Friday, December 30, 2011

Reflections on the 6th of Luke

Dear friends,

I'm taking a fast-paced read through the book of Luke in the Bible.  I try to read a chapter a day, but sometimes it's so meaty that I have to split it up into smaller passages.   I try to write a little about it each time, even if it is just copying a verse or two.  Sometimes I'm able to focus enough to ponder more and write my reflections in my journal.

I like to share with you some thoughts from the 6th chapter, which you can read first here: Luke 6.  There is so much in this chapter that I didn't write about all of it, especially since my mind was also musing on extensions of these concepts that were not strictly found in this one passage but in other related ones.  

Throughout this post, I excerpt key verses I was thinking about most of all, and then write about them.
On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.  
 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
 10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Jesus "worked" on the Sabbath (in this case, by healing the man with the shriveled hand -- not just the hand, but the whole man) but he also prayed every day.  He was fully into everything that was worthwhile for him to do, no matter what it was or when it was.  He didn't say, "It's not the Sabbath, so I don't need to be religious," nor "It is the Sabbath, so I can't do practical things."

For him, life was whole and integrated, not compartmentalized. Weeping and mourning could go hand in hand with rejoicing.  He could treat an enemy as a friend, and yet say something difficult to a friend.   He could give and receive. He could be discerning and merciful at the same time.  So can we.  What is always required? Love, reverence, wisdom, kindness, obedience to the Word.

Jesus was also bold.  He didn't shy away from doing or saying something which might be unpopular.  He didn't just stumble into healing the man.  He knew what the Pharisees were thinking, and he was proactive about healing.  He took the initiative.  No one pressured him into it.  In fact, he already knew they would be furious with him for breaking their man-made religious rules.

12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

In this chapter Jesus healed, prayed, preached the gospel, and chose his 12 apostles from among his many disciples.  These apostles, like all of the disciples, were primarily followers of Jesus. From the overflow of that following, they led and trained others later. 

Perhaps one reason some Christian leaders get into trouble with authoritarian control is that they see themselves primarily as leaders rather than followers, teachers rather than fellow learners, those who want to change others rather than be transformed from within by the precious power and presence of Jesus (through the Holy Spirit), who alone can change a heart.

The Pharisees were more concerned about maintaining their own power than about truly ministering to a needy, hurting, oppressed and confused people.  The Pharisees lost their effectiveness as leaders because their rules were more important to them than the miracles of God. What the people really needed was Jesus and his dynamic power.  So do we.  Jesus used his power for the good of other people, not an end in itself for himself.  He gave them truth, not empty promises and platitudes.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Another theme of this chapter is getting past the immediate outer appearance of worth and success instead of seeing "big picture" and "long term."  Popularity and wealth and control are not what matters.  Even being well-treated by others is not the ultimate goal. We can't always control what others do, but we are responsible for ourselves. Who we are inside (the purity and power of  character) and what we do as the fruit of that (love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, courage) are the true marks of genuine worth and success.  What is in your heart will come out in what you say and do.  That's where the inner meets the outer.


27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Jesus was specific and practical in his teaching, but he also gave broad principles that covered much more. He could talk about lending to the poor, but also about doing to others as we would have them do to us.  That way, he couldn't fall into the opposite ditches of being nitpicky & narrow, or vague & non-committal.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

"The Most High is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." Does that mean he never punishes them in his justice?  No, he still does.  He gives them opportunity to repent.  He is patient.  He sends rain on the just and the unjust -- the "common graces."  Likewise, we should be kind to others, even if they are not kind to us.

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

When the action doesn't match the speech and intention, there is hypocrisy.  You can't truly say Jesus is Lord of your life if you aren't willing to obey him.  It is not enough to hear it and mentally agree with it. We must do it. Some people equate agreement with obedience.  They can pretend, and talk a great talk, and make a few half-hearted gestures of compliance for the sake of reputation, but if it's not authentic from the core, it won't last long. It will crumble like a house on the sand.  Genuine faith follows through even (and especially) when no one else notices.

So those are my notes on parts of Luke 6.

What do you think about all of this?  What stands out to you?  Did you glean something different from this chapter?

What is God teaching you from your Bible reading and prayer time?

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas, A Gift of Joy

"The Adoration of the Shepherds" by Giorgione, 1505-1510
"But sing, sing, oh universe, till thou hast exhausted thyself, thou canst not afford a song so sweet as the song of Incarnation. Though creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle—Incarnation! There is more in that than in creation, more melody in Jesus in the manger, than there is in worlds on worlds rolling their grandeur round the throne of the Most High. Pause Christian, and consider this a minute. See how every attribute is here magnified." (Excerpt from The Whole of God is Glorified in Christ, Charles Spurgeon, Christmas Day 1857)
Dear friends,
This morning at Lake Baldwin Church, Pastor Mike Tilley preached from Luke 2 on "The Gift of Joy" during the Advent series. 

Christmas reminds us that we were created for joy. 

C.S. Lewis, an atheist intellectual until age 30, recounts his conversion story in his book, Surprised by Joy.  He writes of the  inklings of joy each of us can find in art, music, literature, beauty -- the common graces given us to show us that we were "created for joy."  These are mere hints of the greater joy that we find in Jesus our Creator and Redeemer.  An emphasis on the beauty of creation has certainly been a much needed boost to my own faith in recent years. It really helps me see his goodness and majesty so much more!  As Mike reminded us that creation is a vital part of the gospel story, I remembered my own poem The Story Did Not Start with a Stable and a Star

Unfortunately, so many reject the message of Christ because of misconceptions of who God is and what his intentions are toward us, perhaps because of distorted views of what a truly loving Father is like, or because of a dim and narrow view of theology that they have experienced in a church. They might see God as one who is vindictively poised to shoot down any attempts at real happiness.  They might fear him: not the Biblical fear that is reverence (as in "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom") but the kind of fear that recoils from God as a supposed tyrant.  When Jesus was born, the shepherds themselves were terrified of the angels until the comforting words came, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."  God poured out his mercy on us in the Incarnation of Christ.  His kind intention is reconciliation and redemption, so that we might have great joy. 

Christmas also reminds us that Jesus knows our sorrows.  

Isaiah, who prophesied the coming of the Messiah several hundred years in advance, foretold a Savior who would be well-acquainted with sorrow and grief.  He knows firsthand, from his 33 years of human Incarnation, what we are enduring, and even went far beyond that in bearing our just punishment on the cross.  We come to a sympathetic Savior.  

Perhaps we thought when we first came to him that a life of faith would mean that all would go well for us.  We could "name it and claim it" because God wants the very best for his children, doesn't he?  Yet he uses suffering to shape us, just as a refiner uses the fire to purify gold and silver. Christianity is not a denial of sorrow or pain, but an affirmation that "God is with us": holding us, comforting us, empowering us, drawing us into a deeper dependence on him.  

For those of us who are going through a bittersweet season of difficulty or uncertainty, we have assurance that he has not abandoned us, but will turn our ashes to beauty, our grief to joy.  Pastor Tilley quoted Charles Spurgeon:
"Man is like a harp unstrung, and the music of his soul's living strings is discordant, his whole nature wails with sorrow; but the son of David, that mighty harper, has come to restore the harmony of humanity, and where his gracious fingers move among the strings, the touch of the fingers of an incarnate God brings forth music sweet as that of the spheres, and melody rich as a seraph's canticle. Would God that all men felt that divine hand."  (Charles Spurgeon, Joy Born at Bethlehem)  
Christmas reminds us that joy has come to our world.

"The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen..." (Luke 2:20)

Like the shepherds, we can make this message of praise the music of our own hearts, so we can sing with joy about what he has done for us and what he will do for us in the future.  When he confess our faith in him, he forgives us all of our sins and reconciles us to himself. We have the hope of eternity in Heaven.
"Rejoice, ye who feel that ye are lost; your Saviour comes to seek and save you. Be of good cheer ye who are in prison, for be comes to set you free. Ye who are famished and ready to die, rejoice that he has consecrated for you a Bethlehem, a house of bread, and he has come to be the bread of life to your souls. Rejoice, O sinners, everywhere for the restorer of the castaways, the Saviour of the fallen is born. Join in the joy, ye saints, for he is the preserver of the saved ones, delivering them from innumerable perils, and he is the sure prefecter of such as he preserves. Jesus is no partial Saviour, beginning a work and not concluding it; but, restoring and upholding, he also prefects and presents the saved ones without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing before his Father's throne. Rejoice aloud all ye people, let your hills and valleys ring with joy, for a Saviour who is mighty to save is born among you." (Charles Spurgeon again, from Joy Born at Bethlehem
Yes, things are not as they should be yet, but our longings for fulfillment remind us of what is to come.
"All joy...emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings." C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy 
I'll close this little post with a contemporary carol we sing at Christmastime at Lake Baldwin Church: "Joy Has Dawned" by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

If you live in the Orlando area, join us on Christmas Eve for a service of "Lessons and Carols" from 6-7 PM.  Lake Baldwin Church will also celebrate a Christmas Day service at 10:45, complete with a birthday party for Jesus for the children.  All are welcome!

Christmas joy to you,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. More of my holiday posts are linked here: Christmas
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