Luke 4: Quick Fix?

Ready to make the most of 2015? Notice the intruiging options we’re offered in Luke chapter 4:

As Jesus prepares for his public life, he slips away from daily distractions to gain a greater sense of God’s direction. Sensing his vulnerability, the Devil approaches Jesus with the bargain of a lifetime: “You can have it all today, Jesus. Why not enjoy immediate pleasure, quick success and instantaneous popularity while you can? A sweet little short cut is certainly your best option.”

Yet Jesus doesn’t budge. Opting away from the short cut, he instead chooses the tougher trajectory: to endure through a long series of personal misunderstandings, professional ridicule, and public disappointments . . . all culminating in an untimely death at the hands corrupt politicians. In hindsight, it might seem that Jesus missed out on a devilishly good option way back in the desert.

Jesus’ choice offers us a somewhat surprising perspective: God’s just fine spending time in the slow lane. During his short life span, Jesus endured a lifetime’s worth of setbacks, scorn, and suffering. Led by God’s Spirit, Jesus’ meanderings eventually produce its desired result: to develop a tenacious band of followers who held an unshakeable attachment to Jesus and his way of life.

The little devil on our shoulder whispers the same offer: “Make your future happen today. Why wait around for God’s plodding pace when you can have it now?” It’s standard fare for most every television ad, self-help book and personal success journal. “Seize the day and personal fulfillment is waiting for you just around the corner.”

Yet watch the lives of the great saints and you’ll notice none of them zip their way to quick success. They’re much more likely to zigzag through unpredictable circumstances that eventually produce a surprising devotion to God. Spiritual strength isn’t developed by instant success, or even a perfectly articulated list of New Year’s resolutions, but rather through an often strange series of struggles that slowly create remarkable hope and enduring joy.

So let’s jump in now and make the most of 2015—by choosing to meander through the year ahead at God’s plodding little pace.

enCompass Church

Weekly Scripture readings (Blue links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway)

On January 4th, we’re starting a new Sunday morning message series: “Jesus on Juniper Court: Finding Your Soul in the Suburbs”. This offers us a good opportunity to use January to work our way through Luke’s account of the life of Jesus. I hope you’ll take the time to follow the next steps of his journey:

  • Luke 2:41-52: Who doesn’t love to witness a little tension between a teenager and his parents? Jesus shows off his feistiness when contending with his mother about the origins of his “real dad”. Relax—Jesus turns out to be a fine young man, but his feisty spirit will most certainly show up in the years yet to come.
  • Luke 3:1-20: Just as a massive offensive lineman opens up a huge hole for the star running back, John the Baptist creates an opening for Jesus’ ministry run. You might always notice how John’s commentary focuses on our calling towards personal generosity and social equity.
  • Luke 3:21-38: Before Jesus offers a single sermon, performs a single miracle or pursues any act of compassion; God the Father openly demonstrates his love, affection and affirmation to his Son. Through Jesus, we can also receive this same love, affection and affirmation from God. Luke also offers us the rare opportunity to see the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) on full display.
  • Luke 4:1-13: Through a three-part defense from Deuteronomy, Jesus defiantly defeats the Devil in the desert. The connection to the Old Testament is clear: The people of Israel failed to obey God during their wilderness wanderings. Jesus isn’t about to make the same mistake. (Hence, we’d love for you to join us for our “Walk thru the Old Testament” event on Saturday, January 24. It’s essential step towards understanding the full meaning of Jesus’ life.)
  • Luke 4:14-30: After a promising start to his personal homecoming, the end result isn’t very pretty. Remember the feistiness that came out during Jesus’ teenage years? It’s back again, in spades. If you try to tame Jesus, he’ll generally make you mad.
  • Luke 4:31-44: Jesus gets things rolling with some well-placed words and some well-timed miracles. Notice it’s only the evil spirits who fully recognize his true identity. Jesus isn’t only a great teacher and skilled healer—he’s also an expert guide into the unseen spiritual world that’s all around us.
  • Luke 5:1-11: To capture your attention and win your admiration, Jesus is willing to use some rather unconventional means. Peter’s responsive openhearted devotion and unbridled enthusiasm inspired others to follow Jesus. His eagerness sets a pretty high standard for the rest of us, too.

Luke 1: “As you wish . . .”

In our modern movie-going era, “The Princes Bride” (1987) is hailed as a contemporary classic. It’s a story inside a story—a grandpa visits his not-so-noticeably ill grandson, who’s skipping school for the day. To fill the time, grandpa reads for him an epic medieval fairy tale, stocked with swashbuckling sword-fights, cliff-hanging adventures and, of course, a magnificent smoochie kiss between the hero and heroin as the movie swells towards it’s conclusion.

A simple three-word quote weaves its way through the entire film. Working tirelessly to express his true love, our film’s hero Wesley repeats, “As you wish” to his sweetheart Princess Buttercup. It’s his not-so-subtle manner of saying “I love you”. The little phrase “As you wish” sets us up for the film’s closing scene: The grandfather finishes the story and prepares to leave, when the boy asks him to read the story again the next day. The grandfather smiles and replies, “As you wish.”

Why bring up the film at Christmas? The movie offers no allusions to the holiday season. While “The Princess Bride” offers solid family entertainment for this holiday break, film recommendations aren’t the business of this blog. Our goal is to capture encouraging insights from the biblical story of Christmas. A quote from Jesus’ mother Mary trigged my memory of the 1987 movie. Consider the context of the quote:

The angel Gabriel has swooped in to offer Mary the grand news: she will serve as the earthly mother of God’s heavenly son. Despite her adolescent age, Mary reveals exceptional spiritual strength. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she replies. “May your word to me be fulfilled”. Mary’s divinely appointed parenting role would propel her into overwhelming personal drama, unthinkable plot twists, and a truly astonishing ending. Despite these unpredictable shifts in her personal storyline, she practices a simple trust and devotion in God. “As you wish”, she seems to offer to the angel.

As Christmas comes at the end of each year, we often recall our own plot twists. I’d have to guess that not every scene from this past year happened in the way you might want it directed. How do we express our love for God when our life’s script isn’t what we would prefer? A simple statement of trust will suffice. “As you wish’, we offer to God. It’s the same prayer Jesus offered when he hit a rough patch: “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:39-46)

At Christmas we remember how God endured the ultimate plot twist. His own perfectly lovable son was ignored, abandoned, eventually crucified. It is God’s less-than-subtle way of saying “I love you”. As we learn to accept God’s love for us, we also learn to deepen our trust in God. Though our lives may not go as planned, we pause long enough to catch our breath, muster up a bit of courage, and say simply, “As you wish”.

It’s my prayer that the story of Christmas will offer a gentle reminder: God’s love has entered your story, too.

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: (Blue links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway)

  • Luke 1:39-56: Having received the news of the baby, Mary hurries off to be with her relative Elizabeth. The two bring out the best in each other as Mary breaks into song. Her song reminds us that Jesus does his best work in the humble and the hungry, not in the proud and popular.
  • Luke 1:57-89: Luke’s big Broadway hit musical continues, as Zachariah also breaks out into his own song and dance routine after the birth of his son, John. While John won’t be a “normal kid” (living in the wilderness would be one clue), God will do great things through him. Maybe being weird isn’t so bad after all.
  • Luke 2:1-21: The classic telling of the Christmas story. Notice how God’s bigness (emblazoned angels and massive choirs) enters into our world’s smallness (a tiny manger and poor shepherds). Christmas reminds us that God’s glory can we experience by us little people.
  • Luke 2:22-40: The Savior of the World has arrived—a fact lost to pretty much everyone. The only exceptions? A couple of obscure elderly folks who’ve been patiently waiting for his entrance. Pay attention here: only those who slow down and patiently wait for Jesus are given the opportunity to truly enjoy and appreciate him.
  • John 1:1-18: Matthew and Luke offer us a ground-level viewpoint of Jesus’ birth. John shoots the scene from an alternative angle—from God’s eternal perspective. John harkens us back to the opening lines as Genesis: God is re-starting creation, and he’s starting with any of us who would really like to be re-created.
  • Philippians 2:1-18: Yet another angle on Christmas—a picture of the whole story of Jesus . . . from his power over all creation . . . all the way down to his crucifixion . . . way back up to his grand coronation. Paul wants this story to inspire us to sustain caring relationships and a humble attitude. Considering the busyness of this season, that’s not easy to do. But let’s try anyway.
  • Isaiah 9:1-7: This old text offers a fitting conclusion to our Christmas readings. Isaiah miraculously peers into the future to witness the power, wisdom and grace that the Messiah will bring into our world. Let’s do our best to be like the old prophet—filled with hope for all the ways Jesus’ power, wisdom and grace will be experienced in our often chaotic lives and undeniably crazed world.

Matthew 1: A Broken Family

Our author Matthew seems to offer a rather tedious opening to Jesus’ miraculous life. We’re presented a listing of 42 generations of a family tree highlighting a total of 54 names. Couldn’t Matthew come up with something more catchy, like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” . . . or . . . “All children, except one, grow up.”?

Yet a little investigative research exposes unexpected intrigue from Jesus’ personal pedigree. Underneath the 54 names, we uncover some rather shocking family secrets. Here’s a few storylines that might catch our attention:

  • Abraham: The father of two nations: Ishmael (The Arab Nation) and Isaac (The Jewish Nation). The kids haven’t gotten along since.
  • Jacob: One of the most deviously masterful manipulators of people you’d never hope to meet.
  • Judah: Yea, he ended well—but in the process stepped in some smelly personal messes.
  • Tamar: Judah’s daughter-in-law who pretended to be a prostitute in order to mother his child. See? I told you Judah stepped in some messy stuff.
  • Boaz: One of the few shining stars of the whole brood.
  • Rahab: She prostituted for a living, but who am I to judge?
  • Ruth: Strength and sweetness incarnate. Funny, she was a foreigner—not from the family line. What’s that tell us?
  • King David: The most famous from the family tree. Brilliant leader. Brutal family man.
  • Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife: Our writer actually goes out of his way to rub our noses in David’s shameful public scandal.
  • Rehoboam: Rebellious punk who figured out a way to completely smash-up the good thing his father (Solomon) and grandfather (David) built for him.
  • Hezekiah: A very, very good king, yet lost a bit of his moral footing in his later years.
  • Manasseh: The son born to Hezekiah in his later years. Acted so wickedly that he was pretty much begging for God to smack him silly. God eventually obliged his unspoken request.
  • The rest of them? Basically no-names.

Maybe it’s time we removed our gothic-arched ideals regarding the loftiness of our religious ancestors. Jesus came from a family line riddled with shocking disrespect, slimy deception, and countless acts of stomach-turning debauchery. If Hollywood were to create a true-to-life television series based on Jesus’ family history, I don’t think I’d let my kids watch much of it.

It’s from the muckiness of human history—our history—that Jesus gets his start.

Maybe Matthew’s starting line-up isn’t quite as pedestrian as we first thought. He’s foreshadowing a less-than-subtle clue into the rest of Jesus’ story: no matter how dark our past, how devious our morals or how dire our circumstances; Jesus can get started in our lives, too. Possibly even more shocking? He can also get started in the lives of the other messy folks who happen to be growing on our family tree.

This Christmas I pray we’ll all have the humility and strength to welcome Jesus into the messy places of our lives and families.

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture Readings (Blue links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway.)

  • Matthew 1:1-25: Matthew tells the story of Jesus birth from the perspective of Joseph, Jesus’ surrogate father. Notice the durability and determination of Joseph to see this thing through—even though it had to be an undeniably awkward and uncomfortable experience.
  • Matthew 2:1-12: Wealthy astrologers embark on a long journey to offer Jesus their extravagant gifts. I find it intriguing that they were overjoyed to meet Jesus, even though he (and his circumstances) didn’t look kingly in any way. Some days Jesus appears rather “ordinary” to me too. Do I still respond to him with extravagant joy?
  • Matthew 2:13-18: Here we observe two dramatically different responses to Jesus: The Magi express joy and generosity. Herod becomes paranoid and cruel. It still happens today: get close to Jesus, and your true nature gets revealed. (If you’re feeling like a real go-getter today, you can also read Jeremiah 31–it’s a great chapter of the Bible that Matthew cites in this narrative.)
  • Matthew 2:19-23: Joseph finally settles everyone in Nazareth—the municipal equivalent to raising a kid in Detroit. Thus Jesus never fit the “Savior of the World” image everyone wanted. Same with me: some days I struggle to embrace Jesus for who he really is—not who I want or expect him to be.
  • Luke 1:1-4: Today’s reading offers a quick, yet essential, confirmation that our writer Luke has prepared for us a highly researched, thoroughly documented account of Jesus’s life. Considering all the whacky miracles we’re about to witness, it’s a good thing we can have confidence in our writer’s systematic investigative methodology.
  • Luke 1:5-25: Luke backs up to let us know that John (soon to be known as “John the Baptist”—Jesus’ first public relations agent) is about to open the next chapter of the Old Testament’s story. In this scene, we get a close-up view of how John’s parents received the happy news. Sometimes we have to make big adjustments to adapt to God’s unanticipated change of plans.
  • Luke 1:26-38: The angel Gabriel keeps up his hectic holiday pace, flying off to let Mary in on his little secret. She responds with a sweet submission to God’s unconventional plan. That’s an astonishingly reaction from a girl who hasn’t yet reached her 15th birthday. Many days I wish I could be as calm and mature as this teenager.

Note: Throughout these accounts both Matthew and Luke place significant focus on the virgin birth of Jesus. During his life, tabloid gossip spread rumors he was an “illegitimate child”. Our authors repeatedly assure us that Jesus wasn’t the result of a teenage love affair—rather, that he enters the world as the miraculous Son of God.

Psalm 90: Holy Moses!

The opening credits for Psalm 90 scroll across the top of the page . . .

A prayer of Moses the man of God.

That’s almost an understatement. Here’s a two-sided review of his legendary life:

Moses experienced an astonishing array of epic miracles. He bobbed the Nile as a baby—luckily landing him Egypt’s most exclusive education. Having found his life calling at a scorch-resistant shrubbery, Moses went on to conjure up blood and boils, frogs and fleas, darkness and death. After submerging the arch-enemies under a serendipitous tsunami, Moses later chiseled history’s longest-standing legal code,  squeezed spring water from desert rocks, and served hot, fresh breakfast each morning to his family of over a million. Not bad for a guy who started out as a complete basket case.

Yet consider his resume’s B-side: birthed under the threat of genocide and banished from his homeland for murder, he sweltered through a 40-year stint of shearing sheep. Making a major shift at the aforementioned shrubbery, he returned to his homeland only to endure the pharaoh’s fury and his countrymen’s constant complaints. Sent back onto the searing desert heat, he and his massive family clan spun in complete circles for—you guessed it—another 40 sweaty years. As his legendary life draws to a close, he offers his last gasp—falling tantalizingly short of his retirement goal to enjoy a quiet villa in the acclaimed Jordan Crossing Estates.

That’s quite a life. You’d figure he learned a lot during all those swings through the Saudi sauna. Moses presents his final conclusions for us in Psalm 90. What took him 120 years to learn; we can read in 120 seconds. Here’s my 9-word summary:

 #1) God is huge. (Psalm 90:1-2)

#2) We are hurting. (Psalm 90:3-11)

#3) Help, God, help! (Psalm 90:12-17)

Long before our time, Moses’ conclusions offer a glimpse of the Christmas story. Jesus entered the world to offer God’s big help to all us hurting people. He healed our diseases, forgave our sins, welcomed our friendship and promised to never give up on us.

So in light of Moses’ words and Jesus’ life . . . here’s my prayer for today: (and most every day)

Dear God,

I keep making a mess of things. Can you help me?

Eternally grateful,

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: (Blue links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway)

  • Psalm 87: Remember all those Psalms about God smiting foreign enemies? Here’s a switch: this Psalm offers a new vision of God warmly welcoming hostile people into his big, happy family. That sounds a lot like the calling of the Christian Church.
  • Psalm 88: In the entire collection of 150 psalms, only Psalm 88 offers no expression of hope. A bit depressing? Certainly. Yet it offers a great reminder to keep praying for those in our lives and world who continually suffer.
  • Psalm 89: A beautiful, majestic Psalm . . . until you hit verse 38. This Psalm laments the historic collapse of God’s people—and pleads for God’s mercy. It’s a perfect prayer for those days when everything seems to have turned south.
  • Psalm 90: An epic summary of Moses’ timeworn wisdom. Verse 17 offers a prayer that I keep repeating often.
  • Psalm 91: A lofty expression of God’s care and protection. I don’t read this as a divine promise for a long, healthy life–but rather as a call for God’s courage in the face of all life’s dangers.
  • Psalm 92: Looking for the fountain of youth? You’ll find it in verses 12-15. The previous verses offer us a map of how to get there.
  • Psalm 93: Life hits you with waves of doubt, pain, hurt, loss, and confusion. Psalm 93 reminds us of the One who has command and control over the winds and the waves all around us.

Coming next week: Seasonal Christmas readings from Scripture . . . just in time for the holidays.