Category: Luke (page 1 of 19)

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

Word and Table

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” ~Acts 2:42

The Greek word koinonea means fellowship. Communion. Sharing. Having things in common. Luke describes it in the above verse as eating together and praying together. That’s what makes a Christian assembly, those are the worship habits: Teaching and Fellowship. Scripture and Communion. Word and Table. That’s the time and place where everybody ministers together, everybody participates, everybody’s heard, everybody shares. God meets us, Jesus is present with us, and the Holy Spirit shapes us in our regular gatherings around Word and Table.

That two-thousand-year-old pattern, I believe, is based on the habits of Jesus during his ministry.

When Jesus taught, he generally did it in the context of a meal. He opened up the Scriptures and ministered to others around a common table. The Word is proclaimed and then the reality of the Word is practiced and experienced around the meal.

In Luke 14, Jesus is eating a Sabbath meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee and, as we would expect, he starts teaching: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

At the banquet at Levi’s house, Jesus gives us the Word: “I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And he’s sitting around a table with tax collectors and prostitutes. The Table is the tangible experience of the Word.

With five-thousand hungry people in the wilderness, Jesus tells his apostles, “You give them something to eat. You engage the mission. You participate in serving others.” And then he empowers them to do just that. Then they all ate together, as much as they wanted.

At Zacchaeus’ house, the Word, the teaching: “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost!” And around the meal, the hospitality and community of the Table: “Salvation has come to this house! This man is a son of Abraham!”

In John 13, on that last night before he was crucified, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. And some teaching. The evening meal was being served, the Bible says, and Jesus got up and washed everyone’s feet. A tremendous act of humble service. Jesus made himself the least important person in the room in order to serve others.

“Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Our habits together around Word and Table shape how we think and act. It shapes us into a people who think and act like our Lord. Jesus gets up from the table during the meal to say to each of his followers to say, “I am your servant.” And he tells us to do the same for each other.

Some of us view our worship gatherings as a legal duty and everything has to be done exactly right. Some of us see our worship assemblies as an experience; it’s all about how it makes me feel, so there aren’t really any rules to follow. Some of us have grown up with no real understanding about community worship, so we don’t really think about it at all.

Our worship assemblies are the time and place where our living God meets us, where we all meet in the presence of God together. We are gathered by God’s Spirit around the Word. The Word of God reminds us who God is and what he’s doing and who we are and to whom we belong. The Word has to the power to teach us, train us, and transform us to continue the Kingdom work Jesus has already begun. The Word reorients us away from the shadows of this world’s fading kingdoms and toward the eternal realities of the Kingdom that has come and is coming.

And we experience those realities around the Table. The Holy Spirit brings us together around a meal where we actually experience God’s mercy, acceptance, wholeness, equality, compassion, and peace.

But we can get so wrapped up and bogged down in the details of our worship practices and the finer points of our traditions and our methods, that we don’t give much thought at all to the main point of our assemblies. We worry about how we do church and what we can and cannot do in church, forgetting this a Holy Spirit endeavor. All of this takes place in and by the Spirit.

We worship God in Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who mediates God’s grace and the presence of Christ to us around Word and Table. God gathers us together. God initiates and enables our praise. God eats with us, the Holy Spirit prays with us and for us with groans we can never comprehend, Jesus intercedes for us. God gives us the words to say in our worship. God speaks to us through his Word and then places that Word into each heart in exactly the way he wants it to go. We are brought together in the presence of God and he’s the One doing everything!

We should relax about our rules and stop worrying about our methods and submit to what God’s Spirit wants to do. Instead of fretting about how we do church or how somebody else does church, we should pay more attention to how God does church.

Peace,

Allan

 

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