On Questions and Answers

Today’s reading is Luke 20.

There are lots of questions out there. Many of them are good. Some of them…not so much. I know I have to learn from the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection. I need to hear its warning against my own arrogance. We need to ask questions. We need to be free to ask questions. But when I am not careful, I can develop an arrogance around my questions. Sometimes I come up with questions that I can’t seem to answer. They flummox me to no end. Sometimes I’ll share the questions with others, and they aren’t sure they know the answers either. Herein lies the arrogance. I start to assume that because I don’t know the answer, there must not be one. Then the real danger sets in. Someone actually comes along and answers it, but I can’t accept their answer because I’ve already bought into my own arrogance that the question has no answer. Usually, I am invested in the lack of answer because it leaves me free to pursue something I want or avoid something I don’t want. Jesus’s interaction with the Sadducees teaches me that just because I couldn’t figure out the answer to a question, doesn’t mean there is no answer. When someone does answer it, providing Word of God evidence, it’s time for me to humble myself and let the answer change my life.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 20.

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Today’s reading is Luke 19.

Jesus continues to meet real life representatives of His story about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Last week, He met the rich ruler, a Pharisee if there ever was one. Then he met the blind beggar, who like the little children was hindered from calling out to Jesus by the crowds, and who like the tax collector of Jesus’s story simply begged for mercy. And now, Jesus meets an actual tax collector. This meeting gives us some insight to the justification of the tax collector in the story. Justification doesn’t come simply by saying the right words in a prayer. That prayer was the manifestation of a penitent heart, just as Zacchaeus’s reaction to Jesus was. The rich ruler walked away sad from Jesus. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, received Jesus joyfully and responded to His teaching. He repented. He restored fourfold to all those he had swindled (as tax collectors were wont to do in those days), however, beyond that he gave half of all he had to the poor. In the account of Zacchaeus, the people call him a sinner. But he was just like the tax collector in the story. He didn’t need others to call him a sinner. He knew exactly who he was, but he also knew exactly who Jesus was. Jesus was offering mercy. Zacchaeus understood. What response could there be but repentance, turning his life over to Jesus. This is what the justification of Jesus’s story looks like.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 19.

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The Myth of "Just Me and My Bible"

Today’s reading is Luke 15.

This week’s reading shatters a sacred cow. It debunks a myth that I carried with me for a long time and many people I know still hang on to. It is the myth of “Just me and my Bible.” We like to think we just studied the Bible on our own and figured things out. We like to think we are actually approaching the Bible with a blank slate, and as we sit alone with Scriptures, we are coming to truth by ourselves. That simply isn’t true. I became painfully aware of this as I read a book by Mark Allan Powell entitled What Do They Hear? He used the Parable of the Prodigal to demonstrate the point. Let’s start with a question. Without reading the text again, what caused the prodigal to be financially destitute? If you are an American and I were a betting man, I’d bet you said, “He was reckless. He wasted all his father’s money.” After all, isn’t that exactly what it says in Luke 15:13? However, do you know what most Russians will say? “There was a famine.” Quick, did you know there was a famine? Yep. Luke 15:14 says so. Russians pick up on this because the Povolzhye famine of 1921-22 has left an indelible mark on the psyche of an entire people. We Americans pick up on the reckless living because of the impact of Puritan work ethic and financial responsibility we emphasize. However, guess how they answer that question in Tanzania. “Because no one gave him anything.” When I first read this in Powell’s book, I thought, “Well, now you’re just making stuff up.” However, look at Luke 15:16. In a historically tribal country where each individual relies on the tribe to help, the fact that no one was there to help the prodigal is what they see. Here is the point we need to see today. It is never just me and my Bible. It is me, my cultural background, my societal conditioning, all my parents have taught me, what I’ve seen on television and heard on the radio, what my preacher said when I was young, what I have heard from my teachers and classmates, the collective experience of my people, my desires, my presuppositions, my biases, and my Bible. All that together causes me to miss things. It causes me to emphasize things. It causes me to prioritize things. The point, of course, is not that we can’t understand the Bible. The point is we need to read the Bible together. We need to ask what others are seeing and picking up on. Then we can go back and read again. We might even need to ask a Tanzanian what they see in the reading. Of course, the Tanzanian needs to ask an American too. It’s never just me and my Bible, so I need to quit acting like it is. However, the only way to combat that is to keep reading and keeping talking about it with others.

Today’s reading is Luke 15.

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Don't Miss the Point

Today’s reading is Luke 15.

In Matthew 18:12-14, Jesus tells a similar parable to the one that opens Luke 15. It is all about a shepherd leaving 99 sheep on the mountain to hunt down a lone lost sheep. Matthew’s point is God acts like this toward children. He doesn’t want any of His little sheep to be lost. It’s easy to study this parable in Matthew 18, figure out what it means there, then read a similar parable in Luke 15 and skip it, thinking we have already figured it out. If so, we will miss the point. Jesus is using a similar parable, but here, His focus is different. He isn’t making a point about God searching for lost sheep in Luke 15:3-7. Rather, in this context, the parable is the first of a trilogy of parables that are to be read together to learn the points and principles. When Jesus tells these three stories together, the first two are not actually about God (though Jesus does make a parallel to God’s joy). They are actually about the Pharisees and the scribes who are complaining about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’s point is if the Pharisees and scribes owned a hundred sheep and lost one, they would care for the lost sheep, hunt for it, and come back rejoicing. Further, if one of their friends brought home a lost sheep, they would gladly gather together and rejoice with their friend. The third story demonstrates these same men will not respond the same way for lost people. They will rejoice for a found sheep or coin, but not a found person. They care more about sheep and coins than they do their own brothers and sisters. Again, Luke does state something about God, but the parables are actually asking how we view people? Are we more concerned about material goods than lost souls? That is the question.

Today’s reading is Luke 15.

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The Whole Picture

Today’s reading is Luke 15.

Let’s face it. There is a lot of disagreement as folks read their Bibles. Everyone comes from different perspectives. We can have a tendency to pick out verses that support our pet principles and ignore those that mollify them. We need to work on seeing all facets. For instance, Luke 15:1-2 should make us stop for a moment. There are some who want to jump on verse 2 about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. They develop an image of Jesus, walking into a new town, finding the red light district, hitting the bars, and hanging out with the marginalized sinners until they just knew how much He loved them. Others jump on verse 1 about the tax collectors and sinners drawing near to hear. They develop an image of Jesus hanging out at the synagogue and merely issuing invitations to come hear His lessons (I admit, I can tend to this approach). However, we need to see both verses and see the whole picture. Jesus did eat and spend time with the “undesirables.” He did what the Pharisees wouldn’t. As many point out, if we only ever spend time with one another, we’ll never make contact with those who still need the gospel. We have to go and seek the lost. However, Jesus’s modus operandi was not to go hang out, mix and mingle, and party with the sinners until they realized how cool and loving He was so that He finally got permission to teach them. At least in this case, Jesus was spending time with these sinners because they first drew near to hear Him. We shouldn’t hole up in our church buildings avoiding the lost and casting leery, sidelong glances if any of them show up. However, neither should we compromise with the world in attempts to show love or procrastinate our teaching until we are convinced the world knows we are loving. As tough as it is, let’s try to see the whole picture, not just the verse that says the part we like to hear.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 15.

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Today’s reading is Luke 13.

Many today suggest finding authorization through the implication of Scripture is cheating. It isn’t really authority, they say. I get it, implication is not as easy as finding an actual statement or example. With implication it takes more work to make sure we are truly being biblical because we are claiming something is authorized that isn’t specifically told or shown. But notice how Jesus knows He is allowed to heal the disabled woman on the Sabbath. He doesn’t know it because the Law ever explicitly says, “Thou shalt heal on the Sabbath.” Rather, untying a donkey or an ox on the Sabbath so it can get to the water is lawful. If it is lawful to loose animals, it is lawful to loose humans who are more valuable to God than animals. To restrict loosing the woman on the Sabbath is hypocrisy. That is, to restrict what is implied is hypocrisy. No, this doesn’t mean everything I like is authorized, but it does mean when we are teaching and acting in ways God implies in Scripture, we are teaching and acting in His name, not our own. In fact, it is the very principle Jesus Himself used. Keep studying. Keep learning. Keep following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 13.

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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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