It’s Not Always Easy

Luke 8

Jesus is not know for being particularly easy with his teaching. It can be just plain difficult. 

Sometimes the teachings are easy enough to understand but hard in their application. We know what Jesus said about enemies. He didn’t mince words or obfuscate. Love them. Full Stop.  But, when you have an enemy, you don’t WANT to love them. If you HAVE to love them, then you CAN’T hate them, and in the darkest parts we want to hate some people. But Jesus came to shine a light into even those parts and to change them. So, love (wish and seek the best for) your enemies and pray (bring their needs, cares, and burdens before God) for those who persecute you. That is hard. 

Other times Jesus doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. A lot of the people in John 6 stopped following him because he said, “You have to eat my body and drink my blood.” And today we can say, “Oh yeah, he was talking about communion.” But THEY didn’t know that. There is a rabbi talking about eating a person and drinking his blood, and they are just thinking about the number of Torah laws and cultural traditions they would have to break. But mostly, they would be thinking “WHAT?! WHY?! What is he on about?” Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. But they didn’t seem to get it, because his mission wasn’t complete yet. 

And sometimes, the teaching is BOTH hard to understand and seems difficult in the day-to-day living. 

Luke 8 is full of them. Why does Jesus, who is so insistent on US spreading the Kingdom message to all corners of the world, teach with hiddenness? Why does he say, “Go into all the world” and tell everyone to keep it quiet? Why does he teach in parables, so that the crowds would be confused? I could give an astute scholarly answer, that references the nature of prophecy and the different purposes for the mission of Jesus and mission of the church, but in the end it is a head scratcher. It feels weird. It feels hard. It weighs on me. 

Nothing weighs heavier on me from this chapter than Luke 8:18. As a reminder: “18 So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” That’s a hard one! Why should the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Is that what Jesus is saying?

Though the questions are important, there are times for answers. And of course that is not what he is saying. 

Jesus has just finished saying that a light will not bet covered up but put on a lampstand, and how everything will be disclosed and made known. He has been speaking about the knowledge of the Kingdom, the Gospel, the Word of God, the Knowledge of God, the Logos of God, up to this point.  So the question we need to answer is “whoever has what?” Whoever has a desire and thirst to learn the things of God. Whoever has a desire to serve Jesus. Whoever has a desire to follow him where he leads. Whoever, once the lamp is lighted, wants to see it in its fulness. THAT person will be given more. They will actually acquire the knowledge they are looking for. They will be equipped to serve. They will be empowered to follow. They will see the light, and it will fill them up, all the way from the inside out. 

But whoever does not have those desires…

Well, what little power, strength, might, authority, ability, talent…

It’ll be taken away. 

It’s a hard teaching. But it makes sense. Jesus comes to offer life. If we don’t want life, we don’t get it. It’s not forced upon us. 

You may be wondering, “But right now I don’t want it. I am reading because it’s a habit I can’t break. I am reading while crying because I want it to be true but can’t pull out that belief in me.” Welcome to the Christian Faith, where desires like that have existed beside the “most devout” since the dawn of the church! Ancient Christian authors wrote statements like (and forgive the modern paraphrase) “I don’t want God, but I want to want God.” Even a man declared to Jesus “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Maybe you have believing unbelief, or unbelieving belief. Maybe you want to want God. Or want to want to want him. 

Jesus can work with that glimmer. 

Because in the end he will work with us on all the hard passages, on the ones that weigh on us, on the things that are hard to understand and hard to live out. 

The promise from scripture is that, if you let him work, “He will finish the good work he began in us.”

Jesus will give you understanding and peace when you don’t. 

Jesus will give you the skills and ability for service. 

Jesus will give you power to follow. 

Do you want him to? Do you want to want him to?

-Jacob Ballard

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway Numbers 35-36 and Luke 8

The Truth Will Set You Free

In Exodus 23 and 24 God continues to lay out the laws that will help provide a stable foundation for Israelite society, and there are a couple that really catch my eye.

Exodus 23

“You must not pass along false rumors. You must not cooperate with evil people by lying on the witness stand.

2 “You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you are called to testify in a dispute, do not be swayed by the crowd to twist justice. 3 And do not slant your testimony in favor of a person just because that person is poor.

I really think that this can speak to us today in a powerful way, and maybe convict many of us.  I have heard it said that we are living in a “post truth era”, a time when objective facts are not as impactful to people as appeals to emotion and personal beliefs.  Many times these emotional appeals are used to push a political agenda or the narrative of a social movement.  

Every day our society is making judgements on people, and these opinions can move at the speed of light on the internet, and it can be very easy to follow the crowd and help spread a narrative about a person, but we need to be very careful.  If we are passing on unresearched false claims, or choose to ignore facts because they do not fit with the narrative of a movement that we like then we are only spreading lies.  

Proverbs 12:22

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth.

As followers of God we need to value the truth very highly, because God is the God of truth, and in the end it does not matter how society judges something because God is the great judge and  we will be judged by God.  It is important to remember that the ends do not justify the means, even if a group has a good message, if they spread it with lies and misrepresentations of events they completely undermine any impact their message would have had.

I have heard a lot of people saying things like “you have to go find the right facts”, and usually they say that because the facts do not match their opinion of how something should have gone, and they are searching for somebody who will confirm their feelings.  This is called confirmation bias when we look for information and interpret facts to all agree with what we already think.  Fundamentally this mindset assumes that we are right about everything and do not need to learn anything new.  We need to be humble and realize that we can easily be wrong about things and look forward to searching out the truth.  As a person who loves knowledge and being right I can tell you that it is not easy to learn that you are wrong about something, but I have had many mentors in my life that have told me many thousands of times that I am wrong about things, but at this point I am ok with that, because accepting that you are wrong is the first step to learning new things and growing.  

In Exodus and Mark we have seen God at work in a mighty way to change his people from the broken people they used to be into his followers. Moses brought them out of Egypt where they turned from God and worshiped the gods of Egypt, and gave them the law of God that would define their society and customs around a worship of God alone.  Jesus broke the Israelites out of their wooden and heartless following of the laws of Moses and taught them to change their hearts and love the way God loves.  We need that message just as much today since we live in a very broken world, and lots of people are pointing out those issues and trying to tackle them, but these social movements will not bring ultimate peace, they may improve some things, but they can also be deeply flawed and do not have an emphasis on truth that God values and we should value as well.

If we wish to remain in a peaceful and stable society, then we need to put truth first and be quick to listen and slow to judge.  We need to learn to see people the way God sees them and humbly submit ourselves to his judgement and not worry about how the world will judge us.  

Thank you for reading along with me this week.  I hope that these scriptures spoke to you and I hope you will stick around for the rest of the year in this series, because if you do there is a ton you can learn.

Chris Mattison

Links to today’s Bible reading – Exodus 23-24 and Mark 9

What’s in it for Me?

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 20 and Genesis 39-40

Today we have more jostling and trying to get to the front of the line, despite what Jesus just taught about the proper order – keep God first, then others before yourself. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. One of the last verses from yesterday’s Matthew 19 was Peter asking, “What then will there be for us?” (19:27b NIV) In today’s reading of Matthew 20, James’ and John’s mother will ask if her two sons can sit at Jesus’ right and left when Jesus sits on his throne. What’s in it for me (and my kids)? How can I be first, best, greatest?

Jesus’ reply isn’t what they were looking for. First, in continuing his answer to Peter, he tells the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The workers hired first worked all day and worked well and got what they had worked for – one denarius (a fair wage for a day of work). It would have been fine, except that, all day long the boss kept hiring others to come get the job done – some ended up just working the last hour. And, they too, received one full denarius! Where was the extra reward and recognition and pat on the back for being first, for putting more time on the clock, for working harder than any of the others? It wasn’t fair. But the boss didn’t say, “Thank you so much for pointing that injustice out to me, here’s your bonus.” Instead, he said it was time for an attitude check. You did your work well, but your selfish complaining attitude isn’t pretty. Stop questioning the master’s generosity. Stop comparing your work load and pay rate with your neighbors’. God’s got this – He’s a good boss. Your job isn’t to be boss, your job is to keep working in the vineyard – with a good attitude – not selfish and resentful but thankful and joyful for the grace and mercy the boss shows to others.

For the 3rd time in the book of Matthew – Jesus prepares his disciples for his upcoming death – this time revealing it will be through crucifixion. But they don’t get it. They still expect his kingdom to start soon in a grand and glorious manner.

The mother of James and John is planning ahead. She knows Jesus has a very special relationship with her boys so it’s time to secure their place at his side – how about the thrones on the right and left of Jesus when he becomes king? The boys agree they are ready for these places of honor. Jesus said if you are trying to be great – if you are trying to be first – SERVE OTHERS. Give up your life, your time, your pride and selfishness. Put the needs of others before your own. Just as Jesus did – over and over again – with his life and then with his death.

The world doesn’t need more Christians trying to be first and greatest. The world needs more Christian servants joyfully working in the vineyard and caring for the needs of others.

-Marcia Railton

Jesus’ Final Teachings

John 14-17

The contents of John 14 to 17 are Jesus’ final words to his disciples (except Judas) and his prayer to his Father moments before he is handed over. The one dominating overarching theme in these four chapters is the absolute unchallenged supremacy, beauty, and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus states the following:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” 

– John 14.6

“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” – John 14.14

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” – John 14.27

“Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love” – John 15.9

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take heart I have overcome the world” – John 16.33

“…these things I speak in the world so that they may have my joy made full in themselves” – John 17.13

What Jesus prays for in chapter 17 is what he taught and instructed in chapter 14 to 16. Jesus prayed for each believer to have unity with him, to be filled with his joy, to be sanctified in the truth. The life we have in Jesus is so beautiful and precious. Jesus Christ is the living water. Let us drink from him deeply and without reservation. Let us be always dependent and in communion with Jesus. Abiding and communing with Christ is the key to realizing the fullness of joy, peace, and love. In addition, we see the work of the Father, the work of the son, and the work of the spirit active in lives of those whom God has saved. The Father has chosen us, the son has died for us and bought our salvation, and the spirit makes us alive.

To God be the glory in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit!

-Jacob Rohrer

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 14-17

Make sure you come back tomorrow when we will read Matthew 27 & Mark 15. We are getting to the end of the gospels.

An Impossible Question

Luke 20-21

luke 20

Tuesday, May 23

Throughout chapter 20, the Pharisees attempt to undermine Jesus with trick questions, and starting at verse 20, they decide that they’re going to try to pose him another unanswerable question. They comment on his lack of favoritism in his teaching, although it seems to imply that they are cynically calling him out on a lack of respect for authority. Following up on this, they ask him another question meant to undermine his teachings.

They ask Jesus whether or not they have an obligation to pay taxes to Caesar. This has an important historical context behind it, because there had been several Jewish revolutions against Roman occupation that had turned out terribly for the Jews. The Pharisees, who were cooperating with the Roman governors much to the expense of their own people, were essentially asking Jesus an impossible question.

Consider this, if Jesus had answered that they were obligated to pay taxes, then he would be implying the relevancy of both Roman authority and the authority of Pharisees and would be undermining the tenacity of his own teachings. However, if he had spoken against the need to pay taxes to Caesar, he would be openly defying Roman authority and so would be putting himself on grounds of treason, and would have been executed as quickly as it could be reported to the Romans. As it was, Jesus’ answer was simple and avoidant, while also proving a much larger point to them. His response is to take a look at whose face is on the coin, which was Caesar’s face. He then tells the Pharisees to give to Cesar what is “his” and give to God what is “God’s”.

Not only did Jesus successfully navigate around their impossible question, but he also gives a stronger context for understanding his teachings as well. This seems to tie into what Jesus meant when he said that his purpose was not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. According to Jesus, the call that we have is a moral one beyond the law or social convention. Neither is he advocating that law is unnecessary. Rather, he invites us to be pragmatic about the circumstances, but understand that the truth he teaches is a way of finding meaning in our lives, rather than how to simply conduct it.

-Dillon Driskill

 

(Photo Credit: https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=and-he-said-unto-them-render-therefore-unto-caesar-the-things-which-be-caesars-and-unto-god-the-things-which-be-gods)

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