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A walk through Luke 15

Transparent bowtie     In 1971 Carole King wrote and sang “So Far Away” as part of her hit record Tapestry. Her song spoke to a period of US history filled with lost dreams and hopes unfulfilled. The 60s called for new possibilities of human fulfillment. We put men on the moon, but we could not stop the violence in the streets or in Southeast Asia. Ms. King’s song seems to carry some personal pain in losses of relationship in a mobile society. For example, she asks repeatedly, “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore.” Of course she confesses she is one of those displaced persons where “Traveling around sure gets me down and lonely.” She expressed a deep concern: “I sure hope the road don’t come to own me.”

On the same album, Ms. King promises to come running when “You just call out my name” in the song, “You’ve Got a Friend”. Perhaps the melancholy reality that she cannot be that friend to everyone comes through in the album’s title song, “Tapestry”. A drifting man of fortune wanders aimlessly past her and becomes part of the fabric of her life. When the man in the patch quilt-like coat comes away empty after reaching for golden fruit on a tree, he sits down on a rock and succumbs to a curse. The singer laments, “I wept to see him suffer, though I didn’t know him well.” In her sorrowful, lonely eulogy to a stranger, the singer’s tapestry of life unravels as a “figure gray and ghostly beneath a flowing beard … comes to take me back.”

Perhaps that album from 45 years ago speaks even more profoundly to our world today. The mobility of our culture now adds roughly 14% foreign born people (4.7% in 1970) to continental migration patterns of those born in the country. According to the census bureau, about 1 in 9 people move every year. “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?”

Reading through Luke 15 we see a shift in scenes from the previous chapter. Rather than eating with privileged people, the outcasts have come to Jesus. Perhaps Jesus multiplied the bread again or everyone just shared what little food they had. The “good” people complained that Jesus received and ate with sinners. Jesus told three more stories. All included lost things: a poor shepherd’s sheep, a lady’s silver coin, and a father’s son.

When the searchers located the lost ‘objects’ they called their friends for a celebration. It did not matter if the sheep knew it was lost and could not find the way home, the coin had no awareness of its lostlessness, or the son had to come to his senses and find his own way home, someone called for a celebration.

Maybe Carole King does not travel the road alone. Maybe some folks have cried for the Shepherd so long that they cannot bleat anymore. Maybe some do not even have a hope that things can be any different … lost simply describes a condition without any thought of a Searcher. Maybe some have dishonored the Father and walked, but they fear facing shame and potential rejection when they wonder if coming home is even possible. They fear reaching for the golden fruit of belonging to only be rejected and cursed one more time.

I travel quite a bit these days. When people ask where I am from, I generally answer with a reference to the last city I visited. I have to put the hotel room key envelope in my pocket or I will forget which room was mine. Fortunately each place I visit becomes a new home, a new place of celebration. Each worship service and shared meal reminds me that I belong to a really big family. The Father prepares a place to welcome us home very soon. What a celebration that will be!

Prayer

Dear Jesus,

I know some people who use to worship with us. They have experienced the wonder of healing and belonging. Perhaps the path grew difficult, the safety net broke, or they thought staying in the house meant they would miss out on so many pleasures of the world. The conditions do not matter, they all deserve a Searcher. You call and welcome all home.

I am sorry for the times when I felt the loss as something about me rather than about the one lost. In those times I searched for a while to make sure it was not my fault and to demonstrate I had done all I could. I am sorry for the times when I did not value others as much as You did. I am sorry for the times when I lost faith in Your continuous call even when the lost one has no plan to come home.

Lord, thank You for welcoming us home when we have had doubts and fears. Thank you for relentlessly looking for others. We find so much joy in celebrating returning brothers and sisters! We pray that we can see the wandering people as well as those stuck without any hope. We pray we can care for them as persons rather than just trying to ‘grow the church’. Please unstop our ears and open our eyes.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

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Thank you for walking with me through Luke 15. Yes, I do have an eclectic taste in music. I hope that does not offend anyone. I have fond jazz, oldies, classics, country, hymns, and other music forms convey longings, hopes, dreams, failures, and faith. Perhaps music shares feelings of aloneness and lost hope in ways I can hear. Perhaps other art forms or parts of people’s lives help you see where the lost can be found. I look forward to hearing about your next celebration – a celebration brought on by another person being welcomed by the Father. People of all walks of life deserve our welcome and celebration. No one has to ever walk alone.

God bless,

Jim

A walk through Luke 14

Transparent bowtie     I do not think my condition comes under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I certainly am party challenged. Somewhere along the line I did not get the social script for attending events designated as a party. More than once I have suggested I need to have one of my children give me an ‘urgent’ phone call in case I felt a little trapped and out of place. I usually rely on Sherri to help me know how long I need to stay and when leaving is acceptable. I sometimes fear the things I talk about are either esoteric fountain pen geekdom or subjects where I fall into professor mode with a three-hour lecture in mind. I generally wind up apologizing for both at some point.

Party guests sometimes bring challenges. I am not the only one I am sure! Jesus represented another kind of challenge. He loved people too much to either stay away from parties or to stay silent. Jesus did His best work at parties! Luke 14 records Jesus’ teaching at a formal, invitation only affair as well as the post party roadside conversation.

I appreciate Jesus’ keen assessment of human behavior at parties. I often spend a little time conducting social interaction research myself in those moments. I jokingly tell people I may be more suited for writing about parties than attending them. On this particular Sabbath Jesus accepted an invite to the one of the chief Pharisees’ house. They came to watch their guest who tended to break social conventions. Jesus did not disappoint the crowd of semi-uptight attendees. Rather than a parlor trick, Jesus healed a man with serious fluid buildup. What they could not see was Jesus’ even greater work to heal the far more serious heart or liver problem.

Good party guests also have stories to tell. Again, Jesus did not disappoint. When Jesus speaks, however, His words have power. His words convicted. His words called for humility and loving responses. While Jesus’ words can bring peace and comfort, He did not use those words with the uptight crowd. This crowd wanted the best rooms and the seats of honor. This crowd only ate with respectable people. This crowd only followed social protocols derived from pride and control.

I hear Jesus today. He wants to heal us of so much! That healing, however, comes to the humble and the outcast. I hear Jesus today. He wants us to open our lives to others. That opening, however, becomes a heavenly enterprise when it provides access for those at the margins or in need. I hear Jesus today. He sends us to those we would not have thought of as ‘preferred’ guests. I hear Jesus today. He asks us again if we consider the cost of discipleship. He wants to know if our quest to follow Him reigns supreme over everything else. I hear Jesus today.

Prayer

Dear Jesus,

You have been so good to me! I do not deserve to be a part of Your body, the church. I do not deserve to hear Your voice and feel Your Spirit along with the saints. Forgive me, I plead, for times when I wanted respect from others rather than wanting to live respectfully as your son. Forgive me, I plead, for times when I took offense when I was overlooked or overshadowed by others. Forgive me, I pray. If I can accept the small room, the children’s table, then maybe I will be better suited to invite people who never even get to come to the party. Maybe I will see the outcast instead of looking beyond them in my rush to do important stuff. By Your Spirit I could even offer an invitation from the King to a wounded child of yours who thinks their scars, bruises, and coping strategies disqualifies them from polite society. You still offer those invitations today don’t you? Can I carry one?

I have been in a bit of a tight spot lately. I know You are near. I know You love. I know you call in a still small voice. I also know at times I push You away for fear of where discipleship may take me in this next season of my life. Today, Jesus, I feel like the unwanted wayside man. You have called, but I have resisted. Today, Jesus, I surrender again my wishes, pride, and claims for respectability.

I surrender all I have to just be Your disciple. I trust You even though it feels so risky today. Today is a good day to reconsider the cost of it all. I started building the tower and fighting the fight in faith. I said yes to the cost many years ago. Maybe I did not know today’s cost when I started, but I still believe I made the right choice then. I think the stack of used calendars and shelves of filled journals have brought me to a place where I can trust You even more.

How can I say thank you for coming to the party?

 

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

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Thank you for walking with me through Luke 14. I hope walking with an awkward non-party guy has not been too painful. While I struggle with parties, I deeply enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with a few folks. Maybe we can share a cup someday and talk about how good God has been and how He loves us enough to call us to new places of discipleship. Maybe we will not get that chance here, but I know we will all enjoy The Last Big Party in the Father’s house. I cannot wait to see who you bring from the streets with you on that day! I know the Lord will make them feel welcome… after all He invited me again today.

God bless,

Jim

A walk through Luke 13

Transparent bowtie     During my childhood, Dad followed two of Jesus’ professions. Dad served others by preaching the gospel and by working as a carpenter. Very quickly my brothers and I learned to hold hammers, climb ladders, pour concrete and deliver sermons. I think I have the sequence right. My first hammer hold did not go too well. I used the hammer to break out those cool little glass windows in a borrowed carpenter’s level. For some reason Dad remembers that accomplishment to this day!

I enjoyed most parts of construction. Who would not like using power tools and seeing a wall appear by the end of the day? I found working on a project with Dad to be more enjoyable than going to an amusement park. Perhaps I found more fun in mastering a new skill than working hard to control certain bodily reflexes when going through loops and spins. I think I am still a bit like that today.

Some parts of construction were not so fun. I found the less desirable parts at the bottom and top of the house. I really did not like the heavy mud work. All that muck and very little beauty did not appeal to me for some reason. Of course, I knew from both of Dad’s professions that a good foundation makes everything else possible. So I dug and sweated. I also found out that blisters only last a little while.

The top side of the house presented another challenge. I did not mind climbing. Littles boys come in two variations – some of us gladly climb ladders and others experience oxygen deprivation when we stand on tippy toes. For me the ladder was fine. The problem, however, was what you got to carry up the ladder. Shingles get carried by boys who cannot nail them down. You start with part of a bundle, then you graduate to the full bundle. Fortunately the old days are gone. Shingles get delivered to the roof top.

Shingles bend the back. Shingles hurt. As I read Luke 13 I feel for the bent woman. I wonder what “spirit of infirmity” had broken her posture and possibly her spirit. I wonder how many looked on her with pity. They could stare with no fear of being observed because the lady could not lift her head. She only saw the footprints left by others and perhaps a crushed flower from time to time.

Even with her bent back she had courage. Jesus found her in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In that moment the bending of 18 years evaporated. The first face she saw showed compassion. As she rested from her labors that day she saw the One who transforms lives. Perhaps she had trouble understanding the fuss that ensued. Why was the synagogue president so angry? Maybe if he had walked her path, then he would celebrate with her. She listened to Jesus as He argued her worth to those who valued her less than a beast of burden.

Jesus valued her.

Jesus went on to teach the wonder of the kingdom of God. The kingdom would start as a little seed and would grow into a tree to lodge birds. The kingdom would be like Mom’s homemade bread. The dough would keep rising back even after she punched it down a couple of times. The yeast did that. The kingdom would go into the world and change everything!

Yet not all would be changed. Some would not go through the straight gate; they would enjoy the bread and fish on the outside. They would even listen to Jesus’ teaching, but His wisdom could not coax them to walk through to the kingdom.

Jesus lamented.

Jesus wanted to heal more bent people. Jesus wanted to feed the soul in addition to the body. Jesus wanted everyone to know they had value regardless of what others said.

But some would not step under His wing.

Prayer

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for Your Word today. You have lifted my gaze and healed me so many times. Yet I wonder how often I do not show up on the Sabbath where You want to do some of Your best work. Forgive me, I pray. I do go to church. I do not always rest. Instead I let the shingles of life push me down; infirmities bend me over.

Help me to take more Sabbaths where You wait for me. Rather than seeing rest as escape from work, help me to see rest as an opportunity to see You and to know my life has value. I know from the reading a couple of days ago that I will get to carry my cross as I follow You; however, I know that cross is not worry, fear, worthlessness, loneliness, hopelessness, or aimlessness. I can carry my cross, but these other things cripple me. They cripple me to such an extent that I cannot help others – and You know I want to do that more than I want to go to an amusement park or beach resort.

I hear Your voice again this morning. I pause from my work. I remember a few years ago when You healed me of my own 18-year infirmity. You want to do it again. I receive your invitation to walk through the straight gate. I receive the healing only rest in Your presence can provide. I look forward to more Sabbaths with You and Your people.

In Jesus’ Name,

(I mean it Lord, I will need Your help to rest from my work so You can do Yours.)

Amen

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Thank you for walking with me through Luke 13. Maybe you could take a moment of rest today. Do not be surprised if Jesus raises you up, and you see Him for the first time in a long while.

 

God bless,

Jim

A walk through Luke 12

Transparent bowtie     Serving as a substitute kindergarten teacher frequently brought delightful moments as you can imagine. I miss those oversized reading books I used for group reading exercises. Sharing time provided more surprises than Q & A sessions while being a Bible teacher at a district camp meeting. Coordinating bathroom breaks and snack times either developed the teacher’s logistic skills or sent them to a hermit’s hut. I asked students to take a nap in those days – years later my students would take the initiative on their own during one of my three hour lectures.

Good lesson plans helped me survive in those days. The year’s first snowfall, however, brought on what I call GADD or Generalized Attention Deficit Disorder. Lesson plans lost their strategic significance. Big books and calendar time lost their luster as millions of miracles fell from the sky. Mortal teachers lost their influence as well. Janitors had extra duty cleaning the windows of little nose prints and Play Doh infused dermal ridges. None of us could pay attention to the strategically planned educational activities.

Luke 12 reminds me of those first snow falls. Kindergarten Teacher Jesus tried desperately to guide the trampling crowd out of their Generalize Attention Deficit Disorder. Teacher Jesus began His teaching with “Beware” and ends the lengthy chapter with “Give diligence”. In between He points out dangerous pitfalls set up by false teachers, sidetracking pleasures, dark motives such as covetousness, anxieties, and leadership abuses. As a great teacher He sought to give them something more constructive to observe. He pointed out God’s superintending care that even counted their hairs, the Holy Spirit’s ability to provide words in court cases, and the Father’s good pleasure to deliver the kingdom. Jesus also spoke of discerning the time – a time with pending judgment. Such judgment would bring punishment or rich reward depending on the servant’s stewardship.

While snowflakes deserved every kindergartener’s attention, and their teacher’s attention as well I might add, spiritual ADD seriously hinders spiritual maturation. When I attend to hurtful attacks of others more than my value to the Father, poor emotional and behavior outcomes will always follow. When my energy expenditure revolves around hording resources for fear that I will not have food or clothing, I overlook the opportunity to give alms to those in need. In short, I start acting like the world and its GADD.

Prayer

Dear Jesus,

I think today could be Christmas day if I only look where You point. Your Presence patiently guides my every step, thought, and emotion. I wander what gifts are in store for your children today as we focus on Your purposes rather than our own? Show us the sparkling of Your Presence I pray. Forgive me of my momentary ADD. I never feared Your love would leave when cares of life distract me, but I do know You desire far more flourishing that comes only from attending to Your Kingdom principles.

Today presents many chores for me to accomplish. I think I put my head on the pillow last night in anticipatory exhaustion over what is to come. I dedicate this day to You. I pray Your kingdom come, Your will be done. Perhaps I’ll breath again.

My mother taught me a song before I ever went to school. She said, “Watch your eyes, watch your eyes what they see.” Sometimes I feel good when that applies to media consumption, but sometimes I even fail then. Hearing Your voice this morning reminds me that You have set far better things before my eyes. These better things will shrink my fears and expand my capacity for joyful service. By Your grace I will have a better outlook today. If I do it today and tomorrow, if I walk with others in this way, then I will more clearly see Your kingdom’s outbreaking all around me.

Lord, today I lay aside designs for bigger barns. Instead help me to attend to “bags which wax not old.” Who knew a bag can hold more treasure than bigger barns? Will you guide my alms giving in ways that provide care for another one of Your children? Maybe showing them this kind of Jesus will give them a glimpse of the love and hope they long for but have failed to find. Maybe they too can learn to hear Your voice calling them to a better way.

I think I can learn. I believe, help Thou my unbelief. I listen, help Thou my ADD.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

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Thank you for walking with me through Luke 12. Perhaps the passage speaks to some area of ADD in your life as well. James 5 tells us we can experience healing if we confess these faults one to another. Fervent prayer still avails much!

 

God bless,

Jim

A walk through Luke 11

Transparent bowtie     I follow daily routines like most people do. If I do not put my wallet in my pocket at the right point in my morning routine, then I may spend the whole day without it. I like a few cups of French press coffee in the morning. Sharing cups of expresso with my brother (Dr. Dan, assistant professor of music at Urshan College) after lunch signals the middle of the day and the gift of fellowship.

As Sherri and I begin this new phase of ministry, we realize some of our routines/traditions will have to be discarded or morphed into something fit for this season of life. I mourned the passing of one of those traditions this morning. For well over a decade I have looked forward to serving Sherri breakfast in bed on Sunday morning. Pulling back the curtain and handing her breakfast (… from a very limited menu I guarantee) celebrates our love for each other. Life brings many changes, but our love deepens.

This morning I realized I am scheduled to be out of town for the next eight Sundays. I anticipate the number will extend beyond that. Sherri will get to go with me on some of the trips, but a few of the Sundays she will have a quiet house to herself. No one will pull the curtain. No one will bring the breakfast. Love will continue, but the valued tradition will have to change to meet the life situation. While I mourn the loss of one tradition, I look forward to co-authoring another one with my special lady!

As I read through Luke 11, I see two ways to address the changes that Jesus brings to us – we can either ask Him to teach us new behaviors or we can expend our energy trying to find fault with Him while justifying ourselves. I wish I could say my tradition is to always follow Jesus. But I try not to lie. Sometimes I continue in a practice, belief, and attitude while the Holy Spirit lovingly calls me to change. Sometimes I embrace the change. At other times I pout.

Luke 11 shows the power of embracing Jesus’ presence. Prayer changes to seek kingdom purposes rather than our own. The asking, seeking, and knocking story comes alive only for those who receive others into their lives. Pounding on a neighbor’s door for food demonstrates persistence for a friend in need. The food would not satisfy a personal midnight hunger attack – the food HAD to be available as part of being hospitable to a traveler.

Do I seek the Father’s good gifts, especially the Holy Spirit (v. 13), to feed those in need who cross my path or to make my life more enjoyable? Will I change both my prayer list and persistence to line up with Jesus?

Will I enjoy relationship with Jesus, but privilege the blessings that come from hearing and keeping the Word of God (v. 27-28)? Will this light bring joy to my life by hording it or by treasuring the opportunity for light to shine into the darkness around me (v. 29-36)? Will I congratulate myself for looking clean on the outside while paving over corruption in my own inner being? I do keep a tradition of being ‘clean’ on the outside, but focusing on that minor part of holiness lets me ignore the more important matters of justice and actively loving God and others. Letting others think they can follow me external purity camouflages a corrupted lifestyle to such an extent that others will fall into the same trap (v. 39-44).

Being near Jesus brings great comfort and challenges at the same time. Such nearness reinforces some parts of my life while urging me to change in other areas.

Prayer

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for being so near today! I celebrate the opportunity to teach a Sunday School class and to worship with the saints. As I enjoy these tradition gifts, I look seek greater faithfulness to Your example. I am sorry for times when I resist, seek to protect myself, and fail to see an open door to love others and do justice. Sometimes I make myself feel more comfortable by saying I am too busy to incorporate these traditions deeper into my spirit and daily life. Sometimes racing through my week helps me hear the tires hum over the sighing of a neighbor in need. Keeping my eyes on the road ahead keeps me from acting justly today.

I know You call me son. I know You love me more now than when I started. These are the reasons I want to be more like You. I like traditions of prayer. You and I have done this for many years. Today, however, You remind me that persistent prayer should be for others rather than for myself. Your holiness exposes deeper places in my spirit that I cannot hide behind my long sleeves. I pray for deeper holiness in my life — the kind that puts traffic cones around potholes of life rather than making them into traps for others.

Oh, how I wish to shine even more brightly for You! I pledge to use this season of change in my life to do so. With the Holy Spirit calling, leading, and equipping me, I know new traditions will bring You even more glory.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

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Thank you for walking with me through Luke 11. Perhaps we can all find new traditions as we live and pray the Word. These changes will not always come easily, but we can do it together! By the way, I also look forward to a new tradition to show Sherri how special she is to me. I wonder how long it will take?

 

God bless,

Jim