If we spoke out our concealed thoughts, folks might hear us say, 'don't be gay or liberal or Muslim or a hippie anyplace where I will have to encounter you. I pay my taxes and I want my surrounding to fit me, not you. So beat it. Stay out of my world.'

There's certainly nothing wrong with liking the things we like, but we clearly aren't following the way of Christ is we are not mingling with others who are not like us and making them feel safe and accepted when around us. We noted a few chapters back that even this notion can be abused. We can choose to mingle with others, surround ourselves with them, and give abundantly to them, yet not truly 'agape' them. We can do superficially 'good' things for others, but be caustically judgmental in our heart against them.

3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'  

This is certainly the question that needs to be asked in our day as it was in the time of Jesus. First, though, who are the 'lost' today? Are we only talking about those who are not members of our particular faith. Or, do the 'lost' also refer to the homeless, incarcerated, poor, mentally ill, and addicted? Should those whom Jesus referred to as 'lost' include the world's refugees, displaced persons, traumatized veterans, asylum seekers, and illegal aliens?

Whom would you choose to 'carry' home and care for? Whom would your community rejoice or not rejoice over as they are brought into your community?  What are your 'Christian' criteria for determining someone as 'lost' and thus someone you should 'carry' home? Are the 'lost' only those who once were part of our particular 'tribe', but have left? Or, are the 'lost' in this parable any human being who is not experiencing the peace and joy that comes from believing in God?

Do we rejoice when our modern day 'shepherds' bring the 'lost' back into our community? Do we rejoice when a plea is made to care for their needs? Or do we complain that their needs threaten our wants?

7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.  

Does this verse qualify the previous verses - defining the 'lost' only as those who have not accepted Christ as their savior? If repentance is the key objective for heaven, is living in sin the operative definition of 'lost'? Who were the 'lost' that Jesus ministered to?

According to the gospels, what are the kinds of actions taken on earth, that elicit joy among the heavenly host? Does heaven shout with pride every time Christians build another church or coalesce behind a particular politician?

What do you think really gets the angels rejoicing in the heavenly realm? Is there a difference between what the OT and the NT portray as glorifying God? If so, has God changed? Or, has God's will for his people changed because humanity has been forever changed since the life of Jesus?

8 "Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!'  

This is another one of those texts that should not be read legalistically and prescriptively. Christians are not called to throw a party each time we find a lost coin.  How do you discern between a text that is a metaphor illustrating a larger principle and a text that is defining a principle?

What kind of things cause you to rejoice? Are you only thankful when big things happen or do you tend to 'rejoice always' even when the simplest of blessings come your way - such as finding a lost penny?

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Heaven not only rejoices when a suffering person is helped, but when a spiritually lost person enters into a meaningful relationship with God. Jesus cared for anyone who was alienated from the community, whether they became one of his disciples or not. 

In other words, our efforts to help others should not be limited to their spiritual salvation. Rather, we must extend grace to all people and trust the Spirit to empower our acts of genuine love to inspire the hearts of those we care for. Rejection of our religious beliefs should not be cause for refusing to be a good Samaritan. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Luke 14:25-35 Tested For Discipleship

25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 

I dislike being tested. It means being evaluated for competency by comparing what you say and do to some predetermined scale created by someone else. 

Many tests are unfair. For instance, if you are testing my athletic skills by how well I play baseball,, basketball, or football -  I'll most likely flunk. But, if you test my athleticism by how well I ski or fence, you may come to a completely different conclusion. 

There are those who generally test well, but have bad days. There are those who are gifted with memories for trivia, but don't have a clue about their application. There are those who grasp well the larger concepts, but have no ability to remember the minutiae. Some folks are born with natural inclinations for a particular skill, but can't explain how they do what they do. There are those who can tell you everything about a particular skill, but have no ability to practice that skill. 

None of this is to say that information based tests are useless. We do need them, but they seldom tell you everything you need to know about a person's ability to actually perform well at a task. Luke has often reminded us that it does not matter how much you know 'about' God, if you don't know God personally, you really don't 'know' anything.

Thankfully, to become a citizen of the kingdom of God, there are no pencil and paper tests. A seminary degree or bible certificate is not required. Entrance is not based on how much and/or how accurate the information you have about God or about his kingdom. We pass the 'test' through faith in God's grace (Eph 2:8).

So the question then becomes, what does it mean to have 'faith in God's grace'?

Jesus, according to Luke, began the discussion with a statement. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his/her own life, s/he flunks out."

In order to grasp the true meaning of this difficult statement, the next verse must also be considered.

27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 

My own cross? Yes, in context, it is the willingness to learn what Jesus really taught and to choose to live accordingly, no matter what anyone might think - including father, mother, spouse, sibling, and children. It means to follow the known way of Jesus even when you don't feel like it and even if it means facing death. 

No wonder Jesus put it this way - carry your own 'cross'. He didn't say, 'carry your own suitcase, or lunch box, or stash of favorite books. 

All this reminds me of an old, and favorite, quote: 

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Henry David Thoreau

28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 

In my travels around our country and as well as around the world, I have often witnessed half completed projects where the builder either ran out of money or began building before getting permit approval and subsequently received a cease and desist order. The half baked project remained as a monument to the one who 'did not count the cost'. 

Yet, Jesus was not merely speaking to businessmen. Jesus was not merely teaching us to avoid activities that would bring ridicule or reminding us to finish what we start. 

Before committing yourself to follow Christ, have you made sure you know what will be required of you? Do you know what it will cost you to be a disciples of Jesus?   

31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 

Rationally counting the cost of a venture is not just about avoiding embarrassment. It can also be about avoiding death.

But, this parable was not suggesting that we should strive to be tougher than any enemy to avoid death, or to always have a white flag in our back pocket - just in case we might otherwise lose the battle and die.

Have you merely become a Christian as you have become a member of some 'club'? Do you call yourself a Christian simply because you were born into a Christian home or in a Christian culture? Have you ever taken the necessary time to find out exactly what it means to be a follower of Christ? 

Is being a Christian simply about having faith in God's grace? Or, does citizenship in the kingdom of God require a response - a life of faith, a walk in the Spirit, a cross bearing pursuit of the One who is 'altogether more beautiful to us than anything else'?  

33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Whatever we cling to, stings us. Whatever we cling to, becomes a self-inflicted spiritual wound. Whatever we cling to, trips us. Whatever we cling to, blinds us.

Examine your life. Is there some 'thing' that you can't imagine living without? Is there some 'person' in your life that you could not stand losing? Is there a reputation, honor, position, and/or membership that you are not willing to let go of? Is your Achilles heal, as the Devil claimed in regards to Job, physical suffering? Would you curse God if you lost your health and your life was threatened?

We will all be tested through life and discover who/what really has our heart. The point Jesus was making is, will we stop and count the cost of discipleship today? If we wait until we are tested, we will often fail. If we count the true cost involved in Christian discipleship, will we continue to follow Christ?

34 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In other words, being a follower of Christ is good, but if the way of Christ is missing from the heart of the follower, what's the point? 

What is the 'way of Christ'? 

It is detaching one's grip from everything associated with this world and being attached only to God. Unless one has counted this 'cost', s/he is not actually a follower of Christ. Faith is the confidence of things unseen - confidence in God whom no one has seen. Whenever our trust and hope is placed in anything or anyone, else, we have ceased following the way of Jesus - we have not picked up our cross, after wrestling through our own 'cost counting' Gethsemane, and followed him. 

If you want to really start living in the world, stop living like you are of the world. 

If you want to find true happiness in this life, cease looking for happiness from the things of this life.

This begins to sound like Buddhism. If you want to live, stop living. If you want to love, stop loving.

Each day we are being tested. The decisions we make reveal our discipleship. Do our decisions reveal that we are disciples of Jesus or of someone/something else?

Back to grace. How does 'grace' play into discipleship? Does God view our faltering discipleship through grace? In other words, does God accept my floundering, wishy-washy efforts in being a disciple of Jesus? What if I haven't 'counted the cost' yet I like the idea of being called a Christian?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Luke 14:16-24 Excuse Validity

16 But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; 17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 

The Message Bible presents verses 15-17 this way, "That triggered a response from one of the guests: 'How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom!' Jesus followed up. 'Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’"

Sad, isn't it? Folks get an invitation to the most important banquet of their existence, and they turn it down. But why? Why would anyone turn down an invitation into the kingdom of God?

Do they not really know what they they are turning down? Do they realize the responsibilities that come with accepting the invitation? Are they mindlessly saying no, simply because at the moment they are focused on something else? Or, are they so 'full' of other things they have indulged in that they have no more room for the foods at 'a great dinner party'? 

18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ 

When we assume that what we want to do is the most important thing to be doing, we have effectively admitted that we don't want to listen to God.

Sometimes the call of God is inconvenient, but that's the test of faith. Do we place the will of God first and best in our life, or not? Is there ever anything more important at the moment than God's spoken word to you?

I have made a commitment to my youngest son. I am never too busy to take his call and/or to drop everything and meet his need. He knows that he can call me 24/7 and if it is in my ability to do so, I will respond as he needs. He doesn't 'cry wolf'. He doesn't take advantage of my readiness to respond, but he knows that if he really needs me, I will immediately respond - no matter what I am doing. Nothing and no one takes precedence to him.

So, if we really believe in God, shouldn't we determine to respond immediately to his voice - no matter what? 

In this case, the excuse given had to do with his possessions.

"My possessions are my life. I need to know what I have and make sure that I can keep what I have. Surely God would want me to take responsibility for the many things he has permitted me to accumulate. He wouldn't want me to neglect my stuff, so...  So, watching over my possessions 'is' the will of God for me and thus he wouldn't be telling me to do anything other than that right now, right?" No.

19 Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ 

In this case, the excuse given had to do with his career.

"My job needs me right now. My job must be more important than anything God has in mind for me today because if I don't do my job right, then I will lose my job, and if I lose my job I can't pay my bills. God wouldn't want me to lose my job and become homeless, so...  So, keeping employed 'is' the will of God for me and thus he wouldn't be telling me to do anything other than that right now, right?"

20 Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ 

In this case, the excuse given had to do with a man's closest relationships.

"My family is God's gift to me. I need to be a good husband and father.  If I fail in my relationships I would not be showing genuine appreciation for the Lord's blessings. God wouldn't want me to lose my wife or my children, so...  So, spending time with my family 'is' the will of God for me and thus God wouldn't be telling me to do anything other than that right now, right?" No.

We have created many excuses for not being attentive and immediately obedient to the voice of the Lord. Since we give God the glory for giving us our things, our livelihood, and our relationships, when involved with these things we easily assume God has no other will for us. Thus, when I am taking care of my things, when I am earning an income, and when I am spending time with my family, I don't need to be listening to God's voice. Or, if I am listening, God will only be commending me for what I am doing and telling me how to do what I've chosen to do more wisely and perfectly - but God wouldn't ask me to not do what I am doing, even for a moment, right?

Have you taken a moment to consider your excuses for not listening to and immediately obeying God?  Do we only listen when we have nothing else to do? Do we open our hearts to listen only during times of prayer and worship, but not 24/7? What if, while we are in the midst of taking care of our possessions, working diligently at our job, and/or spending quality time with our family - God spoke to us and gave us the winning lottery number for the half million dollar jackpot? Would that get our attention and actually take priority over anything else we are doing? But, what if we weren't listening? Just say'n.

21 And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 

Should the 'master' of the household have been more understanding? Shouldn't we be protective of our 'heaven gifted' possessions, career, and relationships?

Yet, what Luke is saying is that God should always come before any person, place, or things. God is a jealous God, according to scripture. Whenever he speaks he expects believers to be ready and willing to move at his command. God can give and take away.

God has expectations for those who claim to be lovers of God. This should make sense to us. For instance, if I say I love my wife, but she says, 'if you love me, be nice to me', yet if I am not nice, what should she conclude?

Similarly, Jesus said, if you say you love God, yet whenever he speaks you neglect to listen or refuse to make any effort to obey, then he has a reasonable right to question your love. He has a right to look elsewhere, for those who actually walk their talk.

22 And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”

Three important insights pop out in these last verses of this week's study.

First, if we claim to be a follower of Jesus, we should not only be listening to him, but instantly willing to obey him - wherever we are and no matter what we are doing.

Second, the text reminds us that God wants all to be 'saved'. He wants the seats around heaven's banquet table to be full on that great and glorious day.

Third, the Master initially invited those who were his 'chosen people', but they were too busy doing their own things to come. So, the Master then invited all others into his house. The chosen were 'under Law'. All others are 'under grace'. Does this imply universal salvation?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Luke 14:7-15 Distracted By Privilege

7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 

Depending on the bible version you might read, Jesus was already sharing parables when he noticed that the guests were distracted or that he began sharing parables after noticing that the guests were distracted. Whichever the case is less important than the fact that the guests, in the presence of Jesus, were more concerned about which seat best honored their  sense of self-importance than honoring Jesus or caring about their neighbor.

We live 'in the world' - where positions of power and influence are important - yet Christians are called to make an informed choice, to choose to 'not be of the world'. So, why do we continue to operate in the world as if we are not followers of Jesus? 

8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 

Here, possibly, is one test to see who exactly has our heart. Do not take the place of honor. Always leave it for someone more distinguished - at least from the world's perspective - than yourself. 

The principle is to be humble. The legalist will, to be sure, parse these words and convince himself that he only needs to be humble when invited to weddings. 

10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In other words, permit honor to be given by another as they see fit, rather to be demanded or assumed by yourself. Jesus, according to the gospels, demonstrated this way of being in the world. He didn't begin his ministry by announcing that he was God incarnate flesh, the promised Messiah, or even a rabbi. Rather, he simply went out to teach and preach and the people he met decided who he was. 

Curiously, during Jesus' life, very few people imagined him to be what we most commonly believe about him today. Jesus seemed ok with that. He didn't demand that people believed who he really was, but wanted people to believe who they really were in God's eyes.

12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 

What does it really mean to care about others? Is it, Jesus suggested, doing good things for those who expect it? Or, hobnobbing with carefully selected friends? Or, is it maintaining a relationship with relatives who might write you into their will? Or, is it about doing something special for wealthy folks with the hope that they will do the same or better for you?

What goes into your personal algorithm for being a good neighbor? 

How did Jesus determine who to be 'good' to?

13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus taught that the only 'rule' for doing good to others is to meet the needs of the person right in front of you - whoever it is - and to expect nothing in return, not even a thank you. 

Of course, even this simple 'rule of thumb' can become meaningless if it becomes a legalistic rule or an act that makes you feel good about yourself. Elsewhere Jesus taught his disciples to not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.

In other words, to be good to others requires being a good person. Jesus taught that only God is good. So, the only way to do good, is to be good, and the way to be good, is to be walking with the One and only Person who is good. When our 'good' God lives in us, we don't need a rule to live by because we listen to his voice, and his voice always prompts us to care about the people around us.

Surely, though, as noted before, some will determine to only surround themselves with people they like so that they always have their favorite people in front of them. Such is the way of a disturbingly, legalistic mind.  But legalism can raise its ugly head at the other end of the spectrum. Some will immerse themselves among the poor, crippled, lame, and blind and only serve them, supposedly to to 'earn' the favor of the Almighty. That was not the point Jesus was making. 

Mingle among mankind. Serve whomever is in front of you - whether poor or rich, ill or healthy, Christian or non-Christian. Don't isolate yourselves from those you don't want to be accountable to, and don't intentionally immerse yourselves only among the most needy while judging all others who don't. 

15 When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

This is rather cool, to use a well-worn sixties phrase. There was 'one' person at the table who grasped what Jesus was saying and praised him for it. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Luke 13:31-14:6 Scripture Against Scripture

31 Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You." 

This is one of those texts that appears to catch you both coming and going. As soon as we read the word, 'Pharisees', we tend to assume that nastiness is about to be directed at Jesus. Then, unexpectedly, the Pharisees - plural - come forward to warn him. What's up with that? Were they sincerely concerned for his welfare or were they leveraging Herod's anger in order to encourage Jesus to leave their town?

And, how would we have expected Jesus to respond when warned that some powerful, evil figure was actively out for his head? Should he have run away and hid for a season? Should he have gone on the offensive and attacked Herod first? Should he have armed himself and his disciples - the twelve and the 120? Should he have incited an armed rebellion among all the Jews against Herod?


32 And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.' 33 Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. 

Jesus didn't respond as we often do. First, he clearly was not intimated in the least by Herod's threats. Instead he said, 'go and tell that fox..' There was no call to arms nor any attempt to flee.

Why should he have been fearful? As he said, he had cast out demons with a word. Surely Herod wasn't even minimally as powerful as a demon. More, Jesus was able to speak and whatever he said happened. He could say, 'be healed', and healing happens. This was raw, creative power. Couldn't he have said to Herod, as he had to a fig tree, 'die' - and Herod would have immediately withered away?

What is there to fear if you have the power to cast out fear and/or to change the thing that excites fear, into something that brings joy and peace?

But what about his words, 'today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach my goal'? Clearly, Jesus was speaking about his death...'for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.' 
Was that his solution to Herod's malicious intent? Did he plan to beat Herod by letting Herod win the battle, yet lose the war? Did Jesus believe that his death was victory over death?

Whenever our defense against threats is anchored at protecting this life and the possessions we have accumulated in this life, we have already lost. That was the starting point for Herod and the leaders among the Jews. They were all 'reacting' to the teachings and practices of Jesus because he threatened what they had. 

Jesus, when threatened didn't react. Rather, he responded mindfully. He didn't attempt to protect his life or his meager possessions. He won by not being fearful of anything. He won by not trying to preserve anything in this life. He won by placing his faith entirely in his Father and having confidence that there was something much better beyond this life. How do you fight against that attitude? You can only win the immediate battle, but lose the war - which is exactly what Jesus said next.

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! 35 Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’" 

Yikes! So much is packed into this passage. First, Jesus seems to equate himself with the prophets and messengers of God, but not with God - at least not here in Luke's gospel. If fact, he spoke about what he longed to do. He could cast out demons and heal the sick, but he just couldn't get the Jews to love him if they chose not to. Love never insists on its own way. He had to let them go.

Second, he said, 'behold, your house is left to you desolate.' Was this a statement of revenge or a prediction? Was this a promise of revenge elicited by unrequited love? Or, was this a prophecy about the future - that the enemy may win today's battle, yet lose the war?

Third, Jesus expressed his great affection for the Jews and for this important city. He sincerely wanted them to be united under his guidance and care. This is an important point. We will naturally have great affection for the people, places, and things of this world. We are human. Jesus was human. Yet, because of our faith we choose not to permit our human affections to supplant our commitments to the divine. We 'surrender all'. We place life, our loved ones, all our possessions, reputation, worldly honors and privileges all upon the altar before the Lord - trusting all in his hands - to give or to take away. That's the freedom of faith, but that does not mean we do not feel the loss or weep over the losses. It simply means that we are willing to trust God through every loss.

Fourth, the Jews appeared to reject everything he offered. They did not desire his world view nor his goals. Rejection is part and parcel of life in this world. We will not only be rejected by those who don't know or understand us, but we will often experience rejection from those whom we dearly love and often by those for whom we have given so much.

Fourth, Jesus said, "you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’"  What did that mean? It meant that he knew his days on earth were quickly coming to an end, yet it also meant that he would live beyond death - to the amazement of all. Their physical eyes would no longer see him, yet there would be many among those present who would have a change of heart and would embrace anyone who followed in the footsteps of Jesus. They would 'see' spiritually.


14:1 It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. 

This verse presents an interesting play on words. Jesus had just declared that he would only be 'seen' by those who welcomed him. Yet, here were the Pharisees 'watching' him ever so closely, but were unable to 'see' him.

In other words, we may be very attentive to the words and practices of Jesus, yet not 'know' Jesus (Lk 13:25-27). We may listen to every word he has said, but not hear what he is saying. The kingdom of God is entered and known only by those who have surrendered their heart fully to Christ. Our spiritual blindspots are found in whatever we cling to. And we tend to cling to the strangest things. 

Is it possible to develop a spiritual blindspot even when we cling to something good?


2 And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" 4 But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. 

The Sabbath was a good thing. In fact, the Law - according to the apostle Paul (Rom 7:12) - is 'holy, righteous, and good.' Yet, we can cling to that which is good and a manner that is bad - spiritually bad. A good thing, used in a wrong way, becomes a bad thing. This is even true of our belief in God. Belief in God is a good thing, yet many people use their belief in God in a wrong way, making their belief in God a bad thing.

Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength is the first and greatest commandment. Yet, if we cling to the first commandment without acknowledging the second great commandment, we have missed the point of the first. We have unwittingly turned a good thing into a bad thing. Love for God without love for neighbor is always a bad thing. The whole point of Jesus' teachings was to encourage us to love our fellow man. Love for the God who loves us was presented as the motivation for loving one another.

Similarly, attentiveness to the letter of the Law is not the key to the kingdom of God. The Law points us to God who has taught us through Christ that the key to the kingdom of God is a fully surrendered heart.  


5 And He said to them, Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" 6 And they could make no reply to this.

There is an old saying, 'he can't see the forest for the trees'. We all fall into that trap from time to time, though a few folks seem to dwell there most of the time. We can become so enamored with a particular subject that we lose awareness of the context - at least until some kind soul appropriately and wisely raises a question that hits us right between the eyes, awakening us to our foolishness.

The Jews were so focused on the Law that they couldn't see people. In fact, they were so thoroughly Law oriented they didn't even realize their hypocrisy. Jesus pointed out the problem and some suddenly saw themselves as never before. They didn't know that they had been blind until they were 'healed' and could truly 'see'.

The apostle Paul pointed out that when we live under the Law we are not acting from grace. Faith and grace are products of the Spirit, not the Law (Gal 3:12). The Law was intended to guide us to the Source of faith and grace (Gal 3:24). Jesus certainly did not come to demonstrate the way of faith and life under the Spirit, only to send us back to life under the burden of the Law (Gal 3:1-7). 

The Law is good - at least for the purpose that it was designed for - to lead us to Christ. The Law is not good outside that purpose since it is anti-Christ when it is not used to direct us to Christ. When we wrongly use Christ to direct us to the Law, we 'use' Christ in an 'anti-Christ' manner. 

In Paul's letter to Timothy he spoke about using the Law lawfully (1 Tim 1:8), which implies that the Law can be used unlawfully. Jesus pointed out how the Jews used the Laws of scripture in an unlawful way. If we want to make sure that our understanding of scripture has the stamp of heaven's approval, test every interpretation by both the first and second great commandments - love for God and love for one another. 

Jesus used the scriptures in a Jewish way, but not a Pharisaical way. We tend to use the scriptures in a legalistic way - treating everything written as literal. Jesus did not, nor should we. There are a plethora of examples for this, but one of my favorites is found in Jesus' response to the Pharisees who were accusing him of making himself equal with God. In response Jesus quoted from the scriptures: "has it not been written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'"? (Jn 10:34; Ps 82:6). Jesus used scripture against scripture in order to undermine our natural human inclination to interpret scripture literally and rigidly.