Tag Archives: Luke 21

How TO wait during hard times [First Sunday of Advent, part 5]

7 Dec

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

In this series of posts on the Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we’ve been learning how to wait during hard times.  In the previous post about the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36, we heard from Jesus how NOT to wait.  Now we continue in that passage, and Jesus teaches the proper way to wait.

We can summarize Jesus’ teaching as: watch out in prayer.  When we are struggling with pain, anxiety, and God seems far away, and our world seems to be crumbling around us, Jesus says our response should be watchful prayer.  Jesus mentions two requests we should pray for: escape and stand.  The word “escape” is not to be understood as fleeing or running away, but as avoidance.  It is okay to pray, “God please don’t let me go through this.”  Jesus himself prayed that very thing before he went to the cross! God might say, “Ok…I will take that away.”  But God might not.  He didn’t take the cross away from Jesus.  This is when the second prayer request is so important. Stand.  And in particular Jesus says, “stand before the Son of Man,” which is him.  What he is referring to is that we are praying for strength to stand in the midst of trial and pain, to stand in such a way that we remain faithful to Jesus. 

When we are going through hard times, our response should be pray.  Pray for the difficulty to be taken away, but if it is not taken away, pray that God will strengthen us to remain faithful.

Here we can look to Jesus as our model.  Constantly we see him, especially in the Gospel of Luke, getting away for prayer. In Matthew 6 he tells us to go into our closet and pray.  That’s what Jesus did.  It might not have been a literal closet for Jesus, but it had the same effect when he went all by himself on a mountain to be alone with God. I don’t have a prayer closet, but I do like to find a quiet room in the church.  Often I walk into the dark sanctuary, sit in the front and pray.  Sometimes like Brother Lawrence, I pray while washing dishes, seeking to have a conversation with God all day like Lawrence did.

We need to learn to get away from our phones, from TV, from the internet, from people, and spend time sitting in God’s presence. 

I know waiting can be so hard.  But the one place we will find the strength to watch for Jesus and be faithful for his return is the place of sitting in his presence.  It might be while you are driving, and you turn off the radio or the podcast, and you just talk with God and listen for him.  It might be while you are exercising, and you remove the headphones from your ears, turn off the music and listen.  Or maybe you keep the headphones in and listen to music that helps you pray!   Or maybe an app that guides you into listening to God.  It might be in the quietness of the morning before people awake, or after they have gone to bed.  It might be on lunch break in the park, in your car, in the bathroom.  As we saw in Deuteronomy 18, God says that we need to learn to listen to Jesus. 

When we listen, when we bask in his presence, we find strength to remain faithful, even in the dark times, even in the waiting.

Watch, and pray, the days are coming.  Maybe for some of you, the days are here.  You are living through pain right now.  Maybe for some of you those days are coming.  What is your practice of prayer?  Do you need to increase the time you spend in prayer?  Do you need to spend time working on the quality of your prayer? 

Anthony Bloom, in his book Beginning to Pray, gave an illustration that really hit home with me.  He said, consider your relationship with your spouse or significant other or maybe even a close friend.  What would that relationship be like if the sum total of your communication with that person was you going up to them for five minutes each day, pulling out a list of stuff you want them to do, running down the list, and saying, “Great talk.  Please do all that for me.  Talk with you tomorrow.”  The next day, you do the same talk again.  Sometimes you skip days, thinking very little of it, but when you resume talking to that person, it is more of the same, your five minute wish list.  And that’s it.  How would that relationship go?  It would fail very fast. 

When I was on sabbatical, and I was learning about listening to God, that story really convicted me.  I started practicing listening prayer.  But I will tell you that since I have been back from sabbatical, with the busyness of life, it is so easy to think, I don’t have time for listening to God.  Jesus reminds us in Luke 21 that nothing is more important.  Right before he was about to encounter the most momentous event of his life, which was his crucifixion, you’d think he would be taking every last second to teach his disciples, to help prepare them for what was coming, give them tools to succeed. But he doesn’t.  Instead he prays.  At the moment of crisis Jesus is praying.

How can we be a people of prayer?  Are you in a moment of crisis?  Are you praying, listening for the voice of God, basking in his presence?  If this resonates with you, but you are not sure where to begin, I recommend that you read Bloom’s book, and another one called Into The Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird.  Study those books.  Then find your closet, watch and pray.

How NOT to wait during hard times [First Sunday of Advent, part 4]

6 Dec
Photo by Maia Habeggar on Unsplash

We have been studying the concept of waiting during dark times in this series of posts on the Lectionary passages for the First Sunday of Advent.  In part 3, we introduced the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36, where Jesus prophesies his second coming.  Christians throughout the ages have been waiting for his return. That waiting can be difficult.  Jesus remarks that in the watching and waiting we should be on guard against the temptation toward dissipation, drunkenness and anxiety. 

Personally, I’ve had periods of hardship where I have actively felt and prayed, “Jesus, I am ready for you to comeback!”  But those have been far and few between.  As we age, though, or as we go through hard times, we are more apt to long for his return. 

But in a wealthy, privileged society, with so many opportunities available to us, I think the opposite happens.  We might not want him to return.

I remember thinking as a teen, “Lord, Please don’t come back until I get my driver’s license.”

And then as a college student, “Lord, please don’t come back until after I get married.”

And then as a young adult, “Lord please don’t come back until after we get to meet our kids.”

Have you had thoughts like this too?  There are so many reasons why we might not want Jesus to come back.  Reasons that have us focused on the opportunities of life, whether good or bad.

In verse 34, Jesus warns his disciples about losing focus on him and his return, and having their attention in life drawn to things that could potentially harm them, or worse, harm the mission of God’s Kingdom.  He refers to three dangers in particular: dissipation, drunkenness and anxieties of life.

We don’t use the word “dissipation” much.  I had to look it up. Actually I looked up the meaning of the Greek word that Jesus uses here, and I found that the word refers to the bad things people do when they are very drunk. (Louw & Nida)

So of course that relates to the next word Jesus uses, “drunkenness.” Drink too much alcohol, and you are no longer fully in control.  In the ancient world Jesus lived in, alcohol was pretty much the main drug.  In our day and age, we have so many options for losing control, don’t we? All kinds of substances.

With the words “dissipation and drunkenness,” we have a clear teaching from Jesus: do not overindulge in anything that takes you out of control of your life. Here’s the thing, though, when you are going through hard times, the temptation to escape the pain and get lost in a substance or an addiction is a powerful force in our lives that can lead to much evil. Jesus is right to warn us about it.

The third concept he cautions us about is, “anxieties of life.” And this one hits me square between the eyes.  I struggle with anxiety.  I wrote about my battle here. Jesus says be careful or you can be weighed down or burdened by it, and I know exactly what he means. Anxiety can become all-consuming.  It, too, is a powerful force that can be hard to battle. Jesus is right to warn us about this too. 

How about you?  In the times of darkness in your life, while you are waiting, have you struggled with dissipation and drunkenness?  How about anxiety?  Please know that you are not alone.  Many people battle as well, and there is hope!  What is that hope?  Check back in tomorrow for part 5 of this series, as Jesus has a very practical suggestion that can give us all hope.

Being faithful in the waiting [First Sunday of Advent, part 3]

5 Dec
Photo by Jonsung Lee on Unsplash

Thus far the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have begun with a prophecy from 600 BC that God would send a new king to Israel, and that the people needed to get ready for that king by practicing repentance.  We looked at Luke 1, which describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy.  As we move from the Old Testament readings to the two New Testament readings, we’re going to encounter more prophecy, once again looking to the future.  The next reading is Thessalonians 3:9-13.

From the time of David who wrote Psalm 25, which we studied in part 2, we’re moving forward in history 1000 years to 50 AD.  One of the earliest followers of Jesus is a guy named Paul, and he is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was the largest city in what was then called Macedonia.  It is still today a bustling town, a favorite of tourists, and in the middle of the city is an archaeological site with ancient ruins. Today it is called Thessaloniki, Greece. If you want, you can read about Paul’s first visit there in Acts 17.

At the time Paul visited, scholars estimate 200,000 people lived there, because Thessalonica was located in a favorable position on one of the main highways in the Empire, the Egnatian Way, and it was a port on the Aegean Sea.  Because of its large population and prime location, of course Paul would want to share the good news of Jesus there.  As was his practice, he went to a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica and preached about Jesus. Many people started believing in Jesus. That made the staunch Jews mad, and Paul and Silas had to flee, but a church was started.  Though Paul moved on, his thoughts and prayers were still with the church in Thessalonica, and in the following weeks and months, he wonders how they are getting along. 

We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 that his assistant, Timothy, visited Paul, reporting good news about the Thessalonian Christians’ steadfast faith and love, that they longed to see Paul again.  Paul knows he won’t be headed back to Thessalonica anytime soon, so instead of a visit, he writes them a letter, hoping to keep investing in their lives. 

In this section of that letter, Paul says he was encouraged by their faith, since they are standing firm in the Lord.  Paul is overflowing with thanks for them.  And in verse 12 he prays to God that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.  He prays that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  That’s a very similar prayer to what David prayed in Psalm 25!  Hmmm…maybe there is a reason these passages were selected to be read on the same day?

Then in verse 13, Paul mentions the return of Jesus.  Actually in this letter of 1st Thessalonians, you can scan through the end of each of the five chapters and you will notice that the return of Jesus is mentioned each time.  When Paul wrote, he didn’t include chapters and verses.  They were added       much later.  But by seeing this repeated mention of Jesus’ return, of Jesus’ coming again, we can see that it was a major theme for Paul.  Paul is asking the Christians in Thessalonica, and by extension he is asking us, “Will we be blameless when Jesus returns?”  Unlike the Davidic kings who turned away from the Lord, Paul calls Christians to remain faithful and blameless before the Lord while we are waiting for his return.  And when will Jesus return? 

That brings us to the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36.

Advent is a season when we remember Jesus’ first coming, his birth, so that we might prepare ourselves for his second coming.  But when will that happen?  Jesus talks about this in Luke 21:25. 

In this passage, Jesus is in his final days.  He has arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover to great fanfare.  On what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds wanted to make him king. Many Israelites saw Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jeremiah. But they were mistaken about Jesus’ Kingdom.  They wanted a ruler like David who would wage war against the enemy and give Israel independence.  But Jesus was not that kind of King.  His Kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world, though it would make a great impact on the world! 

And so here in Luke 21 Jesus and his disciples are at the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples are commenting about the beauty of the temple.  Their beloved church building.  The temple was the center of Jewish life and faith.  And Jesus says in verse 6, “you know, this temple is going to be destroyed.” 

The disciples are aghast.  What is he talking about?  When would this happen?  They want to know details!  How will they be able to tell?  Jesus goes on in verse 8-24, giving them two levels of prophetic teaching. 

First the near level.  In verses 12-19 he talks about the persecution the disciples will go through, and that actually took place only a few short months after Jesus said it.  You can read about it in Acts 3-4.

Then the medium range level.  I verses 8-10, and 20-24, he talks about a time when Jerusalem would once again be attacked, just as it was in Jeremiah’s day.  This time, not the Babylonians, but it was the Romans in 70AD who destroyed the city. Before we move too quickly past this, I think we need to just pause and think about how astounding this is. Jesus in 33 AD prophesies that the temple would be destroyed.  And it happened!  Let’s just pause and think about how amazing that is.  Jesus says that a major catastrophic event will happen, and he gives some fairly specific detail about how this event will occur, and 40 years later it happens?  That is Jesus.  He can tell the future like that. That means we can trust in him when he gives the next level of prophecy too.

Next Jesus says there will be third, future, level of prophecy.  That is what we are focusing on today.  Look at verses 25-36.

There will be various signs for sure, and then he will come again!  As he said many other times, we don’t know the day, time or hour.  His coming will be like a thief in the night, like a lightning strike, surprising.  So we should practice humility about signs.  We should be very guarded about our confidence in our ability to interpret signs of the times. What does it mean, then, to be ready for his return?  Jesus will teach us in the next post in the series, as we continue study Luke 21:25-36.

What future societies might say about American Christians in 2016

25 Apr

Imagine people 2000 years from now studying Christianity.  What would they say about us?  What is important to us?  They would have to conclude that buildings are very important to us, and what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is also very important to us.  Take away the building and Sunday morning, and some (most?) churches have almost nothing left.  Is that what Jesus wanted?  Did he want our focus, our worship, our system of church to be on a building and what happens in that building for a few hours one day of the week?

No.  In fact, Jesus never mentioned, in all his teaching, anything about building buildings and gathering for worship on Sunday.  In Luke 21, after the disciples comment about the majestic temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says something terrifying to them.  He tells them that the temple would be destroyed!

Reading between the lines a bit, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Guys, don’t lose your focus on the mission of my Kingdom!”

The mission of God does not change: make disciples.  But the system of church can change and it has numerous times over the centuries.  There are certain components to church that must be included.  Many have looked over the Scriptures, studied them, and believe that Jesus and his disciples taught that any system of church must have at least these four areas:  worship, fellowship, discipleship and outreach.  How we express our faithfulness to that mission is quite open for consideration.

What, then, should we do with our building?  And what system of church should we have?

The answer starts with heart and attitude.  We should not be focused on a building, or a system of church, as these will pass away!  Instead we should be focused on being Jesus’ disciples who make more disciples for his kingdom.  We should be focused on the mission of his Kingdom.

Here’s the amazing thing about the church.  If a church’s buildings are destroyed, it does not affect the church.  The church is not the building.  The church is the people.  We do not need a building to be a church.  My Rt 340 widening story might not be true, but disaster can happen.  In 2009-10 our sister congregation, Kimball Avenue Church in Chicago, had a one of those disasters.  Their boiler exploding sending super-hot water vapor throughout their building, which did serious damage.  Their building was condemned.

But Kimball Ave Church did something amazing.  They decided not to build again.  At least not a building, that is.  Instead they decided to use their property to reach out to their community, by making a prayer garden.

KAC prayer garden

Kimball Avenue Church is still a church.  Because the people are the church!  And what’s more, they kept their focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom when they considered whether or not to rebuild.  (View the entire process of the deconstruction of their building here.)

Is your focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom?  Are you a disciple, a follower of Jesus who is making more disciples for him?

Here are some questions to help you evaluate:  Who is discipling you?  Mentoring you?  Leading you?  Investing in your life?  Helping you to be a follower of Jesus?  I’m not talking about believing.  I’m talking about learning to be, to do, to live, to serve like Jesus did.  And what is the task that Jesus spent most of his time doing?  Making disciples.  Jesus tells us that his disciples will do what he did, make more disciples. So just as we are to be his disciples, we are then to make more disciples.

All of us should have a plan we are following for making disciples, and together as a church we should have a plan as well.   So let’s spend our lives on that mission, let’s use our building for that mission, but let’s not focus on our building, let’s keep our focus on the mission of making disciples.  Then 2000 years from now when a possible future society evaluates us, they’ll be able to see clearly that we stayed focused on the mission of God’s Kingdom.