November 1, 2017 Bible Study — Become a Leader By Serving Others

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 21-22.

    I really like Luke’s Gospel, but I find writing this blog on it difficult because of the similarities between it and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. So that it has only been a few weeks since I wrote on the similar passage from those Gospels, which leaves me feeling like I have already covered the message. Despite that, I think it worth looking again at Jesus’ teaching on what it takes to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus told the Twelve that one of them would betray Him, they began discussing how one of them could do that. This discussion morphed into an argument over who would be the greatest. It seems to me that this argument centered around which of them would have the greatest authority to tell others what to do. In the process of describing the contrast between the way the world views authority and leadership and the way God views them Jesus points out that despotic rulers in this world often call themselves “friends of the people” despite badly oppressing them. I believe that Jesus was making the point that even the rulers of this world recognize the eternal truth He was about to repeat, even while they refuse to follow it. Those who wish to be great must serve others. If you want to be a true leader of people find out what those you wish to lead need to be successful and provide them with it.

    A few days ago I came across a column which included some interesting thoughts on what Jesus meant in Luke 22:35-38. I have always struggled with what Jesus was saying when He told His disciples that if they should buy a sword if they did not have one. What made that confusing was that, when the disciples said they had two swords, Jesus said that was enough. The writer I read pointed out that Jesus followed up the instruction to buy a sword with the comment that He was going to be counted among the rebels. How could Jesus be a rebel leader if His followers were not armed? In that context, when Jesus responded that two swords were enough He was saying that they had missed the point; He could not lead a rebellion against Rome with twelve followers who only had two swords among them. He had no intent to set up the Kingdom of God by force of arms.

October 31, 2017 Bible Study — Give To God What Is God’s

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 19-20.

    I never before noticed that in Luke’s account of the story of the servants given money to invest on their master’s behalf all of the servants started with the same amount. The point is still much the same. However, this story focuses much more on what we do with the opportunities which God gives us and less on how gifted we were in the first place. The lesson from this story is very clear. The more we do with the gifts and opportunities which God gives us, the more we will have to do it with. If you are a gifted athlete and you work at your athleticism, you will become an even more gifted athlete. If you have opportunities to help those in need and you work hard to help them, you will have more opportunities to help those in need. Take the opportunities and gifts which you receive and make the most of them. When you do so, you will find yourself with even more opportunities and gifts.

    When the religious leaders asked Jesus by what authority He took the actions He took, it was an attempt to trap Him into saying something they could use to bring charges against Him. It was an attempt to get Jesus to say something which could be interpreted as a challenge to the authority of Rome. However, Jesus turned it back on them by asking them to either reject or support the ministry of John the Baptist. They were unwilling to do either because they had failed to do follow John’s teachings but to deny that John had divine inspiration would diminish them in the eyes of the crowd. However, they saw the trap Jesus had laid for them and tried to turn it on Him with their question about paying taxes to Caesar. Once again Jesus was able to turn their question back on them. They thought that they had trapped Jesus between declaring rebellion against Rome, by rejecting Rome’s power to tax, or angering the crowd, by supporting Rome’s authority to tax.
    In both of these cases, Jesus refused to allow His opponents to frame the debate. Instead, He framed the debate on other issues. In the first question, by asking them the basis for John’s authority, He made the question about what made someone or something an authority. In the second question, on the issue of taxation, He changed the question to a question of where your loyalty lies. There are many intricacies to Jesus answer, but the most basic understanding would not have been missed by anyone present. The coins had Caesar’s image on them. Everyone present would have been aware that in Genesis it declared that each and every one of us has God’s image on useach and every one of us has God’s image on us.

October 30, 2017 Bible Study — Temptation and Forgiveness

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 17-18.

    This is another passage packed with teachings to which we would do well to pay close heed. The first bit is a series of passages about exercising and increasing our faith. Jesus warns us that we will be tempted, but that we must strive to avoid being the source of temptation. Encouraging, both passively and actively, others to sin is just as much of a sin as any other. Immediately following that, both in the passage and as a matter of doctrine, is the teaching that when we see a fellow believer sin we should confront them about that sin (Matthew 18 expounds more thoroughly on this). The key element here is that, if our fellow believer repents we must forgive them, even if they continue to do so. One might question whether they truly repent id they continue to repeat the sin, but that is an issue for another day. The important thing here is that we are to forgive time after time. The final piece in this paragraph is Jesus’ teaching on how to grow our faith. Reading this instruction runs counter to our modern culture. If we want to grow our faith we need to do the things which we know God wants us to do, one after another, with no expectation of positive feedback. When we receive recognition for doing God’s will we should view it as a bonus, not as our due. The way to build our faith is to do as I noted yesterday, consider doing God’s will to be our reward for doing God’s will.

    There are three more things in this passage that I want to touch on. These are not as closely tied together as the things from my previous paragraph. Jesus tells us two important facts about His return and the end of the world. His return will not be announced in advance. We may, and should, be expecting it, but there will be no warning. On the other hand, when it happens it will not be a secret. Everyone will know. You will not need to wait for the announcement on the news, or over Twitter, or some other media. When Jesus returns everyone will see it for themselves.
    I originally intended to put all three of these teachings in one paragraph, but realized I could not tie the second two into the previous one. Jesus teaches that we should be persistent in our prayer. It occurs to me to link that persistence with the teaching which immediately followed, humbly acknowledging our sin to God. We should continue to present our requests to God until He has satisfied them. However, as we do so we should also acknowledge ourselves as sinners, undeserving of God’s great love.

October 29, 2017 Bible Study — Do What Is Right For the Joy of Doing What Is Right

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 14-16.

    As I was reading the passage today and came to the parable of the great feast I saw it in a completely different light. Here in Luke this parable immediately follows Jesus’ teaching about throwing parties for those who cannot throw parties to invite you to in return. I think that because it is similar to the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew we tend to read some of the meaning of that parable into this one. In light of the previous few verses, and other teachings of Jesus presented by Luke, it strikes me that we receive our invitations to God’s great feast when we have opportunities to help others. How often do we pass on the opportunity to help those in need because we are busy with something else? More importantly, do we recognize the blessings we are foregoing when we do so? One of the things we often miss when we read the Gospels is that central to Jesus’ teachings was the idea that the reward for doing good was doing good. Or to phrase that another way, doing good is a blessing in and of itself.

    I am struggling to get my mind around all of my thoughts concerning the impetus we should have to bring a lost soul to God. The message contained here is why I am so hesitant to suggest that missionaries who spend years in a location with few, if any, converts should pull up stakes and find a new location for their mission. We should expend whatever resources necessary to bring to God those lost souls we encounter, and we should make life choices so that we encounter lost souls. However, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus Jesus points out that there is a limit to what tactics are worth using. When the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, Jesus tells us that Abraham replied that if they did not believe Moses and the prophets they would not believe someone returning from the dead. The lesson here is that those who demand proof of God’s existence will not accept any proof with which they are presented. Those who do not want to believe will find a reason to not believe.

October 28, 2017 Bible Study — Working For What Really Matters

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 12-13.

    Jesus’ teachings in today’s passage are all closely related to each other. I may not touch on all of them, but I believe the theme is there on those as well. The passage starts out by warning us to be more afraid of God, who destroy our very selves, than of men, who, no matter how powerful, can only destroy our bodies. Yet, from there He points out that we are valuable to God, who cares about the lives of mere sparrows (which can be bought in numbers for mere pennies).

I am going to step away from my main theme to say something about blasphemy. It is one thing to deny that some particular person is a person of God, even if that person is Jesus Himself. However, calling good evil, and evil good is another matter entirely. When you start to call that which is clearly evil a good thing you begin moving into territory from which there is no return. I struggle with writing this in a way does not leave room for misinterpretation, but I have seen those who once knew the truth deny it in such a way that it is clear they will never accept it again.

    Having spoken about how much God values each individual one of us, Jesus goes on to tell a parable about a man who chose to expand how much wealth he could store. Jesus uses that parable as a jumping off point to advise us not to worry about how much wealth we have, to not even worry about whether we have enough for our next meal, to pay for a roof over our heads, or clothes to wear. Instead of saving our wealth we should invest it in doing good for others. By doing so we will be saving up heavenly wealth where it cannot be lost or stolen. God will provide for our needs, so we need not worry about how they will be met.

    The parable about the fig tree Jesus tells a short time later fits right in with this theme. God is looking for us to bear the fruit of our faith. In many ways this is an explanation about how to deal with feelings of depression and uselessness. It is God’s desire for everyone to come to Him, but His patience has limits. Our time to serve God will run out eventually. We need to take advantage of the opportunities to do good which present themselves to us because they may be the last that we will have.

October 27, 2017 Bible Study — Contrasting Models Of Outreach

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 10-11.

    This is the only place in the New Testament where we get an idea of the number of people who were following Jesus on a regular basis. Here Jesus chose 72 (or perhaps only 70, some manuscripts have the smaller number) out of a larger group of followers for a special mission. Jesus gave similar instructions previously when He sent out just the Twelve, but He goes into more detail here (or, at least, Luke recounts more detail here). I think we should take note that Jesus instructed the 72 not to spend time in towns which did not welcome them. This teaching is definitely one we should keep in mind when missionaries go forth to preach the Gospel, but I am hesitant to make too much of it because of the stories I have heard and read of missionaries who spent years with little to show for it, where suddenly something changed and the floodgates opened and people began to accept the message.

    The story of the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ teaching on prayer are important to read, but I am going to finish up by talking about Jesus’ criticism of religious teachers. We should interpret this passage in light of the story of the Good Samaritan a few verse earlier. For that matter, we should interpret this in light of the other things in between that story and this account. There are at least two aspects of Jesu’s condemnation of the religious teachers. First He condemns them for showy acts of righteousness performed for public acclaim. They did things which could be measured and which would cause others to be praise them and hold them up for acclamation. On the other hand, they could not be bothered with actions which, while they would help others, would not benefit themselves. The second aspect concerned identifying sins without taking any action to help the individual overcome the sin. An example I would give of this sort of behavior would be the anti-prostitution crusader who spends lots of time in front of the camera declaring how terrible prostitution is without spending any time helping those who practice prostitution find another way to support themselves.

October 26, 2017 Bible Study — Jesus and John the Baptist

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 9.

    We often view the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist as being very different. This is largely based on Jesus’ contrast between Himself and John where He said that John was criticized for abstaining from things and He was criticized for partaking in those same things. However, here Luke tells us that many people thought of Jesus’ ministry as an extension of John’s, to the point where some thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. This tells us that while Jesus may have been stylistically very different from John, their message and their actions must have been very similar. It strikes me that the reason Matthew, Mark, and Luke all made note of Herod’s confusion was in part to communicate to us that some of us will be called to lives of self-denial and sacrifice of physical comfort while others will be called to befriend sinners and illustrate to them that God intends for us to experience joy. Even those called to asceticism are intended to experience joy.

    Luke revisited the confusion which people had about Jesus just a few verses later, after recounting the feeding of the 5,000. After asking the disciples who the crowds thought He was, and receiving their answers, Jesus asked them who they thought He was. Peter responded for the disciples by saying that He was the Messiah. Immediately after this Jesus began teaching them that He would be put to death and then be resurrected. As part of that Jesus also taught the disciples that they needed to be prepared to sacrifice themselves to be His followers. It seems to me that Jesus started to teach about His death and the suffering His disciples would face at this point in order to begin to change His disciples expectations about what the Messiah would bring. An important point Jesus makes here is that getting every possible material good will do us no good if we lose ourselves in the process. An author I enjoy reading placed a paraphrase of this in the mouth of one of her characters, “It does you no good to gain your heart’s desire if it costs your heart to get it.” The character in question made this statement when they surrendered the opportunity to gain something they had spent their whole life working towards when they realized the next step in their plan to get it involved compromising their principles.

October 25, 2017 Bible Study — What Type Of Soil Am I?

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 8.

    We often think of Jesus as traveling with just the Twelve (and perhaps a few more men based on the qualifications Peter lists for choosing a replacement for Judas). However, this passage tells us that in addition to the Twelve there was a group of women who traveled with Jesus throughout His ministry. Luke reports that these were women whom Jesus had cured of disease or evil spirits. The way Luke describes them, these women received much the same teaching which the Twelve Apostles received.

    Often times when I read the parable of the sower, I fear that I fall into the category of the seeds that fell in among the thorns. I know that I easily get preoccupied with the concerns of this world, paying my bills, satisfying my wants. However, today I was struck by the contrast between the seed which fell on the rocky soil and the seed which fell on the good soil. I am not sure why I pictured it this way, but I pictured the seed on the rocky soil quickly sprouting and growing a large, impressive flower, only to wilt before the flower turned to seed. While I pictured the seed on the good soil growing slowly, producing lots of small, inconspicuous flowers, but producing a few seeds, then flowering again and producing more. That is not the image which Jesus’ listeners would have had, but I think it is true to the intentions of the parable. Those whose faith is showy and splashy do not necessarily produce any results, while those whose faith is consistent and steady will change the world around them in ways that it may take years to observe. I fear that I am one of those whose faith is choked out by the cares of this world, but I pray that I am one of the “good-hearted” people who cling to God’s word to patiently produce results.

October 24, 2017 Bible Study — Identifying Trees, and People, By Their Fruit

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 6-7.

    Luke’s take on the Beatitudes is slightly different from Matthew’s. The two do not conflict, but they do have a different emphasis. The Beatitudes in Matthew focus more on what you should do, while those in Luke focus more on your attitude toward the circumstances you find yourself in. I like comparing verses 22-23 with verse 25. This runs exactly counter to our human tendency. We want to be loved and exalted by the “beautiful people” and by the crowds, but Jesus warns us that they do not like the people who are righteous and tell them God’s truth. The crowds and the “beautiful people” love those who lie to them and tell them what they want to hear. If you are popular and well-liked you need to look closely at what you are doing and what you are saying because being popular and well-liked may be a sign that you are not doing or saying what God wants you to do or say.

    Of course, there is a qualifier on this. Jesus was popular for a while and sometimes people will dislike you because you are a bad person. Fortunately, a few verses later, Jesus gives us some guidance on how to determine what we are doing. Jesus tells us to focus on fixing what is wrong with ourselves before worrying about what is wrong with someone else. He even tells us how to know if we have gotten it right. The way to judge ourselves is to judge our actions. If we are a good person, we will do good things. If we are an evil person, we will do evil things. This really works better than it seems at first. We can justify to ourselves doing evil things, but we still usually know that they are evil. And even there, Jesus gives us a tool for recognizing evil acts, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you would not want someone to do something to you, do not do that something to someone else.

October 23, 2017 Bible Study

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Luke 4-5.

    Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is very similar to Matthew’s, but the focus is slightly different. Here the temptation is to gather power for oneself. In the first temptation, Jesus is tempted to use His power to satisfy all of His physical needs and wants. In the second, Jesus is tempted to gain political power by putting Himself into the service of evil. In the third temptation, Jesus is tempted to harness the religious establishment to become famous. Each of them hints at justifications for doing it that way, but, ultimately, they are each about satisfying selfish desires.

    When Jesus spoke at the synagogue in Nazareth, the people were impressed by His words, but expected some kind of special consideration from Him because He grew up in Nazareth. I never quite know what to make of this story because it always seems like Jesus calls the people out before they have done anything to be called out over. However, today I noticed a similarity between what Jesus said in Nazareth to what He said to those who chided Him for feasting with Levi’s friends. In both cases, Jesus points out that you do not conduct outreach among those who are already in. If we only spend our time among those who are already believers, those who do not believe will never hear the message.