Overall Objective: Luke 2.41-52

What’s the overall objective of your life? Have one? Ever thought of that?

Reflecting on the Second World War, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote in his memoirs,

Advantage is gained in war and also in foreign policy and other things by selecting from many attractive or unpleasant alternatives the dominating point … failure to adhere to this simple principle produces confusion and futility of action, and nearly always makes things much worse later on (The Gathering Storm, 225).

In Luke 2.41-52, Jesus is a twelve-year-old boy. He and his parents have made the three-t0-four day journey to Jerusalem for Passover. After the ceremonies and celebrations, his parents can find Him nowhere. Three days after first missing Him, they find Jesus in the Temple listening to the teachers and asking question.

The crux of this passage lies in the relationship between verses 48 and 49.

Mother Mary: Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress. 

The boy Jesus: Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? 

Notice the contrast here, between the earthy house of Joseph and the heavenly house, located in that time (before Jesus’ official coming) in the Temple. Jesus is not being “cheeky” here. He’s saying, As a child I belonged in my earthly father’s house, but now I belong increasingly in my heavenly Father’s house where I’m seeking to know God. In other words, He’s saying, I will be obedient to you NOW, but my overall objective is to know God and do His will.

Knowing God and doing His will would eventually lead Jesus to the cross. His parents didn’t get this (:50). Later, his disciples won’t get this (See 9.44-45). And, sometimes, as we seek to know God through Jesus among doing a whole host of good things, we don’t get this!

But, we can!

We can understand that, unlike Jewish people before the coming of Jesus, we don’t need to go to a place to seek God. Instead, we seek God through Jesus, who took our sins on Himself and credits us with his perfect righteousness when we trust Him by faith. And, we can make seeking to know God through Jesus our overall objective.

So, this week I took my kids to Milwaukee on a field trip, cross-country skied (and crashed five times), visited somebody who is sick, finished a book, and tucked my four-year-old into bed.

All of these are good things, but none of them is the main thing. All of them (except crashing on skis) is a do-over, but they’re all things that have to be done in faith.

Jesus, in Luke 2.41-52, helps me with this. In this bridge passage that shows Jesus moving from childhood to adulthood, we see Jesus grappling with the tension of multiple priorities, but prevailing to make the seeking of His Heavenly Father the main thing in His life. We can do the same, by seeking God, in Jesus.

Our proper overall objective is seeking God through Jesus in every corner of our lives.

How about you? Find somebody to discuss with and have a crack at these questions after reading through Luke 2.41-52:

What can we learn from Luke 1-2 about the progress Jesus made in His humanity, as He learned to seek God? Notice the progression of Jesus as baby (2.16) … child (2.40) … boy (2.43) … and, finally, Jesus the young man (2.52). Consider also what it meant for Jesus to increase “in favor with God and man” (:52).

How practical is it to make seeking to know God through Jesus the overall objective of your life?

How practical is it to make seeking to know God through Jesus the overall objective of your life?

What would it look like to bring all your various activities and endeavors under this overall objective?

What does it actually look like when we do bring all our endeavors and activities under the objective of seeking God through Jesus? What does it look like when we don’t do this?

What will this cost us, if we do? What did it cost Jesus? 

Is it worth it? What do we gain, if we do seek God through Jesus and make this the overall objective of our lives?

What questions do you have about Jesus do you have as we move from learning about Jesus the young boy to learning about Jesus the adult teacher?

Books on my nightstand: “Lila”

During our now bygone holidays I read a little. My present reading artery relates to an idea I call “rural renewal”—the transformation of rural communities through Gospel-preaching, disciple-making work.

There’s precious little written here. But, from what exists, my favorite by far is actually fiction, a trilogy of fairly recent novels by the Iowa writer Marilynne Robinson: Gilead, Home, and Lila

Robinson’s literary landscape involves the fictional Iowa town of Gilead—in 1950s Iowa, the northwest region (my guess). John Ames, her central figure, is an aging congregationalist minister who, defying every convention, marries Lila—a deeply troubled former prostitute (though we learn this only gradually, right along with John Ames).

We’ve met Lila before, in the first two novels, and she’s married to Ames at the beginning of Lila, but how she’s come to be the pastor’s wife—after wandering into a church service to “get out of the rain”—becomes apparent only gradually throughout the book.

What I find fascinating is how Robinson, in the figure of Lila, helps me understand the sometimes maddening logic of those who act out of deep hurt. We know them. (Maybe, we are them.) We love them and only wish we could understand them better. These are those who come to our congregations seeking to be anonymous. Serve them, care for them, draw them to the center, and they bolt and are gone. Lila helps us understand why.

Lila’s early life, only a vague shadow of memory to her, involved a dysfunctional family of birth that ostracized her by leaving her on the family porch, for days on end. During one of these periods of rejection, she’s snatched up by Doll, a member of a wandering, hobo community. Doll is a strong, maternal figure who takes Lila to herself like a chick to a mother hen and comes to represent to Lila everything solid and real Lila will search for the rest of her life. Later in the novel, Lila describes the Doll “feeling”,

She wanted to rest her head on a bosom more Doll than Doll herself, to feel trust rise up in her like that sweet old surprise of being carried off in strong arms, wrapped in a gentleness warn all soft and perfect

Lila eventually finds herself alone after Doll commits murder with a “wicked, old knife” that Lila inherits and keeps under skirt. After a coterie of odd jobs over many years, Lila runs and comes to live in an abandoned shack outside the town of Gilead. There, in the lengthening shadows of the twilight each evening, Lila copies biblical passages from a Bible she’s stolen in her travels. Her favorite passage she finds in Ezekiel where Israel is described as an abandoned child the Lord has taken in, Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.

Lila wants to be that baby. And, when she meets John Ames, she does, so to speak. To that point the only constant in Lila’s life has been running. And, even after Lila meets, marries, and comes to learn that she is expecting Ames’ child, Lila is planning to, all of a sudden, walk out the front door. Her maddening logic takes on a kind of sense as Robinson narrates Lila’s personal history, right up to the critical moment when Lila, having just been baptized by Pastor Ames, reveals to Ames what has been forgiven by God,

“I worked in a whorehouse in St. Louis. A whorehouse. You probably don’t even know what that is. Oh! Why did I say that.” She stepped away from him, and he gathered her back and pressed her head against his shoulder. He said, “Lila Dahl, I just washed you in the waters of regeneration. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a newborn babe. And yes, I do know what a whorehouse is. Though not from personal experience. You’re making sure you can trust me, which is wise. Much better for both of us” (89-90).

And Lila does grow in trust. But, like all of us in life, she’s not completely healed this side of eternity. Even late in the book, newborn baby at her breast, Lila reflects on that residual tension from her former self,

The problem is, she thought, that if someday she opened the front door and there, where the flower gardens and the fence and the gate ought to be, was the old life, the raggedy meadows and pastures and the cornfields and the orchards, she might just set the child on her hip and walk out into it, the buzz and the smell and the damp of it, the breath of it like her own breath, her own sweat. Stepping back into the loneliness, a dreadful thing, like walking into cold water, waiting for the numbness to set in that was the body taking the care it could, so that what you knew you didn’t have to feel (256).

Books like Lila change our mental maps. We could read an instruction manual on how to love those struggling with deep hurt, and it might say “be kind, be patient; don’t judge, listen.” Or, we could read Marilynne Robinson and see our imaginations formed through the character of John Ames as he, haltingly and with uncertainty, loves Lila like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5.25).

I recommend Lila with a caution. This is literature! You’ll need cold weather, hot drinks, a fire and lots of time to nibble through Robinson’s book. Discuss it with me, if you do. And, enjoy it …

I’ve returned my copy. Why don’t those of you in the area order it in through your Westboro Public Library?

Have a great read, and a great week!

Devotion to God: Luke 2.22-40

We’ve made it to the hinge of the years, once again, haven’t we? Before most of you hear from me again, we’ll be well into the new year.

How do we best move from year to year?

In Luke 2.22-40, we’re transitioning from the birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus to Jesus’ childhood and youth. In this passage, Mary and Joseph bring their infant son to the temple for a series of ceremonies involving the redeeming of Jesus as their firstborn son and His dedication to God. The picture of the young family that emerges is one of a poor but pious and devoted Israelite family. Truly, His parents are devoted to God. But, do Jesus’ parents fully understand the degree to which Jesus belongs to God? In light of all they learn about their son through the prophecies of Simeon (:29-35) and Anna (:36-38), including the “sword” that will pierce Mary’s soul, do they fully affirm everything that God will do in Jesus?

It’s a good question for us, as we move from 2018 to 2019. For many, the year we’re closing down and putting to bed included some “pierced souls.” Hard things. Even so, we have to affirm that God grew us, didn’t He? He was sufficient. Likewise, the incoming year will doubtless include some (let’s not mince words) really bad things. But, as He always does, Jesus will serve as a “light for revelation” to all peoples (:32); He will be about the “rising and falling of many” (:34); He will reveal the “thoughts from many hearts” (:35), so that motives and intentions of individuals will be brought into the open.

One year from now (if Jesus hasn’t come for us), who will be those who, in the spirit of Simeon, depart this new year in peace? (:29). It will be those who, like Simeon and Anna, have devoted themselves to God through His work in Jesus. It will be those who don’t confuse the trappings of success or prosperity or comfort for God and the salvation He offers us in Jesus.

That’s really good news, no matter what the incoming year holds.

We move best from one year to the next when we affirm our devotion to God through His work in Jesus.

Let’s give thanks to God for all that the closing year has included, by His grace. Let’s trust Him for the year ahead, because of Jesus.

What did this past year hold for you? What are some of the hard things you endured, by faith? How did God grow you? What difference did the work of God in Jesus make as you grew? 

Now, how does Jesus as “light for revelation” to all peoples give you confidence as you enter the new year?

See you next year …(:

Growing in Faith at Christmas: Luke 1.57-80

Has God ever called a timeout in your life so that you could grow?

This week, in Luke 1.57-80, we consider the birth of John the Baptist, and think especially about his father, Zechariah. Remember, Zechariah had been taken aback a bit at the angel’s announcement of his wife’s pregnancy: How will this be?  (1.18). God responded by making Zechariah deaf and mute, so that he’d have time to ponder what God was doing.

Zechariah’s naming of his son “John” at the baby’s birth, and in obedience to God’s command, indicates that Zechariah has grown in faith during his time of silence. Then, Zechariah responds by speaking of what God will do through the boys, John and Jesus.

In the same way, many of us get time to ponder during the Christmas season. Much has happened since Zechariah praised God at John’s birth. Jesus has come in the flesh! He’s died for our sins, and we await His return. Still, Zechariah’s response, even as he was released from his time of silence, can be a pattern for us during these deep and rich days after Christmas.

Growth in faith for each of us this Christmas looks like recognizing our need for God and responding to the saving work of Jesus. 

Maybe, you’d like to do the following:

  1. Take some time this Christmas to consider your need. What areas of my life am I keeping from God? Where do I need to trust Him like never before? 
  2. Then, just read the Gospel of Luke. Get to know the Savior. Learn more about how God will accomplish His purposes through Jesus.

And, have a blessed and Merry Christmas! See you next week …

Praise, for God’s Merciful Blessing: Luke 1.39-56

Most people don’t think about it when they pull their phone cameras from their pockets to snap a picture, but every lens has an “infinity setting”. In the old days, like when I used my Nikon F2 “film” camera, there was a little figure-8 setting that let you crank the lens to one extreme to bring into focus everything past a certain distance, as far as the eye could see. 

That’s the “infinity setting,” and it’s a picture that helps us understand our passage this week. 

In Luke 1.26-38 Mary gives praise to God for His merciful Blessing in Jesus. She considers what God has done, and what God will do. The setting of the passage has Mary visiting her older cousin Elizabeth. A journey of 80 to 100 miles brings Mary to the house. When she enters, and Elizabeth sees her, Elizabeth’s not-yet-born baby, John, leaps for joy. Elizabeth blesses Mary: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord (:45). 

Then, Mary gives God praise for what God will do in Jesus (:46-55). She praises God for His mercy to her, for His mercy to all who fear Him, and for His mercy to those in covenant relationship with Him. Along the way, she praises God for the way He has: … scattered the proud … brought down the mighty … sent the rich away empty. And, she praises God for the way he has: exalted the humble … filled the hungry with good things.

Pertinent question for us: Has God really done this? I mean, this week there was another school shooting in Virginia. (Didn’t notice, did you? They’re so common now.) There’s constant squabbling and accusations and scandal in our highest leadership circles as a nation. I read this week about another mega-church meltdown—accusations of pastoral power-abuse and misappropriation of funds. 

In what sense has God “made all the sad things come untrue?” as Tolkien’s Samwise Gamgee says at the close of the Lord of the Rings.

One of Luke’s purposes throughout the rest of his gospel is to show how God’s work of redemption in Jesus comes in two stages. There’s Jesus’ first coming—the incarnation, for which Mary gives God praise, and in which (as Mary will learn) Jesus will die but then be raised from the dead. Then, there’s Jesus’ second coming. That’s when He’ll reign. That’s when He’ll “make all the sad things come untrue”. 

Mary is seeing God’s prophetic plan through the “infinity setting” of redemption, as the Spirit enables her. She speaks of ultimate redemption as though these acts of God’s deliverance had already take place because, at the coming of Christ in the flesh, they are as good as done. 

How about us? In this Christmas season when incomplete pictures of Christ and His work abound in our culture, leading, sometimes, to cynicism and despair, do we give praise to God through His “infinity setting”? You bet, things aren’t what they’re supposed to be. But, as those who live between Jesus’ two comings, we live in hope. Amidst the fallenness of our world (and our own fallenness), we can praise God, having believed that there will be fulfillment of all that God has spoken and promised. 

My right response to God’s merciful blessing in Jesus is praise!

Have you ever been depressed, cynical, or even downright antagonistic about Jesus during the Christmas season?  What do you think that said (or says) about your view of the totality of Jesus’ work in His two comings? 

How does realizing that things aren’t yet the way they will be help you depend on Jesus and long for His return? How does this realism make the Christian story more believable for you? 

Mary starts her hymn: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices (literally, “has begun to rejoice”) in God my Savior.” How does looking at everything Jesus will accomplish in His two comings change the way you relate to God in your troubles? 

Let it Be to Me: Luke 1.26-38

This week the nation buried President George H. Bush. We flew our Woodland flag at half-mast, and our family streamed snippets of the ceremonies, in between care visits, large-group hosting and homeschooling. I had to wonder what it would be like to conduct that service in that cathedral—five presidents present, four of them living. The eyes of the world trained on Washington D.C.

Also this week, we lit the Christmas tree in “downtown” Westboro, Taylor County. A few of us gathered in the dark. Candace plugged in the tree she’d decorated herself, and we all cheered. Then, we sang Christmas carols, especially the ones about Jesus Christ. You know, the Son of God come in the flesh. Nobody minded. Most of those who might be offended have never heard of Westboro, Taylor County. Then, we went inside for cookies and a craft. 

Two different places, Washington and Westboro. Do you think both matter to God? 

In Luke 1.26-38, Gabriel the angel announces the coming of Jesus to Mary. The passage contrasts with 1.5-25. Two  places (the temple in Jerusalem and an unknown setting in Nazareth); two mothers (one married to a priest, one engaged to a carpenter). You’d expect the Christ-child to arrive in the temple or, better, a palace. Mary is surprised to learn the Savior would be born to her. Who is Mary? Where is Nazareth? The whole thing is unlikely.

There’s three exchanges in Mary’s short interview with the angel. There’s a greeting  and a troubled silence (:28-29)Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! says the angel. Mary doesn’t respond; she ponders. What’s this all about?

There’s a promise fulfilled and an honest question (:30-34). Gabriel says: … you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus … He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High … the Lord will give him the throne of his father David … and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.

All of this is fulfillment language for 2 Samuel 7. King David had been promised a descendant to rule forever. How does Mary respond? With a question: How will this be, since I am a virgin? She’s not doubting; she just wants to know how this is going to work. 

Finally, we see the promised, life-giving power of God and a willing spirit (:35-38). Gabriel explains: the Holy Spirit will come upon you … the power of the Most High will overshadow you … the child will be called holy—the Son of God. God will give life without the normal, human biology. He’ll “overshadow” with His shekinah glory (see also Luke 9.34). What’s Mary’s response? Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. 

Stepping back from this well-known passage, a couple applications present themselves: 

First, God continues to create life in Jesus. He does this … not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit …(Titus 3.5). Whenever someone trusts in Jesus (“let it be to me according to your word”), new life is created by God in Jesus through faith. 

Also, God continues to work in small, out-of-the-way places when people respond to Him with a willing spirit. Mary’s response to God’s work is a model one, not because she’s in a palace or a temple, but because she had a willing spirit before.  That’s why there’s hope for Westboro. That’s why there’s hope for any of us.

Could it be that God might be preparing a significant response to Himself in little Westboro through largely unknown people who respond to Him this Christmas in Jesus and with a willing spirit? Might He do such a thing where you live?

My right response to God in Christ is a willing spirit.

In what areas of your life do you need to respond to God with a “let it be to me”-response? 

Why is there hope in this passage for all o us, no matter how unknown we are or how small our place? 

How would you go about sharing the message of this passage with your friends and neighbors who aren’t thinking a bit about Jesus this Christmas? 

Have a great week of Christmas preparation in the Lord!

Jack and Henry make a craft at Westboro’s Christmas tree lighting.

The singing, Christmas-celebrating group in Westboro. 

Almost Time!: Luke 1.1-25

Have you ever had to wait until it’s time?

Of course, you have. Every expectant mother waiting for a baby, every schoolchild waiting for recess, every chemo patient waiting for hair to grow knows what it’s like to wait.

When we come to the New Testament, we’re looking at a people who have waited—waited for some sign that God is there, that He cares, that He’s coming. Four-hundred years have gone by. The nation is occupied by a foreign power. The work of the priests in the temple go on. But … nothing. No word from God.

Luke records what happens when God breaks His silence (Lk 1.1-4). His gospel account takes the form of a meticulous, “orderly account” written for a certain Theophilus, probably a high-ranking Roman official having something to do with the Apostle Paul’s impending trial in 61-62 CE.

Luke then tells the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk 1.5-25). Of their desire for a child, and (like Abraham and Sarah and Hannah before them) of God’s deliverance of a baby for the benefit of the whole nation. It’s a sign that God has not forgotten them; that God cares and is coming for them.

As we begin Advent at Woodland, we’re recognizing that people are still looking for signs—in nature, in near-death and out-of-body experiences, in the clouds. Everybody wants to hear from somebody who (like Zechariah the priest) gets to go behind the curtain and hear from God.

In the midst of all this searching and anticipation, we get to celebrate the greatest sign ever given by God. It’s the coming of the Lord Jesus, carefully researched and documented by Dr. Luke (see Col 4.14). A man of science, he gathered the eyewitness accounts of the Lord Jesus, and we get to benefit.

The reason Luke prepared his orderly account is so that the world may know that the Christ has come. 

And, you know what? Because Jesus came the first time, He’s coming again. And, that’s our hope as we enter into this Advent season.

Here’s some questions to consider with friends:

What about Luke’s approach as a researcher you do you as a modern person find compelling? What about his content is appealing to modern people, but also hard to believe? (Think: angels, prophecies, private experiences). 

How do you see Luke setting us up, in this first chapter of Luke? You know the story, but there’s a contrast between Zechariah and Elizabeth (and their “fitness” to bring about a prophetically significant child) and what God will actually do. What is Luke preparing us for? 

Have you been waiting for a sign from God? Are you waiting to believe? What would you consider a “good” sign, the kind of sign you’re looking for? 

What do you think about the idea that the Lord Jesus is the best and clearest sign that we could possibly receive from God? 

See you Sunday, or next week. Then, we’ll hear from Luke as he develops his careful account of the Christ-child who has come, and will come again.

Have a great week, in the Lord.

Young people love liturgy, it would seem …

Here’s my quick and cursory contribution to church life in America, on this Monday morning in late 2018.

Yesterday proved a glorious Lord’s Day at Woodland, our dynamic and somewhat quirky little church in the snowy Northwoods of Wisconsin. (By this I mean that we have a church family of nearly 200 souls in a mostly disappeared rural town of 169. By 21st century church growth standards, that’s quirky, fantastical even.) In our rotation of (what is it?) seven worship teams, Scott was “up” leading with classic hymns. Gary played the organ. We dedicated little Eira Kay, looking pristine and classic in her flowing dedication dress made from her mother’s wedding dress. The elders laid hands on Dan, who  this morning is undergoing cancer surgery. The platform was dedicated in a sylvan scene with white lights and long candles, anticipating advent. The whole morning had a touch of formality; liturgy, even. (By dropping the “l” word here, I mean that the worshipping work of the people toward God took on form. That’s what the word means, anyway.) But, there was nothing fusty or traditional about it. This service moved and breathed!

Here’s my big observation, though: We had young people. Oh, my goodness, did we have young people! Young families and singles in their 20s and 30s, the so-called Millennials. (Sorry, don’t want to lump you all in together.) The young people observation wasn’t mine alone. Visitors from Chicago couldn’t believe it. “What have you got here?” What’s going on?” I was asked, in wonder and disbelief.

So, here’s my heuristic guess, my working thesis about liturgy and our newest, rising generation of church leaders. It kinda blows smoke in the faces of consultants and church growth “experts” writing and working for the so-called Boomers, the parents of the rising generation we’re seeing at Woodland.

Young people love liturgy. 

Really … In contrast to the post-institutionalism of their parents, young people want to belong to something. They like baby dedications where parents and congregation pledge in turn to preach the gospel to the growing child, to bring the child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to share the joyfully light load of teaching and discipling and including the child in the form of worship to God that is our liturgy. And, it would seem, young people delight in reaching back to past forms of worship that go deep and strong back to the roots of our faith in the early church that gave primary witness to Jesus and to the events of the Gospel.

That doesn’t sound like come-as-you-are, feel-good stuff to me. That sounds like material for come-and-be-changed. I like it, and I think others do to!

So, those are my thoughts before I get into the matter of the week. I’m excited about where we’re going at Woodland, and about the worship I’m sharing with my (slightly!) younger friends.

Why don’t you scroll to the bottom of this page and toss up a comment on what you’ve observed about our younger people and worship. Do you see what I’m seeing?

Have a great week!

Assurance in the Presence of God: 1 John 5.4b-18

Even as we enjoy the goodness of God’s creation on Thanksgiving Day, we’re wrapping up our 1 John study at Woodland.

We began the study several months ago by thinking about assurance, and the need we have for it. Sunday, we’ll round out our time talking about, well, assurance and what it looks like in the everyday business of our lives.

First John 5.4b-18 reminds me a bit of mincemeat pie. It’s the wrap-up to the letter that includes everything and all the themes John has been expounding to this point—obedience to God, love for brothers, right belief about who Jesus is. Toward the end of his conclusion, however, John shows us what happens when we have assurance in the presence of God (thinking of 5.13-18, in particular).

Three things happen:

First, we know we have eternal life (:13)I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. There’s a sequence in this letter that involves: hearing … believing … obeying … living and, finally, knowing. When we KNOW that our life with God is eternal and real, then we have confidence before God. We’re free to act in keeping with God’s will, and it feels rich and full and wonderful.

Second, we know we’re heard by God (:13-15). When my children ask me for a horse (not really an option on our wooded property), I try not to shut them down with the truth. Instead, I try to let them know that I hear. “I hear you … Maybe someday, but not now.” They might not be perfectly happy with my answer, but it matters that I’ve heard them. John Stott says of these verses that “Asking according to God’s will is the qualification for answered prayer.” We might not get what we want, but we can be content that we’re heard. And, as we learn to depend on God, we can learn to bend our wills around His, not try to bend His will around ours.

Finally, we bring life to other believers (:16-18). Read over verses 16-18, would you? There’s two sins here that require explanation.

There’s the sin that doesn’t lead to death. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life … (:16). This is a sin committed by a real believer who believes that Jesus is the Christ. The brother who has confidence in God’s presence leads his erring brother or sister to Jesus who serves as advocate who everyone who confesses his or her sins. In this way, the confident Christian becomes a life-giver to her insecure brother or sister.

There’s also a sin that leads to death. There is a sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. This sin is a categorical denial that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh. Like the false teachers described in John’s letter who deny that Jesus is Christ born in the flesh (1 John 2.19) , these brothers or sisters can’t simply confess a sin and be saved, because they don’t believe rightly in Jesus Christ who can save them. This is not a sin characteristic of true believers, however, since, We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on keeping, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him (:18).

Important is that assurance is not just internal, personal and subjective. It’s outward and social. Assurance in the presence of God looks like something to others. And …

Assurance in the presence of God comes by belief in Jesus the Christ. 

Now, with that closing word from 1 John, I’m more excited than ever to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Advent. Truly, the Son of God has come in the flesh. Let’s prepare our hearts!

Here’s a few questions to consider with others:

Where do you most struggle with confidence before God? 

What about John’s teaching in this letter gives you the most courage?

Thinking of John’s three tests (obedience to God, love for brothers, right belief about Jesus), where have you seen these proofs in somebody you know well? Do you think it might be encouraging for you to mention this to him or her? 

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Giving Thanks to Jesus: Luke 17.11-19

This week we enter our celebration of a favorite holiday of mine. (Toss out a comment to guess my very favorite, if you want to …)

Thanksgiving has mostly defied commercialization. It’s subdued, understated, contemplative, and is basically a celebration about what we really need. And that’s where I, as a Jesus-follower, begin to think through my proper response to the holiday.

Luke 17.11-19 helps. In a holiday featuring turkey and sesame seed gravy, cranberries and my mother’s special pea-salad that I make each year, this passage is about leprosy.

Jesus met ten lepers in his travels toward Jerusalem. They recognized Jesus (:11-13) They hailed Him from a distance, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!

Why the distance? Under the Mosaic Covenant, the name “leprosy” served to described a whole host of skin diseases that included Hanson’s Disease (so-called in the 19th century), as well as ringworm and lupus. Some varieties were contagious, others not so much; some forms were temporary, others permanent. In the old covenant system of the nation of Israel, the priest (the religious figure!) was to examine anyone suspected of leprosy and prescribe a waiting period before the suspected would be permitted to re-enter society (Leviticus 13-14). The person might recover. But if the disease proved leprous, the person wold be pronounced unclean and removed from civil society, living perhaps in a leper colony outside the village. Skin would become infected. Nerves would die. Numb fingers would become burned or injured. Digits would fall off. The leper would die.

But, more than a dread physical disease, leprosy meant social isolation and separation from formal worship with God’s people in the temple. As such, leprosy became a picture of sin and its ravaging results—the numbness of the human heart as it dies to the things of God; separation from God, and, finally eternal death.

Happy Thanksgiving! … But, wait.

Despite the distance between them, these ten lepers received from Jesus (:14). Upon hearing them, Jesus shouted, Go and show yourselves to the priests. 

There’s an irregularity we can’t miss here. Jesus chooses to operate under the Mosaic Covenant. He’s following Leviticus 13-14 to perfection, in prescribing the cleansing ritual. But, the wrinkle is that the suspected leper would undergo cleansing after the skin had healed. And, the priest was to initiate the ritual. You didn’t just walk into the temple with leprosy.

Verse 14b tell us what happened. And as they went they were cleansed. Got that? While they were in the act of obeying Jesus, the ten lepers received not just healing but religious cleansing that made them right for full integration into society. They were cleaned without the ritual, without the ceremonial washings and sacrifices, without a priest even.

One changed man responds giving thanks to Jesus in faith (:15-19). Nine lepers gave thanks, I’m sure. They gave so much thanks that they ate turkey, took naps in their favorite recliners and then watched the Dallas Cowboys at 3:00 on CBS. They gave thanks, in general. But, did they give thanks to Jesus?

Verse 15-16a tells us: Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks …

Notice how the distance has collapsed. No more shouting from afar. No more social isolation, priests and religious rituals. This man has come to Jesus in thanks! And Jesus commends him: Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well (:19).

That’s my Thanksgiving Day message from this passage. I’m to go right to Jesus Himself with my thanks.

This Thanksgiving my proper response to God’s good gifts is thanksgiving directed to Jesus and offered in faith. 

How about you? What will be your response in faith to God’s good gifts this Thanksgiving?

Like the TEN, we’re all lepers and we need to be restored—to God and to one another. Like the TEN we’re distant from God, and we need to be brought near. Like the ONE we receive what we truly need only by faith and only in Jesus.

And then we need to run to Jesus! 

So, my suggestion. Do it up at Thanksgiving! … Family, friends, favorite fixings. Make Thanksgiving big. But, make Jesus bigger! If Jesus hadn’t made it to the cross, we’d still be in our leprosy. He went to the cross, so let’s focus our gratitude and give thanks, to Jesus and in faith!


Here’s a few questions to get you talking with others:

What about Thanksgiving do you just love? 

How do those things that you love about Thanksgiving point you to Jesus’ work on the cross? (For example, I love family which involves belonging and togetherness. Jesus’ work at the cross brought me together with God and other people who love Him. I need to give thanks to Jesus by faith to Jesus for family that is from Him.)

How will you go about sharing your thanksgiving to Jesus with those who don’t yet “get” the significance of Jesus’ work and are only giving thanks in general?

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, in Jesus and by faith …