This week we’ll be reading, reflecting, and responding to the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector found in Luke 18:9-14.

 

May 13

  • Read Luke 18:9-14
  • This Reflection on Reality challenges our assumptions of pride and humility and offers a way of living as a Christ follower in active devotion to God.

 

May 14

  • Read Luke 18:9
  • In today’s world, who would be those who trust in themselves that they are righteous and who regard others with contempt?

 

May 15

  • Read Luke 18:10
  • With whom do you identify in this scripture: the Pharisee or the tax collector?

 

May 16

  • Read Luke 18:11-12
  • How do you show your obedience to God? Through your daily prayer and scripture reading? Through your giving? Through your service? What does it mean to say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I?”

 

May 17

  • Read Luke 18:13
  • How do you show your reverence to God? Through your daily prayer and scripture reading? Through your giving? Through your humility? What does it mean to say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner?”

Note: “God, be merciful to me a sinner” is the prayer of the person who knows he/she is not righteous. But it was also a standard element of the synagogue prayer prayed regularly by Pharisees and all who worshiped at the synagogue. The Pharisee would pray the prayer because he was righteous.

 

May 18

  • Read Luke 18:14
  • What does it mean to be justified? Are you justified?
  • God’s grace is always amazing grace. When it is calculated, even as “grace to the humble,” it is no longer grace. Who goes home justified?

 

May 19

  • Read Luke 10:36-37
  • Have you ever prayed, “Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee?” Have you ever thanked God you are not like the people you named on Monday?

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Over the past several weeks, you have prayed that I am a faithful witness to the Resurrection. Today, as I write to express my gratitude for your prayers, I also write to ask for your help.

Through prayer and responding to God’s call to love you and to resource and equip you for ministry, I have grown to recognize and to understand that I cannot be a witness to the resurrection without help.

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Here is a plan to read, reflect, and respond to the Parable of the Lost Son found in Luke 15:11-32.

Missed Part 1? No Problem!

Return to Part 1: Luke 15:11-23

 

 

Day 1     
Focus on Luke 15:24-32.  The entire parable begins at verse 11. If you missed part 1, start here.

This Reflection on Reality challenges our assumption of being good and earning our salvation. It offers us an alternative understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower.

prodigal son transforming mission

Day 2

  • Read Luke 15:25-27
  • Reflect and respond: How do you react when you feel like you are not important to the people around you?

 

Day 3

  • Read Luke 15:28-30
  • Reflect and respond: When have you been angry because someone gets something (especially if you have determined they don’t deserve it) that you feel like you have earned or deserve?

 

Day 4

  • Read Luke 15:31
  • Reflect and respond: Can you think of a time you were the center of your own goodness? You never strayed from what you were supposed to do, you never broke the rules, and you deserved to get a little more or better than those around you?

 

Day 5

  • Read Luke 15:32
  • Reflect and respond: Who is included in God’s grace? Is there anyone not included?

 

Day 6

  • Read Luke 15:25-32
  • Reflect and respond: After reading the story of the older son again, how do you respond to God’s compassion?

 

Day 7

  • Read Luke 15:11-32
  • Reflect and respond: Both sons are welcomed home; one who went off to the “far country” and the other who has always been with his father. As the older son, would you go to the party for your younger brother?

 

What Parable is Next?

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – Luke 18:9-14

Over the past several weeks, I have asked you to pray that I am a faithful witness to the resurrection of Jesus. I have asked you to pray that I become the resurrection, that the presence of Jesus be seen and experienced in the life I live. The following story helps to illustrate my desire to be that faithful witness.¹

God’s Invitation

    Many years ago, there lived a young and gifted woman named Sophia. She had received a vision in which God spoke to her as a dear friend. In this conversation, God asked Sophia to dedicate her life to the task of translating and distributing the Word of God through her country.

    Now, the printing press had only recently been invented, and the only Bibles to be found were written in Latin and keep under lock and key within churches. Sophia was from a poor farming village on the outskirts of the city, so the task seemed impossible. She would have to raise a vast sum of money to purchase the necessary printing equipment, rent a building to house it, and hire scholars with the ability to translate the Latin verses into the country’s common language.

    However, the impossibility of the task did not sway her in the least. After having received her vision, Sophia sold the few items she possessed and left the village to live on the streets of the city. She began to beg for the money that was required, as she dedicated herself to any work that was available in order to help with the funds.

    Raising the money proved to be a long and difficult task. There were only a few who gave generously, most only gave little, if anything at all. In addition to this, living on the streets involved great personal suffering. Gradually, over the next fifteen years, the money began to accumulate.

    Shortly before the plans for the printing press could be set in motion, a dreadful flood devastated a nearby town, destroying the homes and livelihood of many people. When the news reached Sophia, she gathered up what she had raised and spent it on food for the hungry, material to help rebuild destroyed homes, and basic provisions for those who had been displaced.

    Eventually, the town began to recover from the natural disaster that had taken place. Remembering the vision that God had planted deep in her heart, Sophia left and returned to the city to start over again.

    As the years passed, the task of making and saving money took a toll on the beautiful Sophia. Many were impacted by her love and dedication, even though the people were poor, the money began to accumulate once again.

    However, after nine more years, disaster struck again. This time a plague descended upon the city, taking the lives of thousands and leaving many children without family or food.

     By now Sophia was tired and ill. Yet, without hesitation, she used the money that had been collected to buy medicines for the sick, homes for the orphaned, and land where the dead could be buried safely.

    Never once did she forget the vision that God had imparted to her, but the severity of the plague required that she set this sacred call to one side to help with the emergency. Only when the shadow of the plague had lifted did she once again take to the street, driven by her desire to translate the Word of God and distribute it among the people.

    Finally, shortly before her death, Sophia was able to gather together the money required for the printing press, the building, and the translators. Although she was, this time, close to death, Sophia lived long enough to see the first Bibles printed and distributed.

    Even though she got the Bibles translated and printed only once, it is said that Sophia accomplished her task of translating and distributing the Word of God three times during her life. The first two were more beautiful and radiant than the last.¹

The Resurrection is the Presence of Jesus

Using the Word of God as a focus, this story reveals the reality of the resurrection with this question: “Is the resurrection something to be proven or is the resurrection the presence of Jesus lived out in and through my life?” The reality of the resurrection cannot be heard or received without the incarnated presence of the living Christ.

For me to say I believe in the resurrection apart from being the place where the resurrection becomes a living, breathing act is inconsistent with my witness. The resurrection is reflected in what I say, in what I do, how I relate to people, how I respond to the social, political, economic, global structures in which I live.

If I attempt to explain the resurrection or to prove the resurrection, I will always end up describing something less than the reality of the resurrection. To say, “He is Risen” is not a statement to be repeated as much as it is an act of faithful living. He is Risen exists in the world only when we live it out by engaging fully in the world in which we live.

Please continue to pray that I am fully engaged in the world in which I live, the communities in which I work, and the lives in which I experience God’s love. It is my hope that one day, you will say, he was a faithful witness to the resurrection of Jesus. We could tell by experiencing the preaching, teaching, healing, caring, loving of Jesus in and through him.

  1. Story adapted from The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins, pages 13-15.

This week we’ll be reading, reflecting, and responding to the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin found in Luke 15:1-10

 

April 22

These Reflections on Reality reveal the extravagance of God’s amazing grace. Jesus not only does not reject sinners; he does more than merely tolerate or condescendingly accept them. They are guests at his table.

 

April 23       

  • Read 15:1-2
  • Reflect and Respond: With whom do you identify? Tax collectors and sinners? Pharisees and scribes?

 

April 24          

  • Read Luke 15:3-6
  • Reflect and respond: When have you risked your reputation and security to care for someone who cost you both time and money?

 

April 25  

  • Read Luke 15:7
  • Reflect and Respond: When have you celebrated when someone has experienced God’s amazing and extravagant grace? Have you ever been offended by God’s amazing and extravagant grace?

 

April 26 

  • Read: Luke 15:8
  • Reflect and respond: How much time and effort do you put into caring for people who are considered outsiders

 

April 27   

  • Read: Luke 15:9
  • Reflect and respond: What are you rejoicing about today?

 

April 28     

  • Read: Luke 15:10
  • Reflect and respond: Can you imagine the joy over one person whose life is transformed by the grace of God?

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What Parable is Next?

Week of…

April 29: Parable of the Lost Son – 15:11-31 – Part One (Focus upon 15:11-24)

May 6: Parable of the Lost Son – 15:11-32 – Part Two (Focus upon 15:25-32)

May 13: Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – Luke 18:9-14

Last week I asked you to pray that I would be found guilty of being a Christian. In a way that was a foolish request. I was baptized at age 6 and confirmed as a member of the Methodist Church at age 11. I received a call to ministry at age 14 and my first appointment as a preacher at age 20.

For the past 44 years, I have faithfully preached the gospel, introduced people to Jesus, led congregations into their communities to feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless, care for persons with HIV/AIDS, etc.

To ask that I be found guilty of being a Christian was foolish.

What Does it Mean to be a Faithful Witness?

In another way, I was asking you to pray that I am a faithful witness to the Resurrection of Jesus. Luke, over and over, uses these words to express the life and work of the early disciples:

  • “…of that all of us are witnesses” – Acts 2:32
  • “To this we are witnesses…” – Acts 3:15
  • “And we are witnesses to these things…” – Acts 5:32
  • “We are witnesses to all he did…” Acts 10:39

I want you to pray that I am a faithful witness.

The question is, “What does it mean to be a faithful witness to the Resurrection?” Here are a few possibilities.

Possibility #1: To Believe the Resurrection is True

Is it to believe that the Resurrection is true?

For many people today, belief in the Resurrection simply acts as a guarantee of eternal life. We talk about Jesus being raised from the dead and how he is going to take us all to heaven one day. I must say I don’t believe God raised Jesus from the dead to prove that he could raise a few cantankerous saints.

God could do that.

The belief in our own immortality is persistent. It seems, that for many of us, belief in the Resurrection is actually a barrier to the reality of it. We can find people within the church who affirm the Resurrection for selfish and self-serving reasons. It is all centered on the desire to enter heaven. I believe God raised Jesus from the dead for a different purpose.

Possibility #2: To Live the Truth of the Resurrection

Is it to live the truth of the Resurrection? In and through the Resurrection, God established permanent residence on earth. The Resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the middle of this life.

Jesus is not standing on the shore of eternity inviting us to join him there. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life.

The good news of the Resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with Jesus, but that Jesus has risen and has come home with us. On the morning of the resurrection, God put life in the present tense and gave us the power to live in the here and now.

The early disciples proclaimed, “He is risen!” not because the dead rise. They made this proclamation because they were alive and were doing the things he had taught them to do.

Being a faithful witness to the Resurrection is to proclaim, “He is risen” by doing the things he has taught us to do. In and through the Resurrection, our lives are reshaped to conform to his life. Because of the Resurrection, our minds are reshaped to conform to his mind, and our living is reshaped to conform to his living.witness to the resurrection transforming mission

Possibility #3: Being the Living Presence of Christ in Everyday Life

The good news of the Resurrection is Jesus has risen and has come home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner sisters and brothers with him. What if being a witness is not related so much to what we believe but is the primary way we respond to the hopelessness and brokenness in the communities in which we live?

Does the living presence of Christ show through our living?

The good news of the Resurrection is Jesus has risen and gives us the courage to confront the evil powers of this world. The evil powers of racial bias, gender bias, cultural bias, economic bias, residential bias, educational bias do not stand a chance against the power of the Resurrection.

What if being a witness is not based upon an affirmation of Christ’s living presence, but upon the incarnated presence of Christ in each of us? Would that mean that our faith in the Risen Christ would be seen in the way we love and care? And not only in how we care for each other in our church families but for everyone. By everyone, I mean all who are hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoners – all our sisters and brothers Jesus already loves.

Be the Resurrection

What if we, as Christians, are not called to believe in the Resurrection but rather are called to be the Resurrection?  Christ’s presence will be witnessed in what we say and do.

This season of the Resurrection, I continue to hear the words of Peter Gomes:

“…the resurrection is a continuing event which involves everyone who dares be involved in it.  Easter is not just about Jesus, it’s about you.”

Jesus has already claimed his new life.  What about you? Easter is not just about the past, it’s about the future.  Your best days are ahead of you.  The proof of the resurrection is in your hands and in your life.

witness to the resurrection transforming mission

“The proof of the resurrection is in your hands and in your life.” Please pray that I am a faithful witness of the Resurrection! And know that I am praying for you.

O God, raise Jesus in our lives so that all we do is a witness to your love and presence. So let it be!

This week we’ll be reading, reflecting, and responding to the Parable of the Rich Fool. Read Luke 12:13-21

April 8 – Luke 12:13-21 – Introduction

This Reflection on Reality challenges our assumptions that life consists in what we have or what we own. It offers a way of living as a Christian disciple in relationship to affluence and responsibility. The way of God is the way of living responsibly with things. Your identity is not in how much you have. You are a fool to be consumed by your possession. Your identity is in the God who has provided what you have. Wealth or lack of wealth is not the issue. Your identity in God is the issue. You might be “rich” in wealth but not rich toward God and God’s work.

 

April 9     

  • Read Luke 12:13
  • Reflect & Respond:
    • Assumption – Life consists in how much I have i.e., our possessions.
    • How did you live responsibly with what you own today?

Be reminded: Today, attempt to give more than you take. Then, let us know how you do.

 

April 10    

 

April 11   

  • Read Luke 12:15
  • Reflect & Respond: 1) Where did you witness greed today? 2) Do you consider yourself a person who has a little, enough, or a lot?

Be reminded, life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

 

April 12     

  • Read Luke 12:16-19
  • Reflect and Respond:
    • How much is enough?
    • What do you do when you have more than enough?

April 13

  • Read Luke 12:20
  • Reflect and respond:
    • True or False?: I tend to think of others more than myself.
    • What did you experience today that reminded you that your identity comes from Christ, not from your possessions?

Be reminded, affluence brings responsibility.

 

April 14  

  • Read Luke 12:21
  • Reflect and respond: Is your barn filled with self or filled with God? Be reminded: God has already been generous to you. What does “being rich toward God” look like?

 

Take Note:

Our conversations are moving from our Facebook Page to a Facebook Group for discussion. Click here to join. We’ll approve you within 24 hours.

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What Parable is Next?

Week of…

April 15: Parable of the Great Banquet – 14:15-24

April 22: Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin – 15:1-10

April 29: Parable of the Lost Son – 15:11-31 – Part One (Focus upon 15:11-24)

May 6: Parable of the Lost Son – 15:11-32 – Part Two (Focus upon 15:25-32)

May 13: Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – Luke 18:9-14

Kirk Byron Jones, author of The Jazz of Preaching and editor of The African-American Preaching Library writes:

“Handling the resurrection is challenging; being handled by the resurrection is even more challenging.  In Alaine Alsire’s novel, Lazarus’ problem was not being raised; his problem was being raised ‘different.’ He was not the same person. Christian resurrection is not just about coming back to life, but coming back to life ‘different.’  We don’t do different well. In social relations, all too often we interpret different as deficient…

Being handled by the resurrection means constantly challenging our fear of the unknown, and even more…constantly challenging our fear ‘of the loss of the known.’  Being handled by the resurrection means learning to relax in the experience of new life. May we enter with God into the work of changing and recomposing our lives.  May we rise and cheer such resurrections.”

Any reflection I do upon the resurrection brings me to the discovery that the attention of the early church was focused on the transforming power of the risen Christ.  Those early followers of Jesus saw themselves as evidence of the power of the Christ to transform lives.

Even though there were those who did not want Jesus around, God raised him up and put him back to preaching, teaching, and healing. The early followers of Jesus understood Jesus to be with them in the midst of their present living. He was beside them, sustaining them. He was doing his work of preaching, teaching, and healing in and through them.

Transforming Presence

On the morning of the Resurrection, God gave us God’s transforming presence.  For me, God’s presence does not necessarily show up in the empty tomb, but the lives of grace-filled Christ-followers who put faith into action.

The crowning evidence of God’s transforming presence is not a vacant grave, but a Spirit-filled congregation of Christ-followers. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church. Not feel-good activities, but people engaged in the life and vitality of the community in which they live.

For me, the proof of the resurrection is seen in our love for one another and for the people who surround us. On the morning of the Resurrection, God gave us Jesus, raised from the dead, to new life, to new direction, to new possibilities, to new hope.

The power of Jesus’ resurrection is to reshape our lives to live the way Jesus lived and to think the way Jesus thought. The thrust of the resurrection is to help us change our way of living so that it begins to resemble the life of Jesus.

For you and me, the resurrection is the greatest event in all of life. It means that we live all of life in the presence, love, and power of God who we know and have experienced in Jesus.

A Continuing Event

The late Dr. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard wrote:

“…the resurrection is a continuing event which involves everyone who dares be involved in it.  Easter is not just about Jesus, it’s about you.  Jesus has already claimed his new life.  What about you? Easter is not just about the past, it’s about the future.  Your best days are ahead of you.  The proof of the resurrection is in your hands and in your life.

Wow! What a call to ministry! To help answer that call, I invite you to participate, with me, in a spiritual and missional spring training.

This is time for you and your congregation to practice the fundamentals of reading the scripture, praying and reflecting upon the scripture, and responding to the scripture.

Missional Spring Training

Beginning this Sunday, Easter Sunday, and continuing through the Season of Easter, we will focus on several parables from Luke’s gospel. We’ll focus on one parable each week. Throughout the week, we’ll look at each verse in the parable. Each day we’ll ask a variation of, “How does this reflect our current reality?”

It is my hope that we will become more and more the evidence of the Resurrection. As we become more and more acquainted with God’s presence in the people we meet and in the communities in which we live, may we become evidence of the resurrection.

May we enter with God into the work of changing and recomposing our lives.  May we rise and cheer such resurrections.

During the month of March, there are abundant reminders of the importance of resilience, fortitude, and determination. Lent always has these reminders.

But, there’s another event that happens annually that’s also hard to miss. Whether or not you’re a college basketball fan, the stories that unfold during the NCAA Tournament can leave you sitting on the edge of your seat.

More than once over the weekend, I thought to myself, “It’s over.” And then…

The Unimaginable Happened.

Late Saturday night, the Michigan Wolverines were in a battle with Houston. With 3 seconds on the clock, Houston was in the lead, 63-61.

They had a chance to add two more points but missed two free throws.

At the opposite end of the court, Michigan passed the ball to a freshman, Jordan Poole, who had not scored the entire game. He lobbed a 3-point-shot in the air with one second on the clock, and at the buzzer, won the game. (Perhaps much to the dismay of Buckeye fans following their 86-90 loss to Gonzaga.)

The Wolverines said, “the game is not over.”

After the Michigan v. Houston game, Coach John Beilein said of Jordan Poole, “He practices that shot at the end of every practice.” They also made their free throws, a fundamental shot in basketball.

Reminders of Resilience

Sunday’s games reinforced the message of resilience:

  • Nevada, down 22 points, came back to beat Cincinnati in a 75-73 stunner. The Nevada team said, “the game is not over.”
  • Syracuse, a first four qualifier, beat Michigan State, a favorite to be in the Final Four, 55-53 in the last minute of the game.
  • The 2017 National Champs, North Carolina, fell to 7 seed, Texas A&M.
  • Xavier, another favorite, fell to Florida State. The Seminoles showed the Musketeers “the game’s not over” with four minutes on the clock. Florida State won 75-70, knocking off a number one team.

Perhaps you’ll say, that’s why they call it March Madness.

Or, perhaps, you’ll say, “the game is not over.” While there is nothing about leading the church that is “a game,” I do believe God’s not finished with us yet.

God is NOT Finished With Us Yet

Just like the players, the coaches, fans, and referees, we have a choice to make as we lead the church. God’s not finished with any of us. The challenges leading the church can feel like the pressure of a big game.

Whether you’re frustrated because of leadership challenges in your church or trying to navigate a changing community. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’re lamenting the demands of the church or yearning for the Easter morning celebration. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’re feeling your church is disconnected from your community or you’re tired of trying to connect with little support from your church. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’ve raised money in your church for special ministries or you have run out of money to be the special church in your community. God’s not finished with you yet.

To stay the course and embody the resilience, determination, and fortitude of those who are “playing to win” we need to practice our fundamentals.

If we’re honest, we all know how easy it is to overlook the daily practice of reading Scripture, prayer, and reflecting the love of God in my life. Busyness and the weekly rhythms of the local church can wear on even the most faithful.

You’re Invited to Practice

We’re on the Saturday side of Easter. Sunday is coming. There are opportunities to continue to live as faithful followers of Jesus who are filled with resilience and fortitude.

During the season of Easter, we’re heading into spiritual spring training with Parables: Reflections of Reality.

Sign up below. You’ll practice the disciplines that remind you, “the game is not over.” Or more importantly, God is not finished with you yet.

 

 

I grew up listening to the Cincinnati Reds on the radio. I remember placing my transistor radio under my pillow and listening to Waite Hoyt call the play by play. Over the years I have listened to Al Michaels, Joe Nuxhall, Marty Brennaman, and “The Cowboy,” Jeff Brantley. Today, I still wait to hear Marty say, “This one belongs to the Reds.”

In recent years, I have had the opportunity to attend several Reds’ Caravans. I have met some of my favorite players, talked with new prospects, gotten autographs, and listened to the hopes and expectations of those in the front office.

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