Luke 16 – Shrewdness

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It almost seems as though Jesus is promoting shrewdness and material wealth in these teachings.  That doesn’t seem to jive with much of anything when it comes to what Jesus teaches.  Yet when we take a closer look, the manager that Jesus is speaking about is shrewd (sharp-witted, smart, astute) on several levels.  One of the reasons why these debts had not been paid is likely because the manager had compassion on those who could not pay back the debt.

The actions that he took after he was fired were just as good!  He used the position he had to help those indebted to the master which allowed for a continued relationship with these people and for them to be free from their debt.

So the manager is cheating the master?  Actually, probably not.  If these loans are between Jews, and we are able to think that they are as Jews had very little relations with other cultures, the Law of Moses says that they should charge no interest!  (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)  This manager may be shrewd, but he is also righteous in his actions.

Jesus then encourages His disciples to use their places of influence and what material wealth they had to “gain friends.”  It would seem that Jesus is promoting material gain yet He couples the teaching with a warning: “you cannot serve both God and money.”

God has blessed each one of us; we are encouraged to use those blessings to bless others.  This has always been the call of believers: Blessed to be a blessing.  We should use what God has given us to that end.  In this way we will not become a slave to our possessions, serving them rather than God; instead we serve God through the right use of His blessings to us.



Luke 15 – Party Time

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Every time I read these parables I find myself indignantly siding with Jesus against the Pharisees.  They look down on Him for hanging out with “sinners” and even sharing a meal with them.  How could these religious leaders think that?  They know God’s Word and how Israel was called to be a light to the nations; what’s wrong with them?

Yet when I find myself interacting with people around me, even in the community that I live in, I am more likely to play the role of the Pharisee than that of Jesus.  Certainly it’s not intentional, but we as Christians do this all the time.

There can be many different reasons why we tend to only associate ourselves with those who are like us, but the fact of the matter is that we are called, as Christians, to those outside of our Christians circles.  We are the light of the world; we are the salt of the earth.  So why is it that we are so much better at keeping the light to ourselves, even judging other Christians for whom they associate themselves with?

Too often we wait until people “get better” or “act right” before we are willing to associate ourselves with them.  We have this notion in our mind that Jesus came to make bad people good.  Jesus points out that this whole concept is as ridiculous as a doctor coming to see you when you are well but refusing to treat the sick.  The greatest celebrations in heaven, Jesus says, are not when bad people start to be good, but when those who are dead find life!

Who do you know that is lost?  Perhaps that is the person to whom God is calling you to… no matter what others might think or say.



Luke 14 – All In

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Jesus teaches that those who would truly follow Him must have an “all in” mentality.  His words are straight forward, even seeming harsh at times.  Those that follow Jesus must hate their family and their own life?  That seems somewhat contrary to other teachings.

Yet what we see here is that Jesus is not telling us to literally hate everyone, including ourselves, but rather that we need to make sure that our priorities in life are straight.  If we are to follow Jesus, we cannot do it half-heartedly.  He came with the “all in” life that ultimately led to His death and resurrection and our salvation; He asks the same from us.

He illustrates this by addressing humility and the priorities of would-be followers.  He also demonstrates this through once again healing on the sabbath in the face of the religious leaders, the tradition, and the law.  The point?  Those who would follow Jesus must be “all in.”

What Jesus is making sure we understand is that following Him means doing so 100%.  We cannot say that Jesus is Lord of our lives, but then live our lives following any number of “lords” that we typically have.  Our relationship with God must come first; when that is in place all other things will fall in line well.  Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God… and all these things will be added to you.”

There are many practical applications to this.  Some would say that being in church on Sundays is how one puts Jesus first, but then live the rest of each day as if He doesn’t exist.  However putting Jesus first requires true sacrifice, one greater than an hour of sleep once a week.  There is a reason Jesus refers to this as “taking up your cross.”



Luke 13 – Time Limit

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One of the things that I like to impress upon my congregation when we celebrate the Lord’s supper is that the invitation to the Table is always open.  When we use the traditional communion plates that have covers on them, I leave them off at the end as a symbol to this effect.  Jesus is always calling to us, desiring that we would turn to Him, declaring Him as our Lord and Savior.  John 3:16-17, the most famous verse in the Bible, speaks to this as well:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

God’s desire is that none would perish, that none would be left out of this salvation.  Yet there are three facts here that Jesus also addresses, ones that are much less popular.  The first is that we are all sinful and no one’s sin is more sinful than the others.  Jesus addresses this in his questions at the beginning of Luke 13.

The second is that, for us to be forgiven of our sin and for our relationship with God to be restored, we must place our faith in Jesus.  He is the narrow door through which we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is no other way.

Finally, while this invitation is available for all, is not one that will be extended forever.  At some point, Jesus Christ will return for His people and at that point, there will be a judgment.  This too is not something that is very popular, it is a truth that Scripture teaches and therefore one that we must heed.

 



Luke 12 – Be Alert

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These warnings of Jesus ring true for us, even in the 21st century.  There are innumerable forces and influences in the world today that offer us a “path to salvation.”  Proponents of such messages are new, exciting, sometimes even vulgar, playing off of the emotions of people who thought the last new and exciting thing would save them, or those that knew it wouldn’t and are seeking an alternative.

It may seem like I am talking about politics here, and that wouldn’t be a wrong assumption, but this is also true in many other realms of life.  Jesus writes in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 that “many will come in my Name…” and that we need to watch out for this.  Jesus also says here, that we should “have no fear.”

Jesus is getting at a deep application of our faith in practice.  Those that are trusting in Jesus should not be looking elsewhere for hope or salvation.  Believers aren’t so concerned about making a country great but rather about caring for the widow and the orphan.  We don’t buy into the notion that a political party can make a country “whole,” because we know the true path to wholeness comes through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And we don’t latch on to the ideas of Socialism because at its very core, the Church should already be doing these things in their communities, showing deep concern for the marginalized.

Seeking any party, program, or other sources to do these things for us is not simply a matter of laziness, but a matter of salvific preference.  Do we turn to Jesus and follow Him and His great commission?  Or do we place our trust in others to do it for us… and in place of Him?



Matthew 27:27-31 "What About Suffering?"

The question of suffering is always before us, especially the question of why God allows it.  Some questions we don’t have the answers to, but the Bible is very clear that, no matter what comes our way, God will be there building us up and through it, making us more like Christ.



Luke 11 – Bath Time

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I always enjoy reading a narrative where Jesus calls out religious leaders for the different things that they do and say.  It’s like seeing someone known for corruption being caught in the act and brought to justice; it is wholly satisfying.

Everytime I read something like this passage though, there is a little twinge in my heart.  I know that, in my heart of hearts, I am too am a hypocrit, guilty of many of the things that Jesus calls the pharisees out on.  Seeing others’ sins brought to light may seem satisfying until we realize that we are guilty of the same thing.

For many of us, this is of what it means to be Christian.  Sunday mornings are full of arguments, threats, screaming, yelling, crying, and anger until we get out of the car at church, then everything is fine with us.  At the same time, while we are walking around with our masks on to hide our imperfections, we are more than happy to call out others for things they aren’t hiding quite as well.

This epidemic of illusion is something we as the Church cannot continue.  In many ways, those outside of the Church are much better at being authentic than we are, understanding their own imperfections whilst calling us out on ours.  We are no different than they are… except for one crucial fact: We Are Forgiven.

Jesus doesn’t call for us to hide our sin from the world.  In fact, the Light of the World shine into the dark corners of our lives for the very purpose of cleaning them out so that, rather than being a slave to that sin, forced to wear the mask, we can live in freedom from it, washed and clean both outside and inside as well.



Luke 10 – Sending God

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Luke 10 is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  Especially in the first verses, where Jesus sends out people ahead of Him, we get the beginning of a developing picture that is the “Great Commission” of God’s people.  The notion of being “sent,” though, is not a new one for God’s people.  In fact, God’s people have always been a “sent people,” through whom God reveals His love, grace, and goodness.

Yet the words that Jesus uses from the very beginning here are telling; “the Harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few…”  How is it possible that those words can ring true today?  The latest estimates are that somewhere around one-third of the world’s population is Christian; that is somewhere between 2-3 billion people!

How is it then that, when we look across the religious landscape, particularly in North America, the church is dying and the harvest seems to be left in the field?

The Church in North America are those who have seen and heard the power of God over and over again, and yet fails to bring that message to others.  How is it that we can carry the message of grace and yet not care to deliver it wherever we go?

I wonder what would happen if we were to change the emphasis of our worship services?  In the past 30-40 years, such importance has been placed on music, a rousing and uplifting opening song set that get us energized and excited to be there and hear the message.  When it comes time to go with God’s blessing, however, it is nothing more than a nice bow to top off the wrapping paper.

What do you think would happen if we took God’s message of sending seriously?  Many laborers make for an abundant harvest!



Luke 9 – Who is Jesus?

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Here at Hopkins Community Church, we have been going through a sermon series examining 7 Essential Questions for faith and life as we journey through Lent.  We began this series examining the question that Jesus asks His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”

This is an important question that Luke has to examine for his audience, the answer of which is the crux of the whole book.  If Jesus is not the Messiah, then Luke is simply chronicling the life of a religious leader.  The whole purpose of his writing revolves around this.

What we see in this chapter, in response to Jesus’ question and particularly Peter’s response, is a series of incidents related to Jesus’ question.  More important are the different sources from which the consideration comes.  Herod, a Roman official is perplexed at the news of Jesus.  Could a prophet really rise from the dead?  Obviously, it can’t be John.

Later, in the scene of the Transfiguration, we see the Divine affirmation of who Jesus is, followed by another spiritual affirmation of Jesus’ identity from a demon.

I think the point that Luke is trying to make here is two-fold.  The first, and probably more obvious, is that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son, our Lord and Savior.  Yet the second, and perhaps the one we often miss, is that the answer to the first may not readily be obvious to everyone.  Peter is the only one of the disciples that confess Jesus as Lord.  Later Thomas will still doubt Jesus even after He appears to them.

This is a question that we all must answer at some time in our lives.  God in not afraid of our questions.  In fact, He welcomes them as an opportunity to show His true love to us.



Luke 8 – This Little Light of Mine

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The children’s Bible song “This Little Light of Mine” is certainly memorable and a fun way to help kids learn a piece of Scripture.  I wonder, however, how often we take its message to heart in our lives.

Jesus, talking about the Parable of the Sower speaks specifically about parables and understanding Biblical wisdom, and then specifically directs the disciples in the fact that they need to share this knowledge and wisdom with others, a part of “bearing fruit,” which is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching.

It seems like this would be rather self-evident given what Jesus tells His disciples: some are given to know the “secrets of the Kingdom of God,” while others aren’t.  For those that are, it is imperative that we share what we have seen and heard with those around us.  Yet Jesus knows well that we aren’t given to this sort of thing.  Whether it makes us uncomfortable or it is simply not something that we readily think about, “letting our light shine” is often times the thing we struggle with the most.

Contrast this teaching with the narrative of the demon possessed man later in the chapter.  Once healed, he couldn’t be stopped from telling what Jesus had done for him.  When something miraculous happens like this, it seems natural to tell everyone, but what about the “mundane” everyday faithfulness and blessing that we experience every moment of our lives?  How quick are we to tell others about that?

Sometimes we think that it is those who have stories of dramatic healing and change that warrant being told, yet Jesus says here that it is important for all believers to share their faith and the Word of God so that it is like a lamp on a stand, giving everyone light!



Luke 7 – Contrasting Faiths

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Jesus speaks about faith a great deal during His ministry.  Often, these teachings come in the form of a parable.  Today, though, it comes in the form of commentary on the faith of others.  While Matthew is known more for his audience being the Jewish people, Luke works show what true faith is by way of  contrast.  Unfortunately for the Jews, they find themselves on the wrong side of this contrast.

The significance of the centurion in this first narrative cannot be overstated.  This is a man who, even though the Jews say he is a good guy, would have been seen as an outsider, and oppressor, and obviously not someone that would share their faith.  In fact, at this time in the Roman Empire, for whom this centurion would have been serving, the practice of “Emperor Worship” was on the rise.  Yet this man knows Jesus and His faith, as Jesus says, is greater than any in Israel.

This is contrasted with the reaction of the Jewish crowd in the next narrative.  Jesus raises a man from the dead in front of everyone.  Their response is almost disheartening, “A great prophet is among us.”

After this, the disciples of John the Baptist show up to ask Jesus if He is indeed the Messiah.  Jesus, quoting Scripture, tells the to report what they have “seen and heard.”  Given what has just happened, this is an interesting response.

However, Jesus doesn’t simply tell them “yes, I am the Messiah,” He uses the very Scripture that points to the Messiah as proof of who He is and gives them the freedom to make up their own minds.  This is the essence of faith, having the ability to freely choose in whom we truly believe, love and trust as our Lord.



John 13:1-17 "What Brings Fulfillment?"

People always seem to be after things that will bring fulfillment in our lives and advances our place in life.  Yet Jesus sets the example for what will bring true fulfillment by giving up his place and taking on the servant’s role.  This is an abject lesson in both humility and true leadership.



Luke 6 – Blessings and Woes

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The beatitudes recorded in Luke take on a shorter and partially more negative form than those recorded in Matthew.  Yet the message of these teachings is much the same: there is a greater perspective than what is happening currently that we must keep in focus.

Some of these make a lot of sense to us.  God has a special place in His heart for those who are poor, oppressed, and marginalized; Scripture is very clear on that.  It is not a wonder that Jesus teaches that these folks will be blessed.

But what about the reverse of these?  Why is it that Jesus says that those who laugh now will mourn later?  What is it about being wealthy now that will lead to poverty later?  How is it that those who are full now will be hungry later?

As has been mentioned before, the economy of God doesn’t necessarily match up with what we think is important.  The message that Jesus is speaking is not that His followers should seek to be poor, desolate, and unhappy so to gain blessings.  That doesn’t seem to match up with Jesus’ statement in John that He “came so that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.”

What is important here is perspective.  When our perspective on life, fulfillment, and following God focuses only on “living it up” in the temporary, especially when it is at the expense of others, we seem to miss the point.  Jesus relates these things to the idea of loving our enemies and judging others, driving home the point that all of life is lived in relationship.  When we find ourselves marginalized by others, we can find hope in the blessing that will come.  When we find ourselves marginalizing others, we best think twice.



Luke 5 – Calling

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Each of the Gospels records different versions of Jesus calling some of His closest disciples.  Two of these accounts, the calling of Simon Peter, James and John, and the calling of Levi the tax collector.  These people couldn’t be any more different in who they were and what they did.

Fishermen were often poor, their income stream fully dependent on the amount of fish they caught the day before.  For some it was likely the difference between eating a meal for that day or not.  They would have been dirty, sweaty, and smelled of fish (amongst other things).

Tax collectors were quite the opposite, likely being well dressed and relatively wealthy.  Known for cheating people out of money through the artificial inflation of taxes to line their own pockets, Levi, and his counterpart Matthew, would have been rather unpopular with the people.

Yet they have something in common: a calling.  Jesus sees them, calls them from whatever they were doing, and they follow.  There is no waiting for them to get their lives back in order, to quit their jobs with the appropriate 2-4 weeks notice, or even to get their lives right with God, Jesus calls them on the spot and they follow.

Now, it goes without saying that the context and culture of that day are different than today.  Certainly people don’t go around telling others to “come follow me.”  We would be rather suspicious of anyone that did.

Yet does our suspicion and our busyness get in the way of listening to the voice that does call us?  The “still small voice” of God is always speaking through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.  He still desires that we take us our cross daily and follow Him.  Do we hear that voice?  Are we listening?



Luke 4 – Wilderness

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The theme of “wilderness” is something that is quite prevalent throughout Scripture.  From the very beginning, Scripture records people heading into the wilderness as a part of their journey.  One of the more famous of these is that of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between their captivity in Egypt and entering the promised land.  King David also spent time in the wilderness being chased by Saul before finally ascended to the throne.  The people of Israel also experienced a “wilderness” type event in the Babylonian Exile.

All of these events have something in common, though, as they are all intimately related to the shaping of identity.  Israel leaves Egypt as a group of slaves and enters Canaan as a nation, the people of God.  David enters into the wilderness as an anointed shepherd but emerges as Israel’s great king.  Jesus is baptized, given His identity by the voice of God Himself, and enters the wilderness for 40 days before emerging to begin His ministry here on earth.  Each of these Old Testament events points forward to Jesus and brings meaning to His identity as the Messiah.

We too are a part of this story.  We find our identity in Jesus Christ and that identity is continually shaped and molded through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.  Our lives too contain times of “wilderness” experience when God seems distant and life seems hard.  Yet these often serve much the same purpose as those of the Bible, to develop and establish our identity and to teach us dependence on God.

Have you ever experienced a time like this in your life?  Sometimes we spend that time asking “where is God?”  Perhaps a better question is “what is God teaching me in this time?”

**Many of the colored words here are Links to other posts related to this topic.  Feel free to click and explore other writings on this subject!