Thursday, February 23, 2017

Jesus: More Present

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Scripture for this week:  Luke 8:22-25

Additional ScriptureMatthew 28:18-20


Illustration by Jago, from The Jesus Storybook Bible.  Original appears here

Several years ago, I flew from Michigan to a friend's wedding in California by way of Texas.  The Houston airport was under a tornado warning, and our plane was routed to Corpus Christi to wait out the storm. 

The plane creaked and pitched through a black sky.  Lightning electrified the clouds; thunder drummed the top of the plane.  I tightened my seatbelt, gripped the armrests, and shut my eyes. 

At one point, the rollicking became so pronounced that people on the plane were screaming.  We were terrified.

How I wished the captain of the plane would have told us something reassuring.  He didn't.  But he did something better:  He got us down safely.

I have never been at sea in a storm.  But when I read this passage about Jesus sleeping during a violent storm at sea,  I remember that plane ride.

How could anyone sleep through that?

Luke tells us that it's Jesus' idea to go out in the boat.

"Let's cross to the other side of the lake," he says.  So the disciples, experienced fishermen among them, set sail.  It doesn't take long before Jesus is asleep.

A breeze kicks up into a soaking wind. Waves crest over the stern faster than the disciples can bail.  Fishing nets go floating overboard.  The disciples are terrified on two different levels. 

They are terrified that their lives will be lost at sea; and they are terrified because Jesus doesn't seem to be watching out for them.  Their leader snores on.

"Master, Master!"  The disciples cry.  "We are about to die!"

Subtext: DO something!

So Jesus does.  Like a bleary-eyed parent whose squirrelly children are disrupting the peace, he rebukes the wind and the waves. 

Be still, Jesus commands the forces of nature.  Go back to bed.

And much to the fearful amazement of the disciples, the wind and the waves obey!

When all is calm, Jesus asks the disciples, "Where is your faith?"

The disciples don't answer Jesus' question.  I wonder how they felt.  Relieved?  Ashamed?   Drawn into greater faith, the kind Jesus wants them to exhibit? 

Luke tells us a different kind of fear comes over the disciples as they marvel at the kind of Master they are following.

"Who is this--that water and wind obey him?"  they wonder.   

This Jesus--who commands water and wind--is also with us. 

Lord, increase our faith.


1.  What "storm" are you facing?  In what ways has the promise of Jesus' presence with you brought peace in the storm? 

2.  If Jesus has given you a particular awareness of his presence with you in the storm, thank him.  If the storm is still raging and it feels as if Jesus is sleeping, let his promise never to leave you echo through your mind and heart. 

3.  Listen to the song "Don't Be Afraid" by John Bell.  Meditate on the truth that Jesus never leaves you, no matter what. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Jesus: More Money-Minded

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Scripture for Sunday, February 19:  Luke 6:17-26

Additional Scripture:  Luke 18:18-30, Acts 2:42-47

By world standards, I am fabulously wealthy.  I live in a clean, well-lighted place.  I can get a cup of cold water from a running faucet in my house whenever I want.  I have an embarrassing number of shoes in my closet.  I don't have to make terrible decisions about which child I can feed today.

So when I read Jesus many teachings about wealth, poverty, generosity and the life of faith in Luke, I know his cautions are for me. 

"Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort."  (Luke 6:24)

"Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.  A [person's] life does not consist in the abundance of [their] possessions."  (Luke 12:15)

"Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys."  (Luke 12:33)

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  (Luke 16:13)

There are many, many more.  In his preparation this week, Rev. Jonker counted at least 20 verses in the book of Luke that relate to money.  Jesus is indeed "more money-minded" than we expect.

Watch out!  Jesus says.

What's the big deal about money?  After all, money can be a great good, right?  God gives it to us to steward on his behalf--to provide for our needs, and to share with others.

I think the problem comes when we mistake the gift of money for the Giver himself.  This is insidious.  Money has the power to shift our hearts and our vision just enough to take our eyes off our Lord and onto other things:  our own ability to earn it; the things we can buy with it; the earthly status we can achieve through it. 

When I always have enough, it can be possible for me to miss out on recognizing God's provision in my life.  Wealth can be to my detriment if it impoverishes me spiritually.  

The family that I married into has given me the great gift of firsthand stories of God's provision.  Money was always tight, and trust became an ingrained habit. 

Late one summer, the family made a list of the kids' needs for school.  Mom sat at the kitchen table and totaled up the costs.  She tried to assess what was a "need" and what would be "nice to have."  She looked for ways to trim the list or cut costs.

And yet....  After all her assessment, there was a clear deficit between the money in the bank and the need.  She calculated the deficit down to the penny.  She began to pray about the need, not sharing the need or the amount beyond her own home.

Some time later, a note came in the mail.  To her surprise, it contained a check from someone who wanted to support and encourage their family.  The note asked the family to excuse the odd amount of the check; it was the amount they had felt led to send. 

The check was made out in the exact, down-to-the-penny amount Mom had determined was necessary for the school supplies. 

The family recognized God's provision in taking care of them.  This was a faith-building gift, for both the giver and the recipient. 

How has God provided for you in surprising ways?  More expected ways (that nevertheless come from him)? 

What stories does your family tell of God's provision?

Disciplined stewardship of financial wealth is a high and holy calling.  Consider how God has shaped your own life as you have used the money he has entrusted to you.  Ask him to speak to you about his presence and faithfulness to you, whether you have a lot or a little. 

What role does your money have in setting the priorities of your heart?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jesus: More Deep

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Scripture for Sunday, February 12:  Luke 11:33-42
Additional Scripture:  Luke 18:9-14

This week we join Jesus and the crowd listening to him preach using an analogy from nature. 
"No one," he says, "lights a lamp and then covers it up."
Why not?  Well, covering an open-flame lamp either extinguishes the flame or starts a fire.  Covering an open-flame lamp either leads to darkness or disaster.
"Your eyes are the lamp of your body.  When your eyes are healthy, your whole body is full of light.  But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness."
When our eyes work well, our brains receive and interpret vast amounts of visual information instantly.  We don't have to think to ourselves, "My eyes see that peanut butter on the second shelf; therefore I know there is peanut butter on the second shelf."  We just SEE the peanut butter and make ourselves toast. 
Jesus makes a connection between healthy physical sight and healthy spiritual sight, the "light within us."  
When our spiritual sight is illuminated by the wisdom and love of Jesus Christ, we are "full of light."  Our hearts work properly.  The result is that our very lives radiate Christ's light in tangible acts that resemble our Master. 
But, if the light in our hearts grows dark....  If our hearts get covered over by sin and disregard to God, we begin living in the very ways Jesus calls to account in his dinner conversation with the Pharisees. 
At the after-church dinner following his sermon, Jesus disregards his childhood lessons about being a polite dinner guest and bluntly assesses the Pharisees' situation:
"You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness....  Woe to you...because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God."

The Pharisees observed detailed ceremonial washing practices.  They held their hands at a certain angle and poured a prescribed amount of water in just the right way.  So, too, they followed detailed instructions for measuring out their tithes. 
But thick into the trees of the details, they missed the forest.  Their righteousness consisted in external observance of the law but lacked internal illumination about what mattered most to God.  In their considerable effort to please God, they missed the one thing he wanted most:  hearts, minds, and lives bathed in and reflecting the light of God's character and love.  

"If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you."  (Luke 11:36).   

Shine on us, Lord. 
How would you describe external righteousness? 
What makes external righteousness attractive?  What makes it dangerous?

How would you describe internal righteousness? 
What makes internal righteousness attractive?  What makes it difficult?

In what ways does external righteousness motivate you?  What about internal righteousness? 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Jesus: More Generous

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Scripture for Sunday, February 5: 
The Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29b-37) 

Whenever I read the story of the Good Samaritan, I can't help but feel sympathetic toward the expert in the law whose question prompts Jesus' story.

Luke's account tells us that the expert in the law wants to "justify himself," so he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  Who am I really responsible to love the way I love myself?

It's a good question.  Other Jews of Jesus time may have been thinking to themselves of the book of Sirach, a collection of Jewish wisdom that advised "Do good to the devout, but do not help the sinner."  (Sir. 12:4).

Who will Jesus say his followers are really responsible to love sacrificially?

Jesus' story explodes all the preconceived categories. 

The man who falls into the hands of robbers is unidentifiable other than the fact that he is human.  We don't know if he is a Jew or a Roman or a Samaritan.  All we know is he is human, and he needs help. 

The priest and the Levite are the characters most likely to help in the minds of Jesus' hearers.  But they don't stop, not that we blame them:  That Jericho road is dangerous, obviously.  Who knows if the thieves are still lurking?  

And the injured man may even be dead.  If the priest and the Levite became unclean by touching a dead body, they would become unclean.  They'd have to take some time off work for a while.  It would be inconvenient--maybe even a tad irresponsible--for them to stop and help. 

So the characters most most likely to help don't. 

But the Samaritan--ah.  Now Jesus' hearers are on the edge of their seats.  Jesus' word order highlights the unusual role the hated Samaritan will play.  The Samaritan! stops when he sees the man.  He carries out six specific acts of compassion:

1)  He gets close enough to touch the man
2) He bandages his wounds, cleans him up; gives him the Neosporin of his time
3) He puts him on his own donkey, risking travel delay and his own safety.  (When was the last time you put an unknown, injured person in the backseat of your car to get them help?!)
4)  He takes him to an inn
5)  He takes care of him
6)  He gives the innkeeper plenty of money to take care of the man until he returns

The hated Samaritan helps.  Extravagantly. 

The hated Samaritan is the model neighbor.

"Who is the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"  Jesus asks.

The expert in the law can't even bring himself to identify the character by name:  "The one who had mercy on him."

And Jesus tells him, "Go and do likewise."


1)  What character in Jesus' story do you identify with most?  Why?
2)  Either from your own life or from a story you have heard, identify someone who has shown the kind of tangible compassion of the Samaritan to others.  What impact does that compassion have on you?
3)  In what ways is it easy or hard for you to offer tangible compassion to others?  Are there people you find it easier or harder to serve?  Pray about what you discover through reflection.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jesus: More Demanding

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Scripture for Sunday, January 29:  Luke 9:57-62
Additional Scripture:  1 Kings 19: 15-21
Jesus is continuing on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem when meets three men considering his call of discipleship.
The first man volunteers to follow Jesus:  "I will follow you wherever you go." 
Jesus is clear and direct, leaving the man with no misconceptions about what life following him is like:  "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." 
Jesus calls another man:  "Follow me."
That man says, "I will.  But first let me bury my father." 
Most likely the man's father isn't already dead, awaiting burial.  The man is probably asking to defer following Jesus until a time when he is free to leave home.
Jesus' response seems hardened, calloused for a Savior who has recognized grief and done miracles to alleviate it. 

"Let the dead bury their own dead.  You go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 
One commentator suggests that Jesus' call comes at a crucial time in the man's spiritual life.  He suggests that if the man does not take action at the point of Jesus' call to put the conviction of his heart into practice through active discipleship, he may never act upon God's call in his life.
The third interaction is with a man who wants to say goodbye to his family before he follows Jesus.  Surely that is a reasonable request: even the great Elijah allowed of Elisha to say goodbye in 1 Kings 19. 

But no.  Jesus is more demanding than Elijah here:  "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

Jesus, his own face set toward Jerusalem, is stating a plowing fact:  You can't plow a straight row while looking backwards.  You have to face forward.  Jesus is calling the man not to live in the past but to step forward into a future following him.
What has following Jesus cost you in terms of comfort or convenience? 

Is there something you have sensed Christ calling you to do that you deferred until you never followed through on it?  Or, is there a way you have responded to Christ in a timely way?  What were the benefits of obedience?

 How might God be inviting you to set your face forward as you follow him each day?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

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The More of Jesus:  More Merciful
Read (and Reflect)
When you read the gospels, the Old Testament is never far in the background. Sometimes the connection is clear. Matthew tells you that this happened so the words of the prophet might be fulfilled.  Mark says ‘as it is written,’ and then quotes a bit of Isaiah.
But most of the time the Old Testament is present as an allusion rather than a quote. Such is the case in our passage. Luke 9:51-56 is a story about an incident between Jesus, his disciples and some Samaritan villages.  It seems straightforward and self-contained.  Until you start to dig.  Read Luke 9:51-53 in the King James Version or the New Revised Standard Version. Those translations stick a little closer to the original Greek.  What image jumps out at you there?
Now compare those verses to Isaiah 50:5-7.  Do you see the allusion?  When Luke uses this image (or better: when the Holy Spirit leads Luke to use this image) he is pointing back to all this rich imagery from Isaiah, and the rich imagery from Isaiah is pointing forward to the suffering and shame Jesus will endure in Jerusalem.  The Bible a rich book!
There’s one other Old Testament allusion in this passage.  When James and John ask Jesus to bring down fire from heaven on the Samaritan villages, they are very clearly remembering their childhood Bible stories.  Specifically, they are thinking of 2 Kings 1:1-16, another story where God’s servant confronts opposition from Samaritan people.  Jesus’ response here is different than Elijah’s there.  Why is that? Jesus actually rebukes James and John in verse 55.  There are four other times in Luke where Jesus rebukes using this word, they are: 4:35, 4:39, 8:24, 9:42. Look them up. What do you notice about the rebuke in those passages and what do they suggest about Jesus’ frame of mind in our passage?

Happy studying.  Tune in Sunday morning for fuller answers to these and other questions.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jesus: More Dirt-Covered

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Scripture for Sunday, January 15:  Luke 7:11-17
Additional Scripture: Numbers 19:11-22
This week we meet Jesus just a few miles southeast of his hometown, Nazareth.  He, his disciples, and a large crowd are traveling from Capernaum to the town of Nain. 
As they approach the town gate, the sound of wailing reaches their ears.  Then a large funeral procession comes into view.  Almost the whole town has come out to pay their respects and stand together in grief.

The young man who has died is "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow."  Luke's short description is packed with meaning.  Twice bereft, the mother is utterly alone.  Being widowed was bad enough; being without her son too means no safety net, no way to support herself.

Jesus sees the procession and this mother, and his heart goes out to her.  More accurately, his "guts" go out to her.  Jesus is deeply moved in his inner being as he feels this mother's loss.

And Jesus does something shocking:  He touches the young man's burial stretcher. 

Never mind that Old Testament law says this makes him ceremonially unclean, unable to be among the community of God for a week.  Never mind that now Jesus has to observe purification procedures.  Never mind that whatever the young man died from might be contagious. 

Jesus is moved.  And he doesn't meet the widow's grief with a word at a distance; he comes close enough to touch.
"Stop crying," he tells the woman.  "Young man, I say to you, get up!"

 As if asleep, the young man sits up and begins to talk to them all.  And Jesus gives him back to his mother.


1.  In what ways have you received the nearness and compassion of God?  Thank Christ for them.

2.  How has God led you to follow a "More Dirt-Covered" Jesus?  (Perhaps in caring for a sick child or parent; perhaps serving people that you may not have envisioned yourself working with at another time in life, etc.)  Name some of the challenges and gifts of following a "More Dirt-Covered" Savior. 

3.  Read 1 Kings 17:17-24 alongside Luke 7:11-17.  See if you can identify why the people of Nain called Jesus "a great prophet."