Category: Luke (Page 2 of 23)

Are You a Fig Tree?

Jesus tells a story in Luke 13 about a frustrated farmer stuck with a lousy fig tree. For three years he’s had this fig tree and it’s never produced any figs. I’m not sure why he’s so upset – Fig Newtons had not been invented yet and you can’t do anything else good with a fig. But, this guy’s finally had enough.

“Cut it down! This tree’s done! It’s nothing but a drag on my dirt!”

And the man’s servant says, “No. Forgive the tree.”

The Greek word in the original language is “aphes.” Leave it alone. In other contexts, the same word means forgive. Forgive the tree. Give it another chance. Let me work with it some more, the gardener says. Let me add some mulch and some Miracle Gro and let’s see what happens.

Have you noticed  that Jesus’ stories don’t really explain. They just start, almost out of nowhere, almost out of context, almost in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning. And the endings are never as clean as we want them to be. At about the time we figure out what’s happening and take some interest in the story, it abruptly ends, in what we thought was the middle of the tale.

Maybe the Lord’s parables aren’t meant to explain. Maybe he tells the stories to make us think, to make us dig a little deeper. Then God turns on the light bulb so you can see. Maybe this is why Jesus tells his stories.

It dawns on you while you’re lying in the ditch. You’re beaten up and broken, you’ve been robbed. Everything’s been taken from you and you’re moments away from death. And then you see your very best hope for rescue, your only hope to be saved – that guy from church! But he looks the other way and walks right by you. He doesn’t even acknowledge you. He doesn’t help. But, wait! Now you see it! Your true salvation, your real hope for rescue, actually comes from a lousy foreigner you’ve been conditioned by your culture to hate.

Do you see yourself in Jesus’ stories? Today. Right now. Do you see yourself wounded and broken, close to death in a ditch on the side of the road? Or are you the merciful foreigner? Or the church guy?

Jesus’ stories don’t have endings. We don’t know if the younger brother grew up and got a job or if he got mad and ran away from home again after six weeks. We don’t know if the older brother ever got over himself and went in to the father’s party. We don’t know if the manure worked around the fig tree. Jesus doesn’t end the story because these are the kinds of stories you finish yourself. You are in these stories, all of them, whether you know it or not. And you do finish these stories, even if you don’t realize it.

Where are you in these stories? Who are you? Are you in a ditch? Are you caught in a crime or a sin? Are you desperately praying to the Lord and not hearing an answer? Are you a fig tree with empty branches in need of one more chance? Are you a mustard plant only God could see as beautiful? Are you a runaway child?

And how do you want the story to end? You and the Lord both see it. You know how you want it to end. So does he. And if you’ll let him do his saving work in the middle of your mess, in the middle of your story, your branches will be full and the fruit and the shade will bless you and everyone who knows you beyond anything you could ever accomplish on your own.



Mustard Plant Faith

Jesus told us that the faith of a mustard seed could move mountains. Just faith, any kind of faith, any amount of faith, no matter how small, is all it takes to radically transform heaven and earth around us. It’s a captivating image that leads to a powerful question: Can we muster up any kind of faith at all?

What about the mustard plant faith of Jesus?

In Luke 13, Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It’s planted, it grows, it turns into a tree, and all the birds of the air make homes in its branches. It’s an interesting image when you consider the mustard plant is actually a nuisance weed. It’s a terrible weed that only grows to two or three feet tall at the most. Farmers hate the mustard plant. It’s a pain.

Can you hear the disciples? “Um, Lord, that’s a nice story, but, um, I’m not sure how much we like being called a bad weed.”

I can imagine Jesus looking up and down at the guys and saying, “Be thankful. Be happy I didn’t call you something worse. Like a tumbleweed. And rejoice that what is unimpressive to you is very impressive to me.”

Jesus gives us this image of a mustard seed, a mustard weed, a tiny scraggly mustard plant growing as tall as a mighty tree with every species of bird living in its massive branches. A mustard tree providing shelter and shade and homes for all the birds of the air. Jesus is telling us, “I see things you don’t see. I know things you don’t know. I’m busy right now doing things you can’t even imagine.”

It’s a captivating image that leads to a powerful question: If Jesus is already moving mountains around us, can we just put our trust in him?



Christmas Revolution

As children of God, we know we’re called to imitate God and join him in doing the kind of work he is doing. Jesus came to this earth to show us the Father, to reveal to us God’s will and God’s ways. We look to Jesus to know how to think and act, how to believe and behave. We know how to do this – in theory anyway. We do it all the time.

We look at Jesus’ life and we say, “Yeah, we need to serve others. We need to feed the hungry and heal the sick and comfort the suffering.”

We study Jesus’ death and we decide, “Yes, we need to be sacrificial. We need to bear the burdens of those around us. We need to forgive others unconditionally.”

We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and we say, “Yes, we, too, are living a brand new life in Christ. Everything’s changed now. We see the whole world differently now and we leave our sins behind and take bold risks for the Kingdom because we know we’ll never die.”

You know, the birth of Jesus also reveals God to us. We know much more about the will and the ways of our Father when we consider carefully the birth of his Son. The Incarnation of our Lord Jesus shows us what God is doing and how he’s doing it. And it teaches us, it trains us, to join him in that work.

Mary’s song in Luke 1 tells us that the birth of Jesus is radical. Her Christmas song is a song about revolution. The coming of the Christ is about wrecking the structures and systems of this world and restoring an all-new Kingdom of God.

Her song claims that Jesus’ birth scatters the proud, brings down rulers, lifts up the humble, feeds the hungry, and heals the sick. When Almighty God comes to us as a baby in a barn, he is overthrowing the world’s order and society’s hierarchies and chains of command. He’s destroying the gap between the rich and the poor and breaking down all the barriers between us.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem to show us that we all belong to the same family. We’re all equally lacking and equally blessed. Together. Look at the manger scene in the Gospels. Young and old, rich and poor, male and female, blue collar shepherds and professional scholars, Jews and Gentiles – when Jesus is born, everybody’s in the picture! The angels announce that the good news of great joy is for all the people! God with us means God with all of us!

So what does this mean for disciples of Jesus right now?

It means we don’t play into the world’s games of dividing people according to gender or race or national politics or who somebody voted for or whatever else divides people today. We don’t get sucked into the name-calling and self-righteous judging of others. That is decidedly un-Christlike behavior. It’s un-Godly.

We concentrate on bringing into the Kingdom the outsiders, the foreigners, the poor, the sick, even our enemies. Enemies of our comfort zones. Enemies of our decency and order. Enemies of our property values. Enemies of our traditions. Why? Because when we were God’s enemies he sent his holy Son to this earth as a human baby in order to save us.

God with us means us with God. And that means we don’t strive for anything less.



No More Muttering


“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” ~Luke 15:2

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'” ~Luke 19:7

The religious people are pictured in the Gospels as continually muttering. When they see Jesus eating with tax collectors and “sinners,” when they observe him welcoming and socializing with “those people,” they mutter and grumble and complain. They gripe under their breath. Because a religious person would never say these kinds of things out loud.

These are the people we’re welcoming now? These are the people we’re supposed to eat with now? Those people won’t give. Those people don’t even speak English. Their kids are too rowdy. They’re going to mess things up. He just got out of prison. She has HIV. He cusses. She smokes. We have to protect our kids. We need to be careful here. Maybe those people should just go to another church where they’ll be more comfortable.

Hey, these are the very people Jesus came for! These are the very ones Jesus left his glory at the right hand of the Father to die for!

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we don’t ever dare to look down on, to distance from, to make fun of, or to ignore any person created by God, in the image of God, loved by God, and died for by Jesus. Ever! Just like our Lord, we look for them. We go out of our way to welcome them, to love them, to accept them, to come along side them in relationship – all of them. We stop our muttering and we join our God in his salvation mission.

We look. We search. We seek and we save. We’re climbing every hill, we’re turning over every rock, we’re going into the cloudy days and the darkest nights to welcome the outcast, to bring in the marginalized, to help the helpless, to defend the defenseless, and to protect the oppressed.

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” ~Ezekiel 34:16



Show People God

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” ~Luke 11:52

The teachers of the law were guilty of prioritizing the letter of the law over the spirit of the law. They knew God’s law front and back, they had it memorized – book, chapter, verse. They could tell you exactly what you could and couldn’t do and what you could wear, what you could say, what you could eat, and who you could be with as you were doing it. Or not doing it. They were strictly enforcing the rules on others and felt no obligation to obey those same rules themselves. They would require certain things of others, but exempt themselves. They acted this way to improve their own position and increase their own power. There’s no love of God, no justice for neighbor.

Jesus says you are keeping people from knowing God. You’re blocking people from knowing who God is and what God is doing in the world. You yourselves don’t know God and the way you keep your thumb on people in the name of religion keeps anybody around you from ever experiencing God.

Jesus came here to reveal to the world who God is and what God is doing. If you want to understand God, you look at Jesus. He said it himself: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And we join him in that work. We, too, are called to reveal God to others. But these teachers of the law are doing just the opposite. They’re so concerned about keeping the letter of the law, they’re so consumed with following every tiny detail and making sure others are following it exactly the way they interpret it, they miss God. They turn the commands into their God, they make the Bible their God, and they beat everybody over the head with it.

This could also be a problem for us if we’re not careful. Sometimes we are capable of fostering an environment in our churches, our Bible classes, and our small groups – sometimes you can create this culture just around yourself – so that everybody has to believe everything and practice everything the same way we do. Or the same way you do. We can demand uniform compliance with the way we do things. Or the way I do things. People can walk into our settings and just feel like they’re being watched.

Just like the religious leaders were checking to make sure Jesus washed his hands exactly like they think he should, we can make it our goal to catch people. We catch people doing something wrong so we can wag our fingers in their faces or tell on them behind their backs. We can suffocate the people around us. If we’re not careful, we can straight up condemn people. How in the world are these people going to experience the love and grace and forgiveness of God if we’re acting like this in his name? That’s not him! But we make people think it is.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen? Is that what you call a fast? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him?” ~Isaiah 58:5-7

Our Lord and the Scriptures tell us again and again that it’s not about the fasting or the sacrifices or the details of our worship. It’s not making sure the people around you know the law, it’s making sure the people around you know the Lord.

Show them God. Bring them into the presence of God. Show them his mercy and love. Express to them his grace and forgiveness. Extend to them his joy and acceptance.

Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, forgive without limits, walk the extra mile, give up your coat, and love your enemies. Why? Because, he says, that’s the way of our Father in heaven. Live like this because that’s how God is. Join Jesus in his revelation. Show people God.



Make People Holy

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” ~Luke 11:44

Around the dinner table at a Pharisee’s house, Jesus calls out this group of religious leaders for prioritizing outward appearances over inward godliness. They’re paying too much attention to the details of the religious rituals and their hearts and souls are left untouched by any of it. Everything looks great on the outside — it’s clean, it’s shiny, you could eat off of it, literally — but on the inside it’s greed and selfishness. They practice their religion to boost their own self-importance. They give their money and they tithe meticulously – right down to counting out the mint leaves and mustard seeds, so they look good to others. They go to church to be seen by others as doing the right thing. They become religious leaders to be seen by others as being the right people. None of it is done to benefit anybody but themselves. It’s done to increase their own status and improve their own standing. There’s no love of God; there’s no justice for neighbor.

Jesus says they are unmarked graves, full of death and decay.

The Jews clearly marked their graves so people could avoid them. If you came into contact with a grave, it would make you religiously and ceremonially unclean; it would defile you. Jesus tells the Pharisees, in essence, you don’t look dangerous, but you are. You’re keeping up appearances, but you’re deadly. When people come into contact with you, they expect to be made more holy, but you’re killing them. They come into your church hoping to be made clean, but your very presence with them makes them dirty.

Jesus is the Redeemer. He came here to buy back what we’ve lost. He came to heal and forgive, to reconcile and restore. He came to make people holy. And we join him in that work. We, too, are in the business of making people holy.

But the Pharisees are doing the opposite. They’re making people unclean. They’re so concerned with how they look on the outside, they’re neglecting their own hearts on the inside. They’re not nurturing their own souls and minds in compassion toward others, or in empathy, sympathy, or justice for others. They’re more worried about making sure everything is done just right at church.

I think this can be especially hard for us in the Churches of Christ. At the very least, it’s a temptation we battle within our Church of Christ heritage. Our whole movement is built on restoring things to the way they were in the New Testament. So when we do land on something, we’re typically convinced that it is right. We’ve done the hard work of figuring it out and it is correct. We’re pursuing truth and we’re pursuing the ways of the Lord, and those are good and faithful things. But in our enthusiasm for being right and dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s, we can lose our hearts. Our insides can become dull to the real Gospel needs of the people around us.

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~Micah 6:8

Our Scriptures are very clear about God’s priorities. Act in justice for the people in your community. Help the poor, protect the foreigner, take in orphans, feed the widows. Those are the top concerns for our Lord. Take care of the people in society who cannot take care of themselves, just like God takes care of me when I am completely unable to take care of myself.

Love mercy for everybody all the time. Don’t just be merciful to some people some of the time, but love mercy consistently. Love mercy as a strategy, as a way of living, as a way of being and doing. Love mercy as an inner-life quality of God’s character he is forming in you.

Don’t carelessly or presumptuously do things your own way. Pay attention to what God is doing and walk humbly with him. Know your place next to God and walk with him – not against him, not in front of him. Walk with God’s vision and God’s priorities. God has shown you amazing love and he’s brought to you life-changing justice because that’s how he treats everybody. Now you walk with him and join him in doing those same things. Join Jesus in his redemption. Make the people around you holy.


Abilene Christian University’s men’s basketball team has won the Southland Conference Tournament Championship and will face third-seeded Texas in the NCAA tournament opener in Indianapolis on Saturday. ACU will bring their suffocating defense to this tilt against the Horns, hopefully keeping the Wildcats in the game a little longer than they were against second-seeded Kentucky two years ago. ACU’s defense forces turnovers on more than a quarter of their opponent’s possessions — astounding! Their full-court pressure is a beautiful thing to behold and they’ve got a big seven-footer who’s not afraid to D up down low. ACU only lost to Texas Tech by seven earlier this season and only by thirteen to Arkansas.

So…? Upset? Probably not. The Longhorns are rolling right now and they are so much fun to watch. Jericho Sims is playing his best ball of the year as Texas finished the season on an 8-2 run, capturing the first Big XII Tournament title in school history. The guards are driving the paint with supreme confidence right now and Texas is absolutely flying. I don’t know how far the Horns will go – it’s never a good idea to get your hopes up for any U.T. team – but some are picking Texas to make the Final Four.

With their outstanding defense, ACU could keep it close, I’d say within single digits until maybe the 16-minute mark of the second half. Hopefully Wildcats coach Joe Golding has packed more than one pair of pants this time.



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