Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Luke 13:31-35; Dead Prophets

Jesus seemed a little cynical in this story. "Surely no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem" does not seem like a compliment or statement of reality. Then comes the later line of "you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you." What a description from God regarding the people he came to save.

Yet I wonder what he would say today about his people. "You who ignore the prophets sent to you." Maybe it would be more like "You who pat the prophets on the back but then gossip him to death or ship him off to another place."

We probably pat ourselves on the back for not killing any prophets but I really don't think we listen to them anymore either.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Luke 13:22-30; Narrow Way

He could have answered the question with a yes or no; but he chose to tell a story. He communicated far more than they were expecting. The answer is was launched with the words "make every effort". Above all else, he communicated the need for intentionality and not relying upon nationality, status or other passive factors in life. Just being a North American does not insure eternal bliss.

He then continued and added the wrinkle of finality. Once the door is closed, no one else will get in. All excuses, explanations and expectations will be for naught.

Then, as usual for Jesus, he adds a twist to the end. Not only will the door be closed to many who do not expect it, but it will be open for many that the "in crowd" did not anticipate.

So what sort of effort will I make today?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Luke 13:10-17; Right Priorities

Jesus healed a woman (probably in front of the all male section) on the Sabbath in the synagogue. The Jews were irate; how could this preacher violate such an important law as the Sabbath?! Yet the obvious chance to do good and fulfill a higher law was hidden from them.

In our church society today, there are a lot of Sabbath laws that we hold up while ignoring the greater good we could be doing. We hold tightly to church attendance, a good reputation and providing for one's family. Yet we can so easily ignore taking care of widows and orphans, stepping out to help the disreputable and caring for the downcast. Is really on Jesus' behalf that we act if our priorities are not aligned with his?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Luke 13:1-9; Manure Occureth

If this passage happened today Jesus' response might have been, "Do you think the homeless guys under the overpass did something much worse than you? Do you think that the guys killed in that car wreck last week were morally of a different nature than you? Truth is, without turning to God, you are all pretty much equal."

What I find amazing is the next little section. It sounds quaint to keep it in farming terms but crass when you realize what is really being said. When I'm not growing spiritually, God digs around me and fertilizes me. But first century fertilizer came from the barn, not a bag. So the message is that when I'm stagnant spiritually, God lets my world get disrupted and then lets "manure happen" in my life.

Perhaps my problem is I spend too much time complaining about the manure and not enough time taking advantage of the opportunity to grow from it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Luke 12:54-56; Interpreting

I grew up in the country and remember all the little things about reading the weather. "Red at night, sailor's delight; red at morning, sailor take warning." When the robins are near their nest during the day, a storm is on the way. I would watch the horses in the pasture start to run and kick and know that the weather was changing.

Jesus was frustrated that people of his day could understand the physical world well enough to predict upcoming weather but did not understand the spiritual world well enough to see what was developing. I wonder if I fall into that same category.

Do I believe that there is more to life than what "meets the eye"? If so, does that come out in my everyday activity? How open are my eyes to see the spiritual? How in tune am I with the spiritual side of life?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Alert; Luke 12:35-48

It seems so un-American this passage. In a society where everything is designed to push us to sit back and enjoy, to relax, to take it easy, this teaching is out of place.

Jesus tells us to be alert to his presence and his needs. He calls us to be attentive at all times. He calls us to never be caught spiritually asleep.

At the end, he adds another un-American idea. He concludes not only with punishment being distributed, something that we struggle with in a tolerant society, but also he unapologetically says that more is demanded of some than of others. This seems so unfair. We feel that all are to be treated equally.

As is consistent with the nature of God, he does not mix equal and fair, as we tend to do. What is fair may not be that which is equal.

Thus we are called to respond to God at all times in the way that corresponds to our very own giftedness. Fair but not equal.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Luke 12:22-34: Little Things

Jesus called it a little thing. He asked, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing . . ." Amazing. Adding an hour to my life is considered not only a little thing but a "very little thing" by Jesus.

How much time and effort do we as a society throw at health care? How much worry and constant monitoring of exercise, sleep and diet goes on? Yet, he calls it a "very little thing."

It sort of jogs our sense of priorities. His view is so different from mine. Yet, that seems to be the very point of the passage. I get stuck in this world and lose sight of the big picture. I care about one hour of life; he calls that very little. I worry about money for living; he says I have an entire kingdom coming so I should feel free to give it away now. I worry about my things wearing out; he says I have possessions coming that will never wear out.

Today, maybe for once, I can live with a different focus . . . an eternal one.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Luke 12:13-21; American Fool

The subtitle in the text calls this the story of the rich fool. It would seem appropriate to call it the American Dream. Work hard, save for the future and retire comfortable; isn't that the dream we are taught from birth?

The text written so long ago seems to be quite timely. Is it speaking against hard work or planning? I don't think so; both are praised in other places. The punch line indicates that the text is speaking against a focus of life, i.e., a focus upon self care only.

In my rush to take care of self (or even family), how much effort do I give to take care of God's business? How much attention do I pay to the spiritual life on a daily basis? What and where is my treasure anyway?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Luke 12:1-3; yeast

Jesus must have been amazing. He went straight from the house of a Pharisee filled with Pharisees and experts in the law to speaking in front of thousands. Though the crowds could not have been more different, the message was the same to both . . . only in one case it had a little more bite to it.

The yeast of the Pharisees was his concern. Yeast looks insignificant. Its a little thing that fits in a spoon or packet today. Sprinkled into dough, the entire nature of the dough is altered. It radically grows inside its host to change it forever.

Hypocrisy might seem insignificant but growing in the heart, one's entire nature is changed forever. Jesus' words of warning call me to look for the spoonful of yeast before the rest of me is affected. It maybe tedious work but the results are of eternal significance.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lamp; Luke 11:33-36

Your eye is the lamp of your body. What a concept. We know it to be true but often try to ignore it. When the movie is not good for me, I pretend its not true. When the article is filling my head with inferior thoughts, I pretend its not true. When the item on sale is filling my heart with selfish feelings, I pretend its not true.

What would life be like if all of us truly took care of our eyes? How much brighter would Christianity shine in a selfish, cruel and immoral world?

Today, my goal will be to filter out that which is not light. To let me gaze linger only upon that which is positive, uplifting and good. Today, only light.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Luke 11:24-26; final condition

Jesus had just talked about a house protected by a strong man and that it was secure. Then this paragraph takes up the opposite theme. What a about a house that is unprotected? What about a heart that is not watched? What happens to a person's soul if the person is not vigilant?

Life often seems to be a problem market, i.e., we exchange one situation with its set of problems for another. The issue in this case is that the second or last set of problems is by far worse than the first. What a shame to go to the trouble of cleaning the heart only to have a worse condition in the end.

It makes me wonder how protective am I of my heart? After working to clean out bad habits and sinful conditions, have I occupied the heart and cared for it in such a way that it is protected? Does Satan look at my heart as occupied by a strong man or empty? Truly, good is not the absence of evil; good is proactive but an evil condition is the absence of good.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Two sides; Luke 11:23

When accused of driving out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus responded bluntly. In the process, he narrowed down the focus of the spiritual activity to "for me or against me." Just two sides.

We often think of being a Christian as simply not being evil. Jesus, however, did not leave it at that. He clarified that his side is in the process of gathering. Like Jesus, his disciples bring people into the kingdom of God. They draw people closer to Jesus and not just passively. This is an active spiritual work.

So do my actions demonstrate that I am a gatherer to God? Or do I believe the delusion that good is the absence of evil?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Prayer; Luke 11:1-13

They asked for a lesson in prayer. As is typical for Jesus, he responded in ways they probably never expected.

First he prays very simply and straightforward. No fluff or beauty here, just clear communication.

Then he puts a line in the middle of the prayer that placed responsibility back on us. "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." I would have preferred just "forgive us our sins". The second part of the sentence clearly places responsibility on me for my own actions.

At the end of it all he concludes with giving the Holy Spirit to those who petition. My initial reaction is "where did that come from?" Yet perhaps it is not an "add on" at the end but rather the central theme all along.

Prayer, true heart level prayer, is about a relationship. It is about connecting my spirit with the Spirit of God. It is intertwined with my daily life and actions (forgiveness). But above all, it is the goal of piety and prayer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

One Thing; Luke 10:38-42

As a North American who is full of myself and trained to multitask in a frenzy-paced world, this story is frustrating. Yet as a human who longs for rest and simplicity, this story is compelling.

I don't like that we give Martha such a bad rap at times. According to the story, it was her home, she took the initiative to open her home to Jesus and his fellow travelers and she was taking care of a pretty important person in significant ways. All of these are qualities to be respected.

Yet it was not her initiative or even her work that was critiqued by Jesus. Rather it was her worry that he critiqued. Being upset about "getting it done" is what he noted as negative.

So today, as I think about the next thing on my "to do" list, I will not change what I am doing but I pledge to do it without worry and being upset. I will try to work with my hands while my heart lingers in the presence of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Joy; Luke 10:20

It must have been an incredible feeling. The disciples went out and everything we better than planned. They conquered, healed and preached with amazing success. How exciting to go back to Jesus and report that you did your best and everything went better than you expected. It must have been a great feeling.

Then Jesus turned everything upside down -- as usual. "Don't rejoice in your success but rejoice in that your name is written in heaven." Joy should come not from winning, having a good day or a great experience. Joy should come from a place much deeper than that. Joy should come from that which is unshakable, unchangeable. And so Jesus told them to make sure their joy was based upon God knowing their names. Nothing more, nothing less. Joy stems from knowing that God knows me.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Word Choice; Luke 9:31 & 51

We often talk of Jesus' death. He talked of his "departure" and time "to be taken up to heaven".

Maybe it is a little thing but I have to think that it is an expression of something much deeper. We see life as ending when a person dies. We mourn profusely at a graveside believing that a life has ceased. Yet Jesus addressed death as if it were a journey or transition. If physical death is "departing" or being "taken up", then the sting is dramatically reduced. Actually, joy is infused into the idea. Taking a trip does not sound so bad.

We are often encouraged to live with the end in sight; yet, if the end is a journey and not a termination, how does this affect the way I live in the present?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Scraps; Luke 9:10-17

I wonder how you feel when God looks at you and says "feed these 5000 people now"? Surely the apostles did the same thing I would have done, i.e., look for whatever was available. The great conclusion was five loaves and two fish. Obviously these were not five pound bass either. The put all their resources together and had an embarrassing amount of resources to bring before God.

The point, however, was that they brought them to God. Jesus took what they had and did more than they had imagined.

Then there were the baskets. As if to put an exclamation point at the end of the lesson, Jesus sent them to pick up the leftovers. That there would be leftovers from the distribution of five loaves and two fish seems an absurd concept to add to an already unimaginable situation. Yet he ends the story demonstrating that God's scraps were more than mankind's resources.

So often I've read this and thought of how the apostles lacked faith. Maybe they had faith but lacked vision or imagination. I wonder what God could do with my pitiful resources if I could only see through his eyes?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Questions; Luke 8:40-56

Questions, questions, questions. Since creation God has asked questions. "Where are you?" "Who told you?" "Where is your brother?" Here in the New Testament, Jesus keeps up the custom.

A crowd closes in but he knows what is happening with the individuals. He does not lose one in the many; each person retains significance.

Then he stops and does it. He asks a question. Rather than point out the action, he asks "who touched me?" Even to Peter it seems a ridiculous thing to do. Yet without it, she would never have had the opportunity to make a public confession. As always, Jesus used questions to pull people into his story. He used them to include.

How will I include people today?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gardening; Luke 8:1-15

Mountain laurel - dead. Spanish broom - dead. Crepe myrtle - sickly. There is this section in the yard that just refuses to grow anything. No matter what gets planted there, it dies. Its not the fault of the plant but the fault of the soil.

I think Jesus would point to my section of yard and help me remember that a lack of spiritual growth on my part is not the fault of anyone or anything except my heart. The word of God will do just fine in good soil. What his seed needs is a "noble and good heart".

So where do I put my effort for growth? So often my tendency is to blame the Bible for not being clear enough or point the finger at God for some hard times I go through. His parable doesn't leave much room for finger pointing. My job - my only job - is heart preparation. After that, growth will come in his way and his time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Marginal; Luke 7:36-50

I fear that I might have been agreeing with the Pharisees that day. It must have been somewhat confusing to watch the scene unfold. A lady comes in that everyone knows as a person with a bad reputation. Maybe she was still flirtatious after her third divorce, maybe she had experienced a few abortions, maybe she was selling her body to make a living or maybe it was one of a dozen other things. The point it, she was known and any "good Christian" knew to avoid her.

Then Jesus just sat there and let her touch him. She wept over him and anointed his feet. No one could avoid forming an opinion or overlooking what was happening. Jesus forced everyone in the room to learn something that day.

First it seems that Jesus gave her back her dignity. He looked at her as his child, as his creation. She was a person not a thing to be avoided. He looked beyond the actions into the heart.

Then he called others to do the same. He called the Pharisees to move from exclusion to inclusion.

Where would I be? Where am I now? How hard it can be to not stereotype or label people. How easy it is to avoid someone that my class of society disapproves of. How easy to forget that I am called to help people -- all people, whatever person -- to polish the image of God that was placed within them at creation.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Seek or Sit; Luke 7:18-33

The author's comments are insightful. If Luke stepped outside the story to inject a comment, it must have been something meaningful to him that he did not want us to miss. In verses 29-30 he separates the crowd into two groups, i.e., those baptized by John who subsequently accepted Jesus and those not baptized by John who subsequently rejected Jesus.

To be baptized by John meant to go looking for something. He lived in the desert, taught somewhat harshly and called people to change their lives. You didn't bump into John at the supermarket or run into him on the way to the synagogue. Being baptized by John meant a sacrifice of time and effort.

Luke's insight is followed by Jesus' rebuke where he compares the people to children sitting around the marketplace complaining. They invested no time nor effort.

So the passage is about John but also about me. How much time and effort am I putting into seeking God? Does God view me as one willing to walk through a desert to find him or as one who sits and complains about life? Am I a seeker or a sitter?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Power; Luke 7:1-16

They said he deserved special attention; he said they were wrong. As a soldier, he understood power and authority. He understand that if Jesus was a powerful prophet or God-man, then Jesus very much out-ranked him. Yet he knew someone that high up in God's power structure could change the life of his beloved servant.

In the next scene Jesus brought a funeral procession to a stop. He committed a seriously impure act, i.e., he came in contact with the dead. It was an action that would make him unclean for a week. Touching the dead meant being cast out of the community for seven days with ceremonial cleansing on the third and seventh days in order to come back in.

Yet, Jesus did not become an outcast by touching the dead. He did not become impure but rather the impure son became pure again. The child who had been the source of death for the community came into contact with the source of life for all communities.

These stories make me question my view of Jesus. Do I see him as the source of utmost authority? Do I believe that being touched by him gives life? Is my religion focused on naming outcasts or on restoring life? Would I have been a Jew appalled at Jesus violating the law by touching the dead or would I have realized that the law was meaningless when the giver of life was present? What defines me today . . . law-abiding or life-abiding?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Watching...for what? Luke 6

"So they watched him closely". It seems like a good statement to be made about someone, i.e., they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus. Most of us would be proud to have that said about us. Yet, the statement was not a compliment.

The Pharisees watched him closely but they were looking for errors not guidance. They had their hearts set on validating themselves at all costs. So they watched him not to learn, not to grow but to accuse and pick apart.

Jesus, therefore, addressed their hearts. "Quit thinking superficially about the law and look at the real issues," translated very loosely. The issue was doing good or evil, to save or destroy. The issue was never splitting hairs to keep the letter of the law while ignoring the intent.

So how do I view Jesus? Why do I go to church? What lenses do I put on when I look at other Christians or their actions? Do I watch other to pick them apart or to join in the battle of good vs. evil?

Hopefully one day someone will say about me that I watched Jesus closely . . . and it will be a compliment.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Almost There; Luke 5

The first three stories of Luke 5 share an interesting feature. In each one of them, the person in contact with Jesus starts the story with a knowledge of Jesus and some degree of faith. During the Jesus encounter, that person is changed and exits the story quite differently than he entered.

Simon knew Jesus; that is obvious. Jesus climbs in his boat and Simon does not object. After using his boat, Simon addresses Jesus as "master". At worst, it is a nominal familiarity and he is showing respect to a local rabbi. At best, there have been conversations prior to the encounter. Simon leaves the encounter with a new purpose; he is no longer a fisherman but a disciple who will reach out to men.

The leper approaches Jesus and makes a declaration of faith. He leaves the encounter healed physically, restored socially and engaged evangelistically.

The paralytic came to Jesus via the mercy of friends. I wonder if he begged them to help, if they were family, and if he was known to others in the room. In a small village, surely everyone knew him. They probably did not know his faith though. Dropped into an encounter with the healer he left not only walking but strong enough to carry his mat with him.

Three people who all had some degree of faith but their encounter with Jesus moved it to a new level.

So I ask myself do I just know of this man or have I been changed by an encounter? Do I need to encounter him again or am I whole emotionally and spiritually?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spirit led

I the first four chapters of Luke, the Spirit causes an old man to be in the right place at the right time to see the baby Jesus in the temple, affirms Jesus at his baptism, is proclaimed to be a new part of the upcoming ministry of Jesus, leads Jesus into the desert where he is tempted and leads him back again to Galilee. Over an over there is a combination of leading and then giving the words to speak. He gives direction, purpose (4:43, Jesus said his purpose was to preach the good news of the kingdom).

So how led am I? Do I hold God back by refusing to open my mouth and share what I have seen and heard? Do I listen to that inner voice, those inner nudges to go (be led) to certain people or places?

I fear that often I still preach the message of John (baptism for repentance and forgiveness) rather than the message of Jesus (baptism for the Holy Spirit that leads and moves us to speak).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

favor and grace

Luke 1 makes two references to the favor of God and the grace of God. One is a proclamation by the angels of peace on earth to men "on whom his favor rests" and the other is that Jesus was filled with wisdom and the "grace of God was upon him."

Sounds like a easy life and all that makes the nativity story sweet . . . until you look at the context. Jesus was in a cave lying in a feed trough before the first statement. His parents were on the way to Jerusalem to offer the Jewish sacrifice for the birth of the firstborn prior to the second. The text clearly says they were to offer a pair of doves or pigeons; that is the sacrifice of the poor according to Leviticus 12. The rich offered a lamb. So favor and grace resting on someone doesn't mean anything about socio-economics. In this case, favor and grace were upon a kid born into such poverty that they had no home, no proper clothes for him and could only offer the poorest of sacrifices.

So what does favor and grace mean to me? Am I so North American that I have come to believe that the American dream is God's grace to me? Am I so materialistic that I think that divine favor means middle class riches? Is it possible for me to view the world through God's perspective and not look at wealth as a measure of anything spiritual?

Grace and favor . . . I don't think they look like what we think they do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Great in the sight of the Lord

Luke 1:15 "He will be great in the sight of the Lord". What does that mean? Was John to be so different that he he was praised by God even before he started? Was this his "destiny" or direction? What does it imply about other people? Does it mean that others would maybe not be so great in the sight of God?

It is a question that I must ask of self as well. How great will I be? How not-great will I be? Do I settle for being mundane or is that truly just settling while God has other plans for me?

It is so easy to become distracted with activities of this life and forget that the ultimate judge of a life is from the perspective of the Lord. When all is said and done, my body "sleep in the church yard" as the old song says, what will be God's perspective of my life? How great will my efforts look at that moment measured by the Creator against the potential that he placed within me before I was born?