Category: Luke (Page 1 of 23)

Love at Advent

This Sunday is the fourth and final Sunday of the Advent season. This is the liturgy we are using at GCR to acknowledge the event and light the fourth candle, the candle representing love. Please use these readings and passages during this week to bolster your time with the Lord in Word and Prayer. Feel free to use this at your own church or small group this Sunday.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, announcing God’s plan for her to conceive and give birth to the Messiah, Mary said to the angel, “How can this be?” And yet, only a few months later, Mary sings praise to the Lord as she holds his salvation in her arms.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name!
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
~ Luke 1:46-50

We, like Mary, hear God’s call to participate in making God’s plan for our salvation a reality. We are gracious recipients of God’s gifts and his great love that transforms us into bearers of the Good News. As the apostle reminds us in 1 John 4:

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
~ 1 John 4:9-11

Congregation: We wait as people who have encountered our God’s divine love that disrupts the status quo and ushers us into abundant life, together, marked by mutual love and peace.

We light this candle as a reminder of the love of Christ that transforms us. May his love grow within us, changing us into bold proclaimers of God’s salvation with our voices and our lives. Amen.

Choosing to Hear

Happy San Jacinto Day!

Today was the last day of Carrie-Anne’s “Dirty Dozen,” the name I’ve given to the first stage of her chemotherapy treatments: twelve straight infusions on twelve consecutive Fridays. The cold caps are working – so far, I’ve lost more hair over these twelve weeks than she has. We’re diligently rotating the caps for the full eight hours, keeping them at -30 to -35-degrees below zero, to keep her scalp frozen so the blood won’t carry the poison to her hair follicles. By God’s grace, it’s working. And the side effects have been minimal and short-lived each week.

We’re getting this next week off as a break between the first and second stages of her treatment. Then on May 5, we’ll begin what I’m calling the Final Four: four infusions of what everybody else calls the “Red Devil.” One infusion every other week through June 16. This is what everybody says is going to be the hard part. Evidently the side effects are much worse. Maybe. Maybe not. We’re choosing to be grateful for our Lord’s strength and mercy to us over the past few months and confident in his provision for us going forward.


Another truth or principle to consider as we engage the topic of hearing God is that a person must choose to hear the Lord’s voice. It’s the most important part of this. You have to make the decision to grow in your desire and your capacity to hear God.

What did you say back when everybody had CB radios? “You got your ears on?” You have to put on your spiritual ears and tune them in.

When you go to church, do you walk into the sanctuary expecting to hear the voice of the Living God? Church is one of the very best times and places to hear God. But you have to make the choice.

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen, rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” ~Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

When you go to church, God might have something to say, so, as the New Living Translation puts it, “keep your ears open and your mouth shut.” If you’re more comfortable with the King James Version, it says “sitteth down and shutteth up.”

Jesus says, “The one who has ears to hear, let him hear!” God’s choice, his will, is to give you spiritual ears. Your choice is whether or not you’re going to use them.

In Luke 10, Jesus is at Martha’s house. Martha’s running around trying to get dinner ready and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet in a posture of listening. Why? Because Jesus is talking!

Martha’s unloading the dishwasher, putting out guest towels, dusting the ceiling fans – she “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” She complains to the Lord, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

I think Jesus very gently, but very firmly, tells Martha: “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This past week, when did God have your total, complete, undivided attention? How many times this month have you just sat down with Jesus and listened? I know things have to be unloaded and put away and cleaned up and dusted; I know there are things to do. But when’s the last time you chose to listen to God?



More Than Prayers for Uvalde

Thoughts and prayers are good. But they are not enough. If all we offer are thoughts and prayers in the wake of yesterday’s horrific slaughter of 19 seven-to-eleven-year-old children and two elementary school teachers in Uvalde, we are right to be criticized for our hypocrisy and have no one to blame but ourselves for turning people off to Christianity.

We have to offer something more than prayers. If all we do is pray, we’re not really Christians.

When we pray to God, we pray in 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 at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle Paul 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!”

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing, writes about the Christian’s prayer:

“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 offer more than prayers.

If I pray that 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 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.

Which brings us to yesterday’s mass shooting, the 27th shooting at a school in the United States this year and the deadliest school shooting in our state. A Uvalde High School student bought two assault rifles on his 18th birthday and murdered 19 second, third, and fourth graders and two teachers inside their classrooms. It is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless that community 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 and his family. But we’re not praying like Christians if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it seems 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.” According to Education Week, there have been 119 school shootings since they started tracking them four years ago. Think about that. A 40-year-old publication dedicated to education matters decided it needed to start keeping a tally on murdered school children. Only in America! There have been 212 mass shootings in this country this year. There are more than 400 million guns in the U.S., with 98% of them in civilian hands, the equivalent of 120 firearms per 100 citizens. One-third of all the civilian guns in the whole world are in the United States. As Lynyrd Skynyrd sang, “Handguns are made for killing; they ain’t no good for nothing else.” And we’ve got more of them here, by a long shot, than anywhere else in the world.

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 Robb Elementary school yesterday and what keeps happening almost every day in this country?

I don’t mean these next two paragraphs as prescription, only for discussion and reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed out last night, more than 90% of Americans favor increased background checks, but 50 senators refuse to bring HB8 to the floor for a vote because “they’re afraid of losing their power.” Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. The NRA convention is in Houston the day after tomorrow. Most of our Texas state-wide office holders will be there and a lot of them are featured speakers.

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. Maybe you take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your truck. Maybe you stop posting and re-posting violent and divisive messages and memes on your social media. 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.

Prayers are good. Of course. Always. But Christians must offer more than prayers.



He Touched the Coffin

Jesus is walking to the little town of Nain. This little village is so small, so insignificant, so completely unimportant to anybody, that most scholars have no idea where it was located. This was a nothing town full of nobody people. But in Luke 7, Jesus is going there. That means something, yes?

“As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” ~Luke 7:12

In that part of the world, at that time and place, it was over for this poor woman. If you’re a woman in that setting and your husband dies and then your only son dies, it’s a death sentence for you. This is a picture of utter despair and hopelessness.

“When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.'” ~Luke 7:13

Death is the ultimate sign that things are messed up. Any kind of sickness, too. Sickness reminds us that death is coming, eventually. We don’t know when or where or how, but we do know death is in the cards for all of us. Sickness reminds us of that. Sickness and death are connected. Death reminds us that this world is broken and things are not the way God created them and intended them to be.

“Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’ The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God… They said, ‘God has come to help his people!'” ~Luke 7:14-17

It’s important that Jesus touched the coffin. He touched the coffin and everything got still. Jesus touched the coffin and stopped death in its tracks. Where death was going, where death was taking this poor woman, what death had planned for this family – all of that was stopped cold as soon as Jesus touched the coffin.

According to the Law, when Jesus touched the coffin, it made him unclean. It tarnished him, it defiled him. According to the Law, it made Jesus an outcast, it separated him from the community of God’s people and, in some sense, for a while, it separated him from God. But he still did it. Jesus touched the coffin.

Jesus is willing to identify with the situation. He purposefully walks to the awful circumstance, he doesn’t back away. He touches the coffin, he goes to the problem, and he takes it into himself. He becomes one with your death. Whatever is killing you or threatening to kill you, whatever is stealing your joy, whatever is hijacking your hope, our Lord Jesus resolutely walks to it and touches it. He identifies with it, he identifies with you, he touches you, and he stops whatever is going on.

God in Christ has the amazing power to reverse the curse. God in Christ has the power and authority to fix everything that’s broken in your life and to make right everything in your world that’s gone wrong. And, praise the Lord, he has the desire, the willingness, and the grace to do it. For you.

At great cost to himself, yes. But he has that same grace for you.



The Table is a Party

If you ever find yourself contemplating the original form and intent of the Lord’s Supper, if you ever dare to attempt any kind of communion reform in your church, you might consider an exchange Jesus had with the religious leaders at Levi’s house at the end of Luke 5. I think this passage is very helpful in restoring the communion aspect of communion.

The Gospel tells us Jesus is attending a “great banquet” at the tax collector’s house. Jesus and his disciples were eating and drinking with a large crowd of tax collectors and “others.” A group of religious leaders corner a couple of these disciples to complain and to ask a question:

” Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners?'”

Jesus answers the Pharisees with his line about coming for the sinners, not the righteous. But the teachers of the Law press him further.

“They said to Jesus, ‘John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.'”

We know John’s disciples are religious, they’re saying. We can tell. Just look at them! They’re miserable! Look at our disciples, the sour look on their faces. They’re mad about something, they’ve got to be religious. But your disciples, Jesus, are always eating and drinking and whooping it up. They’re always at a party. What gives?

Jesus answers, look, when the groom shows up, the wedding guests party! God himself has come to the banquet and he’s sitting at your table! Now is not the time to fast! This is not the time to be miserable or by yourself! Now is the time to celebrate! God’s promises are coming true! God is right now dwelling with his people! Now is the time to eat and drink and rejoice!

I know there is a time for silent introspection. Yes, there is a time and a place for private reflection and alone time with God. But it’s not at the table. It’s not at the Lord’s Supper. When we are eating and drinking together, with each other and with our risen Lord, on his day, at his table, where he isĀ  present and serving the meal – the Bible says that’s a party.



A People Person

When we follow Jesus through the Gospels, it’s impossible to miss that Jesus is basically just moving from one dinner party to the next. On every page of the Gospels, Jesus is either at a dinner party, just leaving a dinner party, or about to go to a dinner party. We notice early on in the story that Jesus is not a silent, high-minded, stoic priest lighting candles in a dark sanctuary; he is a rowdy rabbi who does his best teaching and pastoring among a big group of people at a party.

Of course, he was criticized for it. He was called a glutton and a drunk. One of the main things Jesus was known for was his very public eating and drinking.

Yes, there were times when Jesus went alone to the desert or up on a mountain to pray. But it’s much more typical in the Gospels for Jesus to be eating and drinking with big groups of people. Eating and drinking with five thousand folks in the wilderness. Having dinner with two strangers in Emmaus. Dining with his twelve closest friends in an upper room. Feasting with Levi and his friends at Levi’s house. Preparing a picnic on the beach. Jesus was all the time eating and drinking with sinners and saints, with prostitutes and Pharisees, with men and women, with Jews and Gentiles.

These big meals are illustrative of our Lord’s character as a people person. Jesus was with people all the time. Praying with people. Worshiping with people. Walking with people. Fishing with people. Teaching and debating with people. Laughing and crying with people. Attending weddings and funerals with people. Jesus was very deliberate about this, very intentional.

John 4 says Jesus had to go through Samaria. Well, no, nobody has to go through Samaria. Most people like Jesus went out of their way to avoid Samaria. But Jesus purposefully goes to meet that woman at the well and he stays in her village with her and her people for two days. And at the end of those two days, everyone in Sychar declares that Jesus truly is the Savior of the world!

Our Lord Jesus is a people person. He is a supremely social and communal person. Whatever the Father sent the Son to do, Jesus had no interest in doing it by himself. Jesus is a people person. And if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father.

Remember, Exodus 24. The very first communion meal. God has come down to his people on the mountain. He comes to be near them, to be with them. Moses is sprinkling blood on the people to cleanse them: “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you!” Then they go up on the mountain and they see God. The Bible says it twice because it is so astonishing. “They saw God and they ate and drank.”

But as good as that was, it wasn’t good enough for God. It wasn’t close enough. Or near enough. It wasn’t physical.

So our God decides to come to us in the physical flesh and blood of Jesus. And now, through Jesus, God himself is eating and drinking with everybody! All the time! At Zacchaeus’ house with all his friends. At Mary and Martha’s house with the community in Bethany. God in Christ is now eating and drinking with everybody, together, in person!

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, like a giant feast! It’s just like this!”

You might read the Bible differently – the whole Bible – when you realize that our God’s eternal goal is to eat and drink with his people. To be so close to us, to have all the barriers to relationship between you and God removed so that you and we can eat and drink together in perfect community – you might understand the Kingdom better when you understand the goal.



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