Luke 20

Read Luke 20.

In Season 4, Episode 14 of TV’s The Office, an episode titled “Goodbye, Toby,” Michael Scott finally gets his wish. Toby Flenderson, Michael’s nemesis, is leaving Dunder Mifflin Paper Company for good, and Michael has prepared some pointed questions for his exit interview. What he isn’t prepared for is the presence of Toby’s replacement in Human Resources, Holly Flax, at their meeting. A little thrown by Holly’s presence, Michael stammers his prepared questions–“Who do you think you are? What gives…what…what gives you the right?”–before accepting the binder of company approved questions Holly offers.

What does this scene from The Office have to do with Luke 20? Admittedly, not a lot, but one thing they share is this sense of audacious questioning. The chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up to Jesus with a demand, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” They wanted to know the same things from Jesus that Michael wanted to know from Toby. We’ll just say that the conversation that follows in Luke 20 was a bit more substantive and revealing. What Jesus uncovered with his own question was that those questioning him were not operating in good faith. Their questions about authority and taxes and then resurrection weren’t about an openness to the truth but about finding an opportunity to prove themselves right.

What Jesus shows us in Luke 20 is an openness to our questions and also the clarity of one who can cut through what we say to help us hear what we actually mean. Jesus warns us to watch out for those whose words and questions are performative rather than prayerful. May the Spirit grant us the wisdom to hear the difference.

Luke 16

Read Luke 16.

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Luke 16:31, ESV

For the reader who knows where Jesus’ story is headed, this sure does seem like a strange way for this chapter to end. There are limitations, Abraham tells the rich man in this parable, to what a resurrection can accomplish. I don’t know about you, but that makes me stop and think. The running theme of Luke 16 is the pitfalls of money and wealth, the ability of these things to distract and derail a life. From our American vantage point in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, we have perfected the art of explaining what Jesus doesn’t mean in this passage, why our particular version of greed is better than that of the Pharisees, but Luke 16:31 brings those justifications crashing down. We no more have the excuse of ignorance available to us than the rich man’s five brothers. When it comes to the pitfalls of wealth and greed, the issue isn’t a lack of evidence but the hardness of our hearts.

I pray today that we would find the boldness to ask God where our hearts are at risk of being ruled by greed and the courage to see what He shows us.

Luke 15

Read Luke 15.

Jesus had a way of attracting the very people other religious leaders wanted to keep at a distance, to the point that the Pharisees and scribes grumbled about his hospitality toward “sinners.” This is not a dynamic contained in the first century. You’ve probably known people who used labels like “sinner” to exclude people. Maybe you’re even honest enough to admit that you’ve been that grumbling person who protested at the welcome of certain people at the Lord’s table. It is to that part of each of us that Jesus tells these three parables in Luke 15.

When a sheep is lost and found, there is not only rejoicing but an invitation for others to join the celebration. The same is true when a coin is lost and then found. That joy, Jesus says, does not measure up to the joy in heaven when a sinner repents. Jesus makes it clear that joyful celebration is the right response when someone who was lost is found, but the parable of the prodigal son breaks from the pattern of the first two. Jesus is making the point that when it is another person who is found, our reaction should be the same but often is not, at least not immediately. The father rejoiced and celebrated at the return of his son, but when the story ends, the older son is still standing outside the celebration. Did he eventually decide to go inside? Jesus doesn’t answer that question because, I believe, that part of the story will be told in our lives. Will we grumble when others are welcomed into the family of God, pointing out how much more deserving we are? Or will we rejoice that the lost is found? Will we keep our distance from those we deem unworthy or embrace everyone who comes to Jesus with open arms? I pray we choose the way of joy.

Luke 11

Read Luke 11.

Have you ever hesitated to call an old friend or to reconnect with someone because you weren’t sure they would want to hear from you? I think we all have. It isn’t even that we’ve wronged them or vice versa. We’ve just lost touch and want to call someone, but then we convince ourselves that they’re going to be annoyed by our interruption. Sure, that could happen, but we can also miss out on connecting with someone because we’re living as if our anxieties are our reality (gentle reminder: they’re not). What we’re failing to consider is that our friend might be just as happy to reconnect as we are or even as eager to help us as we would be to help them.

Here’s where I’m going with this–God never views your prayers as an interruption or an inconvenience. As Jesus teaches in Luke 11, God is eager to hear and to answer the prayers of his children, even beyond the way a neighbor would help a friend in crisis in the middle of the night or the way a parent would provide for a beloved child. God stands ready to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. You won’t be sent away or shut down when you try to connect with God in prayer. He will hear you and meet you in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Even if it’s been a while since you prayed, God is ready to answer your call. Call out to him today.

Luke 10

Read Luke 10.

The lawyer we meet in Luke 10:25 wanted to put Jesus to the test, asking, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” But what we quickly learn as readers is that Jesus wasn’t the one being tested. Jesus answered the lawyer’s questions with questions of his own, quickly discovering that this lawyer already knew the answers he was purportedly seeking, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Not interested in taking “yes” for an answer, the lawyer questions Jesus again, “And who is my neighbor?” This time, Jesus responds with a story, which is now known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ story concludes with the question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Again, Jesus puts the ball in the lawyer’s court, asking what he thinks being a neighbor looks like. The neighbor in the story was, as the lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy,” so Jesus instructs him to go and do likewise.

The lawyer’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Twice, Jesus affirms his assessment of the situation. He was seeing things clearly. The lawyer’s problem was the same problem that can befall any of us–he wanted to justify what he was already doing rather than make the changes he knew he needed to make. How can you be a neighbor today? To whom can you show compassion and kindness?

Luke 6

Read Luke 6.

The Pharisees who questioned and opposed Jesus in Luke 6 are a living, breathing representation of what it means to miss the forest for the trees. They knew the law. They knew what was allowed on the Sabbath and what was not. But their attention to the minute details of the law blinded them to the bigger picture. Their enforcement of the law failed to account for the heart behind the law.

Jesus’ words and actions called them to reconsider whether the Sabbath laws were being equally applied, as well as why those laws existed. Was it to prevent hungry disciples from eating? Was it to prevent a man from being healed? These events immediately precede the longest discourse of Jesus’ teaching contained in Luke’s Gospel, inviting us as readers to consider where we might be prone to do what the Pharisees did. Where might our backgrounds, traditions, and prejudices make it difficult for us to truly see what Jesus is saying? Are we quick to round off the rough edges of the beatitudes and the woes? Are we looking for loopholes when it comes to loving our enemies? Are there special circumstances–in our minds–when it is actually okay for us to judge and condemn others rather than repenting of our own hypocrisy? Do we call Jesus “Lord, Lord” without doing what he says?

May we be those who hear Jesus’ words clearly and build our lives upon them.

Luke 5

Read Luke 5.

[27] After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” [28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

Luke 5:27-28, ESV

There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of Jesus’ invitation to Levi: “Follow me.” Luke tells us that Levi left everything, got up, and followed Jesus. It doesn’t take long, however, for the Pharisees and scribes to try to complicate matters. They wanted to know why Jesus thought it was okay to eat and drink with people like Levi. They wanted stronger barriers for those who would come to Jesus, and while they didn’t address their questions directly to Jesus, that didn’t stop Jesus from answering them directly, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus has a way of simplifying that which we might otherwise complicate. We can be quick to add exceptions and amendments to the call of Jesus, more determined that people start following Jesus from exactly where we are than that they hear the simplicity of Jesus’ invitation wherever they are: “Follow me.” I pray that we can enjoy the beauty of receiving that simple invitation and the power of extending it to others.

Luke 1

Read Luke 1.

Here at VC Devotionals, we’ve spent the past year working our way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. To do that, we’ve needed to keep up a pretty strong and steady pace. So, it seems wise now that we take a deep breath and slow things down just a bit. There’s nothing wrong with going fast. There’s a time for that. But there’s also a time to move more slowly and allow ourselves the space to contemplate more fully. That’s what we hope to do over the coming year. Rather than following a whole-Bible, plan, we are going to be focusing on the New Testament with a reading plan called NT260. You can find the details of that plan here.

It is my prayer for today and for the year ahead that we would see and hear Jesus in the words of the New Testament in a way that renews our faith and deepens our discipleship.

Revelation 20-22

Read Revelation 20-22.

“It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This” is the name of the 55th studio album George Jones released in his long and illustrious career in country music. To be honest, I’m not sure if the album lived up to its name, but that isn’t a slight to Jones or this album. There’s no shame in not being the best album George Jones ever released. I, on the other hand, could release an album tomorrow and say with absolutely certainty, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Would it be good? No. But it would be better than any other album I’ve ever released or am likely to release. My point is that saying it doesn’t get better than this is easier in some situations than others. It can easily be seen as an exaggeration or an overstatement, but it is neither of these things when it is applied to Revelation 20-22. It doesn’t get any better than this. That’s the whole point. What John sees is the righting of every wrong as God dwells fully with his people forever. As you read it, I pray you are filled with hope and captured by a wonder that declares, “It really doesn’t get any better than this.”

Revelation 1

Read Revelation 1.

Have you ever said something and gotten the completely opposite response of what you were expecting? Maybe you suggested that someone calm down, and well, let’s just say you quickly learned that wasn’t the direction their journey would be taking. Or maybe you offered what you thought was a compliment, but it was received as an attack. Or you intended to protect, but your words wounded instead. We’ve all been there. Our words aren’t always received as they’re intended, and we don’t always hear what others are really trying to tell us.

I think that happens often when we open the book of Revelation. The apocalyptic imagery of Revelation has been pressed beyond recognition in books and film with preachers using it to stir up fear among their hearers. My guess is that we’ve all found ourselves intimidated by Revelation at one point or another. That, however, is not the way these words were intended to be heard. The opening verse tells us what this book is about–revealing Jesus Christ to those who serve him. And yes, John’s first glimpse of Jesus caused him to fall down as if he was dead, but Jesus quickly clarifies his intent, laying his hand on John and saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

Jesus shows that Revelation isn’t intended to stir fear and anxiety but to offer consolation and comfort. Knowing that might not mean we understand everything we read in these pages, but hopefully it can help us understand what it doesn’t mean, so that we might find encouragement rather than paralyzing fear.