Simon: A Picture of Discipleship

Today’s reading is Luke 23.

Yesterday’s picture of discipleship was great, wasn’t it? Learning that Barabbas is us and we are Barabbas is just awesome. Jesus died in my place so I don’t have to. Wow! Today’s picture is just as great, but we rarely see it that way. In fact, this is a picture many Christians forget and ignore. We love the picture of Barabbas. We rush through the picture of Simon of Cyrene. Here is a fellow seized by the Romans to bear a burden because they could do that to subject people. Now imagine in your mind’s eye watching these two men walking up Golgotha’s hill–Jesus leading the way with Simon following in His footsteps while carrying a cross. That is discipleship. Discipleship is not waving at Jesus as He walks up Calvary and then heading on our merry way. Discipleship is placing the cross on our shoulders and falling in line behind Jesus. He is still the one that does the dying, praise the Lord, but we carry the cross. We walk in His footsteps. We follow Him wherever He goes, even if it is up the hill of death. Bearing the cross is not merely going through some hardship. Bearing our cross is walking in Jesus’s footsteps. In today’s story and yesterday’s, we find the complete picture of discipleship, confessing Jesus as both Savior (the picture of Barabbas) and Lord (the picture of Simon). We take comfort in the salvation from His sacrifice, and we willingly lift up the cross to bring glory to His name.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 23.

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On Gifts and the Giver

Today’s reading is Luke 12.

The rich fool in Jesus’s story is so close to wisdom. In fact, when he says he should eat, drink, and be merry, he is practically quoting Ecclesiastes 5:18 (see also 8:15). He is so close and yet so far because he missed Ecclesiastes 5:19. He missed the basis for eating, drinking, and being joyful. His ability to do so was a gift from God. When we recognize this, we see part of the rich fool’s problem. He was focused on the gift and ignored the Giver. He thought the reason he would have no worries was because he had been so successful and he had produced such a big crop and he could build bigger barns. In all of this, he forgot God. He needed to rely on the Giver, not on the gifts. The same goes for me. I struggle with this. I often view money as security. So, I beg God for financial prosperity and gifts. But savings accounts won’t save me. IRAs and 401(k)s will not preserve me. If God blesses me with those gifts, fine. But my security is God. Today, I want to depend on the Giver more than on His gifts. I don’t want to be a rich fool (or even a middle class fool). I want to know God. I want to love God. I want to be close to God. I want to rely on God. How about you?

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 12.

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Fear, No Fear

Today’s reading is Luke 12.

I’ll be honest with you. I try not to be an alarmist Chicken Little, but I am presently convinced that a new persecution against Christians is starting and will only increase over the next two decades. So, I needed the reminder that the worst anyone can do to me is cause me physical pain and death. They cannot take my salvation and eternal hope away. Therefore, ultimately I have nothing to fear from the world. However, God can take it away. Therefore, my respect, my awe, my reverence, my fear needs to be directed toward Him. (This is why I need to abandon the hypocrisy Jesus talked about in the previous paragraph.) Then Jesus seems to switch topics, but what a comforting modification to His teaching about fear. Yes, I need to fear God who can kill my body and cast my soul into hell. However, the one who can do that values me more than the sparrows whom He never forgets. He has numbered the very hairs of my head. That is, He knows me. He cares for me. He loves me. The very last thing He wants to do is kill me and cast me into hell. The pagan gods might punish a person for no reason other than the god woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Our God is not that fickle. He doesn’t forget His own. Certainly, I need to fear God if I’m being a hypocrite. Certainly, I need to fear God if I decide to turn my back on Him. Certainly, I need to fear God if I am really reinterpreting His will based on my own. However, I don’t need to tiptoe in terror as if I might accidentally misspeak or mistakenly misstep and get tossed into hell. It is awesome to know that the One Power in the universe that does have that power, doesn’t want to exercise it. Thus, while I fear God, I have no fear of God. Praise the Lord!

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 12.

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Beware Hypocrisy

Today’s reading is Luke 12.

In last week’s reading, we learned about the sins of the Pharisees. For so many things they actually did get right, they struggled with hypocrisy. Their insides often didn’t match their outsides. Even the good things they did were often done with ulterior selfish motives. The great problem with this is that they not only ignored the kingdom of God, but hindered others from entering. Their hypocrisy spread secretly like leaven to all who looked up to them. It influenced others, who were not Pharisees, but thought the Pharisees were spiritual giants. Thus, Jesus warns, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Then He explains why we need to beware. Those internal bits and pieces we try to hide and cover up with a shiny veneer, will all eventually be exposed. This is not merely an issue of final judgment. It is simply the fact that whatever is inside us, whatever really drives us, whatever we say in the dark rooms with our closest friends, will eventually be exposed to everyone. If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it is what we hope to keep covered up will come out. And, of course, if somehow we are able to keep it hidden for now, God knows and in judgment it will be revealed. Beware hypocrisy, it will not protect you.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 12.

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Give Yourself as Alms

Today’s reading is Luke 11.

Has this ever happened to you? Grab a coffee cup out of the dishwasher indicating “clean,” flip it over without really looking at it, get your coffee carafe, and start to pour. Then you notice. There is junk all inside the cup. What seemed pristine and sparkling on the outside is full of disgusting filth and grime on the inside. YUCK! Jesus said that was the Pharisees. However, Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Clean the inside.” He oddly says, “But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.” The word translated “alms” is used nine other times in Luke/Acts. Every time it refers to merciful giving to those in need. In Acts 10, Cornelius’s alms were a memorial before God causing him to receive favor. In Acts 9, the term described Tabitha’s work among the widows of her congregation. In Acts 3, the lame man was asking for alms, but Peter and John healed him instead. With that in mind, Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Clean up your mind, purify your heart, and your behaviors will become clean.” He says, “Give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.” The Pharisees were full of greed on the inside. Even if they gave alms externally, they did so with ulterior motives of greed and self-promotion. By contrast, Jesus says our internal things should be given away as alms. That is, if we give our very selves away in the service of others, then not only will we be clean, but everything will be clean for us. Jesus takes us a step beyond merely trying really hard to purify our thinking. We must direct our thinking, praying, mindset, attitude, outlook toward service of others. When we do, we and all we do will become clean.

Next week’s reading is Luke 12.

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Replace the Spirits

Today’s reading is Luke 11.

While we are certainly supposed to put our sins to death, being a disciple is not about stopping behaviors. It is actually about replacing behaviors. If all we do is cast out the evil spirit, we can do our dead level best to sweep up the house and keep it in order, but that spirit will simply bring seven more. Nature abhors a vacuum. So does our very being. If all we strive to do is get rid of bad stuff in our lives, we will only ever find the bad stuff taking over. It’s like trying to make yourself not think about pink hippopotamuses. Jesus doesn’t verbalize the actual instruction when He offers the warning. But can there be any doubt what the instruction is? When the evil spirit is cast out, it needs to be replaced by the Holy Spirit. I can try with all my might to keep out the evil spirit, but if I don’t invite God in, allowing Him to take up residence, rearranging the furniture as He sees fit, controlling the remote, calling the shots, and filling the space with His presence, then all my attempts at control are nothing more than vacuuming the carpet as the tornado targets my house. Don’t evict the spirits, replace them. That is discipleship.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 11.

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Who Is My Neighbor?

Today’s reading is Luke 10.

In order to save face, the Lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus didn’t answer the question; He told a story. Then Jesus asked His own question: “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The Lawyer asked the wrong question. The Lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” What he should have asked is, “How can I be neighborly?” That is the same question each of us needs to ask. But Jesus really takes it a step farther. Whenever people read stories or hear stories, we naturally place ourselves in the shoes of someone in the story. Whose shoes was the Lawyer wearing? Clearly, he was not the Samaritan. He would never rob anyone. As a lawyer, he would align with the Pharisees and would not see himself as either the Priest or Levite, whom the Lawyer would naturally assume were Sadducees. Who does that leave? The most likely person the lawyer would relate to is the robbed and beaten man. Recognizing this, we discover the very genius of Jesus and this story. The Lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story that essentially says to the Lawyer, “I don’t know, Lawyer. Who would you want to be your neighbor if roles were reversed?”

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 10.

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