Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Luke 6:43-45

A Tree and Its Fruit
43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."

Jesus, who is fond of using metaphors, uses another analogy from nature today to describe an effective spiritual life. He uses the analogy of trees that bear good fruit and bear bad fruit. As someone who has a few fruit trees in his yard, I know that once a good lemon tree starts producing good fruit, it just keeps on producing more and more fruit. We have to find more and more uses for lemons. Lemonade, lemon water, lemon bars, lemon pies; any other ideas. By contrast if we have a tree or even a bush that doesn't produce that it is supposed to, we wonder how long should we keep it. Will it come back? Were the conditions not right for it in the first place? Would something else do better there? But one thing is for sure, as the planter of the tree there is an expectation for it to produce what it was intended for. The goal is fruit, although that may look different for every tree or bush.

You can see why Jesus uses these metaphors as he teaches on the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. And then he makes the application that a good man brings good things which from from a good heart. He doesn't produce the good things, they overflow from a good and healthy heart. He ends by saying that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. So a good indicator of what is going on in your heart is what you speak about the most. It would be interesting to record a tape of all the words you said that day. Would there be words of encouragement, full of truth, edifying those around you? Or, are your words more about being others down, crude and not reflecting who you are in Christ?

We often spend lots of money to diagnose what our physical heart condition is. We measure blood pressure, resting heart rate, and undergo stress tests to see how our heart performs. We have blood tests and EKG's to see if their is clogging in the main arteries. And, of course, this is all good and wise to do. But I wonder how much time we spend evaluating our heart condition in the terms Jesus describes in Luke. One way to analyze might be how do we use our words? Are they good words that build up. We might also say are there "good works" that flow out a good heart? Is our heart moved to see things needed in the church or the world and then are we moved into action for that good work.

Thanksgiving is a time to remember all we have been blessed with. As our mealtime prayer goes, "thank you God for family, food and friends!" At this time of the year it is also appropriate to thank God for every spiritual blessing we have in Christ. As we stay rooted and abiding in God's love in Christ, the bible promises us we will bear fruit that lasts. One of the great ways we can say thanks to God for this gift is a heart that flows with good words and works in Jesus' name. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Luke 6:37-42

Judging Others
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. 41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Jesus continues his "sermon on the plain" to his newly chosen disciples and others that had gathered with them. He is teaching them about how the kingdom works and the values associated with the coming kingdom. Importantly today he says, "everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher". Imitation was the primary teaching method in the first century. Imitation was considered one of the best ways to learn how to live. As Origen, a third century theologian wrote, "a disciple resembles or imitates his master".

I love the phrase "fully trained" as a definition of the goal of being a follower of Jesus. Jesus becomes the ultimate "life coach" as he not only is their salvation, but trains them how to live in this world until God chooses to call them home. Just as an athlete goes in strict training to compete in their sport, Paul uses this term to indicate the training he undergoes to be a fully developed follower of Christ. Jesus taught his disciples not only head knowledge, but knowledge learned from applying Jesus' teaching in everyday life. There are many instances where Jesus employs this teaching method. One example is when he washed the disciples' feet. And how did he end this teaching lesson. He said, "now that I have washed your feet, you should wash each other's feet". The disciples would not fully learn this teaching until in humility they did it themselves.

And when you think of the church today, what is its greatest need? I think when you get down to it, we need more disciples who are being fully trained in the way of Jesus. If you look at any deficiency is today's church, whether it is giving, evangelism, or even moral character; it all gets back to disciple making. And what do we see in effective churches? There is usually some plan to make disciples. If there is no plan to make disciples, there is usually a slim chance of actually making them.

What is your plan of making disciples? Or we could say, what is your plan for being a disciple? I have found in many years of being a pastor, this isn't easy work? The battle is against a consumer Christianity that seeks to meet people's needs instead of helping people to fulfill their greatest need to become like Jesus and then lead others by teaching and importantly our own example. Jesus' Great Commission to make disciples of all nations hasn't changes, the only question is will we give all we have to actually do it. Fortunately he has promised that he will be with us we seek to carry out what He has given to do. In fact he says, "I will be with you until the end of the age."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Luke 6:27-36

Love for Enemies
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

This is one of the most challenging passages for those looking to follow Jesus and His commands. As he says in verse 27, "to you who are listening". In the world people get back at those who hurt them. When we are put down we come back at them with similar or worse words. If we loan money there is an expectation for repayment, maybe even with interest. But Jesus offers us a different model that we might call counter cultural. He basically says to do the opposite of what is your natural inclination. Why? So that people might know we are Jesus' disciples.

He rationalizes that even sinners are kind to those who give them kickbacks. You rub my back and I rub yours as the saying goes. If I charge you less than the prevailing market rates I am doing you a favor. But Jesus says if you want to show your true identity as a child of God, forgive those who hurt you. Notice it doesn't say if they ask for forgiveness, a commonly held assumption. Lending without an expectation, shows that one is more concerned with relationships than material possessions.

At the end of the day when we live according to these values, we exhibit the same characteristics as our Heavenly Father. After all, he gave us the greatest gift of all Jesus, and didn't expect anything in return. He offered forgiveness and mercy out of his divine love. So as we love according to this ethic, we show the world the God who offers them this same love and we may be only person they meet who that shows them God's love. Do you have someone you need to forgive? How about someone who is need of a little extra finances at the end of the year. May we remember Jesus' sermon on the plain as he says, "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Luke 6:20-26

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Reflection: As Jesus prepares his disciples for their lives, he underlines how things in the kingdom work. Paradoxically he equates poverty, hunger and weeping with eventual blessing in God's kingdom. Usually we only equate blessing with immediate happiness, but Jesus tells us that some things we only be made right when God's kingdom comes in it fullness. Jesus is preparing the disciples for the persecution they will face for being associated with Him and His name. He is hoping that when they undergo these trials they will remember these words he taught them.

It is similar in the book of James when he says in 4:2,

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Notice the assumption is not if but when they face trials. The trials will be of many different kinds. The purpose of the trial is to test our faith. The result is that our faith is strengthened and matures through perseverance. Finally, in what almost seems like a paradox as well, James says to consider it pure joy when we face trials. Consider means to make a choice. When we go through trials we need to choose how we will react and as we persevere through them the result is pure joy. Paradox for sure but proven when we apply it to our lives in the various trials we go through from small to big. So remember if you are going through a trial that one day in God's kingdom you will be rewarded. For now you can be sure it will mature your faith until Jesus comes back.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Luke 6:12-19

The Twelve Apostles
12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Blessings and Woes
17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

In this passage we see the rhythm of Jesus' life. He had a balance of His relationship with God. His relationship with his disciples. And His ministry to the world. Some have called this the "up", "in" and "out". If you can imagine a triangle with three equal sides, this shape would be the shape of Jesus' life and ministry.

Before he made such an important decision as to chose those whom he would send after he died, he went on a mountainside to pray. Luke mentions quite often Jesus' propensity to find a private place and pray to His Father. And we notice a few things. He went to a mountainside. We don't know exactly where this was, but it was free from distraction. It is good to have a private and if possible remote place to pray to escape the distractions of everyday life. Notice too, Jesus spent all night praying and communing with God. While this is not possible every day, sometimes we need to engage in a longer than usual time of prayer. Some may call this a prayer retreat and schedule it on a regular basis.

Second, we see the call of the 12 disciples, which are now called "apostles". Apostle means, "one that is sent". And Jesus will send these men with the Gospel. They have been called and sent. We see a great diversity in these twelve. Two brothers, Peter the "rock", "doubting" Thomas, and Judas, who would become known as the "traitor". These are 12 ordinary men who would plant the church and the gates of hell would not overcome it. We see Jesus modeling that ministry is not be done alone, but in fact we should have more than one person in ministry with us. We also see that we should pray at length before we make decisions on who should be a leader in ministry.

Finally, we see Jesus going at once to preach. This is called the "sermon on the plain", similar to Matthew's "sermon in the mount". Notice people had gathered from all the surrounding areas to hear him preach. They came not only to hear him but to be touched by him. Jesus will proclaim the Good News of the kingdom, and then show them how it works. He gave them both words and works. Notice too it says "all people came to touch him". Those who had need of physical healing. Those who needed spiritual healing. And some just wanted to be in touch with the power that was exuding from him.

What shall we say then? If this was the way Jesus did ministry, would it not make seams for us to imitate it? So some of the questions we could ask are: how is your "up"? How is your prayer life and solitary time with God? How is your "in"? How are the relationships going in your life with those you have been called to minister with? Finally, how is your "out"? Is the result of this first two leading you to a life that is always asking the question, "where are you calling me and sending me out to share your great love in word and deed?"

I think if we followed Jesus model the church would be strengthened, and we would see a great many become disciples of Christ!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Luke 6:1-11

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
6 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 5 Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

As we read this passage we must remember that the Sabbath, celebrated from sundown on Friday to Saturday, was at the heart of the Jewish faith life. There are 39 creative activities in modern day Judaism that are prohibited on the Sabbath, and they are grouped according to broad categories such as: the ordering of bread, garments, hides and construction. Of course what they are trying to define is what is "work"? Rabbi's have made note of activities associated with these categories that also violate the Sabbath such as the following:

Adding fresh water to a vase of cut flowers (sowing--any activity that causes or furthers plant growth).

Making a bouquet of flowers (making a sheaf).

Removing good fruit from spoiled fruit (winnowing, selecting, sifting).

Brushing dried mud from boots or clothes (grinding).

Adding cold milk directly to hot tea or coffee (baking-cooking in any form, including adding ingredients to a boiling pot).

Cutting hair or nails (shearing sheep-removing outer covering of a human or animal).

Applying makeup (dyeing).

Braiding hair (weaving).

Drawing blood for a blood test (slaughtering).

Rubbing soap to make lather, applying face cream, polishing shoes, using scouring powder for utensils or other surfaces (scraping-smoothing the surface of any material by grinding, rubbing, or polishing).

Sharpening a pencil (cutting to shape-altering the size or shape of an item to make it better for human use).

Painting, drawing, typing (writing, making durable marks on a durable material).

Tearing through lettering on a package (erasing).

Opening an umbrella or unfolding a screen (building).

Smoking a cigarette, using the telephone (kindling a fire).

Switching off an electric light (extinguishing a fire).

Setting or winding a clock or watch (finishing off).

Wearing eyeglasses not permanently required (carrying from private to public domain and vice versa).

So one can see why Jesus has such a conflict with the rabbi's on the Sabbath. So much so that even the healing of a man was prohibited on the Sabbath. As we might say it seems as if they can't see the forest through the trees.

So the question might arise, just why did God make obeying the Sabbath the third commandment? Here are some thoughts about this. Since this commandment is grouped with the first three commandments, which all deal with the worship of God, I think it should considered in this light. Honoring the Sabbath each week is related to how we worship God and order our lives around him. The Sabbath should be the center of our life from which our lives flow.

Second I believe it has a lot do to with the role of work in our lives. I think most people could agree that most Americans work too hard and too long. This has proven negative effects on one's health, one's family and friends and also one's relationship with God. And what drives people to work so hard. Some of it might be providing for one's family, as of course there is a legitimate purpose for work. But a lot of working 50, 60, and 70 hours a week is driven by materialism, power, status, and fear.

Simply put the Sabbath puts a priority on our relationship with God and the ones we love, as over and against the pursuit of things. One can see in the climate we live in how badly a proper understanding of the Sabbath is needed. If it seems the Jews took the Sabbath too far, I think we can say we can not taken it far at all.

So what can we do?

1. Consistently worship God on a weekly basis. Make it a priority. In our culture this day is usually Sunday, but I don't think the day matters as much as we actually do it.

2. Take time to worship God, completely rest from work, and nourish your primary relationships. If you are constantly checking your cell phone for work or emails, there is a good chance you need the Sabbath more than the next person.

3. Find time with your family to talk about your faith and share what God is doing in your life. Pray together. Play together. Laugh together.

I don't know about you but I think we badly need this commandment in this day. Jesus realized the worship of God was at the heart of the Sabbath, but that didn't preclude him from doing things that honored the people God created. This is the balance as we remember Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man, not man made for the Sabbath.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Luke 5:33-38

Jesus Questioned About Fasting

33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” 36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Jesus is still talking to the Pharisees at this point, when they question him about the apparent lack of fasting and praying being done by His disciples. Jesus answers them with a question? This is an approach Jesus often uses when someone challenges his teaching, and a way of getting at the real issue. In this case Jesus is re-defining what spiritual disciplines like fasting and praying are really for. Spiritual disciplines bring us closer to God and Jesus.

The purpose of any discipline is for training in something you are striving for. In this case, Jesus has called his disciples, which is also a derivative of discipline, to follow and learn from Him. A disciple is someone who learns a trade or way of life from someone they emulate, and want to become like. As such, a disciple of Jesus is someone who begins a lifelong journey of following Jesus, and endeavoring to become more like Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So it follows then, that if the purpose of spiritual discipline is to bring us closer to our master, that Jesus would say, "the friends of the bridegroom don't fast while he is with them!" He then he uses of the new garments and old clothes, new wine and old wineskins, as illustrations of what He is saying. Since Jesus is the new wine, the old wineskin of the Law doesn't work. Doing things in slavish obedience to the Law is like pouring new wine into old wineskins. It has lost its purpose, which is to hold and eventually drink the wine.

So the new wine is Jesus. The new wineskin are the ways we connect with and abide in and with Jesus. So a good question for us to think about is when we fast and/or pray is it to enjoy fellowship with Jesus? Does it draw us closer to Him, so we are better able to follow Him? It is easy for all of us to lose the purpose of spiritual disciplines and they become perfunctory. Maybe when you pray and read the bible you can think of it as talking to Jesus and hearing from Him. It might just motivate you to do it more often!