Category: Luke (page 1 of 19)

Prepare the Way for the Lord

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with an unquenchable fire.” ~Matthew 3

I love John the Baptist. I think all preachers love John the Baptist. All preachers want to be as bold and courageous in proclaiming the Gospel. All preachers want to be popular like John the Baptist. We all want to baptize as many people as he did. I think we can all relate to John the Baptist. He didn’t always wear what the people expected him to wear. And when he preached something the people didn’t want to hear, he got his head chopped off.

Only once, though. It only happened to him once.

We’re supposed to talk about John the Baptist during the Christmas season. It’s part of Advent. John the Baptist is the one proclaiming that the Christ is coming. But we never include John the Baptist in our Christmas sermons because it just doesn’t fit with the Christmas season. Not the way we like it, anyway. John the Baptist is loud, unpredictable, and rude. He’s like the crazy Uncle John we’d rather not show up for Christmas dinner. He greets the religious leaders in Matthew 3 by calling them a “brood of vipers!” How would you like to get that on the front of a Christmas card?

We want the soft, romantic glow of twinkling Christmas candles and John the Baptist is talking about an unquenchable apocalyptic fire! We want the baby Jesus in a manger, cooing softly at the docile barn animals around him — the Jesus Ricky Bobby is praying to in Talladega Nights — and John the Baptist gives us Jesus as a judge with an ax in one hand a pitchfork in the other!

The prayer of the early church was “Marana tha,” Lord, come quickly. That is not a prayer for Jesus to come again as a helpless infant; it’s the longing cry of God’s people for him to return in the fullness of his power and glory when every knee will bow in heaven and earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father! The prayer is for Jesus to come again to finally put an end to all sin and wickedness forever. The hope is that Jesus will make right all the things that are wrong, that he will finally fix everything that’s broken.

That’s not so scary to the poor and oppressed of this world. But, for those of us with a lot to lose? Maybe it’s a little scary.

John the Baptist is proclaiming a reality that’s coming, a reality that’s going to expose what you and I sometimes think is reality. The coming eternal reality is going to show just how false our earthly conditions and our human endeavors really are. The Holy One of Israel is going to expose all our pretensions for what they really are. In him is life and that life is the light of all people. And that light is going to shine in the darkness.

“Wait til the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of people’s hearts.” ~1 Corinthians 4:5

Luke 8 quotes Jesus as saying there is nothing hidden that won’t be disclosed; everything that’s concealed is going to be known and brought out into the open.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”

John the Baptist is so completely blown away by the reality of the coming Christ. He sees right through the charades of this world and the roles we play and the lines we say and how precious all this is to us. He sees right through all of it to the sheer power and holiness of the coming Lord. John is pointing us to the future, not the past. He’s orienting us away from our religious rituals and toward the person of Jesus Christ; away from our present-day systems and structures to an utterly brand new authority and dominion of our King and his Kingdom.

It’s happening. John the Baptist is standing out in the desert, hip-high in the waters of the Jordan River, where the world’s resistance to God is meeting the irresistible force of God’s coming. The ax is already at the root of the trees. It’s happening. Get ready. You’d better re-think your priorities, you’d better re-order your lives.

How do we get ready? How do we prepare? Where the do the roads need straightening out? What fires need to be lit to burn away the garbage in his path? What dead trees need to be cut down? What roughness in your heart needs to be smoothed?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s amusing to me how “research” and “data” comes out to prove what anybody who’s paying attention already knows. By simple observation — just by looking at the symptoms and the consequences — we all know that smart phones and mobile technology devices are killing us. Socially, mentally, emotionally, academically — it’s hard to find a serious person who believes smart phones make us better. But the research that proves the harmful effects of smart phone technology is just now beginning to come out.

Here’s a link to an article that contains links to some of the more recent studies. Science is telling us that 8-11-year-olds who spend more than two hours on their screens every day are demonstrating “lower cognitive function.” Our mobile devices and social media use share an “unfavorable relationship” with attention, memory, impulse control, and academic performance. Digital technology is proving to slow down the overall development of teenagers. And the smart phones are “stunningly addictive.”

Fascinating!

As the “proof” pours in, elite schools in the U.S. are now beginning to reduce or eliminate the screens in their classrooms. Where once our society feared a technological divide — the rich kids would have access to technology and all the advantages that come with it and the poor kids would not — now scientists and education experts are fearing the opposite. The students in less affluent schools are using the technology and screens and getting dumb while the students in the rich schools are learning without the technology and screens and getting smart.

Shocking!

What emoji do I use to communicate sarcasm?

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: Last Part

I love words. I’m in the business of words. I love to write and I love to speak. I believe words are so very important. I think the world of words. But Jesus was not crucified because of his words. His words are not what changed the lives of broken people, his words are not what united fractured groups, his words are not what turned the world upside down. It was his presence. It was the physical things he did in the body. It was the healing and feeding, the forgiving and praying, the eating and sharing — that’s what got him killed. That’s what altered the course of history forever: his flesh-and-blood presence in the world.

Not words. Words are never enough. That’s why the Word became flesh and lived among us. Words are not enough. So Jesus came here and got dirty with us. He has a body, you know.

The things we say in the safety of our sanctuaries aren’t going to change the world. Abstract truth doesn’t stir anybody’s heart. Theological concepts don’t compel faith or love, even when they’re true. But when that truth becomes embodied, when it’s up close and personal, flesh-and-blood truth, cup of cold water truth, that’s when truth gets interesting. That’s when we know for sure the Kingdom of God is near.

In Luke 3, huge crowds of people are coming to be baptized in the Jordan River to prepare the way for the Lord, so all can see God’s salvation. And the folks being baptized ask John: What shall we do?

John answers: If you have two coats, give one of them to somebody who doesn’t have a coat. If you’ve got food, give it to somebody who doesn’t have any.

Tax collectors are coming to be baptized. What shall we do? John says: Stop stealing from people, stop taking advantage of the weak, treat everybody equally.

Some soldiers are being baptized. What should we do? John answers: Stop using force and threat to get your way, stop accusing people and lying about people.

People are being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, they’re going into the water for a salvation relationship with God, and the instructions they’re given are not about saying the right words or believing the right things or thinking the right way. The instructions are about doing. The expectation is for real, physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood actions toward the poor and oppressed; how we act toward the outcast and marginalized, the exploited and weak. Not the words we say in the comfort and safety of our buildings, but the actions we take out there. The real, physical, flesh-and-blood actions in the interests of others — all others! Bold, courageous, Christ-like actions that go against the grain of the world and will cost us our reputations, our relationships, and our resources.

We boldly turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. We faithfully love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us so people can see Jesus. We don’t just act on behalf of people who live inside the womb and might be harmed; we courageously act on behalf of all people living outside the womb who might be harmed so people can meet Jesus. We forgive those who sin against us, we lay down our rights for the sake of others, we stand firmly with the oppressed so the world will know the Kingdom of God is here!

The broken world is sick and tired of the Church’s words, words, words! This lost and dying world desperately needs the real, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood actions of the Body of Christ, the saving and life-giving presence of our Lord Jesus!

This world will not see Jesus, people will not experience the truth of our Savior, just because we love Jesus or because we admire Jesus or because we believe all the right things about Jesus. The world will see it, they’ll know, when we are the Body of Christ. When we follow him, when we give our lives to him, when we do the things he did in the ways he did them for the sake of all others.

Jesus had a body, you know. And he still does.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: Part Two

It’s not just a metaphor. It’s very real. As the Body of Christ, the Church is the physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus in this world. Paul says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live; Christ lives in me!” Jesus Christ lives with and in and through his Church. Jesus and the Church are the same. You can’t have Jesus without his body. You can’t know Jesus without recognizing his body. You can’t be in relationship with Jesus and have nothing to do with his body.

That’s the way Jesus sees it. That’s how he talks about it. That’s how he’s always viewed it. Jesus is the Church; the Church is Jesus.

Saul’s on the road to Damascus when Jesus appears and blinds him with his light. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s thinking, “I’m not persecuting you. I’m beating up these lousy Christians who are blaspheming Scripture.” No, in the eyes of Jesus, you mess with the Church, you’re messing with Jesus himself.

It was always this way.

“He who listens to you, listens to me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who rejects you, rejects me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who receives you, receives me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Jesus authorizes the Church as his body on earth to do all the things he did.

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near!'” (Luke 10:9)

On that last night he tells his gathered followers, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12)

And we do, right? We heal the sick and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. And we turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Why? Jesus says so you can be like me. So you can become sons and daughters of your Father in heaven. So you can reveal me.

When we forgive the ones who sin against us, people see Jesus. When we’d rather be wronged than to fight for our rights, people see Jesus. When we sacrifice and serve, when we consider the needs of others more important than our own, people will meet the Lord Jesus in us.

And the world will treat us just like it treated Jesus. Paul says he carries in his own body the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be revealed, so that Jesus’ life may be revealed in our (plural) mortal body (singular).

So, as the Body of Christ, we always side with the oppressed, never the oppressors. We always stand with the minorities, we always take care of the refugees, we always look out for the weak. We never discriminate, never judge, and never use force. We always give, always forgive, and always show love.

Jesus is the Church and the Church is Jesus. We must do the things Jesus did in the ways Jesus did them. If anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Shared in Community

“Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners?” Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'” ~Luke 5:29-32

Let’s get this straight: Jesus made followers because he made friends. And that made waves.

Why did Jesus go to Levi’s house? To make more friends!

The religious people didn’t like the people Jesus hung out with. It ate them up. So they called Jesus names to try to intimidate him to bring Jesus back to the old traditional path. They called him a drunk and a glutton, they called him a friend to sinners. They couldn’t stand it. They despised Levi and his friends because they figured God did, too. God doesn’t like those kinds of people! What are you doing with those kinds of people?

A lot of us have got God wrong. We’ve had him wrong for a long time.

God wants to be friends with everyone. Jesus did not come here to change God’s mind about us; he came here to change our minds about God. God does not exclude anybody from his invitation to salvation. Not anybody. The Gospel is for all. If you read anything in the Bible that excludes anybody from the Kingdom of God, you’re reading it wrong.

Our Father loves everybody and he wants everybody to be saved. And community leads to conversion.

The Willow Creek folks up in Chicago did a study years ago that showed a brand new Christian will invite twenty people to church in the first year he’s a disciple. In the second and third years of being a new Christian, they invite around a dozen to church per year. And that number keeps going down the longer a Christian is a Christian. By year seven or eight, the new Christian is inviting one or fewer people to church each year. If you’ve been a Christian for twenty years, the numbers say you haven’t invited anybody to church in over a decade!

Is that you? Why?

The research indicates it’s because Christians who’ve been Christians for a while have only Christian friends. They’re so engaged in church and church programs and church socials and church camp and church retreats and church basketball and church movies and church schools, they don’t have any non-church friends.

Every follower of Jesus is a missionary. And every missionary has non-church friends. We have to! Missionaries leave their comfort zones and engage a different culture so the people in those cultures can become members of the Kingdom of God. That’s exactly what Jesus did. Instead of ignoring the people at work or the people on your street, how about engaging them? Those people could use a friend who doesn’t cuss.

When Jesus calls us to be salt and light, when he tells us to condition the world we live in,  he says salt is worthless if it loses its saltiness. Well, salt is just as worthless if it’s never used. Salt that’s never shaken at the dinner table is ready to do its good work, but it may as well be locked up in a museum if it’s going to have contact with and absorb into the food it’s meant to condition.

“Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ… Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.” ~Colossians 4:3-6

Pray that God will open a door. Pray that we proclaim Christ clearly. Make the most of every opportunity.

Peace,

Allan

Intended for Sinners

“Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.” ~Luke 5:27-28

Jesus called Levi while he was sitting in his booth. While Levi was cheating people, while he was scheming and stealing, while he was employed by the evil occupying forces, while he’s acting as a traitor and a crook, Jesus called him. He called Levi “as is.”

When you buy a car or a sweater “as is,” you know there’s a flaw. There’s something wrong with it.

Jesus came across the worst possible version of Levi asked him to follow him “as is.” “Come as you are.” Jesus didn’t start the conversation with a guilt trip about Levi’s past sins. He didn’t lecture Levi about his sins of the present. Instead, Jesus began a conversation with Levi with an invitation to Levi’s future. “Follow me.” Jesus didn’t say, “Levi, you can be one of us if you’ll quit your job and pay back all the people you’ve wronged and starting wearing a tie on Sunday mornings and cancel your subscription to Showtime. Do all that first and then maybe you can be one of us.”

No! Follow me, Jesus says. As is.

This says something to us we need to hear. The Bible doesn’t have stories about people changing their lives and then following Jesus. But the Bible is cram-packed with stories about people following Jesus and then their lives changing radically. The Good News is for sinners, not for people who already have their act together.

Your church is a vivid illustration of that. Your church is full of sick people. So is mine. Central is a mess! We’ll try to fool you, of course. If you’re a visitor to Central or a brand new member, we’ll try to fool you.

How are you? I’m fine! Yeah? I’m great! Really? Too blessed to be stressed! I’m walking in the light!

We try to hide it, but our churches are full of sick people. We’re lying and lusting and sinning and angry and selfish and petty. And we’re all trying to follow Jesus. And we’re getting better. By God’s grace and the power of his Spirit, we’re getting better. But Jesus called us while we were still sinners.

Peace,

Allan

Thoughts and Prayers

The people who are criticizing Christians and politicians for sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida but aren’t doing anything tangible or practical, are exactly right. Such is the backlash against supposed followers of Jesus in this country who offer their prayers but no real work toward real solutions that “thoughts and prayers” is trending. It’s a hashtag.

And they’re right.

When we pray to God we pray through the name of our Lord Jesus.  And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body — his representatives, his ambassadors — on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest , therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU ARE THE WORKERS!

I think about the inspiring prayer of Paul at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

As part of the curriculum for the Transforming Community experience I’m in, I’m finishing up a book this week by Ronald Rolheiser called “The Holy Longing.” He addresses this near the beginning of a chapter on Consequences of the Incarnation:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must put skin on our “thoughts and prayers.”

If I pray that more young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people any opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

So, it is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless those children and their loved ones with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter. But we’re not praying like Christians, and we deserve the criticism from non-Christians, if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it can seem hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. — it’s “our thing.” But Christians are a people of peace, not violence.  Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Douglas High School on Ash Wednesday and what keeps happening every week in this country?

This is not meant for prescription, but for discussion. And reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. Take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your car.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Thoughts and prayers are good. To be Christian, though, it cannot stop there.

Peace,

Allan

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