Much Boldness, More Generosity: Luke 11.1-13

Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples (:1b, ESV).

This strikes me as a strange request from one of Jesus’ early followers. Think about it. The earliest disciples were actually with Jesus, and yet they wanted to learn a prayer that would establish them as a group, that would kinda make them legit … like John the Baptists’ followers.

Jesus’ response is wonderful. Yes, He does teach them a prayer. Known typically as The Lord’s Prayer, many people repeat what Jesus said to help them … well … feel legit, or religious. Pater noster, qui es in caelis … (“Our Father, who are in heaven …).

After spending the week in Luke 11. 1-13, I’m convinced that Jesus intended something entirely different. If we pay attention to what Jesus emphasizes in this prayer, and pay attention to the prayer’s themes, we don’t get a group prayer by rote, we get … well … God Himself. And, we learn to pray like Jesus.

The prayer itself has one address, two declarations, and then three requests. 

Father … God is not addressed here as one far off; nor is He approached as Creator or Ruler, though He is. Rather, there’s family intimacy. Hallowed by your name. This is a plea for God to make His uniqueness be ever more visible in creation. Your kingdom come … This looks forward to when Jesus returns and makes all wrongs right. It’s not a process; it’s a future event, the culmination of God’s rule revealed.

I’ve got to ask myself: do my prayers involved God’s revealed holiness filling the earth? Or, is my imagination too small?

The requests involve provision (give us each day our daily bread), forgiveness ( … and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us), and spiritual protection ( … and lead us not into temptation).

Much could be said here about the prayer itself, but in Luke’s account Jesus doesn’t stop. Instead, he follows up the prayer with a parable, confusing at first blush (:5-8). It’s humorous and involves a host who receives an unexpected guest at midnight. In that face-saving culture, the host would be expected to provide thee loaves of bread, but he has none. Faced with this quandary, the unprepared host needs to knock on the door of his neighbor’s house. When he does, his normally friendly neighbor, who has just bedded down with his animals and children, goes stingy: … I can’t get up and give you anything! (:7). Even so, the host gets what he needs, not because his neighbor is his friend, but because the man wants to get back to bed without a ruckus.

Jesus tells this parable as a lesson in contrasts. God is exactly the opposite of the stingy neighbor! Then, Jesus makes a clarifying promise (:9-13):

… ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 

God wants us to come to Him. So, ask and pray boldly. Seek, and don’t quite coming to God. Knock, and you won’t find a barred door. God is not a lofty ruler or a stingy neighbor. He’s a good father.

As delightful as this truth about our good, Heavenly Father is, there’s a bonus point at the end of the passage. Verse 13 reads, If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? 

If God is not stingy but generous, then how much more should we go to Him? If God will not only give us what we need but His own Spirit, then how much more bold should we be!

Much boldness in prayer is right, because God is outrageously generous and loves to share with those who ask. 

Wonderful truth that this is, I still need to know what to do with this in my prayers. I recognize that this is not a blank check. God’s purpose isn’t to make me comfortable so I forget Him. Rather, I want to use the themes of the prayer to inform my prayers. Here’s a few questions I’ve settled on asking as I talk to God:

  1. How do You want to expand Your glory in my situation? This is not the same as just asking God for things because I want to. It is about being alive to how God would expand His glory in my life. So, I won’t (just for example) ask for a new house just because I want one. But, I might consider adding on to my existing house, IF I sense that God desires to use my house to meet the needs of my family, or enhance service for Him.
  2. What is it that You want me to be content with? This is challenging and, again, involves me thinking through the reason I want some things and not others. So, for me, it involves asking myself if I should be content with my old, basic cellphone when I could get a smartphone. Maybe I should be content. Or, maybe, the newer, better phone would be used to help me pastor our church better.
  3. Where do I need to be led by Your Spirit? Without the Spirit of God, I want my own glory, not God’s. Without the Spirit, I don’t want to be content. Without Him, I won’t have power to imagine anything greater than myself, and I won’t live a forceful life for God.

So, the Lord’s Prayer is hardly a prayer for rote memory and repetition, is it? The disciples weren’t super clear on how they were to come to God, but Jesus in His kindness showed them. Likewise, He shows us, along with much more about our Heavenly Father.

Have a great week, in the Lord!

Good Portion: Luke 10.38-42

Two Sisters … many distractions … one good portion.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ quick dialogue with His friend and follower Martha (with Martha’s sister Mary sitting silently at His feet) is among the most-preached gospel accounts. On the surface its meaning appears simple. But after a week of study and reflection, I (speaking for one Bible reader) am still growing into its application.

Two sisters (:38-39). You know the story in Luke 10.38-42. Jesus is visiting Martha and Mary. Martha just has to be the older sister. She’s entertaining, hosting, and appears to run the house. Looking at the other two accounts that include Martha and Mary (in John 11 and 12), we see a scrappy, assertive and even forward Martha. She’s a black-and-white thinker with good theology. After all, she’s the one who points out “I know he [Lazarus] will rise again at the resurrection.”

Her sister Mary is different. In the three gospel accounts where Mary appears she comes off as retiring, contemplative, and always close to tears. When, in John 11, she, like Martha, says to Jesus,  … if you’d been here my brother wouldn’t have died, Jesus doesn’t respond with a theology lesson; He says “Where have you laid him?” Jesus responds to Mary with Himself. And, in John 12, it’s this Mary who anoints Jesus’ feet to prepare Him for burial.

While the rest of the disciples struggle with Jesus’ message of Cross first, then glory, Mary gets it.

Many distractions (:40). The crisis comes in this passage when Martha is preparing a meal for Jesus, and Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” 

Martha’s problem here isn’t her serving; it’s her heart. She clearly wants to serve Jesus in a manner appropriate to His person, but she expresses her distracted heart by lashing out at Mary for leaving her “alone”, and even at Jesus for not pointing out to Mary what she, Martha, believes to be obvious. Martha is running over people in her frantic effort to do the right thing.

The Good Portion (:41-42). Jesus says to Martha: Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. In other words, you’ve got a lot on your plate, Martha. There’s lots of good things to do, but you’re missing the one thing that will bring it all together.

And what would that be? Jesus continues: Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. 

It’s helpful to note here that this account takes place in a kitchen. The word “portion” is often used of food. Martha is in the kitchen consumed with producing food that will be gone in a few moments. Mary has connected with something deeper.

What is it that Jesus said when tempted by the Devil in Luke 4.4? It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Left unsaid to the Devil in that earlier passage is the full citation from Deuteronomy 8: … man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 

Martha did the right thing, but Mary did the thing right. Mary understood that Jesus’ teaching (found for us in God’s Word) is the Good Portion that will nourish His followers always. 

Now, a shallow reading of this passage might lead us to the wrong response. We might think that the proper response to Jesus is the six-hour quiet time. “Let somebody else do the work,” we might say. “I’ll just reflect on Jesus.”

We know better, don’t we?

Martha’s problem isn’t that she’s working too hard serving; it’s that her service to Jesus has become one means among many to an end she can’t even find. In doing many things, she’s missed the one thing. She’s missed Jesus’ teaching. The “good portion”. And in missing Jesus’ instruction, she’s missed Jesus! And in being distracted she’s worn herself out.

In wrestling with what my response to this passage needs to look like—busy husband, father and pastor that I am—I’ve come up with four practical questions to ask myself. May I share them with you?

  1. Am I really desiring Jesus as the Good Portion? If I desire Jesus among other things, I’ll become distracted. Then I’ll probably blame other people for what I think they’re supposed to be doing. I might even blame Jesus for what I think He should being doing through other people. And it all started with a heart problem on my part. Nothing good happens when we fail to regard Jesus with focused devotion.
  2. Am I preoccupied with other people in my service? Where do my thoughts range? Am I consumed with Jesus’ word, and with His estimation of my life. Or am I so managing things that I can’t forget about what I think others should be doing? This question is a flash-point question. It ought to sound like buzzers and sirens in my head when I get this wrong.
  3. Am I serving so that others can enjoy the Good Portion? One sure-fire way to know we’re serving Jesus is when we don’t get any immediate benefit for ourselves. So, watching kids so that our Woodland women can sit at Jesus’ feet in study is a great way to serve, for example.
  4. And, finally, Am I content in Jesus at the end of the day so that I trust Him with what I couldn’t do? This is a hard one, a discipline even. But confessing my inner Martha has much to do with ceding control to God for my limitations, which become, if I do this properly, matters that will wait.

This is the kind of passage that we’re not done studying until we’re done living. Why don’t you meditate this week on these five short verses in Luke. Make up some practical questions of your own, why don’t you? Sit at Jesus’ feet, in your times of reflection, and in your times of joyful serve to Jesus. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be frantic. Choose the one thing. Choose the Good Portion, and be joyful in Jesus.

And have a blessed weekend, in the Lord!

 

 

Following and Failure: Luke 9.28-45

It’s summer in the Northwoods, and my boys and I are cutting against the grain, a bit. They’re playing, and I’m coaching … soccer. While baseball, the local pastime, is great, boys in my family need to run, like miles. So, here we go.

Coaching 10-11 year olds is a study in human behavior, really. Like I would expect, my Blue Bolts (Henry’s team) want to scrimmage, play games and score points. They want glory, now! And, like in last week’s game when we won 8-3, they get little glimpses of what they’re capable of. But then there’s weeks like this one. They didn’t pay attention to my drills that graduate from simple (dribbling and passing) to complex (shooting and positional play). And, because they didn’t listen in practice, they didn’t hear me shouting from the sideline in the game. And we lost a squeaker, 2-3.

In Luke 9, Jesus shows His disciples His glory, while also teaching them to listen to Him in the hard business of enduring hardship before His return.

Take a minute to read Luke 9.28-45.

Notice, there’s Glory on the Mountaintop (:28-36). Jesus is praying again. This time He’s taken Peter, James and John with Him. While they sleep, Jesus is transformed. What Peter and the others will see will be Jesus’ answer to His promise from earlier: But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God (:27).

The disciples awake to find Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah. They are discussing Jesus’ “departure,” which will be accomplished in Jerusalem, and which we now call “the gospel”: the good news that Jesus will die, be buried, be raised, and will return to the Father, only to return for His people.

Afraid that he’s missed it all, Peter blurts out something sincere but uninformed about making shelters for Jesus and His two important guests. Apparently, Peter doesn’t yet really understand what being “the Christ” entails. Jesus is at the center of God’s plan, not Moses and Elijah. It’s at this moment that a cloud (reminiscent of the shekineh glory of God in which God met with Moses on Sinai) envelops everyone on the mountain. This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him! God says. Jesus is central to God’s plan. The disciples will need to listen to Jesus in order to follow Jesus, carry their crosses, and know God.

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience with God? Maybe, you went to a conference and you just didn’t want to leave. You can’t live in those special moments, can you? They encourage us and remind us about Whom we serve, but you can’t live on the mountain without listening to Jesus.

Then, there’s failure in the valley (:37-45). Next, Jesus leads His disciples down the mountain where they encounter a great crowd and the rest of the disciples trying to exorcise a particularly troubling demon. The boy’s father begs Jesus to help. Jesus, in words language evoking Old Testament prophets, laments the lack of faith by all those involved and promptly heals the boy.

What’s gone on here? The disciples, now growing accustomed to healing and casting our demons in Jesus’ name, had apparently been trying to heal under their own power. (See the parallel accounts in Matthew 17 and Mark 9.)

It’s at this point that Jesus clarifies His mission, again: Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men (:44). But, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. The truth “was concealed” from them.

Sometimes, we get mountaintop experiences with God, but the Christian’s life isn’t lived there, is it? We need to listen to Jesus in the valley. And it’s there in the valley that Jesus teaches us the hard business of carrying our crosses while we await His return.

This is my Son, My Chosen One; listen to him!

How does this work for us? How do we listen to Jesus today? This passage reminds us of the need to pay attention to the progress of redemption. Jesus is not with us like He was there with the disciples, but He has been to Jerusalem. And He has “accomplished” the deeds described in the gospel. And He has sent His Spirit. And He has left us the written account of the New Testament. And He does sustain us by reminding us of who He is and who we are and where we’re going. And He does empower us in the valley while we carry our crosses.

Consider Romans 8.14-17: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cary, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

JESUS sustains those who follow Him (even in our failure) by showing His glory and speaking to them, through His Word by His Spirit. 

Some of this is heady stuff! Here’s a couple practical pointers for how we can apply the lessons of the passage:

  1. This week why don’t you spend some extra time in Luke’s gospel? Maybe, just read forward a few chapters. And, as you do, ask yourself: Where in my reading do I see Jesus’ glory? How does this glimpse of who Jesus is encourage and sustain me? How does it remind me of where I’m going and who I am? 
  2. Then, let’s all ask ourselves: Where in the valleys of my life do I need to listen to Jesus through His Word and the Spirit? 

It’s really easy, like the disciples did, to start rearranging the circumstances of our lives around our own priorities and power.

Let’s depend on Jesus instead. Let’s carry our crosses with His power, being encouraged by glimpses on the mountaintop, and stopping to “listen to” Jesus in the valleys.

And have a great week in the Lord!

 

Making the Invisible Visible: 1 Peter 3.21-22

Quick quiz. Which of the following is visible?

Faith … repentance … the effectual calling of the Spirit of God … the new birth … the baptism of the Spirit that joins the new believer to Christ … water baptism?

I bet you said “water baptism,” and that answer is … CORRECT!

This Sunday at Woodland we’re celebrating baptisms. Our local church family will surround four of our own and recognize them as those who belong to Jesus. That’s one facet of water baptism, and there are others. There’s the believer’s recognition of sin and the proclamation of the Gospel through the ordinance. There’s the believer’s testimony that she has trusted Jesus by faith and turned from sin to follow Jesus. And, there’s the identification of the believer with the finished work of Jesus.

Water baptism makes all these invisible realities visible.

In 1 Peter 3.21-22, Peter charges his readers to make a picture of the saving work of Christ, even while they wait for Christ’s return and suffer hardship in a hostile world. One way we (along with his first readers) are to do this is through the ordinance of baptism that makes a picture by pointing to another picture.

Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ … 

The other picture water baptism points to is the baptism of the Spirit of God that is received by faith. (See Romans 6.3-4, too). Water baptism points to that “appeal” (ESV), that request that the believer makes to God for a good conscience. The picture here is of the believer going to God and saying, “I know I’m far from You, Lord. I believe that Jesus paid for my sins on the cross, and that You raised Him from the dead. Please save me and make me alive too, like Jesus!”

God responds to the believer’s faith by granting  a “good conscience,” the new birth. All of this is based on the work of Jesus, stamped by the resurrection and punctuated by Christ’s victory and present reign.

… Jesus Christ … who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 

Did you know that water baptism points to so much? Have you ever thought of the dunking of a man or woman in a newly lacquered horse tank (that’s what we use here at Woodland!) is invested with so much significance?

Baptism has significance, because water baptism makes a visible picture of the work of Jesus that become ours by faith in Him.

And that’s what we’re celebrating Sunday!

Waiting on Jesus: Luke 8.40-56

Have you ever had to wait for something? Maybe, you wanted to grow out a bad haircut. Or, like many of us in the Northwoods, you waited for plants to emerge from the ground after a long winter.

In Luke 8.40-56, we learn about a fantastic double miracle. Both recipients rely on Jesus to care for them. One recipient has to wait on Jesus.

An Urgent Request (:40-4a). Jesus and His disciples have just returned from the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They’re met by crowds which, in Luke, often function as curious, uncommitted onlookers. Suddenly, the leader (arch-leader, in fact) of the synagogue is at Jesus’ feet. It turns out that his twelve-year-old daughter is in the act of dying. Jairus has flung himself on Jesus. Jesus responds instantly, and departs to Jairus’ house.

An Immediate Response (:42b-48). While Jesus travels the crowd presses on Him. (The word “presses” is the same word used of the thorns that choke the good plants in 8.14). There’s no room to turn, to maneuver. Stealthily, a woman slips through the crowd. We’re told that she is bleeding. Her disorder is something on the order or a uterine hemorrhage. Doubtless, she’s physically weak and ceremonially unclean. According to the law of the day, anyone touching her would be likewise unclean. It’s deeply personal and psychologically damaging. We’re told she’d suffered so for twelve years, spent all her money, and nobody could help her, until now.

Believing Jesus could heal her she touches the fringe of His garment … and is immediately healed!

Who was it that touched me? Jesus asked (:45, ESV). It’s not that He doesn’t know. He’s up to something. Nobody confesses, so Peter (always with a flair for the obvious) gets involved.

Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you (:45b), Peter contributes. Jesus declares that power has gone out from Him. And, while it sounds a bit Harry Potter-like to us, we’re reminded that power is at the heart of Jesus’ relationship to both the Father and the Spirit (e.g. 1.35).

The woman is exposed. Though healed, her fears are realized. Perhaps, she’s made Jesus unclean. Certainly, she doesn’t want her previous condition made known. But, she is most horrified, perhaps, because she is no longer hidden. Jesus is forcing her outside of herself.

Even so, Jesus recognizes her faith. It’s not that she had much faith, but she had faith in Jesus as the object of her faith. (See also Luke 17.5-6). Jesus declares her at peace (:48). Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace. 

And with that we see that Jairus, an exalted man, has made himself vulnerable, and a vulnerable woman has been exalted.

But, what of Jairus?

A Timely Result (:49-56). Jairus is still there. Waiting patiently, maybe. Until a messenger approaches from the house. Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher anymore … (:49). Jesus’ diversion has cost a life, apparently. We can’t fault Jairus, if only quietly, he is crushed and frustrated at Jesus for dinking around. Certainly, he’s had to wait.

But, Jesus has compassion on Jairus. Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well (:50). Faith is the opposite of fear here. Wait, Jairus … do you still believe?

Jesus enters the house privately. The paid mourners perform outside. She’s dead, and everybody knows it. Yet, Jesus has come to overcome death, and we get a little taste of the endgame here. Jesus takes the girl’s hand and shouts to her, like she’s asleep. (I think he’s playing along here a bit.) The girl is raised; she eats, and life returns to normal. Her parents are amazed, and Jesus (curiously) instructs that nobody be told of the event. He hadn’t come to do miracles; He’d come to die. And the manner of life His followers will live will not consist in one victory after the next, but in suffering and sacrifice until they are transformed and alive with Him.

Like a complex dish of food with many flavors coming through, there are complex themes that come through in this account. The strongest of them may be this one:

Those whom Jesus includes depend on Him to care for them, but in His time. 

Both Jairus and the woman received from Jesus. Jesus said YES to the woman, and she received from Him right away. Jesus also said YES to Jairus; only to Jairus, He said YES, BUT NOT YET. And Jairus had to wait for Jesus while Jesus turned up at the time of His own choosing.

So, have you ever had to wait for Jesus? How do you wait for Jesus well?

I love John 15.7-8: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you (in other words, you’re walking with Jesus), ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 

When we’re waiting for Jesus, anxiously like Jairus, maybe, we need to pray that we’ll grow in faith. We need to pray that God will be glorified. And, we need to know that Jesus always says YES to those in His will. Sometimes, He says YES, NOW. Sometimes, He says YES, NOT YET.

All of this has to be seen in light of the end. As surely has Jesus has overcome death at the cross and the tomb, He’ll return to mop up and take the plunder. (First Corinthians 15 comes to mind.) Some of our requests won’t be granted till then. We’ll be like Jairus who had to wait for Jesus to turn up in His time. But, then it will be YES … YES … YES, in Jesus.

As surely as Jesus has saved us and is coming back, Jesus cares for those who depend on Him.

  1. Which of the two figures in the story do you most identify with? The woman, or Jairus?
  2. Have you ever had to wait on Jesus? What was it like?
  3. Did you grow during your time of waiting? How?
  4. Thinking along the lines of John 15.7-8, what does it mean to pray according to God’s will?
  5. What does it mean for Jesus to say YES, BUT NOT YET to our prayers that are asked according to His will?

Proclaim Jesus! Luke 8.26-39

These have been some fantastic Sunday mornings at Woodland!  This time of year our “snow-birds” return to us; our “cabin people” take up residence; and Forest Springs staff haven’t quite hit the level of activity at which they will find themselves a few weeks from now. These make for wonderful, upbeat Sunday mornings of joy and celebration!

Oh, and we keep learning more about Jesus from the Gospel of Luke! This week, in 8.26-39, we discover yet another unlikely follower of Jesus in the person of the demoniac. Jesus takes His disciples on a kind of spiritual retreat. But what a venue He’s chosen! It’s the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the Gentile side where we imagine a pallid sky, a moonscape filled with rocks and tombs, and a herd of pigs.

Jesus steps out of the boat, and a man approaches (:27). This man has “demons”. And there is a kind of calculated chaos in Luke’s presentation of the number of evil spirits who possess the unfortunate wretch of a man—sometimes it’s one, sometimes many; sometimes the demons use “I”, sometimes “we”. Like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings the man is submerged in darkness of every kind—mental fragmentation, social isolation, physical nakedness and a strength that far surpasses that of any healthy man.

The demon(s) recognize Jesus (:28). What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Have you come here to torment me? Important here is that the demon(s) are absolutely lucid with respect to the reality of their situation: they’re going to be confined to darkness and brought to judgment (see 2 Pet 2.4). Only they don’t want to go there yet. Instead, they prefer to wander in desolate places looking to be hosted by flesh-and-blood creatures (see Luke 11.24-26); and, they’re crying “unfair” to Jesus who threatens to judge them before their time.

Jesus examines the demons (:30). “What is your name?” He asks. Legion, the demons answer, for many demons had entered him. This is instructive. It appears that Jesus will need to demonstrate His authority in a manner not yet shown. Since a great army of demons possess the man, a large number of hosts will be required to possess the spirits, if Jesus is to grant the request. He does, and allows the demons to enter into a herd of pigs who then rush to their destruction (:32-33).

As miraculous of a display of power as this is, we haven’t yet arrived at the point of the account. In verse 34, the herdsmen flee for fear into the city and “announce” (“tell,” in the ESV) what has become of the pigs. In verse 35, those of the city go out to their lost herd, only to find the man in his right mind sitting at Jesus’ feet. Those who find the man “announce” (there’s that word again) what Jesus has done for the man. The man, whom we’ve not yet really met in the story, is now mentally, emotionally, physically, socially at peace. And, he has found JESUS!

Like the demons, the people of the city fear Jesus, because they want something other than Jesus. They ask Jesus to leave, and He does, because He won’t remain where He’s not wanted. Then, while Jesus is getting into the boat (which functions like a pair of bookends in the story), the formerly-possessed man asks to come with Jesus.

Jesus’ reply really makes the story: Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you, Jesus tells him. Then we are told, … he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him (:39).

The major application of the account can be found in the three verbs of proclamation, in the second half of the story: announce … declare … and PROCLAIM.

Sometimes, in our attempt to be informal and friendly, we get too casual about reporting what Jesus has done. This story helps us. Those freed from darkness need to PROCLAIM what Jesus has done. And this brings us to three take-aways:

  1. We all begin in darkness and seek rest in Jesus. The demoniac is an extreme case, but we’re not entirely unlike him. We don’t begin life seeing clearly our spiritual condition. We need the Spirit of God to illumine our situation, and we need peace in Jesus in order to be free from our sins. And this is possible, because, unlike the demons, Jesus died for us.
  2. the Gospel is something we proclaim! Sure, we can talk about “sharing the Gospel”. (I probably won’t give up that language.) But, those who have been freed from darkness won’t talk about Jesus like He’s a marketing plan. We will proclaim the facts of what Jesus has done—at the cross and in our lives.
  3. We at Woodland are increasingly a people who proclaim what Jesus has done. This needs to be our business, in our services, in smaller group studies and home gatherings, and, finally, in our community, as we urge others to trust Jesus and make God’s story of redemption part of their story of redemption.

Those freed form darkness proclaim what JESUS has done!

And so Jesus gathers to Himself yet another unlikely follower. This time He’s displayed previously unseen power over a myriad evil spirits and demonstrated that He is truly “Son of the Most High God,” with power over all God’s creation. And we have once again seen our Savior at work.

Let’s think back to Jesus’ work at the cross this week. And, as we do, let’s tell somebody about what Jesus has done. Then, let’s reflect on what it’s like to find peace from darkness by faith in Jesus. And as we do that, let’s proclaim Jesus all over again.

And, as you do, have a great week in the Lord!

Forgiven Much: Luke 7.36-50

Have you ever felt not worthy? Maybe, you knew you weren’t up to somebody else’s standard, and you knew it. Some of us live in there, don’t we?

Jesus loved much by a sinner needing to know peace (:36-39). In Luke 7.36-50, we meet another unlikely candidate to be a follower of Jesus. The account opens with Jesus being invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee. And, we picture them reclining together, some disciples and other Pharisees around, maybe. The front door of the Middle-eastern home opens on to a courtyard where servants work and mix with the locals.

Then, she enters. That woman whom everybody, except Jesus (it is assumed) knows to be a “sinner,” a”woman of the city”. Bringing a bottle of expensive oil, she anoints Jesus’s feet—weeping from gratitude, wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair, kissing his feet, and anointing his feet all over again.

The scene is an uncomfortable one. Simon responds, If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner (:39, ESV). Note that that Simon has now revealed his motive for having Jesus over: he wants to find out what Jesus is all about. Note also that Simon has assigned everybody a category: woman—sinner! Prophet—knows everything and condemns everybody! Jesus—can’t be a prophet, because He hasn’t cast the woman out.

Note also that Simon has only thought this. Jesus, accused of not knowing the woman, responds ironically by not only knowing the woman but knowing what Simon is thinking!

Jesus loved little by a sinner needing to know forgiveness (:40-50). Jesus interrupts Simon’s thoughts. Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered him, “Say it, Teacher” (:40).

Jesus then proceeds to tell a simple story about a man owed the equivalent of 2 months work by one man and 15 months work by another. After cancelling both debts, it is obvious that the man with the greater debt will love the debt-holder more. Simon must agree, and after pointing out Simon’s lack of civility in not offering to wash His feet or give Him the customary kiss of greeting, Jesus sums up the situation: Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little (:47).

The account ends with those around the table beginning to get the picture. If Jesus can forgive sins, then He is (at least) from God. The woman, long judged by others, receives assurance of her forgiveness and the peace that comes from leaving her burden behind. Your faith has saved you; go in peace, Jesus tells her (:50).

Forgiven much … love much … much peace and assurance. 

Some of us relate to the woman. We recognize our sins that are many, grievous, secret and shameful. Yet, we cling to Jesus, knowing He offered Himself, the infinite payment for an infinite number of sins. We experience forgiveness, and we love Jesus … But, we’re yet afraid to enter the presence of those we think have sinned less than us.

Those of us who relate to the woman need to remember whom she looks at while she endured the scorn of those who judged her. Exclusively at Jesus, right?

And, some of us relate (or ought to relate) most to Simon. We’ve hedged our bets; we’ve dabbled in some grey areas, but we’ve never been over the line. We’ve thought of Jesus as a roadside assistant: a “nice, nice Savior who gives us a hand when we break down.” But, if that’s how we view Jesus, we won’t love Him very much. If that’s how we think of Jesus, our eyes won’t be on Jesus, they’ll be on other people, so we can measure ourselves against them.

The tragedy of Simon is that he was every bit the sinner the woman is, only he didn’t know it. The woman experience peace and the confidence that comes from assurance of acceptance by God.

  1. What is it about this true account that makes it such good drama? Where do you feel the tension? Where do you feel the discomfort and, finally, resolution?
  2. Which of the figures in the account proves to be the most unlikely follower for Jesus?
  3. Whom do you relate to in the account? The woman or Simon the Pharisee?
  4. How can we know that we are loving Jesus “little”? How does one remedy a Pharisee-heart like Simon’s?
  5. How should this account affect our fellowship as a church family? How does it change our picture of what the family of God is like?

Commendable Faith: Luke 7.1-10

Have you ever made Jesus “marvel”? How would you know if you had?

Moving through Luke we’ve been following this gospel writer’s broad theme of discipleship. What does it look like to follow Jesus and bring others along?

Now in chapters 7-8, we come to a series of passages that ask and answer the question: Whom does Jesus include as His disciples? After His sobering sermon in chapter 6, you’d think Jesus would include the material poor, those who suffer material loss for their association to Him. And so He will, but Luke has a surprise for us in 7.1-10.

Jesus returns to Capernaum (:1). This account takes place as Jesus moves back to Capernaum. You’d expect Him to move among the materially poor of His own people. Maybe, He’ll preach a sermon in the synagogue. Instead, He receives an envoy from a centurion who doesn’t seem to fit the demographic Jesus is talking about. This man comes from Israel’s enemies, for one thing—the very kind of person Jesus has commanded His followers to love. On top of that, this surprise follower is wealthy.

Jesus responds to humility (:2-6a). In addition to Jesus there’s three figures or sets of players in this account.

Jesus receives a message from a centurion. He’d like Jesus to come and heal his special servant. Commanding 100 soldiers this middle-level commander would be like a captain or major in our military system. We find out in the dialogue that  he’s a lover of the Jewish people; and, he respects the Jewish practice of not allowing a non-Jew to come under the roof of a Jewish home. Jesus is apparently reaching into the upper strata of society. More important, He has found someone who is not materially poor but is yet humble toward God in a spiritual way.

There’s also the centurion’s servant. He’s described as “highly valued,” a word indicating that he’s not just useful, but loved. This man “lingers to die,” and it grieves the centurion. We never meet the servant, but he’s the catalyst for the story.

Then there’s the local Jewish leadership. These men come to Jesus urging Him to act on the part of the centurion. He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (:4-5, ESV), they assure Jesus. By their estimation of the centurion, he has earned an audience with Jesus. And, it’s not hard to see how there might be advantage in this for them, too. Today, we could imagine them pressing for a photo opportunity or a “selfie”—them, Jesus, and the Roman centurion. “Don’t mess this up, Jesus,” we imagine them thinking.

And Jesus went with them …

Jesus reacts to recognition of His authority (:6b-9). As Jesus draws near the house, the centurion sends a group of friends with a message. Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof … But say the word and my servant will be healed (:6 … 7b).

Ironic, isn’t it? The man who built the synagogue won’t show off his own house. Contrary to the claim of the Jewish elders, the centurion doesn’t believe himself to be worthy of Jesus.

This centurion understands something about authority. We catch it in his reasoning, also recorded in the message: For I am too a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (:8). The centurion understood that all legitimate authority is granted from God. And, he recognizes what he controls: soldiers here, and there; the occupying force of Israel, in fact. But, there are things he has no authority over: DEATH, in fact! And, in Jesus, the centurion recognizes one with authority over life and death! Just as his soldiers obey him, so sickness and death will obey the Son of God!

Jesus turns to the crowd and “marveled”: I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith (:9).

This is beautiful, because the centurion has just made a picture of the Gospel. When we come to Jesus we bring nothing but our sin. We can’t leverage God, or give Him an assignment. All we can do is “ask”. That’s humility, like the centurion’s. And, when we come to Jesus rightly we throw ourselves on His authority. And God will receive us based on Jesus’ work, not our own.

Jesus restores the sick man (:10). And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. In the anti-climactic ending to the account we have no record of Jesus “saying the word”. Jesus doesn’t meet the sick man. It’s a remote healing! And Jesus doesn’t meet the centurion, either. The emphasis here is not on how you get things from Jesus but on what commendable faith looks like. And this faith makes Jesus marvel!

Jesus commends the faith of those who are humble and recognize His authority.

Here’s a few questions to guide your thinking on this passage:

  1. What observations or insights have you made about this account that are helpful for you?
  2. What are you trusting God for?
  3. How does the Gospel inform how we go about trusting God? (Think about the place of  HUMILITY in the Gospel. We bring nothing to God but our sin. Also, consider Jesus’ AUTHORITY that is His based on God’s acceptance of His work on the cross.)
  4. What things can we pray for that God has already promised to grant those who come to Him?
  5. When we pray according to God’s will (think: John 15.7), we recognize that God can say “yes,” and He can say “not yet”. How is this distinction helpful?
  6. How do passages like Luke 11.9-13 and Galatians 4.6-7 further inform the way we “ask” God for what is dear to our hearts?
  7. Now, how would you describe the kind of faith that makes Jesus marvel?

Have a blessed week, in the Lord!

Blessed Life: Luke 6.20-49

This week, after a fine celebration of our risen Lord, we reconnect with Jesus and His disciples in Luke 6.

Jesus has just chosen 12 men to learn from Him. He’s healed and cast out demons to an extraordinary measure. And, if the 12 were anything like us, I have to believe they were impressed. But then Jesus gives His Sermon on the Plain, which begins, “Blessed are the poor …” And then He goes on to describe all kinds of hardship that will be theirs when the disciples follow Jesus.

The sermon contains clusters of images, commands, principles and illustrations—some of the most memorable in the New Testament, in fact. But we can map it generally by remembering that it contains ONE blessed life (:20-26), TWO blessed responses (:27-38) and THREE pictures of blessing (:39-49).

ONE Blessed Life (:20-26). Jesus begins by describing blessing that will include poverty, actual hunger, real weeping, and being hated. We don’t want to spiritualize these results of following Jesus, because those who experience them have an advantage. The poor, for one, have nobody else to depend on. They’re less likely to be distracted and depend on themselves.

What does Jesus say we’re to do in the day when we suffer like this for Him: Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven (:23).

Jesus is just that much worth it! And the blessed life is a life of joy with sacrifice, but because of Jesus.

TWO Blessed Responses (:27-38). Then Jesus tells us how we’re to process hardship and persecution. Important to understand is that this is not about how to live in society in general. These responses are about how individual believers should live in light of Jesus’ coming while they experience  persecution because of Jesus. 

We’re to love enemies (:27-36). That’s the first response. This is radical, visible, principled and based on God’s mercy. Important is that we don’t operate in the tit-for-tat way everybody who doesn’t know Jesus expects us to act. We don’t use our wealth and resources to give everybody else what we think they have coming. And we don’t even “pay it forward” with other people, expecting to call in favors later. We do imitate the kindness and mercy of God who has forgiven us, even though we don’t deserve it. God Himself is our standard in giving and sharing.

And, we’re to look to our hearts (:37-38). Jesus is not saying we should refuse to seek justice. He is saying that we’re not to be consumed with the actions of those who hurt us. God’s estimate of our lives is based on our response, and our reward in eternity is not blessing in this life but the Father’s pleasure.

THREE Pictures of Blessing (:39-49). Jesus finishes His sermon with three parables that describe spiritual sight, spiritual words, and the spiritual life. These include the well-known pictures of the speck and the beam, the good and bad trees bearing good and bad fruit, and the house built on the rock.

Of the three, the house metaphor is the most developed. The life that endures until Jesus returns is the life built on Jesus.  Notice that it’s not the builder that saves the house, but the foundation. In the same way, the person who looks beyond the immediate insult to see Jesus who is about to come back is the blessed one. Blessing starts now and in this life, it turns out, even while we’re leaning in and waiting for Jesus’ coming.

Have a look at these questions as we think carefully about how to apply this passage.

  1. How does Jesus’ sermon sit with you? What questions do you have still? Do you find the promise of sacrifice with blessing realistic or fanciful?
  2. Why is this sermon so difficult to apply? What keeps us from becoming doormats or totally abused people in this life when we’re trying to live out Jesus’ words?
  3. Is real joy possible when we’re sacrificing for Jesus? In what sense are we blessed now?
  4. What images do you find most powerful and helpful in Jesus’ sermon?
  5. Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand about Jesus’ cross right away. How do we miss our crosses and sometimes expect to go right to glory, in the same way we’ll later see the disciples expected to enter right into the glory of the Kingdom of God. (Think of how easy it must have seemed when Jesus was doing all the “work” in 6.17-19).

Belief and Life in His Name: John 20.19-29

Easter! Resurrection Sunday! While the follower of Jesus lives in the life of the resurrected Jesus every day of the year, Easter Sunday is special!

This morning we consider John 20.19-29 and that first Lord’s Day, evening of the day Jesus arose from the dead, as well as the following Lord’s Day. Thomas missed Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples. At issue for “doubting Thomas” in our passage is not the existence of God or the fact of resurrection. (He was ancient Israelite, and he’d seen Lazarus raised, and many other miracles besides.) At issue for Thomas is the identity of the risen Lord Jesus. What Thomas doesn’t know is whether the Jesus the other disciples claim to have seen is the same Jesus he has grown to know and love and believe in.

If Jesus is a ghost or some other apparition, then Thomas has to start all over again figuring out God’s plan and purpose and what it all means for him. But, if Jesus is the same, then Thomas is right in the middle of God’s plan and can move forward with confidence.

Have a look at John 20.19-29. Note Thomas’ response. Keep in mind that our New Testament is the product of Jesus’ first followers being convinced that Jesus is alive!

  1. What about you? If you know Christ, what about the Gospel story proved satisfying to you, so that you know Jesus is alive?
  2. If you are experiencing doubt, what is the nature of your doubt?
  3. Jesus showed Himself to His disciples before sending them out to carry His Gospel to people like us. That was before He returned to the Father. How might we expect Jesus to show Himself to us today?
  4. What do you think of Augustine’s 4th century dictum: “I believe in order to understand”? How is this not a leap of blind faith? What Scripture do you think Augustine might have been thinking of?
  5. What is particularly encouraging to you about John’s account of Thomas and the other disciples?
  6. What questions do you still have?

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!