A Walk Through Luke 3

From my earliest childhood I remember expecting good things to come. What child does not look forward to birthdays and Christmas? Visits to a kind neighbor or a favorite aunt’s house can ignite small anticipations of good things to come. Our daughter has to be careful about telling our granddaughter of a pending visit with Nana – the anticipation can become too much! Our daughter’s strategy is to mark the date on a calendar and ceremoniously cross of each passing day as THE day gets closer.

I do not know if we ever outgrow anticipations and expectations. Sherri and I visited a number of antique stores on our anniversary getaway last week. Each case and pile of discarded ‘treasures’ got careful attention. My anticipation got rewarded with a marine green Sheaffer Balance OS from the mid 1930s in fairly decent shape and a black Sheaffer PFM 1 from the early 1960s that had very little if any use. I was almost embarrassed by the 50% discount on the PFM; it was already a good deal. After a few hours of repair, the pens will be ready to dance magically across blank pages waiting to capture the birthing of new ideas. I can hardly wait.

Sometimes life’s storms and heartaches drain the human spirit of expectations like a week-old birthday balloon that lost the energy to bounce on the ceiling. Unrealized expectations cause more divorces than arguments over money. Seeing the eyes of despair makes me want to weep with the forlorn person. In those moments I have no words of comfort; all I can do is be present in the hopelessness and trust the Spirit will bring life once again. I also know what it is like to be held by others in the dark nights that seemed to stretch for eternity.

Perhaps C. S. Lewis captured the wonder of expectation better than any other writer in the 20thcentury. His own suffering resulted from God not answering his prayer to save his beloved mother from cancer’s life draining power. At 10 or 11 he gave up on God and escaped into intellectual pursuits. After witnessing the horrors of WWI, the loss of a dear friend and suffering injury himself, Lewis eventually found atheism unequal to the task of explaining why the human spirit continued to quest for joy and justice.

Lewis needed to know why people could imagine, even long for, things like beauty and peace when so little could be found. His search led him to conclude the human anticipation for the good could only come from a good God.

As I walk through Luke 3 I am shocked with the fragrance of hope emanating from a people who lived in deplorable conditions. What should have been eye watering swamp gasses of despair gave way to the divine gift of expectation for something good. The God’s word came to John. He preach good news to the crowds who stood on the shoulders of many generations of expectant people. 

John’s word of leveling and straightening the path so that all flesh could see the glory of God called them to the baptismal pool. The strangely dressed prophet offered a third alternative to the human responses of fight or flight. Rather than fleeing the wrath to come, they could bear fruit. Their best expectation, judgment avoidance, got a godly upgrade to produce good fruit. All they had to do to gain the upgrade was repent of their old perspective and behave in line with the coming glory.

When I think good news, I automatically go to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Luke explained the words of John, though just a shadowy anticipation of the coming Messiah, were good news as well. His words of accountable repentance, coming judgment and fruitful living brought good news. Perhaps his prophetic words to the Herodians brought good news to the crowd as well – they could expect judgment would come to the power brokers.

John’s words of Jesus fell far short of what would come, but that is the nature of divine expectations. John saw the Holy Ghost and judgment fires collapsed into one moment; his expectations missed Jesus’ third way of calling a church to continue His mission to the ends of the earth. When repentance leads us to third way alternatives in light of the good news, our expectations will fall short of God’s vision for restored humanity. We will need anticipation upgrades right up to our last breath.

My expectations in light of John’s good news calls me to pray.

Dear Jesus,

Today I confess all of my hopes for good things come from You. I know my hopes need adjustment to see ‘third way’ opportunities, but the fact that I expect peace, joy, and justice in this world testify to Your redemptive care for all creation. Like John, I too have a limited perspective of what You plan to do in these last days.

I repent of limited expectations of deliverance and judgment against wickedness. Like the crowds, you call me to share my resources with others. Like the tax collectors, you call me to behave justly in all business practices. Like the soldiers, you call me to never misuse power and to be content with my wages. 

The fruit I bear does not seem to be market worthy. I can only see deformations caused by worms and early frosts, but You call me to look again. Turning away from kingdom impact of the fruit You produce in me rejects Your choice to use Your church to witness to the kingdom. I repent again. I accept an expectation refresh. I feel the breath of Your Spirit as you bring renewed life to my vision. 

Thank you for the cornea implants. Cataracts of time have clouded my expectations, but through Your Word and Spirit, I see new glimpses of light. By simply bearing the fruit You put within me, I can be a part of Your Kingdom coming and Your Will being done.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

A Walk Through Luke 2

Back in the 1980s I did part of my student teaching in a third-grade classroom. I got to introduce children to the wonderful world of fractions. In some ways my degree, teaching credentials, and career rested on my ability to help the children learn to use fractions. For the children, and more than a few of their parents, I opened the door to some mystical world that defied logic.

I think math books should be sold at the checkout counter right next to Peoplemagazine. Certainly the Pythagorean theorem is more fascinating than the latest Hollywood scandal. Impulse buyers should not be able to resist mathematical beauty.

Before my students could venture into the world of algebra, geometry and statistics, they needed to grasp and celebrate a world between whole numbers. And I got to take them there! Of course they had experienced less than whole when their first bottle approached that sad sucking sound. They had reduced their parents’ sleeping time to a fragment of what it had been before their blessed arrival. Cough syrup and other medicines came through little tubes with hash marks indicating parts of the whole. Fractions should be no problem for little people of normal intelligence and a vast body of experience.

Yet many of them suffered.

I lovingly explained the concepts many times. I used paper puzzles. I even pulled out the ultimate weapon, chocolate candy bars, to explain the bigger the number on the bottom (everybody say denominator), the smaller the fraction. Most of them got it. I passed student teaching, graduated, and got a job.

Walking through Luke 2 shows how we all experience the disorienting world of new understanding even though our daily lives are saturated with truth. I marvel at God’s patience as we wrestle with His commitment to reclaim all things from the brokenness of sin. Deliberately walking through the chapter makes His love palpable for me. It is like the story is unfolding right before my eyes.  

God displayed His grace everywhere, yet most did not grasp it. Some people call the years between Malachi and the birth of Christ the 400 years of silence. God has never been silent. Every sunrise and every rain drop conveyed God’s love. Not only did creation declare God’s ongoing conversation with humanity, the Spirit still spoke to devout men and women. Simeon and Anna heard God. Anna prophesied under the direction of the Spirit. They patiently anticipated the fulfillment of what they had heard.

With the birth of Jesus, God spoke in a new way. He chose to use questionable taxation practices to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. He sent angels to invite shepherd boys to see grace incarnate. Joseph and Mary had the courage to make the journey as an engaged couple – evidently Mary’s dad expelled her from his house rather than waiting for the wedding celebration.

The parents could not fully grasp what was happening. The shepherds’ revelation brought wonder to them and others who stood by the manger. Something about the boys’ encounter caused Mary to ponder what she thought she already knew. Presenting the child at the temple bought new understanding. Simeon blessed the parents and warned Mary of heart piercings to come. 

Parenting the Christ must have brought many moments of wonder. Jesus’ four-day conversation with temple teachers brought anxiety, distress, astonishment, and deepening awareness of how little they understood their son. Mary wisely treasured all new information in her heart even though she would not understand their meaning until decades later. This One who submitted to them continued to grow in wisdom and favor with God and humanity.

The early church could not grasp the full meaning of angelic words regarding great joy for all people and peace on earth.  Simeon’s prophetic words of salvation for all people groups and revelation for the Gentiles sounded as strange to the church as the new world of fractions did to my eight year-olds. 

As I walk through the chapter I hear young angels with glittered wings grinning from ear to ear as they race through their lines before family members. How can six-year-old children drama team members understand these words? As shepherds poke each other with staffs and prance because they need to go to the bathroom, these eternal words echo through the congregation – a congregation that has heard the words often before. They smile and take pictures. They fail to marvel and treasure words that have not fully come to pass. I must value these words afresh as I approach the later seasons of my life.

The wonderful truths still await their fulfillment. I have experienced kingdom power most of my life just as children live in a world of fractions. Though I breath kingdom air, I still have new truths and behaviors just beyond my mental, spiritual, and emotional reach. These partially realized truths call me to pray.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for never being silent. Sometimes Your voice booms with tidal wave strength, while at other times only patient and spiritually focused people will hear Your small voice. I worship You for the things I have heard. I repent of times that I have set my ear to the wrong frequency. 

Your birth still contains truths just beyond my reach. Sometimes I feel like the shepherds; I marvel at the divine invitation to leave mundane things behind and gaze into a beautiful eternity when all creation is restored. At other times I feel like elder Simeon who heard the Spirit’s tug for decades. I believe, but I also wonder what it will be like to hold the promises in my hand. Today I feel like Mary. I have heard new things these past few months. These new things build on the foundation of truths I heard four and five decades ago. The new things bring fresh hope mingled with perplexity. I hide them in my heart.

Thank you for Your patience. Like a gifted math teacher, You have introduced and reinforced the wonder of Your kingdom coming and Your will being done in all the earth. My eyes sparkle with a new dawning of awareness. New faith, new trust, and new sense of Your gifts in my life call me forward.

I celebrate these kingdom impulses today, and I anticipate even more astonishment in the days to come. The pain in my heart truly does not compare to the possibilities I sense in the spirit.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

A Walk Through Luke 1

I am not really a bucket list kind of guy. Given my personality, I am afraid the ‘list’ would turn into something to chase – another work item to accomplish. Instead I have had some lifetime experiences to celebrate and remember. Some lifetime experiences are trips such as the ones Sherri and I got to take to Whitehorse, Yukon and to Singapore. Just mentioning those trips bring memories of shared meals with dear friends, fishing trips, preaching and teaching in special places, and walks with my princess. Another lifetime experience expanded to fill my middle adult years – who would have thought I would have the opportunity to be a Bible college instructor for 10 years and seminary professor for 17 more years! Now that Sherri and I live quite a distance from all family members, each visit gives me a chance for double hugs with my parents, children, grandchildren, brothers and other family members – those moments provide deeper joy and pleasure than the trips to Austria and Switzerland that I have daydreamed about for the last five or six years.

Kissing Sherri’s shoulder as I left for the office this morning was a lifetime experience. I’ve done it a thousand times or more over the last 39 years, but each one is a once in a lifetime experience.

Some ‘bucket-list-able’ experiences do not live up to the anticipation. I have a few such honors and experiences in mind, but I will leave them unnamed. I do not want to taint someone else’s anticipation or memories of those times.

Reflecting on these past blessings change me. They turn me from disappointments, losses, and grief to anticipation, thanksgiving, and hope. The Lord’s blessings come as gifts rather than payments for my efforts or “sacrifice”. Blessings remind me that sacrifice is a term of worship rather than a term of economics. 

I think my life is a collection of blessings. Some books I have read help me see the archive with new appreciation. Yesterday I reviewed my decades long friend Dave Norris’ excellent book, I AM, as I made notes for a new friend who is covering a class for me this month. Dave’s examination of God’s loving covenant with humanity culminates in blessings. God calls His name over His people, and blessings result. 

Luke 1 deserves 30,000 words rather than the 1,000 or so I will give it today. I mean, just the way Luke links eyewitnesses and minister in some type of parallelism where I have to see both or I have neither calls for much deeper reflection. And that phrase happens in verse 2 of 80. I feel like someone running through the Louvre on a lunch break rather than giving attention to each part of a masterpiece. 

The chapter includes a cacophony of sights, sounds, smells, and emotions. The evening incense closes a day of sacrifices. Devout Jews pray for God’s favor as they await the priest’s return to the evening shadows of the temple’s courtyard after what might have been his only opportunity to offer incense in his whole life. That was a lifetime experience made special beyond anticipation by a heavenly messenger just as he prostrated himself before the altar. The experience blew away anything he could have imagined.

An elder lady experiences the emotions of shame and fear being vanquished by honor and hope. When the child kicked at the voice of a cousin’s greeting, decades of shame drained away. She was not cursed. She was not an evil sinner punished by God. Instead her blessing came in the autumn of life – her son would “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, and to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” God’s blessings came at the right time for her … and for the world.

Blessings mark you if you let them. They come from a distant throne room and are brought near by the very Spirit of God.

The chapter echoes blessings from the past. Elizabeth was a new Sarah. John’s spirit and power reflect that of Elijah and Samson. Angel visits connect God’s blessings that day to many times in the past when God made His intervention visible. All of the comments about turning remove the distance from Jeramiah’s tear stained writings to a season when many would see the coming King and turn toward Him. Songs of an old priest and a young girl bring to mind songs of Moses, Miriam, and Deborah. I am thankful for those who have the gift of fracturing the blessings into visible spectrums of song similar to the revealing power of a prism that surrenders to the light. 

Some parts of Luke 1 make us pause between heartbeats of those immobilized by fear at a God encounter, then the chapter ends with 30 years of John’s life collapsed in one sentence. Fast or slow, every word conveys blessings.

Seeing such an avalanche of blessings drops me to my knees in thanksgiving.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the many waves of blessings You have poured out on my life. Each day Your blessings mold and shape me into the man I want to be but cannot get there on my own. Like Elizabeth I have had some moments of suffering and shame along the way, but today those pains only serve to flavor Your blessings. What others or I meant for harm, You have turned them into good in accordance with Your covenant goodness toward us, Your people.

I repent of moments when I rejected Your blessings like a pouting, recalcitrant child. Did You smile when I did that? Did You know today would come when Your blessings would overwhelm me? Did You see the tears of joy? Thank You for the years of patient mercy that continues to keep me in Your presence even when I thought following You was more like the Mojave Desert than the garden of beauty You place around me.

This morning is another life experience. It came upon me so unexpectedly. I am overwhelmed by Your goodness. I want to share what I have seen – to serve out of blessings encountered. Oh Lord! Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done! You turned so many things around in Luke 1. Those blessings still flow today.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

A Walk Through Luke 24

Transparent bowtie     Who wants to know the truth? Who can handle the truth? Everywhere I turn these days folks want to know if anyone wants to know the truth anymore. Media outlets seem to go back to yellow journalism of the early 20th century. Politians point their fingers at opponents as people who refuse to face the truth or are so foolish they cannot even know the truth when it hits them between the eyes.

Jesus followers often say postmodern people do not want to know the truth.

This quest for truth goes back a very long way! John recorded a conversation between Pilate and Jesus. The administrator asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Sadly he did not sit down and wait for an answer. He suffered from the ability to ask questions without the patience to listen for an answer.

Human beings seek to make meaning in life. We need to find a way to explain things that goes on around us. We often make the same mistake Pilate did – we do not wait to hear Jesus explain the meaning of truth. Jesus wants to explain the whole truth. Can we handle the whole truth? Jesus proclaimed He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus alone is doctrinal truth (also known as orthodoxy). All other truth systems get evaluated by Him. Jesus alone is truth in action or behavior (also known as orthopraxy). Everyone’s actions will be measured against His action. Jesus is also the only measure of emotional, volitional, or inner person truth (also known as orthopathy). Human will, motivations and emotions must be conformed to Jesus.

Luke 24 proclaims so much truth … all three aspects of truth. Jesus resurrected from the tomb after having suffered to provide access for others to enter His glory (v. 25-26). Jesus opened “their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (v. 45). Jesus spoke truth, doctrinal truth that confronted misunderstandings from the past.

Luke ends the chapter with concrete action items for those who would accept the truth of who He was. They had truth to DO just as they had truth to KNOW. They would preach the power of His name among all nations. They would take His whole message and actions into every nation. Truth in action takes the gospel to literally all people. Doing truth requires power, Holy Spirit power that would come to them in Jerusalem. Disciples became doers of truth because of the teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Luke spends significant amount of effort capturing the emotional and motivational elements of truth in chapter 24.

  • The women had perplexity in their emotions. They had labored all night to grind the spices for Jesus’ decaying body, but the tomb was empty.
  • When the women saw the two angels they experienced fear.
  • Peter and the others thought the women spoke idle tales. They could not receive the truth of their words because of the lack of truth in their spirit and emotions. Peter’s emotional state drove him to look for himself. Luke mapped Peter’s emotional journey from unbelief to confused wonder.
  • The two Emmaus Road travelers tried to satisfy themselves with the factual kind of truth. They reasoned among themselves. Their reasoning left them emotionally out of balance. Jesus directly addressed their lack of emotional truth when He asked why they were sad.
  • The two men told their story. Emotional struggles can be found in their sense of betrayal. He would not be the kind of messiah they wanted. He would not restore Israel as a nation. Their broken emotional truth related to their erroneous doctrinal truth.
  • The men confessed emotional astonishment at the women’s testimony.
  • Jesus evaluated their degree of emotional truth. They were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken.” The problem centered in emotional truth rather than in doctrinal truth. Jesus explained Moses and the prophets, doctrinal truth, but they still did not see Jesus for who He was.
  • When the Emmaus men offered the Stranger customary hospitality, they finally had an opportunity to know truth. As Jesus received, blessed, broke and gave the bread they received truth. Jesus did not need to hang around anymore. The burning in their heart matured to the place of truth. Their emotional truth transformation compelled them to run the 7-1/2 miles back to Jerusalem to witness the resurrection truths (all three truths: truth in the event, truth in emotions, and truth in witnessing after seeing Jesus).
  • Jesus showed up. Jesus’ words addressed their lack of emotional truth when He said, “Peace be unto you.” Luke explained they felt terror and fear in their spirit.
  • Jesus questioned their emotional turmoil; “Why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” Even touching Jesus did not put truth in their emotions. They could not believe. They could not accept the joy Jesus offered.
  • After eating with Jesus, the disciples would finally receive emotional truth and believe Jesus. Consequently they worshipped and returned to Jerusalem with great joy even though He had parted from them.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for all resurrection truths! I had such a blessed Easter with the church family in Wrightstown, New Jersey, this year. Easter confronts me with resurrection knowledge. The empty tomb calls me to live in authority and power of the Holy Spirit as I witness to Your goodness to all nations. This Easter, however, I must confess my emotions, spirit, and motivations need to be transformed by truth.

I confess I still have moments of perplexity, fear, confusion, distrust, sadness, and absence of peace. Tasting Your meal, hearing Your words, and feeling Your presence brings deeper truth to my spirit. My labor shifts from obligation to the wonderful joy of being about Your work in the world. Easter calls me to reveal my inner weakness to You and to some other people around me. When my emotions stand in Your resurrection truth, I face the choice to believe and rejoice in the resurrection or cherish fear and distrust.

Thank you for bringing truth to me in all dimensions this Easter season. Thank you for pushing beyond my natural tendency to protect my inner being from the possibility of hope … a possibility I resist for fear of yet another shattered dream. Easter calls me to trust. Easter calls me to accept the possibility that the world around me really does want to know truth – the whole truth.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen


Thank you for walking with me through Luke 24 in Easter’s aftermath. Perhaps these days following the celebration you will have an opportunity to examine the degree of truth in your inner being. Please join with me in trusting Jesus afresh. Please join with me in breathing deeply from Easter’s peace and joy!
God bless,

Jim

A Walk Through Luke 23

Transparent bowtie     On this Friday morning I sit at the airport waiting for my Easter trip to New Jersey. Everything looks so normal. People drink Starbuck’s coffee and check their text messages. Families shepherd their little children and hope to board early. People keep their two bags within arm’s reach. The airport version of CNN tells the news of a Walmart employee getting fired for some strange reason and the abused United airline traveler’s lawyers position for a hefty payout. The day looks normal for travelers and workers alike.

But today is not a normal Friday. Today is THAT Friday – the Friday when everything changed.

Change presents challenges. Universities offer degrees in change management. Laws of physics as well as family systems theory remind us that natural forces resist change. Cool words like equilibrium and homeostasis provide labels for this phenomenon. Unchecked change would bring everything we know to a state of complete chaos.

But on Good Friday we remember everything did change. Chaos still comes with the cross.

Perhaps you have heard people introduce a new dish, art form or music genre by saying, “You will either really like it, or you will hate it.” The cross had the same effect. Luke 23 demonstrates the way the cross clarifies what is on the inside of a person. While Pilot tried to escape responsibility of Jesus’ trial, he became good friends with his old enemy Herod by rejecting Jesus. Most of the crowd who had paraded for Jesus a few days before now asked for Barabbas’ release. Since Jesus would not be their kind of king, they would prefer an anarchist and murderer. Soldiers mocked the rival Jewish king who could be put to death so easily.

The two thieves demonstrate the dividing nature of the cross. One malefactor ridiculed Jesus and betrayed the evil of his heart. The other felon somehow observed the difference between himself and Jesus. He deserved to die – Jesus did not. In fact, no one else in the chapter confesses Jesus is still king and will inherit His kingdom very soon. The spiritually sensitive outcast asked to be remembered when Jesus achieved His goal.

Some of Jesus’ old crowd still followed in an anticipatory funeral procession. They wept for Jesus. The condemned Savior suggested they weep for themselves. Society’s response to Jesus, a righteous man, demonstrated they too would be mistreated. A few of those devote followers from Galilee would continue to follow even after Jesus’ admonition. Perhaps Simon had blood transfer to his robe when the soldiers conscripted him to carry the cross, but these few faithful believers might have stayed close enough to have the blood splatter on them. They would even follow Joseph, the minority counselor who voted for acquittal, to observe where Jesus’ body would rest. They went home to prepare more spices to worship Jesus once the Sabbath had past.

The heavens mourned, and the earth quaked. Darkness fell, and the veil ripped. That Friday changed everything.

Luke 23 does not provide a Hollywood worthy script. The agony of Christ does not get enough attention for blood thirsty movie goers. Luke limits descriptions of Jesus’ pain to just a few sentences. He prefers to capture the impact of the cross on others. After all, could anyone really describe the horror of that day? Perhaps the three-hour total eclipse alone could tell the magnitude of what happened.

Luke did illuminate Jesus’ response to those around Him. Not only did He invite the thief to stay by His side forever, He interceded on behalf of those who carried out the government’s order and mob’s will. They may have ridiculed and gambled for His garments, but He would spend his remaining agonizing breaths in pray for them.

When He could hold on no longer, Jesus commended His spirit to the Father’s hands.

That Friday changed everything.


Dear Jesus,

My words seem so insignificant compared to Your sacrifice. You despised the shame and endured Your cross for the joy set before You. “Thank you” may be appropriate for a birthday gift or a meal in a friend’s home, but the words fall short today.

Forgive me for the times I have so abruptly changed from joyfully following You to angrily thinking or feeling that You were not acting very king-like. I too often see my own scowl, frown, fear, or disappointment in the mob. You only walked with them for three years or so; this summer I celebrate 50 years of Your Spirit abiding in me. Have mercy I pray.

Remind me again how that Friday changed everything. Remind me of the ways the cross separates people based on what they are on the inside. I have often stayed on the right side of the cross. Please consume anything that would pull me away from Your side. Surely the cross still has the power to invite thieves into Your eternal presence. I find too much thievery in me. Too often I have tried to use Your gifts for myself rather than to help serve others like You taught us to do.

While You still welcome thieves I want to be transformed into the kind of disciple those ladies represented. I want to follow always. I want to observe where You are always. I want to worship always. I want to find rest even in challenging moments as they did. Dear Lord, make this Friday the day that changes me.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen


 

Thank you for walking with me through Luke 23. My devotions today are not worthy to be compared with the Crucifixion story, but I feel welcomed in the reality of this Friday none the less. Perhaps you find areas in your life that fall on both sides of the cross divide as I did today. I pray you have the strength to cry out with the rest of us thieves. The cross can make a difference in us today. The cross calls us, (re)claims us, and commissions us to live out the coming resurrection.

God bless,

Jim

A Walk Through Luke 20

Transparent bowtie     Some things never change. For quite a few years now nearly all social conversations relate to use and abuse of power. I live about seven miles from Ferguson, Missouri – a name that represents racial tension rather than a city itself. Anger burned hotter than the flames as the protests jumped from one small city in the mid-western US to metropolitan cities in the east. Media outlets filled the air with accounts, images, and despair. Urban death and violence continues.

Black lives matter. White lives matter. Latino lives matter. Asian lives matter. People matter.

In a sinful world people suffer in so many ways. Power abuse, victimization, rebellion, self-protection, and fear represent just a few of ways society suffers as human beings harm self and each other. To bring order out of chaos society endows some people and institutions with authority – the right to use power to make others conform. Small societies like families, churches, and gangs have their authority patterns as do cities, states, governments, stock markets, multinational corporations. Change disrupts the balance and brings efforts to reassert some sense of order.

Some things never change. Luke 20 takes place during Passion Week as tensions heightened between Jesus and various authorities. This upstart Teacher had made blind people see, raised the dead, reinterpreted the law, and tipped over temple tables. Such behavior could not be tolerated. Something had to be done. Blind people belonged at their beggar’s corner and low station in life. Dead people should stay put. The law had to be explained by the right authorities. The temple had a job to do, and chaos upset the economic, social, and religious balance.

Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. Everyone talks about the pain of sin, but very few want anything to be done about it. This week has so much in common with that first Passion Week. What right does Jesus mess up people’s choices and consequences of those choices? Do we prefer sin’s consequences to surrendering to Jesus’ authority?

Luke 20 records heightened tensions where various influence groups questioned Jesus’ authority. The power brokers could not question Jesus’ power … He had proven His ability to attack brokenness and suffering too many times for them to question His power. All they could question was His authority to use such disruptive power. Jesus engaged the various interrogators, but He would not answer their authority questions. He rejected their authority.

The parable did not help the court of public opinion. Jesus’ story revealed how the fallen, sinful powers plotted to kill the Lord of the vineyard’s heir. Jesus was that heir. He was the rejected stone. He had power and authority to confront all sources of abuse … even spiritual abuse. Since the fallen powers could not kill Jesus right after the Triumphal Entry parade, they set more traps to support a flimsy court case. They failed. They stopped questioning Jesus’ authority.

The chapter ends with Jesus warning the crowd about abusive power around them. Power abusers tried to generate authority by their robes, titles, and seats in synagogues and feasts. They siphoned off resources from the poor and glamorized themselves through lengthy prayers. Empty shells always fight to keep their ill-gotten authority. Some things never change.


Dear Jesus,

I enjoy Easter’s resurrection, but I do not know if I like Passion Week. Your work heightens the gap between Your authority and our efforts to keep control. Lord, You would think we would see when we work harder to protect our position than to actually use what little power we have to do righteousness.

Have mercy on me, I pray. How often have I challenged your authority? Your power is beyond question. You have healed, saved, filled with Your Spirit, provided miraculously, and comforted in difficult times. Yet these days between Palm Sunday and Easter illustrate my feeble efforts to resist Your authority as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Have mercy on me, I pray.

Forgive me for times when my life pointed to my feeble power rather than Your divine authority. I pray Your Spirit guides Sherri and me in ways that we can point to Your goodness. Can we touch the sick, broken, marginalized, lonely, and dying as Your hands? All our resources are Yours; we pledged that in our baptism. Instead of questioning Your authority, please help us serve as better farmers in the field.

All the abusive use of power in our world sickens You now as it did that first Passion Week. Sin has that effect on You. This Friday serves as a reminder of how much You hate sin, its effects on humanity, and how far You go to brake the power of sin. Thank You for Friday. I am sorry of my contribution to forging those nails.

Would You help me hear the warning You gave the audience at the end of the chapter? Too often I just accept the broken world as ‘just the way things are.’ Your passion rejects my acceptance. I need spiritual strength to confront the weakened powers of this world. The fallen systems work so hard to keep their power, power You unmasked and broke on Calvary. Sometimes I fail to see how I benefit from the brokenness of the world. Forgive me and open my eyes to what You see. I give up my ‘piece of the action’ in abusive power. All lives matter… particularly those that suffer at the expense of abusive power in a broken world.

Thank you for unmasking the shame of power abuse by your suffering.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen


Thank you for walking with me through Luke 20. I realize my devotions sounded a little political today, but reading about Jesus’ Passion Week shines a light on sin wherever it may be. I pray you have a powerfully redeeming week as you look forward to Friday and Easter.
God bless,

Jim

 

A Walk Through Luke 19

Transparent bowtie     I have a confession to make. I enjoy elements of the Christian calendar. For me the weeks leading up to Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas (Advent through Epiphany) should play a more critical role in the life of saints than days picked by Hallmark Cards or governmental bodies. While I value presidents, pilgrims, mothers, fathers, grandparents, laborers, and other people who have made significant contributions to our society, I like to examine the impact of Christian events on the calendar. I would probably trade Thanksgiving Day for All Saints Day (November 1)… rather than remembering early American settlers I would choose to remember brothers and sisters who have gone on before us. I truly stand on giants’ shoulders, and I am so thankful for their lives well lived.

On Palm Sunday this year North Point UPC (Sperry, Oklahoma) invited me to worship with them. I had the honor of preaching from Luke 19 in the morning service and John 12’s alabaster box story in the evening. We encountered Jesus on our road to Easter as did that first generation of saints.

The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem was a short one, but the encounters provide tremendous insight into Jesus’ desire to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Each case reveals His desire to reach deeper than people’s felt needs. Zacchaeus may have been short in stature, but he had a reputation. As a rich tax collector, he evidently created many barriers between himself and his community. The walls protected him from their anger and suspicion. He climbed that tree by the road out of curiosity; he looked over his protective wall to see Jesus. He did not go unnoticed.

Jesus went beyond Zacchaeus’ felt need and exposed the deeper need. The tax man needed to let Jesus through his protective barriers. While a rich man in a previous chapter had to give up all if he wanted to follow Jesus, Zacchaeus only had to let Jesus into his house for dinner. Salvation crossed the threshold. The other rich man’s identity rested in his wealth. This rich man’s identity existed in his isolation from God and neighbor. Once Jesus came in the walls came down! He voluntarily gave away half his wealth and conducted an audit to see if anyone would get a 400% tax rebate. The tax man got more than what he bargained for.

The multitude looked for a messiah to cast out the Romans. Maybe this would be the Passover generations of Jews anticipated. Political and economic freedom would be theirs. They knew war would ensue, but the promised messiah could handle it. The could have “peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” Jesus entered the City of Peace as the Prince of Peace … the Prince of Peace now. Luke’s Christmas story includes the angel’s proclamation that peace had come to earth where good will would be to all humanity. Sadly the crowd failed to grasp the peace right in front of them as they sought release from a lesser bondage. Jesus wept again! Jerusalem’s day had come. The whole city missed it because they looked for the wrong things.

The crowd’s momentary worship for anticipated freedom would require a future conflict. Misguided worship always does. The crowd turned from waving palm branches to waving fists and shouting insults within a week. Jesus just would not act right. Jesus would not meet their felt need.

Pharisees needed to control the mob — to be arbiters of orderly worship. They needed to realize worship cannot be contained by human systems.

The priests needed to control religious practices for their own benefit. Jesus showed them the deeper need when He tipped over their tables. They had turned spiritual authority into a source of personal gain. They needed to return to praying for all nations.

I got to preach the Word. I witnessed the Spirit and Word have an impact on the gathered saints one more time. I prayed with folks and encouraged them to encounter Jesus. Then it happened – I encountered Jesus. My need for several weeks has revolved around a way to make this next period of ministry sustainable. I have asked Jesus how Sherri and I could support ourselves now that our work will not be centered in a seminary or college setting. Jesus has given us peace now, but I still wonder how we will pay the bills.

I asked the audience to encounter Jesus; somehow I did not remember Jesus would hold me accountable to the Word as well. Jesus touched deep into my spirit. He knew my deeper need rested in seeing the value He places on my life and ministry now. He knew my deeper need revolved around knowing He has indeed called me to a valuable kingdom work. He wanted me to know recentering around this truth was more important than worrying about July’s house payment. Peace moved from heaven to earth. I worshipped.


Dear Jesus,

I am so thankful You always push us to encounter You in a way that goes beyond our felt needs. I must confess and repent of those times I get frustrated and perplexed by Your focus on the deeper needs. I am sorry about my whining. I am sorry about putting my personal needs above kingdom prayers for all nations. I am sorry for my lapses. I certainly need more table tipping. My prayers have drifted off target … again. They center more on what I need than on what the world needs.
Thank you for offering another encounter on Palm Sunday. You lovingly persisted and stripped away my defenses until I heard Your purposes. You pressed all of us for a deeper encounter with You than what we had planned. You are the Gracious God! I thank you on behalf of a world that needs to see peace on earth, a world that needs to worship so the earthquakes might stop.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen


Thank you for walking with me through Luke 19. I know Jesus will push all of us for deeper encounters with Him. Maybe we can release our need and let Him do what He does best – remakes us in His image. While you may be surprised by what Jesus changes deeply within you, you can trust Him to do all things well. Let’s look forward to Horrendous Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Surely more encounters await us.

God bless,

Jim