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Archive for Luke


Introduction to Acts (part 2)

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Those who are fans of military movies know that most every depiction includes a briefing by a commanding officer prior to sending his troops into battle. That is the motif of the opening verses of the Book of Acts. With that being said, I believe it’s helpful to see these verses as more than an introduction. The first eleven verses of chapter one constitutes the briefing of Jesus to the disciples for the mission at hand.

The first aspect of any good briefing is to clearly state the objective. In this case, the objective was to implement the Kingdom of God. One might expect Jesus to speak of the formation of the church, but the more I study the Bible the less convinced I am that the end game of the mission is to be the institutional church. The church seems to be a part of a bigger movement, that is the encroachment of God’s righteous rule and reign on earth. It has been said that “the church doesn’t have a mission, the mission has a church.” I think that’s a significant truth to grasp, especially in this era in history as we witness the transition from attractional church models to more missional models.

In the next part of the briefing, the disciples are informed of the resources they have at their disposal for achieving the objective. There are two in the text: the risen Lord and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The passage tells us that for 40 days Jesus appeared to the disciples and gave them undeniable evidence of the resurrection. To summarize, the disciples who were gathered on Ascension Day were absolutely convinced that Jesus was alive. The resurrection was a conviction they shared that encouraged them to march forward, even when it was difficult to do so.

I have a friend who teaches American History. He’s a Civil War buff and is an avid reader of biographies on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a historical figure whose word and actions are inspirational today. But he’s dead. You can visit his tomb in Washington, D.C. Jesus was also a historical figure who lived in history. His words and deeds are unparalleled and exemplary. As 21st century Christians we get that. We study his life, observe his actions, and heed his words. But Jesus is not dead. He’s alive. Perhaps it’s time for Christians to experience a renewal of the conviction that Jesus is alive today.

The second resource the disciples had was the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them that John had baptized with water, but they would soon be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Granted, a lot of ink has been spilled on the ramifications of this statement. Denominations and churches have emerged from emphasis on this statement. While the disciples may not have fully understood the implications, they certainly would have gathered that somehow they would be fully immersed in the Holy Spirit and this immersion would empower them to perform the mission at hand.

Tomorrow I’ll follow up with the personnel for the mission, the strategy for the mission, and the time frame to complete the mission.

Categories : Acts, Luke, Missional Church
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An Introduction to Acts

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This weekend I began a verse by verse series based on the Book of Acts. Those of us who grew up in church may recall that the King James Version titled the book The Acts of the Apostles. I think that it would have been more appropriate to have titled the book The Acts of the Holy Spirit, or The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.

Acts was written by a physician named Luke, and functionally serves as volume 2 of a two volume work that completes his gospel account. Scholars believe that the two books, Luke and Acts, were divided as such because the scrolls upon which they would have originally been penned were only about 35 feet long. Luke and Acts are the second and third longest books in the New Testament and together account for approximately one fourth of its material.

The book spans the first thirty years following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you take the most generally accepted date of Jesus’ birth to be 4 BC, that would place the events of Acts around 30 AD to 60 AD.

We don’t know much about the occasion of writing, other than Luke clearly addresses both volumes to a person named Theophilus. Theophilus means “one who is loved by God.” Other than that, we really don’t know much about him or how he functions in relationship to the larger picture. At the turn of the century, some scholars began to suggest that Luke-Acts was a trial brief prepared by Luke for the Apostle Paul’s defense in Rome. While that is a romantic notion, the truth is that we really don’t know. We can be certain, however, of Luke’s meticulous writing style and attention to detail. His compilation has served the Christian community for two millennia, providing a wonderful source of information regarding dates, places and events.

Categories : Acts, Luke, Missional Church
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How Much is Enough?

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“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, NLT)

Jesus sought to lift the burdens of people. He spoke repeatedly and pointedly about one of the greatest burdens they bore, the burden of money. In Jesus’ day, people were facing four challenges related to money and wealth.

First, people were broken by the effort to obtain wealth. They were vulnerable to the belief that it was their own responsibility to provide for their own needs. (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10) Second, people were crushed by their failure to obtain wealth. In the first century, wealth was believed to be the clearest indicator of God’s favor. Poverty, on the other hand, was believed to be the clearest indicator of God’s disapproval of their lives. Next, people were burdened by maintaining and keeping the wealth they had already obtained. In Matthew 13:22, Jesus refers to the “deceitfulness of riches.” The reason riches are deceitful is because riches tempt us to trust them. Finally, people were weighted down trying to make sure their futures were secure.

In many ways we are no different today. One of the resources I used for the Enough series was a book by Thom and Art Rainer titled Simple Life. According to their research, team Rainer published these frank, albeit not surprising statistics.

50% of Americans do not have enough income to pay their monthly bills.
46% of Americans believe they have too much credit card debt.
72% of Americans do not have at least 6 months living expenses saved in case of emergency.
51% of Americans believe they are underinsured.
73% of Americans do not believe they can retire comfortably.
60% of Americans say that finances are the major stress point in their families.

Tomorrow I’ll share what Jesus had to say about money from the Sermon on the Mount.

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The Road to Emmaus (part 3)

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Upon arriving at Emmaus, the travelers offered Jesus food and lodging, a typical Jewish gesture. Jesus accepted the invitation, and they sat down to eat. It was at this moment that Jesus’ identity was disclosed. It is not clear why Jesus was given the task of pronouncing the blessing and breaking the bread. That job usually belonged to the host of the meal. Nonetheless, during the breaking of break their eyes were opened and Jesus vanished from their presence.

It is unclear as to how this disclosure happened. Perhaps it was in the way that Jesus prayed. It was customary for the bread to be broken as the prayer of thanksgiving was offered, so I suppose it’s possible that as Jesus broke the bread and offered it to the couple that the nail prints in his hands were revealed. However it happened, there was an instant recognition of Christ.

Any revelation of Jesus is bound to be life changing. His revelation brings transformation. I see at least three ways Jesus’ self-disclosure changed this couple’s lives.

First, they moved from doubt to faith. “They said to each other, ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32, NLT) As Jesus spoke the Scriptures to them, faith began to well up within their hearts.

Then, they moved from disappointment to hope. “And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:33, NLT) Even though night travel was dangerous and to be avoided, this couple left their home and returned to Jerusalem.

Finally, they moved from private conversation to public witness. “There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, ‘The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.’ Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.” (Luke 24:33-35, NLT) The conversation they shared among themselves suddenly became a public witness. They had good news and were compelled to share it.

It was the same day, the same road, and the same town. But they were changed, all because they had seen the risen Christ.

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Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43, NLT)

When we lived in Arkansas, Lisa and I were invited to a dinner party to honor the 40th birthday of a friend. His wife did an immaculate job of decorating and preparing for the group that gathered. The table was set, complete with name cards that assigned seats to each dinner guest. Except me. It was a funny oversight, but at the same time, a bit awkward. Have you ever been forgotten? Have you ever felt that God has forgotten you?

Sometimes we feel forgotten by God, especially when our fail proof systems hit a glitch. Any number of life’s challenges…bills, kids, marriage, employment, health…can cause us to wonder if God’s really paying attention to us. If you’ve ever felt that way, then the second saying Jesus spoke from the cross is for you.

Jesus’ words are spoken to one who is simply called a “thief.” To refer to him as a thief is a bit understated. He was more than one who stole stuff. He was a professional criminal and an insurrectionist, an enemy of the Roman Empire. Many would have labeled him as a “bad person.” He was deserving of death even by his own admission.

It’s fascinating that the thief appealed to Jesus’ memory. “Remember me…” I must confess that it’s a bold request, given that Jesus probably had a lot on his mind already. Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Or, “I will not forget you.”

In our pain and adversity, we echo that same request… “Remember me…” and he does.


Mission Ahead: Empower!

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Last weekend I concluded the Mission Ahead series by making some observations from Luke 10 concerning how Jesus empowered his disciples for mission. Luke alone reports the sending of this large group numbering 72 people. Jesus had previously sent the 12 on a similar mission with similar instructions. Now the group is expanded beyond the 12. It’s encouraging to learn that the mission is not for a select few. If we assume that the 72 does not include the 12 apostles, we can easily calculate that for every “rock star” there were 6 who went in complete and total anonymity. All that we know about the 72 is that they obeyed the call to go.

In what ways did Jesus empower them 2,000 years ago? In what ways does Jesus empower us today?

1. He Gives Abundant Opportunity (Luke 10:1-2)
A recent USA Today article revealed that 14% of our nation considers itself to have no religious preference. The Pew Forum has also projected that in the next 20 years that statistic will increase to 20%. Today’s reality is that if every church of every faith were filled to capacity in every service, there would still be more out of church than in church. We live in a day of abundant opportunity.
How big is the opportunity? The opportunity is so big that before we take our first step on mission we are to pray for more help! Don’t resent the new churches that are being planted. Don’t resent the growth of the churches in the community. According to Jesus and verified by statistics, there’s plenty of opportunity to go around!
2. He Resources the Mission (Luke 10:3-7)
In his pre-mission pep talk, Jesus gave several instructions. He told the disciples to go in pairs, to travel light, and to anticipate indigenous help on the ground. The principle is simple: We must depend on God to resource our mission. God has designed the mission to fail unless he himself comes through!
3. He Provides the Message (Luke 10:8-9)
The missional message of the Kingdom is the whole gospel. This included verbally preaching the kingdom and healing the sick. We share the whole gospel that touches the spiritual and the physical needs of people.
4. He Gives us Perspective on the Mission (Luke 10:10-16)
We are to leave the results to God. Any rejection is a rejection of the kingdom and a rejection of God.
We are not responsible for responses. We are responsible for going. God deals with the responses to his message.
5. He fills us with Joy (Luke 10:17-20)
As the disciples returned from their mission they were filled with joy. Whenever God is glorified the people are filled with joy. Joy is the by-product of God’s glory.

Categories : Luke, Missional Church
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The Present Kingdom of God, Part 1

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The most important teaching of Jesus concerned the Kingdom of God. Anything that Jesus said about life in the gospel record is either directly or indirectly in reference to the Kingdom of God. Jesus first and ongoing message was Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 4:17). According to Jesus, the pursuit of the Kingdom of God is the priority of your life. Matthew 6:33 is not just lyrical content to an old song from youth camp. In the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, Seek first the kingdom… (Matthew 6:33). If the Kingdom is to be our priority, we need to understand what it’s all about.

It’s helpful to understand the Kingdom in two respects. First, the Kingdom is rule. It is the authority to rule, the sovereign right of a king to reign. Thus, the kingdom of God is his kingship, his rule, his authority.

The Kingdom is also a realm in which God’s reign is experienced. The Kingdom of God is the extent and range of his effective will. It is the place where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the actions of his will are the organizing principles of his kingdom. Everything that obeys those principles by nature or by choice is within his kingdom.

In Luke 17:20a, the Pharasees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” In this encounter, the Pharisees were inquiring about a future coming which would be obvious and unmistakable. They were seeking a geo-political kingdom that would resemble Israel and the throne of David from old. They were asking about the Kingdom of God, but in their minds they were thinking of the restoration of the Kingdom of David. They were looking for the wrong thing in the wrong way.

Jesus responded to their question in Luke 17:20b-21, The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you. Jesus said that the Kingdom they were seeking was already “among you.” Literally the text reads, it’s “in your midst.” (This is a better translation that the KJV or the NIV, which reads “within you.”) The Pharisees were looking for a Kingdom that was already standing before them. But they couldn’t see it and they didn’t get it.

The kingdom has come – the reign of Jesus is here. His presence represents its arrival. The Kingdom is an inward reality, not an outward institution. It cannot be brought about by human effort or initiative. The kingdom is active and operable even without our acknowledgement.

Therefore, when we pray Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are not asking for something future to take place. We are asking for our eyes to be opened to the reality of the reign of God right now.

Don’t get me wrong, the Kingdom of God has both present and future dimensions. There is certainly a tension between now and not yet. But my concern is that we’re written off too much of now into the not yet of the future kingdom and that like the Pharisees, are missing something under our very noses.

Next time I’ll unpack a little more about the nature of the present Kingdom.

Categories : Kingdom of God, Luke
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