Making Decisions

Read Luke 6:12-16

Life is filled with opportunities to make decisions. Some of the decisions which we make are not as life altering as others. Deciding what to eat for dinner, or what to wear for the day, or which television show to watch are generally not decisions which will impact the future direction of our lives. There are decisions which do shape and direct the future course of our lives. Choosing what institution of higher learning to attend, or who we might marry, or where we may live can impact the trajectory of our existence in profound ways. The process and steps which we use to make our decisions can influence the outcome.

The passage from Luke’s gospel account presents to us a time when Jesus is faced with an important decision. He is choosing which ones of all his disciples he will closely mentor and teach. The individuals chosen would represent Jesus and minister on his behalf when he is not physically present. They would later be entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the good news with people throughout the known areas of civilization. Some of their words and actions would be shared with generations to come, even to our present one.

The passage starts by giving us insight into an important part of Jesus’s decision making process. We hear that Jesus went away to be alone. While he was absent from the cities, crowds and disciples, he prayed for an extended period of time. Upon his return, he shared his decision in regard to which of the disciples would personally be mentored by the Lord and be given special authority on his behalf.

How do you go about making major decisions in your life? Are you a lone ranger who relies solely on yourself to make these types of decisions? Does praying to God enter into your process at all? Clearly the writer of Luke’s gospel included this brief passage to emphasize to us the great importance of prayer in the decision process. As followers of Christ, our daily pursuit is to follow the example which Jesus placed before us. One such example is this one. Jesus came to the Father to consult prior to making a vital ministry decision. Should we not do the same with all of our vital decisions?

If Convenient

Read Luke 9:57-62

Since the onset of the Industrial Age, people have been on a continuous path toward convenience. We have become people that seek a more convenient life in which we do not labor as hard and have more opportunities for leisure and recreation. If you have been to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, you may have enjoyed the ride, Carousel of Progress, in Tomorrowland. This ride takes the guest through various decades and highlights how inventions have made our lives more convenient and our work easier. We have become people who often reject anything which might be inconvenient for us.

In Luke we are told about a time when Jesus encounters potential followers while walking down a road. In each encounter, the person who speaks with Jesus indicates a desire to follow him. The first man is told by Jesus that he must be willing to accept inconvenient accommodations. The other two will only follow if they can do so at a convenient time for them. Jesus points out that following him is not based upon what is convenient for the follower.

How often we are wanting to be convenient followers of Jesus. We appear to be eager to follow but we would like following to not inconvenience us. We set aside a specific time once a week to worship. We agree to attend Bible studies, informative classes, and fellowship times as long as they fit into our schedules and demand a limited amount of time. Our willingness to participate in service projects inside and outside the walls of a church building is contingent on the other activities in our lives and again, if the time commitment is not too much. Like the followers in Luke’s account we are often “I will follow but…” types of Jesus followers.

Jesus requires ALL from us. He requires our time, our talents, our energy, even our very lives. If we are wanting to be followers of Jesus, we must be willing to be inconvenienced.

Receiving Good News

Read Luke 2:8-14

Television stations and newspapers occasionally choose to bring to the people what has come to be known as a “feel good” or “human interest” story. This attempt to bring out some good news about something positive happening in the area is usually infrequent or relegated to a specific day once a week at best. The news media is more inclined to deliver bad, tragic and/or scandalous news. The reason given for this skew towards the negative is that “bad news sells.” This view implies that a majority of people clammer for bad news. A look at what people post or share on social media supports this implication.

The passage lifted up today is familiar to many people and associated with Christmas. Luke provides the longest narrative in regard to the actual birth of Jesus. Today’s passage includes the appearance of angels to shepherds who are in the fields tending a flock of animals. When the first angel, messenger of God, is visible to the shepherds, they respond in fear because of the out-of-the-ordinary vision. The angel gives a standard greeting which is intended to bring calm to the situation. Then the angel states that the purpose of the vision is to bring a message of good news. This message is that the Savior, or the Messiah, has been born. The angel tells where the birth has occurred and the verifying sign that this has taken place. The news is intended to invoke great joy among the shepherds and all people. Then a large group of angels appear to sing of joy and praises to place the receivers of the news into a joy-filled mindset.

On the infrequent occasions when the news media shares a story of good news, it is true that a sensation of happiness or joy usually comes over us. Imagine having a vision in which a good news message from God is delivered. All the emotions surrounding Luke’s account would understandably accompany such a vision. Over 2000 years after the time in which this event could have taken place, these emotions can still arise as this story is told. Knowing that Jesus was born so that through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection each one of us can be fully in relationship with God is unquestionably good news. This is news which should not be relegated to one month or one day of our year. This is news which is intended to overcome the bad news of every day in our lives. This good news does bring joy into every moment in which it is told.

Remind yourself daily of this good news. Then go and tell this good news to all people.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 8

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which we will look at is a continuation of the petition from yesterday. In this petition, the Lord is seeking from God forgiveness for sin. We know that Jesus is not in need of forgiveness but is providing a model prayer for his disciples who do need forgiveness.

The phrase for today places a caveat on the request for forgiveness. This caveat is “as we forgive our debtors.”

Most often this is interpreted to mean that God should forgive our sin in the same manner which we forgive others. This interpretation creates a problem. The problem is that this would place God in a situation dependent upon our actions and behaviors. God is not dependent upon humans in any way and does not respond as humans respond. Evidence of this is found in places throughout Scripture. In the story of Jonah God is prepared to forgive Nineveh which angers Jonah because he wants Nineveh punished. God shows Jonah that God’s choice to forgive or not to forgive is not linked to Jonah’s choices. (Jonah 3:10-4:11) God also declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”(Isaiah 55:8) Stephen reminds us of God’s independence from human actions when he says, “However, the Most High does not live in houser made by human hands.”(Acts 7:48)

If we do not interpret this phrase to be a link between our actions and God’s actions, we must look at it differently. Jesus appears to be expressing the importance of our forgiveness of others. One possible translation of the Greek word translated here “as” is “because.” The sense maybe that Jesus is telling us our reason for forgiving others is that we have been forgiven by God. This interpretation is supported by other Scripture. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Luke’s version of this prayer also lends support. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4).

In including this phrase in the prayer, Jesus calls upon us to remember that by requesting and accepting God’s forgiveness, we are to extend forgiveness to others in gratitude.

Give It Back

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Luke 20:20-26 (NIV)

There was a time when I owned an inked stamp which I would use to mark books when I purchased them. The stamp indicated who the book belonged to and I would stamp the book on the inside cover. I did this so that if I lent the book to someone or accidently left it lying somewhere, it could be returned to me. The stamp indicated the book was my property and should be returned.

In today’s passage from Luke’s gospel, we encounter a question about taxes and returning what belongs to someone. The Jewish leadership sent spies to trap Jesus in saying something which would anger the Roman authorities.They determined this would be a good way to get rid of Jesus. The spies ask Jesus if it is right for Jews to pay tax to Caesar. Jesus knows what they are attempting so he has them produce a denarius. He then asks them whose image and inscription are on the denarius. They indicate it is Caesar’s so he instructs them to give back to Caesar what belongs to him while giving God what belongs to God.

Reading Jesus’s response, we are confronted with our own sense of civic responsibility and our responsibility to God. On a civic level, we are bound to return a portion of our government-issued money back to the government to assist in our protection and the care of all of the citizens in our country. Look at any paper bill or coin used as money and you will see the inscription, “The United States of America.”

Our responsibility to God is of even greater importance. Considering God created EVERYTHING, there is nothing outside the scope of what should be returned. God, however, does not need our money or anything else which is placed in our care. When we tithe, present an offering of any sort, we do so as an act of gratitude. What God desires most is our love. By giving our love to God and all which God has created, we are returning what has been begun by God. God gave love to us and filled our lives with love along with the results of that love. Love belongs to God and should be returned to God.

Give to the government (Caesar) what belongs to the government, and give to God what belongs to God which is everything but especially love.

Remove the Blinders

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Luke 18:31-43 (NIV)

Have you ever seen a horse who has blinders on its head? The purpose of these blinders are to prevent the horse from seeing behind it and on the sides of it at times. This keeps the horse focused forward and prevents it from being easily spooked. The blinders also improve the horse’s ability to remain focused on whatever tasks are being expected. Another benefit the blinders provide for the horse is a reduction in stress. With all the activity around most horses, their natural instincts to avoid anything perceived as a threat or predator can lead the horse to become overly stressed. For horses, blinders have many benefits which promote their safety and the safety of humans with whom they interact.

In today’s reading, we hear about Jesus’s interaction with a blind man along the road. Jesus predicts his death and the events leading up to his death which will occur upon arrival in Jerusalem. As he and his disciples are walking to Jerusalem, they encounter a blind man sitting by the road. The blind man cried out to Jesus seeking his mercy. People tried to silence the blind man but he only shouted more. Jesus stopped to ask the blind man what he wanted Jesus to do. The blind man requested to see. Jesus restored his sight indicating the man’s faith had healed him. The man then followed Jesus, praising God.

We, like horses, can sometimes have blinders on us metaphorically. Unlike the horses, most of our blinders are a detriment and not a benefit. When our blinders prevent us from seeing where the Lord is leading, they have a negative impact. If these blinders prevent us from seeing Christ in others, they are a problem. Blinders which do not allow us to experience the fullness of God limit us. We are then like the blind man who was sitting by the road.

We do not have to continue to wear the blinders. As the blind man did, we can cry out to our Lord. Our cry and request for the removal of our blinders has already been heard. The Lord invites us to grow our faith. As our faith grows and expands, our blindness reduces. Our eyes can open to new possibilities, new understandings, and new visions of God’s active work in our world. We can obtain this faith growth by studying God’s Word alone and with others. Expanding of our faith will occur as we engage in serving others and sharing in fellowship. Time in conversation with the Lord will increase our faith. Then, just as the blind man experienced, we can hear Jesus say that our faith has healed us.

Just Sit

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)

Hosting guests or family gatherings can be a stressful experience. As host, making sure all the details for making your guests comfortable and cared for can be overwhelming. Preparing as much in advance as possible helps to reduce your to-do list when your guests arrive. Even if you prepare though, once the guests do arrive, there is still plenty to be accomplished. A person can be so tied up in tasks and on edge with worry about something forgotten or checking on the needs of the guests that you get little or no time to spend with your guests.

As we read from Luke’s telling of the Gospel, we hear about Jesus, Martha, Mary and the close disciples. Jesus and the disciples are in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to Jesus as he teaches. Martha is busy trying to be a good host by preparing food and other accommodations for the guests. Martha comes to Jesus frustrated because Mary is sitting instead of assisting her. She tries to get Jesus to instruct Mary to help her sister. Jesus responds that Marth is worried about too many details but Mary has chosen the only one which matters.

So often we are like Martha. If we had a guest of honor such as Jesus in our home, we would make every effort to be extremely accommodating. Instead of sitting so we could absorb all our guests have to offer, we would be wrapped up in detail so we could present a positive image. How many times do we let the opportunity to sit with the Lord pass us by because we are busy with life’s tasks? Jesus’s response to Martha reminds us to keep track of what is important. We must make time to be still with the Lord. We also must make time to be with the people in our lives. Those times are precious and will not always be available. Be wise like Mary.

Lost One

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:1-10 (NIV)

Have you ever had the experience of misplacing an important item, maybe car keys, your wallet, your identification, or your bank cand? I begin a deep search, retracing my steps, getting frustrated with myself, and worrying in large degrees. I am unable to rest or relax until the lost item is found.

We hear about such a frantic search in our passage for today. Jesus teaches using two stories. The first is about a lost sheep and the shepherd searching for it while leaving the rest of the flock behind. The second story is in regard to a woman who seeks out her lost coin. In both stories, the seeker rejoices greatly when the lost is found. Jesus tells those gathered that this is the reaction of God when one sinner repents.

Jesus’s message here is great news for each and everyone of us. There is not a person among us who has not been that lost sinner who Jesus refers to here. In fact, some of us get lost after having been found so we need to be searched for again. Our Lord will not relent on the search for each person. There is no limit to the number of times the Lord will search.

This leads to rejoicing all around. God rejoices every time a lost one is found. We rejoice in the knowledge that we are so valuable to the Lord that there is a search which never ends and will be repeated if necessary. We should also rejoice each and every time the lost one is found.

No Worries

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:22-31 (NIV)

In the late 1980s, reggae singer Bobby McFerrin released a song entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The tune is simple and the rhythms are energetic. The lyrics give a multitude of life situations which can cause stress and worry. One phrase reminds the listener that when we worry our troubles double. The solution is contained in a repetitive chorus of “don’t worry, be happy.” It is easy for the listener to start singing along unintentionally. A smile seems to naturally come across your face.

From Luke’s Gospel, we have Jesus lecturing his disciples to not worry. Jesus points out that the act of worrying adds nothing to a person’s life. He provides examples from nature to show that God provides all the true needs of creation. He concludes by telling his disciples to seek God’s kingdom because in so doing, a person will receive all which is needed.

This passage is as simple and straightforward as Bobby McFerrin’s song. The bump in the road is putting this advice into action. There is a natural sense of worry innate in all of us. There are some important steps to help us manage our natural worries.

First we must determine if we are dealing with a want or a need. There are a lot of wants which we have in our lives. A need is something which is necessary for our survival. An example may be the need for shelter. The want in this situation might be a 5500-square foot house with five bathrooms, an outdoor kitchen and a three stall garage.

Second, keep things in perspective. An expression which has gained some ground in society recently is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” This saying reminds us of the importance of perspective. Is what is causing you to worry that important or life-altering enough to cause you to expend a large amount of time, energy, sleep and mental health? Can you even do anything about the situation? If not, then stop worrying.

Third step is trusting. Jesus would remind us that we need to trust that our God is big enough to sort everything out and provide all which we truly need. Do you have enough trust that God is big enough? Are you able to believe that God will always provide your needs if not always your wants?

Owing Much

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 (NIV)

The New York Federal Reserve’s Center for Microeconomic Data reported that at the end of the fourth quarter in 2020 household debt rose to $14.56 trillion. The United States National Debt is currently over $128 trillion. We have become a people who live on credit and accumulate debt easily. Most of our debt is due to mortgages, car loans, medical expenses, student loans and credit cards.  There is not one of us who would refuse any debt relief given to us. If a creditor were to fully forgive our debt, our gratitude would be overwhelming.

In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of debt relief. A woman who had lived a sinful life comes to Jesus while he is at the home of a Pharisee. Without words, she stood behind him and cried. Then she used those tears to wet his feet. Taking her hair she dried them. Finally, she took a jar of expensive perfume and anointed them. The guests in attendance were critical of Jesus for allowing her actions. Jesus replied to them by asking Simon a question regarding debt relief. The point of his interaction with Simon was to show that one whose larger debt is forgiven will show more gratitude than the one with the smaller debt. The woman with more sin than the pious guests believed Jesus could forgive her sins. She showed greater gratitude than the ones who felt they had less sin and who did not believe Jesus could forgive even those.

This story causes us to pause. Do you identify with the woman or with the other guests? What do you do to express gratitude to the Lord for being forgiven? Do you believe the Lord can forgive sins or do you hold on to them? Here we are taught that the greater we understand our sin and the need for forgiveness, the more we are willing to offer in response to the sin being forgiven.