And So It Begins

Today’s reading is Luke 22.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read the story or heard the story proclaimed. I know the victory with which the story will end. But there is always a part of me when we get to this part of Jesus’s story that wants it to take a different turn. Surely, this time all the people involved will realize how things ought to be. Judas will have learned his lesson and decide not to betray Jesus. Peter will have learned his lesson and decide not to deny Jesus. The Pharisees, scribes, chief Priests, and rulers of the Jews will have learned their lesson and decide not to crucify the Son of Man. Sometimes, I even want Jesus to teach them all a lesson, show them all who’s boss, and drop the bomb on them all. Yet, here I am reading for the thousandth time, and every one of these make the same mistakes over and over again. Well, Jesus wasn’t making a mistake. And, of course, that is the key. In this whole sordid mess, Jesus was the only one who knew what He was doing. And He was doing it for me. Because, as painful as it is for me to watch for the thousandth time, I am just like Judas, Peter, the Jewish leaders. You would think I had learned my lesson. But I have made the same mistakes over and over again. As a friend of mine reminds me, let’s not soften the blow. They weren’t mistakes, they were sins. I am a sinner, and I need what Jesus is giving. As much as I find it hard to read what Jesus is going to go through, it is the only thing that can save me. I need Him to keep making that choice. And so it begins. Judas is betraying Him. Peter is denying Him. The apostles are fleeing Him. The Jews are condemning Him. And it is all because I rebelled against Him, but He loves me anyway. Praise the Lord!

Monday’s reading is Luke 23.

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No Pretending

Today’s reading is Luke 20.

It broke my heart. I had become friends with a couple of baristas years ago in Texas. They had invited me to their coffee shop/diner. They often gave me steep discounts. I would try to talk to them about the gospel, Jesus, the church. They were always nice to me. I think they liked me, but they always stiff-armed on the spiritual conversations. I remember one conversation though. They didn’t say it quite this politely, but one of the ladies said one day, “You know how you can tell a business owner is going to take advantage of you?” “How?” I replied. “If he’s got a fish or a cross on his business card.” In other words, business owners who make their Christianity part of their marketing are probably out to make a buck, not save your soul. I’m sure her statement was painting with way too broad of a brush. But it does get at Jesus’s point at the end of Luke 20. God doesn’t like pretending. Christianity isn’t a game. It isn’t a business strategy or a marketing ploy. Jesus Christ intends to change lives down at the heart level and then outward to the behavior that loves God and loves your neighbor. It doesn’t matter how often you go to church, how you dress up when you are there, or how actively you participate, if you are taking advantage of people, you’re just pretending. If you aren’t going to really follow Jesus, don’t pretend.

Monday’s reading is Luke 21.

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God Knows Your Heart

Today’s reading is Luke 16.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Christians explain the grace of God for their sins by saying, “Well, God knows my heart.” This is sometimes said as if our heartfelt devotion and personal sincerity make up for our sins. “Hey, I may be mistaken about how to worship God scripturally, but God knows my heart.” We say that as if we do not recognize how terribly frightening the prospect of God knowing our hearts really is. Jesus’s words to the Pharisees in Luke 16:15 demonstrate this. Jesus makes it clear to His detractors. “God knows your heart.” And that fact does not bode well for them. God is not fooled by the outwardly righteous demeanor of the Pharisees. He knows exactly how rotten their hearts are. As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). God does not give His grace to us because of how amazingly devout and sincere we are in our hearts. God doesn’t overlook our sins because we meant well. After all, if that was the basis of salvation, it wouldn’t be grace, would it? Here is the amazing thing. Despite knowing our hearts, Jesus died for us anyway. He established His kingdom. We need it. None of this, of course, is permission to be an insincere hypocrite. None of this, of course, is permission to be an apathetic, half-hearted citizen of the kingdom. It is, however, a reminder that our comfort is not that Jesus knows our hearts, but in discovering and knowing the heart of Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 16.

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Beware the Yeast of These

Today’s reading is Luke 12.

Jesus warns against the yeast of the Pharisees. Exposure to their hypocrisy is subtly influential. A Pharisaic influence even suckered Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2:11-13. We’ve often heard about the leaven of the Pharisees. However, I can’t help but think about this concept of leaven or yeast as influence in general. This leavening effect is not exclusive to the Pharisees. After all, in Matthew 16:6, 11, 12 it was also applied to the Sadducees. In other words, we need to beware who and what are influencing us. Whether we are considering false teachers, secular worldviews, ungodly outlooks, immoral examples, political strivings, cultural consensus, or any other person or perspective that runs counter to Christ, we must beware. Clearly, we can’t leave the world. We will always be surrounded by ideas, behaviors, worldviews, perspectives, and outlooks that oppose Jesus. We can’t isolate ourselves from or shut ourselves off to all the people around us. In fact, we don’t want to. How can we be the influence we are supposed to be if we do? However, we need to beware. The influence of the world is subtle. Like yeast that spreads imperceptibly through an entire lump of dough without even really knowing that it is happening, sin and sinfulness can alter our perception and perspective until what we consider faithfulness to Jesus Christ doesn’t look anything like Jesus at all. In fact, perhaps we should take a long hard look even today to make sure we are becoming like the Lord and not like a cultural caricature of Him. Beware the yeast. It is all around us.

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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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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