It’s Not Complicated

Recently the gospel reading at church was the story of Zaccheus from the 19th chapter of Luke. The pastor told us this story is not complicated. It’s the gospel in a nutshell! Jesus chooses Zaccheus:

Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:5

He saves him:

“Today salvation has come to this house …” Luke 19:9

The life of Zacchaeus is transformed:

“And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Luke 19:8

The salvific action belongs to Jesus; the change in Zacchaeus is simply a grateful response.

Sometimes we humans try to make simple things complicated. We feel there must be more to the process than this, right? Don’t we need to earn our salvation somehow? Or at least do something to attract the interest of God? Not really. We just have to trust in Him.

The same thing happens when we think about death and dying. We wonder what happens, and we want to know all the details. We worry and fret — are we ready? Have we done enough work for God? Will it be painful? What will happen to us and to our loved ones? Here are a few answers from the Bible that may allay those fears.

When Jesus was crucified between two thieves. When one of them defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember Him, Jesus said:

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43

The thief had probably led a pretty worthless life. This is truly a deathbed conversion. He simply trusted the one who could save Him–and it was enough. What happened next? Jesus promised the thief would be with Him immediately — the same day! No waiting, no purgatory. Just a joyful reunion with the Lord.

In the book of Revelation, we learn more about what Paradise will be like.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4

We don’t know everything about death, but we do know these things, and that’s enough. It’s not complicated.

The Kingdom of God

Recently I’ve been learning, through my different studies, about the kingdom of God. It’s one of those concepts that can be a bit difficult to grasp, and different Christian denominations may view it from a variety of perspectives. For Lutherans, the Kingdom of God is one of those “now” but “not yet” concepts. In other words, the Kingdom of God on earth has commenced — but we will not enjoy it completely until later — when Christ comes again.

Jesus and John the Baptist both proclaimed:

“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Matt. 3:2; Matt. 4:17

Jesus Himself inaugurated the Kingdom when he read the prophetic words of Isaiah at the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

In case they still didn’t get it, He added:

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21

The signs of the Kingdom and the Messiah were obvious. The time was NOW! It still is. Stay tuned for more later ….

For other posts about the Kingdom of God see:

You Don’t Have to Wait for Gods’ Love!

Seek The Kingdom

The Kingdom is Here

Luke: Stories of Mission and Mercy by David Murray–Book Review

Each of these 50 devotions by Pastor David Murray provides a chance to hear God’s story as written in the Scriptures and then respond, imagining how His story might change your story and the story of others. As part of a series — StoryChanger Devotionals–this volume leads the reader through the book of Luke chronologically.

Well written and Biblical, the readings are short, but meaty. At the end of each one there is a summary, a reflection question and a prayer, which may lead you into journaling or further contemplation of the text. I particularly enjoyed taking a fresh look at many of the parables of Jesus.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. A great resource for individual study. I look forward to trying others in this series.

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CPR 255.

If you would like to purchase this book, follow the link below:

https://www.crossway.org/books/luke-tpb-4/

For more book reviews see these posts:

Bold: Moving Forward in Faith not Fear by Sean Feucht–Book Review

From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks–Book Review

Where the Children Take Us by Zain E. Asher–Book Review

Wise Investments

I recently read about a study which set out to determine what Americans spend the most time thinking about. You may be surprised (or not) to learn that for 25%, the topic that occupies the mind most frequently is money. Worldly wisdom teaches us that the more money we accumulate, the more secure we will be. Naturally money (and the 2nd most fascinating topic–work) is where we invest our time, talent and treasure. The Bible tells a different story is some of the parables.

Remember the rich farmer in the 12th chapter of Luke? His farm produced some much grain that he decided to build more barns for storing it. He was going to make merry for years on his profit. Unfortunately, he died before he got to enjoy his riches. He was not wise, but foolish.

Later in the same chapter, we read the story of the servants who spent their time keeping the home of the master ready for his arrival. Nobody was there to keep them from getting drunk, fighting, or simply loafing about. They chose wisely by spending their time being faithful.

In Matthew, Chapter 13, we find the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value. In both cases, a man sells all that he has to gain these things, which Jesus likens to the kingdom of heaven. What a wise investment!

The message is clear. Make a wise choice. Invest in the things that are eternal–the things of God.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

For more posts about the parables see:

Looking for Lost Lambs

Birds of the Air by S.E.M. Ishida

Using our Talents

You Give Them Something to Eat

At our most recent Wednesday night service (Lutherans often do this during Lent), the gospel reading was the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand taken from the book of Luke. Our pastor had an interesting take on this familiar story. He focused in on the fact that the disciples were whining, telling Jesus to send the crowd away. After all, it would soon be evening, and all these people needed to eat. It made sense. Instead of acquiescing, however, Jesus issues what amounts to a command:

“…’You give them something to eat.'”

As usual, the disciples don’t get it. There’s simply not enough food to go around. What are they expected to do? Jesus just wants them to cooperate with Him, to trust Him. Even though they’ve seen Jesus heal and perform other miracles, they doubt. So, He guides them, step by step. Have the people sit down, He tells them. He blesses the bread and fish and instructs the disciples to distribute it. Lo and behold, everyone there ate–not just a bite or two, either. They ate enough to be satisfied, with leftovers to boot!

The point our pastor made is this: we need to put ourselves in this story. The world is full of hungry people. Some are hungry for food, but many more are hungry for hope and for a purpose in life. We, the church, have the food that they need–food for the body, and also food for the soul. We have the gospel, and Jesus has commanded us to share it with others. Our job is to go and tell–Jesus will make sure that what we offer is more than enough. We can trust Him to do that.

For more about trusting God see these posts:

When Things are Unclear–Trust God

Grow Through Surrender and Trust

Trust and Obey

James Chapter 5–What Stands Out

Well, I’ve made it to the final chapter of James in my lectio divina study. Here’s what stands out to me:

You have lived on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” James 5:5a

When I compare my life, and the things I own, to others around me, I like to imagine my lifestyle is modest. However, the truth of the matter is:

*My husband and I own two cars

*We have a nice condo in a quiet neighborhood

*We buy pretty much whatever we want at the grocery store

*We have a tidy sum set away in our retirement accounts

*We go on vacations and other trips a couple of times a year

*We go out to eat several times a month

*We have a closet full of clothing

To most of the world, somebody like me, somebody with a pretty “average” life in the United States is living in the lap of luxury. Most people in the world live in poverty. 85% of the world live on less than $30 per day, two-thirds live on less than $10 per day, and every tenth person lives on less than $1.90 per day. In each of these statistics price differences between countries are taken into account to adjust for the purchasing power in each country. In addition, many of the consumer goods we enjoy (things like clothing, electronics and even chocolate) depend upon the work of people who are either enslaved or forced to work in horrible conditions.

I feel guilty and I should. However, I’m not sure what to do about it, or how to change things .I can only rely on the forgiveness of God and His mercy.

 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.””

 Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?

 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:25-17

For more on the book of James see:

Luther and the Book of James

James Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?

Interesting Word #3

The word paradise is used only a few times in the Bible. The most well known verse is in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus tells one of the thieves on the cross:

“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43

The apostle Paul also uses this word to describe a vision he experienced:

“And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” 2 Corinthians 12:3-4

Finally, it is mentioned in Revelation:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:7

But what exactly does paradise mean? Is it synonymous with heaven? Well, not quite.

Paradise was originally a Persion word meaning “an area enclosed by a wall” or a “garden.” In the Old Testament, it’s used to refer to the Garden of Eden in Genesis. In intertestamental (noncanonnical) literature such as the pseudepigrapha and apocrypha the word takes on a more specifically religious meaning. Human history will culminate in a divine paradise on earth. Since there was (and still is) no immediate access to the garden of Eden, or the New Jerusalem, paradise (also sometimes known as Abraham’s Bosom) was considered the realm of the righteous dead who are awaiting the resurrection of the body. It’s this intermediate state which is probably referred to in the verses above.

For more posts about the garden of Eden see:

Back to the Garden

It Started in the Garden

What’s a Libretto?

Seven-Mile Miracle by Steven Furtick–Book Review

In this book, author Steven Furtick examines the seven last statements (or “words’) of Jesus from the cross in light of the spiritual journey of every believer. He boils each one down to its’ essential meaning:

*Forgiveness –“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

*Salvation–“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

*Relationship–“Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

*Abandonment–“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

*Distress–“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

*Triumph–“It is finished.” John 19:30

*Reunion–“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God Through the Last Words of Jesus by [Steven Furtick]

Each section includes questions for journaling or group discussion. At the end there is a forty-day reading guide with Scripture selections on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This was an easy read would be a good pick to use as a spiritual exercise during the season of Lent. Since the author is not Lutheran, there were some theological statements I disagreed with, mainly around the issue of “making a decision” to choose Christ. As Lutherans, we believe Christ chooses us.

VERDICT: 3 Stars due to the theological issues.

For more about the death and resurrection of Christ see:

Martin Luther on the Resurrection

Martin Luther on God’s Victory Over Death

The Resurrection is Now

Make Room for Jesus

Christmas has recently past, and we’ve probably all read or heard the birth story of Jesus from Luke:

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

Bethlehem was a busy place at that time because of the census.  Everyone had to report to the town or city of their forefathers, and in the case of Joseph and Mary, this was Bethlehem, the city of David.  You couldn’t book ahead in those days, and when they arrived no rooms were available.

This made me think of the busy lives we all lead today.  When we’re young we have school and all those extra-curricular activities we need to fill up the college resumes, not to mention keeping up with friends via social media accounts.  We get a little older and there’s work and kids.  Even after retirement we may find ourselves caring for an elderly parent, or a spouse.  It’s easy to find ourselves in a place where we’re failing to make room for Jesus.

When we do this, we’re allowing what’s immediate to interfere with what’s really important.  A friend of mine said, “if I make time for food for my body, shouldn’t I also make time for the food that nourishes my soul?”  This is so true.

Every day we make choices, and we make time for the things that we’re most interested in   If we’re passionate about something — cooking, reading, sports or a hobby — we find a way to fit it into our schedule.  That’s okay, but shouldn’t we also be passionate about our faith?  Couldn’t we give up some time in front of the tv or computer, or even some sleep to read the Bible or pray?  Couldn’t we manage to spend an hour on Sunday morning attending worship?

If you’re not making room for Jesus, make it your priority for 2021.  It’s one investment you won’t regret, because the dividends last an eternity!

For more about making time for Jesus see:

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

Developing Spiritual Habits

 

All Times Are Uncertain

 

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” Luke 12:16-20

Yes, these are uncertain times due to the pandemic.  You or I could become ill and die from the coronavirus.  On the other hand, we could also get cancer or be run down by a bus.  The truth is, life itself is uncertain.  I recently welcomed a new grandchild.  He was due on August 14th, and at the beginning of August, my daughter was told, “It could be any day!”  But guess what — the exact moment of his birth remained unknown until the day it happened (August 6th).  Our times are in God’s hands.

Does that mean we shouldn’t plan?  Or that we should take foolhardy risks?  Of course not.  We should live reasonably.  However, we should also avoid worrying too much.  The Bible tells us that worry will not add an hour to our lives.  We should not be surprised when our plans are interrupted, because God’s plan is not always ours.  We should not put off doing good, because the opportunity may not come again.  We should live in and enjoy the present because we don’t know what’s around the corner.

We can make all kinds of plans for things that never happen, but one thing is certain.  Jesus is coming again.  Like everything else in life, we don’t know the day or the hour. It might be today.  It might be in a thousand years. Whenever it happens, we want to be ready.  Make plans for that.  Don’t be like the foolish farmer.  Prepare for the sure thing.