Luke 9: Pop Quiz

Jesus’ disciples have worked through quite a cram session of divine discoveries over the past months. Lame people are leaping, party animals are praying, Pharisees are fuming, evil spirits are sputtering, and even a few formerly dead folk are sitting up to pay attention. After all these experiences, Jesus must be wondering: did anything stick for my students?

Thus in the middle of a session on prayer, Jesus unexpectedly passes out a pop quiz. It seems easy enough—just two short questions. (Luke 9:18-27)

Question #1: According to popular opinion, who am I?

The disciples look up to think for a moment, then put their heads down and start writing.

“A John the Baptist kind-of-guy” jots one disciple.
“A man of grand miracles like good ol’ Elijah” scribbles another.
“A prolific prophet from our prestigious past” offers one particularly articulate pupil.

Their answers all aligned quite nicely. The public continuously marveled at the astonishing array of miracles Jesus invoked while broadcasting God’s message to the masses. Jesus’ mastery clearly earned him enshrinement amongst the historically elite Prophetic Fall of Fame.

On to the next question.

Question #2: Who I am to you?

The disciples scrunch their faces as they consider the possible answers. After all the time logged with Jesus and all the energy he had poured back into them, they most certainly did not want to get this one wrong.

Seems that only Peter had the courage to put down his best guess.

“The Messiah.” he cautiously writes.

Folding his quiz in half, he hands it back to Jesus and waits.

Jesus opens Peter’s paper to review his responses. After a slight pause, the teacher looks up to offer an affirming nod to his most out-going student. Peter lets out a sigh of relief, tilts back his chin, and opens up a wry smile laden with a not-so-subtle hint of personal superiority.

Jesus quickly tears up the paper and throws it away. Peter’s brow furrows as the disciples look around at each other.

Why not publically promote this disciple’s insightful answer?

Throughout Israel’s tumultuous history, many legendary prophets had graced their land. A prophet served a truly high and holy calling—to speak for God during a specific season. Yet “The Messiah” fit an entirely different category. There were lots of prophets, but only one Messiah. This much anticipated “Anointed One” would build an enduring kingdom of God-like power and authority.

The disciples struggled with all this. They fancied themselves as future national administrators—perched together with Jesus on his platform of lofty political aspirations. Jesus knew differently. A dramatic military conquest wouldn’t ignite his reign. Rather, his inauguration would commence high on a cruel cross.

The disciples aced the first quiz, but failed the next few exams. They anticipated achieving greater power and control. Jesus led them toward greater service and sacrifice.

Just like the disciples, it’s easy to ace Jesus’ quiz and fail his exams. Many days I long for Jesus’ power to sweep into my life and conquer any enemy that threatens my personal effectiveness. I want Jesus to make me more impressive. Yet he’s not that kind of Messiah. He’s not leading me towards greater notoriety—but rather toward greater humility. Jesus offers his impressive power—the power to accept his joy and experience his grace each battle-tested day.

I pray we’ll experience Jesus’ astonishing strength through all the tests we might be yet to take.

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings (Links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway)

  • Luke 9:1-9: Jesus pushes his disciples into the deep end of the ministry pool by sending them on a no-expense-paid missions trip. This would obviously accentuate their need to depend completely on God’s provision—a direct challenge to the way we spend most of our daily lives.
  • Luke 9:10-17: One of Jesus’ most famous miracles—the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus expresses a seemingly limitless compassion for crowds of people . . . and always enjoys getting his followers involved when pulling off his epic miracles.
  • Luke 9:18-27: Peter’s great confession . . . and Jesus’ call to follow. The invitation to “pick up our cross daily” doesn’t sound very appealing on the surface, until you recognize that many people try to build themselves a perfect life—only to discover that it’s truly empty. Following Jesus isn’t easy, but it does indeed offer the fullest life possible.
  • Luke 9:28-36: You might start to notice a pattern here—when Jesus prays, big things happen. God’s voice is heard again—for the first time since Jesus’ baptism. While God the Father spoke directly to Jesus at his baptism, this time he seems to be directing his comments toward Jesus’ disciples (and thus to us, too).
  • Luke 9:37-43: No mountaintop experience lasts forever. Jesus’ frustrated expression “you unbelieving and perverse generation” seems likely to be directed at his disciples. The story ends well, however, as everyone involved gets both inspiration and relief from God’s powerful intervention.
  • Luke 9:43-56: Jesus’ great power keeps inflating the egos of his disciples—not the intended result. They have a bent towards wanting to create their own private club as power players. Jesus keeps trying (not very successfully to this point) to redirect their energies towards serving and encouraging others.

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR . . .
I hope you’re enjoying our journey through the life of Jesus. However, we’re going to make an epic shift next week—heading all the way back to the beginning pages of the Bible. enCompass Church is embarking on a six-week excursion through the Old Testament. Thus, our blog and Scripture readings will support this cause. As we’re rounding the corner towards Easter season in mid-March, we’ll jump back into the life and times of Jesus. Since Jesus seemed to really like the Old Testament, I hope you’ll enjoy the journey of these next weeks, too.

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Luke 8: Swamped

Ever feel like you’re in over your head?

It’s not real difficult for me to feel silly and look awkward. I can rest assured that each time I play a round of golf, handle a car problem or try math I’ll end up submerged in a sea of personal misery and public embarrassment. It’s not surprising when it happens—I’ve learned to embrace my fate and live with it.

Yet in other settings I expect more of myself. I’ve been a pastor for over twenty years and a dad for just about as long. When you’re this experienced, you expect to achieve a certain level of competence and confidence. Yet my substantial number of “I-must-really-be-missing-something-here-because-I-really-don’t-have-a-clue-what-to-do-next” moments continues to truly astonish me.

Good thing I’m not alone. In four short verses from Luke chapter 8 we get to see Jesus’ disciples at their best—and their worst. (Luke 8:22-25)

It started so innocently. On a warm and sunny day, Jesus casually suggests a short sailing excursion. The disciples look at each other and smile. Healing people, teaching crowds and debating religious leaders was Jesus domain. Navigating across a lake? That’s the perfect opportunity for these professional fishermen to show off their well-honed skills. As the crew assembles into the sailboat, Jesus senses their confidence. He stretches back, lets out a long and happy sigh, and was soon snoring his way across the lake.

Yet the weather starts getting rough—and the tiny ship is tossed. The once brave and fearless sailing crew starts squealing like seven-year-old girls spooked at a sleepover. Emotionally unhinged, they wake Jesus to say good-bye. The unlucky 13 are now destined to serve as fish food at the bottom of the lake.

Jesus takes a breath and opens one eye. With a slight grimace, he slowly pulls himself up. Squinting into the wind-blown waves he snarls, “Can’t a guy get a little peace and quiet around here? Put a lid on it already, would ya’?!”

The waves look at each other, then back at Jesus. Embarrassed and ashamed, they quickly settle down and calmly do their best to act good again. Satisfied, Jesus plops back down to continue his nap. With hands behind his head, he stares at the now blue sky and asks his gaping friends, “So, tell me boys—who do you trust now?”

I get the impression Jesus planned out the entire ordeal. He knew the storm was coming. Or maybe he was praying for the storm while pretending to be asleep. Why put his good buddies through such a brutal scare? He knew the water was the one place his followers felt most comfortable and competent. He knew they needed to learn to trust him—most especially when they were in their own element.

It happens to all of us. We find ourselves swamped in settings in which we formerly felt quite successful. What do we do when our confidence and competence can’t quite carry the day? We learn to relax and trust Jesus—he has a tendency to create this kind of thing. You might think he’s sleeping through your personal storm. He’s not. He’s just getting ready to show you who is truly in control.

This week let’s pray we all learn to trust a little more and stress a little less.

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings (Links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway)

  • Luke 7:36-50: While hosting Jesus as a dinner party, Simon thinks he can read Jesus’ mind. Yet Jesus is actually reading his motives. This account offers a genuine challenge to all of us who pride ourselves in being “the right kind of person”.
  • Luke 8:1-15: This parable about spiritual productivity is one of Jesus’ most popular (Matthew and Mark included it, too). I believe most of us struggle to avoid becoming the third type of soil. Notice who gets to be most productive—not those who talk a lot, but rather those who listen extremely well.
  • Luke 8:16-21: Jesus continues with his challenge to maintain good hearing practices. His rather off-putting response to his family serves to make a point: his closest family members are those who seek to hear and respond to his voice. It’s a great reminder that we need a family of people around us to learn to follow Jesus.
  • Luke 8:22-25: I’m intrigued by the response of the disciples to Jesus’ astonishing power over Mother Nature. They were kind of scared of him. I think that response actually makes a lot of sense.
  • Luke 8:26-39: Golly—this text will challenge your view of the world. Here we get strange insights into the workings of the unseen spiritual world. While most people who met Jesus sustained a rather fuzzy concept of his identity, notice how these demons are crystal clear in their understanding of Jesus’ nature and purpose.
  • Luke 8:40-56: Two miracles packed into one story. While pursuing an important cause (rescuing the daughter of a very influential leader), Jesus gets “distracted” by an obscure woman with a very personal concern. Though it appears that his lack of focus creates a tragic ending, Jesus has an amazing way of turning gut-wrenching sorrow into soul-stirring victory.

Luke 7: You’ve got a friend.

When you’re down and troubled
and you need a helping hand
and nothing, whoa nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
and soon I will be there
to brighten up even your darkest nights.

Jesus makes friends pretty easily. His unconventional approach attracts all sorts of the wrong types: vilified taxmen, disgraced prostitutes, even hopeless drunks. Sporting his patented anti-establishment attitude, big-hearted compassion and that astonishing healing touch—Jesus scraped together a growing company of friends from the bottom of life’s barrel.

You just call out my name,
and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running, oh yeah baby
to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall,
all you have to do is call
and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You’ve got a friend.

Yet in Luke 7 a certain high-caliber member of society has caught his attention—a highly decorated military captain. (Luke 7:1-10) “Sure, there’s some decent enough people around here,” Jesus intones in verse 9, “but this guy absolutely tops them all.” He’s the only individual described in the entire book of Luke whom Jesus calls truly “amazing”.

If the sky above you
should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud
and soon I will be knocking upon your door.

What made this military man so special to Jesus? Certainly not his background—Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and this man was a card-carrying Roman. His profession wouldn’t impress either—Jesus consistently avoided fisticuffs and swordplay. Oh, and one more little detail: Jesus never met the guy.

You just call out my name and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
all you got to do is call
and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.

How’s it possible for Jesus to express such warm-hearted affection toward a gentlemen he never met? Though they never saw each other, Jesus encountered a couple platoons of the captain’s friends. When faced with the threat of losing a loyal employee to a dire illness, the captain commissioned his personal confidants to commandeer Jesus’ assistance. Upon hearing that the miracle man was en route, the military man then sent yet another squad of supporters to head Jesus off at the pass. The result? The servant was healed and Jesus was impressed.

You just call out my name and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Oh babe, don’t you know that,
Winter spring summer or fall,
Hey now, all you’ve got to do is call.

Never underestimate the miraculous power of friendship. Whether we see a need and respond or have a need and ask for help—it all impresses Jesus. There’s been quite a few times I haven’t had the strength or faith to seek Jesus for help. That’s okay—I’ve been lucky enough to have people go to Jesus for me. I hope you have friends who will do that for you, too.

Lord, I’ll be there, yes I will.
You’ve got a friend.
You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.

With thanks for your friendship . . . and a prayer that we’ll continue to create more,

Kevin T.
enCompass Church

James T.
Warner Brothers

This week’s Scripture readings (Links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway)

  • Luke 6:17-26: Feeling down, defeated and depressed? You might be in the best possible place in your journey with Jesus. Feeling satisfied, happy and successful in your life? Careful—this is dangerous spiritual terrain.
  • Luke 6:27-36: Jesus’ standard for love goes far beyond what any sane person can consider normal. According to him, our “love gauge” isn’t measured by our friends, but rather by our foes. Guess we’re going to need extra help from him on this one.
  • Luke 6:37-42: Feeling superior to others? You won’t after reading these words from Jesus. It’s his way of reminding us to stay humble, look for help from others and recognize we all have a longs ways to go.
  • Luke 6:43-49: What keeps your life from falling to pieces? Jesus wants us to take a close look at the results of our lives and consider new ways to implement his teachings into our everyday experiences. That’s going to take patience and a whole lot of determination—but well worth it in the long run.
  • Luke 7:1-10: Our society breeds independent thinkers who chart their own self-directed path through life. Yet this approach might not always serve us well. The captain (officially known as a centurion—commander of a 100 soldiers) fully submitted to Jesus’ authority. The results speak for themselves.
  • Luke 7:11-17: Jesus happily busts up a depressing funeral procession. This story made we stop and wonder: what are the dead things in my own life that I need Jesus to resurrect?
  • Luke 7:18-35: It’s interesting to note that bold John the Baptist (he’s stuck in prison, as you might recall) needs some personal reassurance from Jesus. Jesus uses this opportunity to highlight the unique calling of John—that’s very distinct from his own. As noted in Jesus’ words: no matter what calling you pursue, some people are always going to be unhappy about it.

Luke 5: Shock Value

I think we’ve pretty much seen it all . . .

Violence splattered across our TV screens.
Lewd and loud personal lifestyles.
Unthinkable family tragedies.
Freak-show fashion statements.
Graphically war-torn communities.
Crash-n-burn celebrity storylines.
Ego-addicted public professionals.
Lots of lost and lonely children.

Is there anything left to shock us?

Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ life keeps moving along at a brisk little pace. Jesus has brought on a small band of brothers (Simon & Andrew, James & John) who track with him as miracles pop-up in all sorts of unexpected places. The whole endeavor seems to be taking off quite nicely.

But we’re in for a shock. Brace yourself. Our author Luke describes the scene: (Luke 5:12-13)

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.

Gasp.

NEVER touch a leper. Leprosy made you “unclean” in every sense of the word—medically contagious, religiously condemned and personally repulsive. Contract the skin disease and you’d be banned from your own home, forced to live with the other ill fated ones on the outskirts of town. As a leper you’d lose all connections to family and friends, employment and church.

So NEVER touch a leper. Ever. You risk an infection of the same fate.

Yet Jesus shatters all our expectations towards normalcy. Though fully capable of healing with a simple word or remote gesture, he reaches out a hand and lays it firmly on this scorned man’s shoulder. The act makes you lose your breath for a moment. It’s shockingly unthinkable—like hugging a person with Ebola.

Ever consider that we’re called to lead shocking lives? No, we don’t attempt to shock people with scandalous behavior or attention-seeking stunts, but rather through simple yet significant acts of compassion, generosity and courage.

I believe the modern shock value of our culture has left me scared many days. It’s easy to assume my best option is to back away from anything publicly risky or potentially repulsive. Yet maybe our best defense is a great offence—a willingness to startle people with our shocking grace and kindness.

Yet another little shock? I’ve been following Jesus for years—decades even—and each time I watch him I discover that I still have such a long ways to go.

Many thanks for joining along with me on the long journey toward Jesus.

Kevin
enCompass Church

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

  • Luke 4:38-5:11: After a re-read of these verses, I noticed something: Before inviting Peter to invest his life in others, Jesus first has to catch Peter’s heart. This might be a good time to stop and ask yourself: how has Jesus gone about catching my heart?
  • Luke 5:12-16: After his healing, Jesus requires this man to re-engage with his faith community. It seems that helping others is good, yet connecting them into friendship is equally important. You also might be wondering: Why does Jesus continually demand that his identity remain hidden? He doesn’t want to start a public riot, at least not yet.
  • Luke 5:17-26: A fascinating study in our response to Jesus. The Pharisees, the crowd, the friends and the lame man all respond differently to him. I’ve acted like all of them at different times in my life. I also wonder: how did the homeowner respond to his roof getting all torn up? It was a pretty gutsy move.
  • Luke 5:27-32: Jesus’ tension with the Pharisees is starting to grow. Their initial intrigue has now turned to irritation. We’re just getting started, however—Jesus’ conflict with the religious establishment will drive much of the storyline of his life.
  • Luke 5:33-39: When confronted, Jesus serves up illustrations about wedding party etiquette and winemaking tips. The point? He doesn’t fit anyone’s expectations of a Savior. If we’re going to embrace Jesus, we’d better be ready to break our pre-fabricated template.
  • Luke 6:1-11: Sometimes I just feel sorry for the Pharisees. They took their religion so seriously—yet Jesus’ candor and charisma keeps sabotaging their diligent efforts to keep him under control. The same thing often happens to me when I also take myself too seriously.
  • Luke 6:12-16: Jesus prayerfully chooses the twelve who will be infinitely intertwined with his future. It’s a big choice for Jesus, but quite possibly, a bigger choice for these men—who truly don’t know the twists and turns they will face as they follow Jesus. They are a strange mix of quite ordinary men, whom Jesus will mentor in extraordinary ways.