Children, Luke’s Gospel, and the names of Jesus

As a parent there are some moments when you think, “wow, I am doing ok, my kids may not need counseling after all.” Just the other day, my middle daughter Kenzie, wanted to show me something that she had been working on. She was very proud of it. She was persistent too. “Daddy, you need to see this!” When I got to the dining area, she had a piece of notebook paper in which she had written down 37 names of Jesus. She had been on her own looking up the names of Jesus in her Bible.

It was a proud dad moment! Jennifer and I want our girls to grow up loving Scripture. We want them to grow up to know how to dig into God’s Word. We want them to go to the Word for answers, for encouragement, and to have their lives wrecked for God’s glory.

While Kenzie’s list of names isn’t exhaustive, it got me thinking…she’s on to something important. There is power in names. In the Bible, especially, names often reveal key things about a character, sort of setting the trajectory of their unfolding story and how it fits into God’s unfolding Story! Remember Abraham, his name means “father of many.” His new name reflects one of the central plot lines of Scripture. Isaac too, his name means, “he laughs,” and recalls God’s promise to aged Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son! Jacob’s name means, “heal grabber,” and for much of his life he was known for his deceit. One last example, before Benjamin got his name which means, “son of my right hand,” his dying mother named him, Ben-oni, or “son of my trouble.”

Some times names can be associate with the bad some one has done as well. How many girls growing up have had the name, Jezebel? Or Bathsheba? There are other names too that you don’t generally don’t hear very often either, “Adolph,” “Stalin.”

All of this brings us back to the most important name of all, “Jesus.” In Luke’s Gospel you are thirty-one verses into his account of what God is doing in and through Jesus before the name of Jesus is even mentioned. I like how Luke tells his story by starting with an aged priest named Zechariah from the line of Abijah and his barren wife Elizabeth also from the line of Aaron. If God can make the barren fruitful, and he has, can and will, think what he is about to do the announcement to a Jewess teenager named Mary:

“26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:26-33)

The name of this baby promised to Mary would be a name for all people (Luke 2:10). This name will be above all other names (Phil. 2:9-11). This name is the name of our salvation (Acts 4:12). What is this name? It is the name, Jesus, “the Lord saves.” As Luke’s gospel unfolds, we need to keep ears and eyes open for Jesus. He is everywhere in this story. And yet there are many in the story who miss what God is doing in and through Jesus. There are many who miss it still. May all we all slow down and re-capture the wonder of Jesus and what his arrival means for us, and for the world!

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Emmaus, Jesus and the table

There’s a scene right at the end of the Gospel of Luke (in Luke 24:13-35)that I think is similar to where we find ourselves today. These two disciples are walking together towards Emmaus and as they walked they were talking about all that happened that week in Jerusalem to Jesus. Without knowing it, as they walked Jesus showed up and at first they didn’t know it.

I think sometimes Jesus shows up and we miss it. He doesn’t always do things like we expect him too. The doubting disciples on the dusty road needed a re-orientation to the work of God in the world. We do too.

As they walk and talk, Jesus gets these disciples of his to tell him what they were talking about and so they recount the horrifying three days prior to the resurrection. Jesus had been handed over to death on a Roman cross, and buried. Their hopes were dashed. But there was a thread of hope, for there had been reports that Jesus had been raised for the dead. This stranger, or so they thought, takes these two doubting Disciples back to the unfolding story of Scripture (Moses and the prophets and in other Scriptures) that tells about the coming, and victory of Jesus. It is interesting that in the midst of worry and doubt, that Jesus draws their attention back into the Story of God. We would do well to dwell in this story.

As they are walking they make their way to the place they were staying. It isn’t until they are gathered around a table, and Jesus takes bread, gives thanks and breaks it and gives it to them that they recognize him.

There are four things that jump out to me in this story:

1. The table is a great picture of the church. When we come together to take communion each week we are retelling the Jesus story. Jesus is the head and host of the table. We are a gathered people joining in with those who have gone before us and with those who will come after us.

2. The table is a place of acceptance. Throughout the Gospels Jesus was often found at a table eating with sinners. All are welcome to sit with Jesus. I know that I too would have a place at the table.

3. As Jesus was teaching them about God’s unfolding story their hearts burned within them. Many of us probably have had heart burn at one time or another. But here in Luke 24, the disciples are experiencing something else other than acid re-flux. Their hearts are burning because Jesus is inviting them into something bigger, something grander than they had initially thought.

4. The first thing they do after breaking bread is leave the table and they go and tell others about the resurrection. As I was reading this text, it dawned on me that the most important part of our weekly gatherings is what happens as we leave the building. Don’t misunderstand me: our meetings are important and what we do there. But, as we leave the coziness of the pew, we are headed out into mission. Our churches would do well to put reminders over the exits something likes this, “As you leave this, you are Christ’s ambassadors at the restaurant, at school, at work, on the road, at home.”

Whether we realize it or not, how we live in between our meeting times says a lot about what we believe about the resurrection. Hopefully are lives are pointing to the empty tomb with joy! Dismal Christians paint a dismal picture of the hope of new creation!


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Sunday is coming…

Ever you felt like your whole world has been turned upside down? This is certainly unpleasant, and can be gut wrenching. You are in good company. Let’s look at the Friday of Jesus’ last week. Remember he enters Jerusalem on a Sunday, greeted with Hosanna’s and palm branches. The city is all a buzz and messianic expectations are at a fever pitch. The King has come to reclaim his throne. Only, instead of military might and swords, Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of love and self-sacrifice. The high-fives and Hallelujah’s were replaced with a barrage of questions and traps. The religious leaders were looking for a way to rid Israel of her supposed king. This wasn’t the first time that Israel had made it clear that they didn’t want God as their only king.

Friday was a dark day. A day of deep questions. A day of longing. A day of lamenting. All of the disciple’s hopes for a restored Israel had come crashing down as their teacher, and friend hung beaten and bruised from a Roman cross in between two thieves. We have been there too, haven’t we? When we felt like the rug has been pulled out from under us. Maybe you woke up this morning, and you feel that way?

Friday is a day of grief and despair. But if you know the Jesus story. You know that our suffering, trials and despair isn’t the final word. We can enter into these valleys with full assurance that our Good Shepherd is leading us, and protecting us. In between the storm of Friday and the hope of Sunday, is the silence of Saturday. Silence frightens us. We are a people who like noise. But sometimes, silence can be a friend to the weary. Silence forces us to listen. Silence forces us to rest. If you listen hard enough to this story, you can begin to hear a crescendo coming!

Friday may be a day of darkness and tears. But on the other side of Friday’s free fall into the abyss of doubt comes an empty grave and the promise of new life. Because Jesus was willing to walk in the muck for us, we can be assured that Friday’s failings are turned into Sunday’s hope. For centuries people have seen death as the final act in a brief drama. But because the plan of God, and his unfailing love, death is defeated and now because of Jesus, it is a “see you later”!

As we celebrate today the hope of resurrection and the new life that Jesus offers, let us not forget that the cross and the empty tomb are tightly bound together. We need both to fully appreciate the enormity of God’s kingdom agenda. We don’t get to the empty tomb without the splinters of the cross. We need to remember that when darkness closes in and death seems like it is winning, that God is in the business of resurrection. Resurrecting hope, life and offering his wayward people second chances.

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Noah: the man and the movie star

This is opening weekend for a new movie called Noah. It is described as not being Biblically accurate. It is interesting the number of Christians opposed to this film. Likewise, it’s equally amusing the number of Christians in favor of the movie.

I haven’t seen it yet. I will though.

I will go to the movies expecting the story on the screen to be very different from the Biblical text. I’m ok with that. I like movies. I like movies made from books. I like the Bible. So this should be interesting. The makers of the film have told us it strays from the Bible story. So if you know that going in, then you can’t gripe about the artistic liberties taken.

Looking at the story of Noah is a good thing. One of the churches I worked for had a depiction of the ark with the animals in the nursery. And likewise a lot of the churches I have visited have had posters of arks, rainbows and a bearded fellow smiling near a huge boat. So we think we know the Noah story well. And because we do, it is sanitized for us. We even have cute VBS songs about Noah and the ark. We know the Noah story, right?

But do we? Who is this man that is 10 generations from Adam? Even at his birth his father spoke these words about him, “…He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” (Genesis 5:29 NIV). Noah will be a comforter. But his comfort will be the undoing of creation.

The world of Genesis 6 is very different from the world that God made in Genesis 1-2. The resounding good echoed throughout the opening scene of the creation narrative is replaced with the wickedness of humanity and a grieved God. As a matter of fact, from Genesis 3 on man gets further and further away from Eden. From Adam and Eve’s failure with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to Cain killing his brother Abel, mankind is in open rebellion against Their Creator.

Isn’t that the nature of sin? To exult self over God’s rule. From Eve’s curiosity, to Cain slaying his brother! this ugly self exultation is clearly the new normal. Genesis 4-6 paints a picture that only gets worse.

We read that God was grieved that he made man ( Gen 6). His plan is to undo creation and to start over. Look at the words from Genesis 6:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Genesis 6:5, 6, 11-13 NIV)

Enter Noah. He had found favor with God. Isn’t this one of the acts of mercy that in this climate of corruption, wickedness and violence that one could find favor with God. He is found to be righteous. A good definition of righteousness is that there is a balance between justice and mercy. Noah seems to care about the same things God is concerned about. Righteousness doesn’t mean that Noah is flawless. If we keep reading we recognize that the problem of Genesis 3 lives on after the flood waters recede. Other than being married and having three sons we aren’t told much else about him. His righteousness is meant to be read in stark contrast to the wickedness of humanity. Noah is different. Noah’s family is meant to be different. The plan of God included provision for Noah and his family and quite a few animals. Noah does what God asks. The flood comes, the ark is boarded and the earth and all life is destroyed.

We aren’t told about the many days that Noah and his family are on the ark. There is no mention of conversations. We aren’t told Noah’s or anyone else’s dreams, hopes or fears. It is quite possible their worst dreams have come to fruition. We are told that the waters come, and life is destroyed. While this same water destroyed life, through the ark it also saves 8 lives. I want to take our attention for a minute to Genesis 8. As the earth is now purged, the language of Genesis 8 is strikingly familiar to Genesis 1. There is a wind over the earth (8:2), whereas in Gen 1 the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. The word for wind in Hebrew is the same word for spirit. We were meant to see God re-creating, re shaping, re-forming the earth. He is undoing the forces of chaos that he ultimately controls. This is a powerful moment in the scene. God isn’t done with his creation. God isn’t going to abandon to the earth nor his people. Keep reading in Genesis 8 and the creation language continues, dry land appears, and Noah’s family is to multiply. God is all in with the people made in his likeness. He promises to never curse the ground nor to destroy all life again in spite of humanity’s wickedness (Gen 8:21).

It isn’t until Genesis 9 that we get  into the rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of the covenant that God makes with Noah and his sons. Before we get to the rainbow, God once again tells the descendants of Adam that they are to be fruitful and multiply. God seems to be reminding Noah that they were created to rule over creation. God says a word about human diets and human relationships. Humanity is to avoid eating meat with blood still in it, and we are to honor the image of God in every human. God’s end of deal is to not destroy the world again by the waters of a flood. His sign of remembrance is a rainbow.

Right after this covenant agreement that God makes with Noah, we read about Noah the man of the soil planting a vineyard and getting drunk and naked. It’s interesting that Adam (man) was formed from dirt. In Gen 2:4 the point of view is from the ground up telling the story of the dirt man made prince of creation. Here in Gen 9 Adam’s great x10 grandson is a man of the soil, once again the point of view is from the ground up. Keep in mind Gen 6-8, the point of view seems to be looking from above or a cosmic point of view. Noah, the dirt man dabbles in the dirt and plants a vineyard and gets naked. The very first man was planted in the Garden by God was himself naked and felt no shame. Only this time, one of Noah’s sons looks upon his father’s nakedness (Ham) and Noah curses his youngest son’s son. An interesting end to otherwise epic tale. So from a few chapters in Genesis we aren’t told a lot about Noah. There isn’t a lot dialogue. As a matter of fact, Noah doesn’t actually speak until chapter 9. His first words are to curse the son of his youngest son. God is the primary speaker. God speaks and Noah does what he is told. Maybe Gen 6-9 is less about Noah and more about God? We do see sin living on.

I think of extreme importance in this whole story is the sad words in Gen 8:21, “that every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” The flood was God’s way of undoing the mess that mankind made in a hurry after getting sent out of Eden. But the flood wasn’t enough to undo the effects of sin in the human condition. That story is one that will play out in the rest of the  Bible as God’s redemptive love unfolds and ultimately climaxes in the coming of God himself In the person of Jesus. The Noah story also reveals the mercy and love of God. God doesn’t throw in the towel. He is in the buisness of offering us a mulligan. If you have ever played golf, you recognize a mulligan as an act of grace. If you have children, you recognize the need for a mulligan daily! The Noah story points to the future wiping away of the sin problem we all have. God is committed to us in our mess.

If people leave theater realizing that God is concerned about us, how we treat one another and are willing to get into the Bible to re-examine a familiar tale than I am ok with that.

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Worth the cost…

Jennifer, and the girls and I have  trekked across country to attend one of our favorite church leader conferences, The Tulsa Workshop. The Tulsa Workshop has been for us like a big family reunion, a time of renewal, and a soaking in some phenomenal teaching from some of the brightest minds in the Churches of Christ. Having lived in Southwest Oklahoma for nine years it is nice to get to visit some friends from other parts of the U.S. This year’s theme is “Worth The Cost.” A lot of the class offerings center around taking the message of Jesus to those outside of the church building. In other words, daring to share the story of what God is doing in the world in and through Jesus is worth the cost indeed!

While gathering for worship is good, and we need to be together as the family of God. We also must be people who live the story of the gospel Monday through Saturday. Who we are on Monday as we enter our work places, and schools is just as important as who we are when we gather Sunday for worship. I think sometimes we forget that we are on a journey together. A journey of ups and downs. A journey of triumphs and tragedies. A journey of mess, woe, growth and grace. One of the things that stands out to me from our time in the Story  study this year is the idea that God is up to something, and he has invited into his story.

In our Story Study we have entered into the New Testament period and are looking at the life of Jesus. For he is indeed no ordinary man. Because we follow this one that left that majesty of heaven for the dirt of humanity, the church is no ordinary body either. We are a community of the grace-soaked, redeemed people of God. We have scars. We have baggage, and blisters. We have hang-ups and hurts. When we worship together we are declaring that life isn’t about us or our often trivial pursuits. We sing praise to God because He alone is worthy. When we depart the building Sunday afternoon, we enter the world as ambassadors of Christ, not consumers of contemporary culture. We are the church Sunday at 8:30 and 11:00 am, but we are also the church when we go to lunch all across the Cincinnati metro area too. Jesus’ mission was one of re-orienting the world of his day to the intentions of Yahweh. Jesus made the invisible God visible. We continue his legacy of love by being present to others in their suffering and despair. We continue his legacy of love by being present to our families. We continue his legacy of love when we dare believe that the God is alive and up to something in the world, and has invited us into his new story. That my dear friends is “worth the cost.”

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Duct tape and Mullets

What does the church look like? For some it looks like stained glassed windows and stiff wooden pews. For others the church looks like a museum of the self righteous. But there’s another picture I’m learning to enjoy more and more and need more and more. Church is more than a weekly gathering of staring at the back of graying heads. Church is the visible presence of Christ on earth. It’s interesting that one of the key descriptions in the NT for the church is family language. Brothers, and sisters. Family all the same. Another way I like to think of the church is duct tape and mullets.
In 1998 I became a follower of Jesus. I went “to church,” really for the first time. I didn’t know the church was the people, not a place. I had no idea of the mission the church was called to, no clue of its historic importance or it’s profound impact on the world. Over the years my understanding if the church has deepened. From a place to a people. From a weekly gathering to a mission minded people called to serve and demonstrate the love of Christ. But I’m getting a head of myself here. Back in 1998 the church was foreign to me, weird, and strangely familiar. I didn’t know the lingo, I didn’t know the secret hand shake, or the protocol. I didn’t like to sing. I didn’t like to sing in public. I would sing I the shower, and in my truck, but thankfully no one could hear me, except for God and he must of liked it, because now I was in an intentional community with people who sang their hearts out to The Lord. I still prefer to sing in the shower. And yet with as weird as the church was to me as a new believer, it was strangely familiar. It was family. Before I became a Christian my family was “church” to me. My family was a place of acceptance, love, intentional community, full of imperfect people held together by a common bond. It was duct tape and mullets. A sticky connection to the past and present and imperfections and quirkiness that speaks to our unique shaping and creational intent of our Master Designer.
Today we had several opportunities to be with the church. From the High School Bible class I teach, to the Children’s Bible hour we led this Sunday, to two meal times with the church today. I see the same duct tape and mullets when I’m with my teens at Northeast. They aren’t a perfect group, but they love Jesus and are learning what it means to love one another one day at a time. They are held together by a common story. They are imperfect and yet loved. My wife and I taught children’s worship today. I love the energy and enthusiasm of these kids. They are squirrelly and hungry for God. They don’t always listen to our words, but we sing together and have a fun time doing it together. Isn’t that the church? Joy and wonder, purity and mischief. It’s duct tape and mullets. It doesn’t get any better! We got to eat together twice with the church today. Lunch was a potluck. We had a variety if dishes. The young and the not so young sitting down for a meal. We swapped stories, had seconds, laughed a lot and corralled little ones to their Lads and Leaderette practices. Tonight, we once again dined with our community of faith. We had a chili cook of. All kinds of chilis were brought in. All kinds of people sat around tables tonight all part of the ongoing story of God’s work in the world. Laughs were heard. Stories were shared. Hugs were given. Little one’s played and danced.
It’s nights like tonight that I feel closet to the family of God. I see past and present coming together as a group of saints seek to do life together. We are imperfect people held together by a common bond, attempting to live in intentional community. We don’t have it all figured out. But for the body that meets at the Northeast Church of Christ we are duct tape and mullets. Duct tape has staying power. The church does too. Mullets, party in the back and business in the front, is this not a picture of God’s people connected as family. Jesus people should be about his business, which seemed to be about throwing parties for people who otherwise weren’t invited to parties. Jesus threw parties for losers, the sin-sick, the weary, the worried, the worn out, the down and outs, the depressed, the demon-possessed, and the outcast.  We are a people of acceptance, love, intentional community, full of imperfect people held together by a common bond. We have a sticky connection to the past and present and the imperfections and quirkiness that we bring to the table speaks to our unique shaping and creational intent of our Master Designer.
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For a such a time as this

Our congregation is walking through the Story. This week we are in chapter 20, and we are looking at the story of Esther. Esther is one of those books if your not careful,you would miss. It’s not a big book compared to Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah and of Ezekiel. But the size of the book doesn’t dictate it’s quality or importance. Esther is indeed an important book. Esther begins smack dab in the middle of Jewish captivity under the reign of Xerxes the ruler of 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush. He was wealthy and his army was fierce. In other words Xerxes ruled the world. Smack dab in the middle of captivity in a far away land is a man named Mordecai, a Jewish noble who took care of his young cousin, Hadassah, and raised her as his own daughter. Mordecai was taking care of family. Little did he know that his baby cousin would be the salvation of the Jews. In addition to being faithful to his family, Mordecai was faithful to his God. More about that in minute.

The Book of Esther gives a behind the scenes picture of the royal court of Xerxes is the most powerful king on the planet. His word was law. His subjects obeyed or they were banished from his sight or worse, they were killed. When the king decreed, people listened. Except one time when the once former Queen Vashti disobeyed the king’s summon. Her willful rejection of the king lead to a kingdom wide search for a new Queen. Cue, Hadassah, also known as Esther. The Story text says she was beautiful in form and lovely in appearance. In other words, the author wants to stress that she will catch the King’s eye. She does and becomes Queen. But she has a secret. Queen Esther is Jewish.

But all is not well in the kingdom. Haman, a power hungry villian, held in high esteem by the King sets out to slaughter the Jews. In Jewish history the very people that Haman was descended from were the Amalekites, the long-time enemies of God’s people. So once Haman learns that Mordecai is Jewish and won’t bow down to him to show him honor he devises a plan to  eliminate the Jews from the kingdom. As a Jew it’s not that Mordecai is incapable of bowing down to Haman, or showing him honor. Mordecai’s faithfulness to Yahweh prohibits his putting anything or anyone above God. Mordecai learns of this plan and summons Esther to approach the king to beg for pardon.

It’s in this moment of danger and threat of extermination we read these words, “and who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this” (The Story, p. 232). Mordecai essentially sends Esther on an impossible mission. Her task to approach the king could end in her death herself. You couldn’t enter Xerxes presence without being summoned. Remember Vashti was summoned and she didn’t come. Now here is the new Queen daring to approach the throne of the king with a summons. Esther’s purpose was to be selected to be in a position of honor to save her people. While we may not be in a royal court, we too are strategically placed by God in schools, communities, neighborhoods, work places, etc., for such a time as this. In other words, like Esther, we can be a force for good in the world if we begin to sniff out the work of God in the world and seek to partner with Him in his endeavors. We too may get a chance to save lives, or share the story of Jesus with someone who has never heard. May we learn from the story Esther the importance of blooming were we are planted!



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