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August 9, 2017: The Dishonest Manager

Today’s Bible Reading: Nehemiah 1-2, Proverbs 9, Luke 16:1-9, 1 Timothy 6:1-10 Luke 16:1-9: Many people have wrestled with the meaning of this parable, but the important point to remember is that it is a parable. That is, as most parables (though not all), it has one main point which the story is used to illustrate. It is not an allegory, where character and event in the narrative is intended to symbolize some other deeper meaning. As a parable the story works by “throwing alongside” the spiritual lesson a dramatic comparison to illustrate the point. So, here, Jesus asks us to imagine a “dishonest manager.” This man has been—perhaps unfairly, the story does not quite make it clear—dismissed for “wasting” the possessions of his master. He is accused of cooking the books, misusing the boss’s resources, and he is unceremonially fired. Before he leaves, however, he is given the time to come up with a plan. Basically, he...

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August 8, 2017: Come Home

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 10, Proverbs 8, Luke 15:11-32, 1 Timothy 5:16-25 Luke 15:11-32: In this famous story, there are three characters: a father and two sons. Let us examine the story from the perspective of each of them to see what we can learn about the nature of God and his love for us. First, the younger son. He treats his father appallingly and also shames his brother and the whole family. He grabs what is to be his only after his father dies. Basically, the message is: Dad, you’re only worth to me what you are worth financially, so let’s have the money now. Having so dishonorably acted, he then goes far away from his father and proceeds to waste the money. Easy come, easy go. But, then, when he is at his wit’s end, he remembers the kind of man his father truly is. Even his father’s hired hands are treated better than this!...

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August 7, 2017: Eating with Sinners

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 9, Proverbs 7, Luke 15:1-10, 1 Timothy 5:1-15 Luke 15:1-10: Jesus is criticized for eating with “sinners.” There are always people ready to criticize those who go out of their way to reach out to people who are on the margins of society, but there is more going on here than simply that. First, the Pharisees are utterly blind to their own sin. Some love to talk of “sinners” as if that category excluded themselves! We are all “in the same boat”; we are all broken, messed up, sinners. Second, Jesus is demonstrating who God is. God is not the God who stands away from our brokenness and mess and despises us and keeps a distance from us. He, in Christ, came right down to help, to pour out his grace and power, to save us through his death on the cross. Jesus eating with “sinners” epitomizes that love that God has...

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August 6, 2017: Count the Cost

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 8, Proverbs 6, Luke 14:25-35, 1 Timothy 4 Luke 14:25-35: Jesus is surrounded by all the markings of great success because “great crowds” accompanied him. With such popularity, you would have thought that he would do all that he could to keep in the good favor of the people. He would lace his words with carefully designed appeals to the popular mood of the crowd, imitating their desires, become a voice for their passions, making sure that he is the apple of the eye of this great crowd that follows him. But Jesus does none of that. Instead, he shoots straight and talks straight, and indeed tells the crowd to “count the cost” of following him. We too are not to use hidden or deceptive means to win followers. We are to avoid manipulation, deceit, worldly cunning, political backbiting, or smooth talking. Jesus did not engage in salesmanship to win people; he spoke...

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August 5, 2017: A Great Banquet

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 7, Proverbs 5, Luke 14:15-24, 1 Timothy 3:11-18 Luke 14:15-24: Jesus’ teaching about dinners and banquets, and the seats of honor at such celebrations, causes one of his listeners to offer a pious exclamation. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (14:15) No doubt expecting his well-worn piety to be met with little more than a nod of approval, instead Jesus tells a story that is both alarming and inviting—depending on the attitude of the listener. A great banquet is given—the banquet of heaven. The man who is having the banquet issues invitations. But the invited guests all begin to make excuses. It is a familiar scene. When someone has a wedding party, some guests will come, some will not be able to attend, some will make forlorn excuses. Here, the first two excuses are to do with the burden of business. They have bought new property,...

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August 4, 2017: The Paradoxical Virtue of Humility

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 6, Proverbs 4, Luke 14:1-14, 1 Timothy 3:1-10 Luke 14:1-14: (14:1-6) It’s another Sabbath encounter. Some background here may help. Because the Israelite people had been sent into exile for breaking God’s law, worshipping idols, and breaking the Sabbath, the Pharisees—known for their purity—were focused on ensuring that such liberalization of God’s intention could not happen again. Therefore, Jesus’ apparent infringements of the Sabbath, even for obvious humanitarian need, and even if miraculous by methodology, still provoked suspicion and indeed wrath. They had overreacted to a liberalization idolatry to produce a legalism that was, in its own way, equally idolatrous. Jesus takes this man suffering from edema of some sort, dropsy, and asks a dramatic question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (14:3). They have nothing to say in response. Jesus then asks a follow-up question to underline the confusion in their minds. If a son or an...

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August 3, 2017: Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 4-5, Proverbs 3, Luke 13:22-35, 1 Timothy 2 Luke 13:22-35: (13:22-30) A person comes to Jesus with an apparently important and genuine question: will only a few be saved? But while it is an important question, it could be used to hide from the yet more important question: are you yourself saved? Jesus will not let this question about “how many” are saved remain in the realm of the merely theoretical. His reply then is direct, personal, and practical: “strive to enter through the narrow door” (13:24). In other words, what we really need to concern ourselves with is not the precise number of people who are going to be saved but whether we ourselves are saved, and to do everything (“strive”) to ensure that we are. It is a temptation to turn theology into a battle of wits or a theoretical exercise. Sometimes people will come to us with complicated questions about...

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August 2, 2017: Glorious Things

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 3, Proverbs 2, Luke 13:10-21, 1 Timothy 1:12-21 Luke 13:10-21: (13:10-17) A woman who is disabled has been so for 18 years. Can you see her? Bent over, unable to straighten herself, pain etched into the lines on her face, brought low in her broken body. Jesus speaks, lays hands on her, and she is “immediately” healed. She glorifies God. What an extraordinary transformation! The disabled have become able bodied—in a moment, at a word of command. Look at that face of that woman now transformed into joy! And if you can capture that image in your mind, that change from the disabled to the delightfully healed and rejoicing, put next to it the image of this synagogue ruler. He is “indignant.” He is angry! Why? What could possibly make him angry? Because Jesus has healed on the Sabbath. What extraordinary small-minded pettiness. There is this woman, previously so disabled, now completely...

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August 1, 2017: Fruit in Keeping with Repentance

Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 1-2, Proverbs 1, Luke 13:1-9, 1 Timothy 1:1-11 Luke 13:1-9: (13:1-5) Jesus is confronted by a very real human tragedy of barbaric proportions. Pilate had not only killed some Galileans, but in some symbolic, gross fashion, had mingled their own blood with the blood of the ritual religious sacrifices. It was a way of attempting to not only kill them, but by doing so spread fear and dread in the populace at large. We are not immune to such terrible tales today too. Things happen which beggar belief were they not reported by credible eyewitnesses. Daily international news is filled with rapine and murder. What are we to think of such things? The typical response is to begin to formulate some sort of “theodicy”—that is, a defense of God’s goodness in the face of the evident human evil and suffering. How can a good God allow such evil to occur today? And typically...

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July 25, 2017: Settle with Him on the Way

Today’s Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 34-36, Psalm 150, Luke 12:49-59, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-18 Luke 12:49-59: The passage this morning contains summaries of three separate pieces of Jesus’ teaching. First, the necessary divisiveness of Jesus’ ministry of the cross (12:49-53). These words about Jesus coming to “cast fire on the earth,” or that he had come to bring about “division,” are surprising. What can Jesus mean? Jesus is saying that his salvation will cause separation and division, even among family members. “For from now on in a house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” We sometimes wish that all was always plain sailing, that gospel ministry and Christian holiness never had any opposition or challenges. But that was not the life of Jesus. That is not the effect of the message of Jesus. And it is not the realistic expectation of the followers of Jesus. There is only one...

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