Sunday, October 23, 2016

Luke 20:1-18 The Way The Wind Is Blowing

1 On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, 2 and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?” 

Malcolm Gladwell once said, "I enjoy having my apple-cart overturned." Why? Because he always wanted to grow in his knowledge of the facts about life. He invites constructive criticism. For life-long learners, growth in knowledge and wisdom is paramount.

But, what if you are Jesus? We assume, in our Christian theology, that Jesus was God incarnate. If so, what would there be to challenge? Wouldn't he know all things? His disciples believed that he did. In fact, they believed that no one should question him because he knew everything.

"Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?" Jn 16:30,31

“Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jn 21:17

Yet, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders - the authorities - confronted Jesus. They did not agree with his teaching and preaching. The gospel Jesus taught differed from what they had been taught and that which they believed was truth. So, they rightly asked Jesus about the source of his divergent theology. As the depository (depositary?) of the oracles of God, the Jewish leaders easily assumed that their interpretations of the sacred writings were accurate. They also assumed that anyone who had not been trained (licensed?) by them, could not rightly divide the word (2 Tim 2:15).

Yet, authorized possession of the scriptures is not equivalent to correct interpretation of the same. 

Who authorized Jesus to teach a divergent gospel? If the source of his authority could not be established, how could the accuracy of his teaching be confirmed? For those who followed Jesus, the source of his authority was not a seminary degree, but was established by his character and his healing ministry. But, does the possession of a good character guarantee that truth is being taught? Moreover, should the ability to work miracles be all the evidence we need in order to believe every word that that someone teaches (Mt 7:22,23; Mt 24:24)?  

3 Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: 4 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” 

I have often gotten a bit miffed at the response Jesus gave to the leaders. Why didn't he just spell it out for them. Or, did he know that they weren't really interested in the truth?

"Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge." Prv 14:7

"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself." Prv 26:4

Jesus, presumably, did not answer the priests 'according to their folly'. Rather, he presented them with a question. His question betrays his insight into their character and their motives for asking him about his authority. His question revealed that they were not honest seekers after truth - a perspective that unfolds more clearly in the next few verses.

5 They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Which way is the wind blowing today? That is the question far too many folks ask before answering a question. This is not all bad. Unfiltered responses often suggest the presence of mental illness. We all should have a private thought that is not always presented to the public, or at least only presented to those who respect our perspective. Yet, when we are the accepted 'authority', we frequently need to give an honest answer to an honest question. If we say 'I don't know', particularly in regards to a question that we should know, we undermine our authority.

In this case, the priests realized that their position of authority could survive if they said, 'we don't know', than if they stated what they really thought. The down side of that decision was that Jesus was free to continue teaching and preaching with 'authority'. The people witnessed that their religious authorities had no argument to stop him. Again, the people didn't need to hear an answer from Jesus since they had already made up their minds based on other criteria - character and miracle working.

9 And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10 At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. 13 The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.’ 15a So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 

Fools seldom respect anything but their own opinion. 

"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Prv 18:2

In this parable, Jesus taught the people the danger of being a fool and/or following fools. Fools bite the hand that feeds them. 

"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." Prv 13:20

15b What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” 

"Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly." Prv 26:11

"Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him." Prv 27:22

Though we were all born fools, we do not need to remain fools. Yet, many fools so glory in their foolishness that nothing can be done for them. 

17 But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this has become the chief corner stone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

Love wins. The truth will prevail. If we fall at the foot of Jesus - the Rock - we will have his wisdom to guide us. Yet, if we continue to live as a fool, eventually the Rock will crush us. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Luke 19:41-48 Don't Be a Fool

41 When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 

This story is a continuation of last week's study. If we refuse to fact check, we will often suffer unnecessarily. 

Imagine noticing that your vehicle's oil check light suddenly turns on. Maybe you haven't ever seen that before. Maybe you don't even know what it means. It is, perhaps, something new. Yet, you don't stop and ask your mechanic about it. You don't open up the vehicle manual to learn more about it and learn what you should do. So, you just continue to drive your vehicle until the engine seizes. What may have been a $25 solution, has become a $1000 problem. Why? Simply because you were unwilling to check it out. You assumed that everything must be ok, because your vehicle was still running fine - until it wasn't. 

Fears and laziness remain the cause of untold suffering in society. We say to ourselves in way of an excuse, 'if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.' But many times we are living with something that is very broken yet we have so accommodated it that we don't know broken from not broken. Others say, 'if it was good enough for my parents, it is good enough for me.' This is simply another mindless phrase that yells out 'lazy'. It there was any truth to that, we would all still be cavemen. 

"Come," they say, "let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink; And tomorrow will be like today, only more so."  (Is 56:12)

42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 

What are the 'things which make for peace'? Faith, hope, and love. Through faith we access God's amazing grace. Yet, if we refuse to open our eyes and ears, refusing to know the truth, we grow increasingly blind to the many 'something betters' that God has prepared for us. 

Imagine Jesus weeping. Imagine that moment as he look upon Jerusalem, seeing all the hustle and bustle, and knowing exactly what was going to happen to the children of Abraham. Imagine knowing how different it could have been for them if only they were open minded? Imagine the knowing the 'peace that passes all understanding' that could have been theirs if only they had stopped and listened, rather than to assume that all that they already believed was sufficient. What might have been...

43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

This is what Jesus knew would happen. How many times have family and friends warned us about a particular choice we were about to make, yet we pursued it anyways? How many times have we neglected opportunities with the excuse - 'maybe tomorrow', or 'I'm too tired', or 'I don't like change'?

How foolish can we be? 

45 Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘And My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a robbers’ den.”

Though he wept, knowing what was about to transpire, Jesus made one more intervention to expose blind his people had become to their situation. They had accommodated thinking and behaviors that were sucking the spiritual life out of their nation. 'Wake up!', he was saying to them as he overturned the tables of the merchants around the temple. 'Can't you see what you have become? Can't you see how far you have strayed? Don't you know how much you are missing?'

As Jesus drove out the money changers, he was calling his people to stop and think, to self-examine, to 'fact-check', and to cease being 'fools'.


47 And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, 

After Jesus had 'cleansed the temple', an act that was not only psychologically essential but also an act symbolizing the cross, he sat down and again tried to teach the people 'something better'. His sacrifice would clean us of our sins. His act of grace would set us free from the bondage of guilt and shame. Through faith in God's grace the fools mind would be jettisoned for the mind of grace.

Meanwhile, the religious leaders, the fools who did not know they were fools, shunned all that he was teaching and continued to look for ways to kill God's Messenger. Instead of seeing him as savior, they saw him only as a social/religious disrupter. They had become so 'foolish' in their thinking that they effectively called 'black, white', 'good, bad'. Only fools don't fact-check.

This morning I tweeted my strong objection to a statement made by a prominent politician, as reported by a usually reliable news source. After pushing 'send', I continued to scroll down my Twitter feed only to discover a Snopes post informing readers that the politicians remarks were untrue. Yikes. I quickly deleted my response. I had believed a lie, because I had trusted the source. 

48 and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.

Do you want to stop the mindless foolishness in our society? Join those who refuse to follow the crowd and insist on seeking for the truth - wherever it leads. If we start each day determined to hold on to what we currently believe is true, then we will never grow and only perpetuate untruth in our community. Yet, if we accept that none of us believe the truth about everything, and determine to always seek 'something better', we become an effective obstacle to the mindlessness that runs so rampantly in our world. 

Don't be a fool. Fact check.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Luke 19:28-40 Trust

28 After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here

When we were small children we easily trusted others rather indiscriminately - particularly if we were raised in a healthy family. As we grew older, perhaps we became more careful, yet still tended to trust others too quickly and too unwisely - often getting burned. Then, depending on the bulk of our experiences, we came to the place where we found it far too difficult to place trust in anyone. 

What does it take for you to trust someone? Are there those in your life whom you trust without question, no matter what they ask of you? Are there those whom you trust, but only in certain circumstances? Do you know people you will never trust again, under any circumstances? 

As a believer in the grace of God, are you willing to permit someone who has broken your trust to regain it again? What will it take? How long will it take? 

The disciples of Jesus trusted his word because they had always found him to be faithful to his promises. In other words, they tested him and found him to be trustworthy. Like Abraham, when commanded by God to sacrifice his only son, the disciples believed Jesus when he told them exactly what they would find in the village.

31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. 

It has been said, 'the proof is in the pudding'. In other words, if folks don't walk their talk, beware. If someone calls something a fact, yet when you check it out, you find it is not true, it is time to be cautious when listening to that person.

The scriptures tell us to, "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34:8). The disciples did just that and found everything to be exactly as Jesus said it would be - over and over again. Has that been your experience with Christ?

"You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.…" (Dt 18:21,22).

Our fear and anger arise out of our beliefs. Our beliefs originate from those we trust. So, again, on what basis do we place trust in our sources? This is where it is essential that we regularly review the list of cognitive distortions. 

It is a distortion of cognition to trust someone simply because many others trust that person, or because the person is famous, or because the individual is smart. Of course it is also foolish to trust someone simply because they are beautiful or handsome, wealthy, is nice to us, or is a member of our particular 'tribe'. Trust, but verify. Fact check. Don't be deceived. 

Be wise. Clever charlatans take deception to a new level. They will often lead you astray by first demonstrating that they are true to their word. Once they have your trust and know that you are no longer fact-checking them, they begin their evil work of seducing you into believing and doing things you ordinarily would never have considered. The blind confidence we place in them comes about nearly imperceptibly. It is wise to always keep a small question mark operative in every situation. No other human being is completely trustworthy at all times. All of us are imperfect. 

Cults are created when we suspend disbelief. It is one thing to suspend disbelief at Disney Land or while watching a science fiction flick, but it is dangerous to suspend disbelief in daily life. Cult leaders sense what others are angry about or fearful of. They loudly and passionately proclaim their anger toward the same things we are angry at and they exaggerate their anxiety of the same things we fear. 

Humanly, we tend to more quickly trust those who resonate with our anger and fears. The best defense against this kind of deception is to first question the source of our own anger and fear. Is our anger truly justified? Is it based on the facts or upon innuendo and false accusations? Did our anger arise because we wanted or needed to feel anger at someone or something, because we were told it was right to do so? Did we fact check to make sure our anger is truly justifiable? Similarly, are our fears based on fact or fiction? 

Remember, just because something has been long designated as a thing to be feared, doesn't make it so. Mankind long feared falling off the edge of the earth if they sailed too far out into the ocean. Eventually mankind learned that the earth was round and that particular fear was dismissed, though many continued to cling to it simply because it had been believed for so many generations. 

If we are not careful, our fears and anger will make us easy prey to be manipulated by others. If we don't make sure that the source of our fears and anger are truly legit, rather than simply assuming so, our emotions become a leverage point for every savvy charlatan. Just because people we respect believe something to be true, does not make it true. Fact check. 

33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord has need of it.” 

I like this. Someone was 'fact-checking' them. We should all invite others to fact check what we say and do - particularly if we are leaders. We should also be interested in fact checking everything about our own beliefs and values. 

To be a mere replica of mom and dad is to have squandered opportunity. Each generation should encourage the next generation to differentiate, to rise to even greater heights than the previous generation. How many coaches dream of their students athletes becoming only as good as they once were? Great coaches glory in their trainees exceeding them in every possible way and even becoming a teacher to their teacher.

35 They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. 37 As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Great leaders are fact checkers. A great leader is someone who encourages others to constantly fact check them and to call them on anything they've said that proves to be less than factual. 

When the facts are checked and proof of their legitimacy is obtained, honor is rightly given. Jesus demonstrated that he was the real thing - the only legitimate Messiah. Praise was given. Yet, continue to fact check.

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” 

Why were they angry? They refused to fact check their beliefs. They neglected to fact check the basis for their fears. They were lazy leaders. The people had exceeded their leaders simply because they, like Zacheus, were not afraid to check Jesus out for themselves. The religious leadership had for so long suspended disbelief in their religion, that they had become seduced by it's lies. 

There is nothing wrong with traditions and myths - as long as we recognize them for what they are and are not. For example, a new movie, "Panfilov's 28 Men", is a Russian myth. It is an inspiring myth, yet still a myth. 

40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Given sufficient time, the truth does prevail. Sadly, though, along the way, many are deceived to their own destruction simply because they refused to fact check. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Luke 19:11-27 Taking Risks

11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 

This is life in community. Others have expectations that differ from our own, thus they decode the things we and others may say in a manner that meets with their own worldview. In other words, if they value 'blue', even though we talk to them about 'red', they only hear 'blue'.  This is particularly the case between friends and lovers. If the person we are speaking to is an enemy who values 'red', if they expect us to say 'blue', even though we talk 'pink', they only hear us speaking 'blue'.

In this story, the disciples of Jesus 'supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately'. Thus, no matter what Jesus said, nor how well his walk corresponded with his talk, his disciples only heard what they expected to hear from Jesus, not what he actually said. They believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and they had specific beliefs about what the Messiah would accomplish. They were then strongly motivated to interpret everything Jesus said in a manner that harmonized it with their expectations. 

Most of us have been there, particularly if we've ever been in love with someone or if we've ever been committed to a particular political party. We hear what we want to hear, mindlessly living in our own altered reality, despite facts to the contrary.

12 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 

A descendant of royalty left his homeland in order to obtain the necessary legal authority to form his land into a kingdom. Before he left he placed ten chosen servants in charge. They were to conduct the business of the land as he would while he was away. But the citizens of this land were of a very different mind. They preferred the status quo, thinking that they knew what was in their own best interest, and it wasn't what the nobleman had in mind.

Note, the citizens of the land petitioned the authorities, not the servants, to nix the intended deal. They did not want the nobleman to receive the authority to form their lands into a kingdom where he would reign as king. They preferred the rather loose-goosey way things had always been. The parable doesn't specify why they hated the nobleman, but the context implies that they hated him because he wanted to become their king.

15 When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 

Over the objections of the citizens, the authorities gave the nobleman the right to establish a kingdom and to serve as the king. Clearly, this was not a democracy. The authority ordered that which he believed was best.

The nobleman wasn't angry at the citizens for hating him. It is as if he expected their response, maybe understanding that they were simply being reactive out of unfounded fears. The newly appointed king did have expectations for those whom he had left 'guarding the fort', as it were. He apparently expected these 10 servants to have been about the 'business' of educating the citizens so that when he returned they would joyfully receive him. They were not paid to maintain the status quo, but to be transformative agents among the citizens. So, naturally, he called each of them to account for what they had done during his absence and rewarded them according to their faithfulness. 
20 Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 

The newly authorized king self-described himself as an exacting man, just as one servant had figured. Yet, fear kept this particular servant from taking any risks. Instead of being an agent of transformation, he anchored the status quo. This servant had absolutely nothing to show for the trust the nobleman had placed in him. Fear of failure had paralyzed him from taking any risks for his master. 

24 Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ 26 I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 

Citizens of this newly formed kingdom listened carefully to the king's words as he rewarded faithful servants and then addressed the lazy servant. To those who were faithful, more was given. From the one who was fearful, all was taken. 

A disciple is to disciple others, not simply rejoice that s/he has been accepted as a disciple of Christ. The disciples of Christ are given the spiritual gifts necessary to utilize their talents to help others know the Master. If disciples merely maintain the status quo, life-long spiritual growth is obstructed. 

27 But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”

Finally, Jesus does address the nay-saying citizens from the various cities in his kingdom. Maybe we can find at least two groups among them. First, there were those who had rejected the efforts of the faithful servants during the nobleman's absence. They had been given 'light', but would not enter into a covenant with the new king. Second, there were those who didn't have access to a faithful servant, but were unwilling to consider any other way than what they had always believed and done. They hadn't simply done the best they could do with the little light they had, but had gone on the offensive to keep the nobleman from returning with new authority. 

The parable implies that both the rebellious and the neglectful were would have no future. The parable also implies that to be a citizen of the kingdom means that you have chosen the way of Jesus - the way of faith. A citizen of his kingdom engages in a lifelong pursuit toward to be more like Jesus.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Luke 19:1-10 Excising Excuses

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 

Last week we examined the role of curiosity in the life of a believer. If the blind man had not been curious, he would not have regained his sight. In this week's study we see that Luke picks up another theme touched upon last week - persistence. 

Curiosity prepares us to see opportunities, but without persistence we still might not enter into the opportunity that presents itself. The blind man was persistent in his desire for Jesus to show him mercy. In this story, we find that the tax collector, Zaccheus, fought against every natural inclination to make excuses to not pursue Jesus. 

What are your most common excuses for not going after 'something better' for your life? For Zaccheus, he could have easily excused putting any effort into seeing Jesus by saying: (1) Jesus is just passing through Jericho. I'll catch up with him another time. (2) I'm the chief tax collector. There isn't any forgiveness for my sins. (3) The crowds won't give me an opportunity to see Jesus because they hate me and may try to beat me up. (4) I should just be satisfied with what I already have. I am very rich and really have no needs. (5) Even if the crowds let me in, unless I can make it to the front of the crowd, which is unlikely, my short stature will keep him from even seeing me nor will I be able to see him - so why bother. (6) By the time I find a way to negotiate all the obstacles between where I am now and where Jesus is, he'll be long gone. 

Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 

"But I'm too short. I just can't do it." 

When a door closes, climb a tree.

Zaccheus wanted to 'see who Jesus was'. He had probably heard about him, but couldn't have picked him out of a crowd if he tried. Initially, though, was that all that Zaccheus wanted - just to 'see' Jesus? Was his persistence fueled merely by a need to 'see' a Jewish celebrity? Or was there more behind his persistence? How many rich Jewish tax collectors would have tossed decorum to the wind, ran ahead, and climbed a tree just to see a celebrity pass by? Few, most likely, right?

All this raises another question. What types of objectives are more apt to motivate us to do whatever it takes? Are you as motivated to find a good therapist, medical specialist, or a good book as you are to see a celebrity singer, actor, or politician? 

When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 

Whatever all the motives behind Zaccheus' effort to 'see' Jesus, Jesus noticed the rich tax collector's great effort to catch a glimpse of Him. Probably to the shock of everyone present - including Zaccheus - Jesus invited himself to the chief tax-collector's home for din-din. 

If Zaccheus was initially only a celebrity watcher, he rose to the occasion when Jesus called him by name to come down. Zaccheus was more than delighted. 

Most of us understand what it feels like to be accepted when we don't believe we deserve it.  Most of us are surprised when we are noticed and honored by someone we didn't believe even knew we existed. It is often true that when we realize someone accepts us as we are and conveys to us that they actually believe in us, we can move past all our previous excuses that have kept us from seeking something better for ourselves. 

Of course Judas is often presented as an example of those who dismiss all efforts to love and respect them, and choose to pursue a path to destruction. Thankfully, Peter - along with Zaccheus - demonstrate the power of grace when received.

When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 

Why is it that those who have already been the recipients of grace are often the very ones who resent seeing grace extended to others? Do they assume that they were entitled to grace, but others are not? Do they believe that their 'sins' were within the reach of grace, but the sins of others are not?

The disciples of Jesus seemed to embrace this wrong-headed notion of grace-entitlement, often chasing others away who called out to Jesus for mercy. Yet, no matter how repulsive the practices and beliefs of another person may be to you, if they are curious about grace and are persistent in their search for mercy, the Spirit must be at work. We need to cease being an obstacle to others in search of Jesus, and become more like the Baptist - clearing the way for others to find hope in God.

Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 

I doubt that the crowd could believe their ears. Could there really be grace for the chief tax collector? Could a tax collector - a traitorous Jew working for their oppressors - actually be saved? Could a rich man really be telling the truth that he would give up half of his possessions for the poor and return to those he defrauded four times the value of his 'theft'? Can an encounter with Jesus be that powerful?

What turned Zaccheus around? Had he been weighed down with guilt? Was he tired of being an outcast among his people? Had he heard that a tax-collector had been called to be a disciple of Jesus? Had Jesus already promised him forgiveness before Zaccheus made this statement or had he promised all this simply in response to Jesus being willing to notice him?

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus sealed the deal in front of the crowd. Salvation did come to the house of Zaccheus that very day. Jesus acknowledge what the crowd had not wanted to admit. Zaccheus was a son of Abraham, despite being the chief tax-collector who had defrauded many fellow Jews. 

The finale of this pericope is what Luke penned in verse 10. The purpose for the first coming of the Son of Man was to save the lost, not to promote the found.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Luke 18:35-43 Wisely Curious

35 As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. 36 Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. 

Maybe you remember a time when your curiosity was piqued, yet you neglected to act on it - only later discovering what might have been if you had just had the courage to act. Of course, maybe you also recall a time when you mindlessly acted on a curiosity and immediately found yourself in trouble. Being curious is good. Being wisely curious is essential.

In this story, Luke was not only demonstrating once again how powerful Jesus was as a miracle worker, but how life-changing the gift of curiosity can be. Imagine if this blind man had ignored the sounds of the crowd going by. Imagine if he had assumed it was merely another passing foolish gang of adolescents heading off to do some mischief. What if he had not followed up? Thankfully, the blind man chose to inquire about what was going on. He was curious enough to want to know what that crowd was all about?  

Many folks aren't very curious. They erroneous think that curiosity will 'kill the cat'. They are afraid that being curious will obligate them to do or believe something they don't want to do or believe. Some stifle their curiosity simply because they are too lazy, they don't want to put any mental or physical effort into anything than maintaining the status quo. Many just don't want to be faced with having to make a choice.

The blind man knew that being curious did not obligate him to do anything. Investigation does not require assimilation. Being curious gives us options, but doesn't force us to make a choice. He knew that not being curious would have confined him to the status quo and kept him from knowing 'something better'. 

Be curious. Think about what you have just learned. Then make a decision to act or not act. Be wisely inquisitive, rather than living each day in a spirit of indifference. 

37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Not only is it important for us to be curious, but it is also essential that we encourage the curiosity of others. 

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day." Einstein

After receiving an answer to his query, the blind man quickly processed what he heard and made the wise decision to engage. Apparently, he had not only heard about Jesus previous to this encounter, but he knew that Jesus of Nazareth was also the miracle working Son of David. This was not an opportunity he could afford to miss. 

39 Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

There are, of course, the naysayers. Often, strangely, those who discourage curiosity are our leaders. Our leaders are pursuing that which has inspired them and thus squelch anything that may obstruct or distract them from their goal. Leaders call others to be their followers, not independent thinkers pursuing alternative curiosities.   

True, in the pursuit of our own goals we need to be disciplined enough not to be easily distracted. Yet, we must always keep in mind that we live in community. If we only think about achieving our personal goals without encouraging others in their own pursuit, we unwittingly destroy community. We can, though, have unity in diversity. We can all be curious.  

In this story, those who were leading the crowd, were dismissive of the blind man's cry for mercy. Yet, notice the blind man's response to the leaders. He cried out all the more. He was open to the opportunity and would not let anyone, no matter who they were, stifle his curiosity. Jesus responded to the man. The leaders tried to shut him down, but the man would not let what he had discerned as a once-in-a-lifetime possibility pass him by, no matter who tried to stop him. Was he right or should he have submitted to the leader's demand to be quiet?

40 And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 

There were those who lead that crowd, yet there was One who was the Leader of all mankind. A real leader does not think only about him/herself. The grand objectives of Jesus, pursuing the most important important goal ever to exist in the universe, did not lead him to neglect any soul along the way. His whole mission was to save souls. To pass by even one person in an effort to save all people, would have sullied his grand mission. 

What is the relationship between curiosity and faith? Should our faith dampen or even shut down our curiosity? Can there ever be true faith without ongoing, exuberant curiosity? How well does the church encourage curiosity?    

43 Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God. 

We often forget this nugget of truth. God is glorified when we are curious enough to always seek something better and gracious enough to encourage one-another to be curious - wisely curious.