Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures…

Standard

Luke 24:44 Then (Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection from the dead), “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

V.45 got my attention this morning. Jesus had told his disciples he would die but then be raised up again. And that such was necessary to fulfill the word of God in the prophets. Yet even after he rose from the dead and appeared to them in person they did not comprehend. And so we are told that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures”, which was needed since they would have to carry Jesus’ message to the world without Jesus present.

I remember the first time I made an effort to read scripture in a consistent way. I was a senior in college and started to read an NIV Study Bible recommended by the Lutheran campus pastor. It didn’t take long for me to become totally lost. I may as well have been reading a book in another language. If you’ve ever experienced that kind of frustration, I feel you.

Over the years things have gotten better. Yes, going to seminary helped in this regard, but I’ll be honest. The practice of reading scripture each day has helped me understand the bible much more than my seminary studies. Seminary taught me to read the bible using the tools of literary criticism, but it didn’t help me to familiarize myself with the bible as a whole. Only repetition can do that – reading the entire bible over and over and over.

The Moravian Daily Texts, which I use as a reading guide, covers the Old Testament in three years and the New Testament in two. That sounds like a really long time, but it goes by pretty fast. I’m grateful for all of you who read my blog on a consistent basis. It demonstrates a commitment to engage scripture and to reflection which is a big part of being a follower of Jesus. And if you’d like to take your practice to the next level let me know in the comments section and I’ll show you how.

Lord by your grace open our minds to understand the scriptures. For as is written in the book of Proverbs, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Amen.

Jesus revealed in the breaking of the bread…

Standard

Luke 24:28 As (Jesus and two of his disciples) came near the village to which they were going, (Jesus) walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

It’s interesting to me that the disciples only recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread – not by his voice or his appearance or his teaching. There’s no doubt that sharing in communion is a powerful dimension of Lutheran worship, which is why we celebrate communion at every worship service. It’s also why we have continued sharing communion virtually during the pandemic rather than “fasting” from communion as some have done.

Thank you Lord Jesus that you are truly present in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine. We need you now more than ever. Amen.

Fathers and children…

Standard

1 Samuel 3:10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel was a young man just beginning his calling as a priest in the temple of the Lord. Eli was Samuel’s elderly mentor who, though personally faithful in his own tasks as a priest, failed to hold his two sons accountable for their despicable behavior (v.12-13).

If Eli weren’t a priest his sons’ shenanigans might not have been such a big deal to God. But in ancient Israel the priesthood was a hereditary thing, which means each father would have been required to teach his sons to be faithful priests. In this Eli had failed. His sons essentially robbed from God and from the people they were called to serve.

I am not a priest, but I am a father to three young adult children. And I expect that, in the day when I face the Lord and give an account of my life, I’ll be asked about my role as father. How did I do? What will I say?

An interesting thing about being a parent is how long it can take to see the fruit of one’s efforts. Particularly during the teenage years, it can get scary. It’s hard not to over-react when our children look like they’re going off a cliff. Yet as they’re now in their 20s and growing more fully into adulthood, it amazes me how much they DID learn. And knowing that I made many, many mistakes as a father (you don’t really get to practice first) I can see how the hand of God has been on my children – and me as a father.

Lord thank you for the grace you pour out on parents, despite the fact we don’t always get it right. Lead us in the way that we should go and give us grace to follow. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Getting the facts wrong but the message right…

Standard

Luke 23:44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Luke is the third gospel writer to tell this story so far in the New Testament. And, as you know, John will go next giving the fourth and final version of the passion of Christ. What I’m noticing this morning are the differences in the gospel accounts.

For instance, Luke says in v.49 that the women who had followed Jesus stood at a distance from Jesus along with the other followers. John’s gospel says the women stood close to the cross. Matthew mentions that, at the moment Jesus died, a number of tombs were opened and some of the dead were actually raised. There are several more examples but you get the point.

In our fact-based understanding of narrative in Western culture we would expect agreement between the gospel writers as evidence of authenticity and accuracy. But I actually think the differences in the gospels underscores authenticity. Different people who witnessed the same thing would likely recall the events differently, particularly if several decades had passed between the given events and their documentation in writing. If all four gospels lined up perfectly that would strike me as evidence the stories had been doctored. The fact they are different lends credibility in my view.

All of this reminds me that the bible was not a cohesive document sent directly from the hand of God, but is a collection of documents inspired by God and written by human beings. The scriptures don’t have to be 100% factually cohesive in order to communicate the eternal truth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, who came that all people might believe in him and be saved.

Jesus and the faithful criminal

Standard

Luke 23:32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

We’re told in v.35-36 that the “leaders” scoffed Jesus and the soldiers mocked him. But then in v.40 it is one of the criminals, a ne’er-do-well, who comes to his defense, recognizing Jesus as Messiah in his last hours. There are two things that strike me about this.

First there is the fact that, again, it’s a person on the margin of society (a criminal) who correctly identifies Jesus – not the religious leaders or secular authorities. This happens over and over again in the gospels.

Secondly, salvation is conferred on the criminal in his last hours. Whatever his sins in a life poorly lived, his acknowledgement of Jesus (“remember me when you come into your kingdom”) reveals a saving faith which Jesus affirms with the words “today you will be with me in Paradise”.

It’s never too late to recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior, to receive the gift of salvation by grace. If you’re reading this and you’re not sure where you stand before the Lord, today is your day to get right with God. Eternal life can be yours starting today and continuing into eternity.

Lord Jesus today we pray especially for those who are not sure where they stand with you and with God the Father. They worry about their many sins and transgressions, which every one of us has committed. By your grace receive their confession of sin and wash them clean. And set them on a course to new life starting today. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

Family by choice…

Standard

Ruth 1:13 (Naomi the widow said to her two daughters-in-law) No, my daughters, (the loss of Elemilech and his two sons) has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.” 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” 18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

This book begins by telling us there was a famine in the land of Israel around Bethlehem, so a man of Bethlehem named Elemilech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons fled to Moab (a nation on the other side of the Dead Sea) in search of food. Unfortunately, after some years in Moab, Elemilech and both sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law (Ruth and Orpah) to fend for themselves in Moab. Naomi decided to go back to Bethlehem and assumed Ruth and Orpah would remain in Moab (their ancestral home) to find new husbands. Orpha did just that. It was the sensible thing to do. However, as v.16-18 of our passage indicate, Ruth would not remain with her sister in Moab, but would stick with Ruth.

It’s not clear why Ruth would do such a thing, but it is touching nonetheless. I think we all long for someone like Ruth, one who would never dream of leaving our side. People like that are hard to find in our modern world. Whether it’s marriage or family connection or friendship, relationships can seem more temporary these days.

This is a great opportunity for the church. At its best the church can be a place of grace and healing for people who feel disconnected from relatives or distant friends. The church can be a family by choice rather than by blood. It has certainly become that for me. It’s my prayer that others can experience the church in that light. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Our nation needs a king. His name is Jesus…

Standard

Judges 19:1 In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2 But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. 3 Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. When he reached her father’s house, the girl’s father saw him and came with joy to meet him. … (the Levite and his concubine) got up and departed…15 They turned aside there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night. 16 Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. …So the old man brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank 22 While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. 24 Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. 27 In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 “Get up,” he said to her, “we are going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home…

Sorry for such a long passage but I tried to edit it to make it more tolerable. This is a terrible story for many reasons. The concubine was treated with such brutality. The people of Gibeah failed to house the Levite or show him hospitality. The men of Gibeah (Israelites) acted like the men of Sodom in the book of Genesis. I mean, this story is horrible top to bottom. So what’s the point of the story? We get a hint in the first verse:

“In those days there was no king in Israel…”

A nation without leadership creates chaos as people do what seems right in their own eyes rather than what is right in the eyes of God. I can’t help but think of our own country (USA) when I read this story. Yes we have leaders, but our culture is increasingly doing what is right in our own eyes rather than what is right in the eyes of God. The moral compass of the Judeo-Christian worldview has been so diminished as to be irrelevant. Just have a look around. Our country seems to be lost right now. We need a “king”. His name is Jesus. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Pick me up when I fall…

Standard

Luke 22:31 (Jesus said to the apostle Peter/Simon) “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

Peter pledged to protect Jesus, but Jesus wasn’t asking for protection. Jesus knew that death was in his future, but that death would not be the end. Well, Peter didn’t understand and so made a promise, “Lord I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”. It’s a promise Peter failed to keep.

You would think a failure of this magnitude would disqualify Peter from future leadership in the movement – but it did not. He was given another chance by the Lord and he did not waste it. Peter did great things for the Kingdom of God until his death.

I make mistakes all the time. It’s not that I intend to mess up, but I get it wrong anyway. Reading about people like Peter gives me hope. My mistakes, my shortcomings, my failings to not disqualify me in the eyes of the Lord. There is always another chance.

Thank you Lord for your grace, for your patience, for your refusal to give up on us when we fall. Pick me up once again and guide me in your will. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Satan and Judas

Standard

Luke 22:1 Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. 2 The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; 4 he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. 5 They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

It’s well known that Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus. What we don’t know is why. Why did Judas do this? What was his motivation? Of the four gospel-writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) Luke is the only one who tries to answer the question.

“Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot…”

There it is. The devil made him do it. Well, the devil can’t actually MAKE anyone do anything, but he can persuade and tempt people to rebel. I find it particularly interesting that Luke makes this claim about Judas though (unlike Matthew and John) Luke was not one of the original twelve disciples (nor was Mark), which means he didn’t have immediate knowledge of the situation.

The last time we saw Satan in Luke’s gospel, Jesus was tempted three times in the wilderness immediately after his baptism. Though Satan failed to cause Jesus to stumble in the wilderness we are told that Satan would try again “at an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). However, instead of attacking Jesus directly, Satan manipulated Judas – who executed the betrayal.

Like Judas we are all vulnerable from time to time. We may be facing disappointment, hardship, lost love, whatever. And when we’re weak is when Satan will come calling on us – tempting us to rebel against the Lord. Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus you know what it’s like to be tempted by Satan. We all face temptation from time to time, but unlike you, we are not sinless or blameless. Give us grace to resist the temptations of Satan. And when we fail, give us hearts that seek repentance and forgiveness. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

Power to create life…

Standard

Judges 13:2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.

This is the story of Samson who would be a renown leader of Israel. You remember Samson – the guy with long hair and great strength who lost his strength when his hair was cut. Anyway, what interests me this morning is the fact that he was born to a woman who was “barren”, who could not conceive a child until God intervened.

Fertility is a major theme throughout the Old Testament as God comes to the aid of couples who cannot conceive naturally.

Lately I’ve have several conversations with people struggling with fertility issues. For a couple with great love for each other, who want to share that love with a child, the inability to conceive can be soul-crushing. And it’s not helpful when other people, wanting to relieve the tension of the situation, suggest adoption as an alternative. It’s not that there’s something wrong with adoption, but adoption may not fulfill the dream of raising a child with one’s own DNA in the same way. So this morning I’m praying for all people with the unfulfilled dream of conceiving a child.

Heavenly Father you alone hold the power to bring life into the world. We may have treatments and such to increase the odds of conception, but in the end it’s up to you. Pour out your grace on those who struggle with fertility, that they may not lose hope. Reveal to them a pathway to parenthood, wherever that path may lead. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.