Thursday, November 28, 2019

Why Have a Thankful Heart

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB

This is the time of year “giving thanks” causes our hearts to pause, reflect on blessings. Other translations of this Scripture simplify desired spiritual posture: Rejoice more; pray more. Be more thankful. To be joyful and thankful in all circumstances seems counterintuitive while “never stop praying” essential, especially in difficult times. These verses remind us of characteristics that define those who belong to Jesus.

Psalm 100:4 tells us to come into God’s presence with songs of praises, thanksgiving, and blessing. Verse 5 explains why: For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations. The Source of our blessings, our gifts, our peace, our love is the Lord. God’s unchanging goodness and mercy and faithfulness is everlasting. Despite the struggles we find ourselves inside, the questions we cannot answer, the dreams we lose, God remains full of mercy and peace, compassion and love, wisdom and strength, grace and joy! Let’s try harder to be more joy-full, more prayer-full, more thank-full, because God exceeds all our needs. - dho

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 6 (final)

This is the last post on our review of the Gospel of Luke. Unique in many ways, Luke gives enormous details to events that help us better understand the experiences of Jesus. While all the Gospels retell parables, Luke offers 24 parables, more than any other Gospel, and 18 of them are unique to Luke’s writing. We understand a parable to be a simple story that illustrates a moral or spiritual lesson. In Luke’s account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, we see a “living parable” which is to act out at lesson as a teaching tool. 

Besides parables, Luke recounts events such as the Last Supper. The Jewish people celebrate Passover every year, to remember God’s redemption in freeing them from Egyptian bondage. Based on Exodus 6:6-7, these are the 4 things they are to remember at their Passover Seder (or meal): I will bring you out; I will deliver you; I will redeem you; I will take you as My people. Passover is also called Feast of the Unleavened Bread. They retell the Exodus story, eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread, and sing songs of praise ending with the Great Hallel (or Hallelujah). The 4th cup of wine is then consumed after the Great Hallel, representing grace as “fruit of the vine”. In the New Testament, the Last Supper is, also, a Passover meal, but Jesus offers only 3 cups of wine, ending with singing but no 4th cup, because through crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus becomes the 4th cup - Grace. Today we still celebrate the Lord’s Supper, taking the bread and the cup to remember Jesus, a Living Sacrifice for all.

It is good to refresh our memories of Paul’s Missionary Journeys and ultimate arrest and return to Rome. During his second journey, Paul meets Luke. From then on, Luke travels with Paul, interviewing many people, some eye-witnesses of Jesus, as he writes the Gospel account. Luke also writes Acts. This is a fascinating approach to study Luke, looking for whom he must have interacted and interviewed. The “Luke-only” inclusions give us insight into people and places in the life of Jesus on earth, to include His arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

In conclusion, there is much more we could study and explore in the Gospel of Luke. An abundance of details, special circumstances, numerous points of contact, and historical and political influences make Luke’s retelling of Jesus’s story an outstanding historical account. One of my favorite events that only Luke recounts is the “Road to Emmaus” (Luke 24:13-35). These two discouraged followers of Jesus head home, assuming the arrest and crucifixion and burial of Jesus is the end. Unrecognized, Jesus walks with them, teaching them many things about the meaning of the Scriptures. They invite Jesus to stay for a meal and in the breaking of bread “their eyes were opened and they recognized” Jesus. 

What happens next is captured as Luke writes, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen...” Every day I hope to find my heart burning in the Presence of God and pray that I am willing to tell others the Lord is risen. To find passion in the Holy Spirit fuels our telling the story of Jesus and defines Believers! On the cross, Jesus becomes “broken bread and poured out wine”, and His resurrection becomes our Grace. If Luke could interview you, what would your story about Jesus be?- dho

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 5

One of the most well-known parables of Jesus, The Good Samaritan, is found in Luke 10:25-37. One commentary calls it one of the best “illustrations of human kindness”. Our familiarity with the story rarely overlooks its theme that all people are our neighbors; yet, we may not see story itself as a revelation of human weakness and frailty, of fear and prejudice. Luke’s retelling of this parable of Jesus captures the essence of servanthood, of showing love to others. 

Before we start the story, let’s look at the geography. The rough, steep, and dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho, known as The Way of Blood, is historically known to be a place of robbers. Jericho, the City of Palms, is located some 17 miles from Jerusalem with a decline in elevation of about1500 feet. Rebuilt by Herod the Great, Jericho is a wealthy city where many well-to-do Priests and Levites live. They frequently travel from Jericho to Jerusalem to attend to their duties in the Temple. So, it would not be uncommon to find robbers or Priests or Levites or a myriad of travelers along this road.

Our story recounts a man who is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a Priest and a Levite going down from Jerusalem pass by him, but neither offer any assistance. A Samaritan, who is on a journey, sees the hurt man, has compassion on him, and comes to his rescue. We know from Luke that this Samaritan cleans and bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn, giving the innkeeper enough money to care for him for “24 nights”, promising to check on him when he returns. This Good Samaritan even tells the innkeeper he will cover any other expenses that may occur. This “mercy” shown to the unknown hurt man is called “hesed” in Hebrew, meaning “beyond what is expected.”

The characters in this story reveal their hearts. The Priest probably uses the law as a reason not to help, for it the man is dead, the Priest would be considered unclean if he touches him and then would be unable to perform his duties in the Temple. Scripture, however, tells us the Priest is heading home, his duties complete. The same may be said for the Levite, who may have completed his duties, or perhaps he just didn’t want to get involved. We are often like both of these characters, using excuses or ignoring the need or just too focused on our own busyness to get involved. Maybe they are afraid that what had happened to the hurt man might happen to them. Fear frequently interferes with doing what Jesus desires from us.

Why does Jesus use a Samaritan as an example of someone willing to see the hurt man, to have compassion and provide for his needs? Hostility between the Samaritans and Jewish people had long been known, and during Jesus’ day, it is especially bitter. Considered a “mixed-race” of people, Samaritans are known for worshipping idols and having different beliefs about God. Yet, this is the unlikely person who stops to help, who takes the risk. Jesus is teaching us still today to see the broken, to look beyond our own differences.

As for the hurt man, we may wonder about him, too. Who is he? Where is he going? Could he be another Priest or Levite heading home? Is he a good man who encounters robbers, or is he just another robber, weaker than his attacker? Jesus does not give us any information about the hurt man probably for the very reason He tells the story. The one who shows mercy toward the hurt man, this person demonstrates loving our neighbors. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” - dho

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 4

The most familiar story in the Bible is found in Luke 2, the birth of Christ. Each year at Christmas, it is read in services and homes throughout the world. Luke records this historical event in Luke 2:1-38, giving us specific details outlining the birth and dedication of Jesus. Because Luke is not an eyewitness of these happenings, he gathers information from others, likely Mary in particular. It is Mary who ponders these things in her heart, who will one day stand at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

At the time of Jesus birth, Caesar Augustus is the Emperor of Rome and political chaos is redefining Rome from a republic to an empire. No longer is the power of Rome decided by the people, this new empire is governed by a “single, supreme authority”. Herod the Great, appointed by Rome, is king of Judea and known for murdering both his brothers-in-law and his wife and mother. Herod's reign is full of slaughter. Christianity’s beginnings will always be woven into the culture and history of Rome during the first century. Luke is the only Gospel writer who relates his narrative to dates of world history.

With such familiarity, it can be difficult to keep a fresh view of the account we call the “Christmas story”. This year, in a few short weeks, the season of Advent will be here. Take the time this year to look at these words again, to imagine the culture and scenes, to visualize the manger and Mary, the angels and the shepherds, and the tiny baby born Luke records. Keep the beginnings of Jesus life on earth full of hope and infinite possibility. After all, we know the ending of this story! - dho