Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Luke 17

Key Verse: Luke 17:17
Big Idea: When we understand the Son of Man's work, we will learn what it means to be thankful.

I read the story of some parents after World War 2 who gave their church an offering of $200 as a memorial for their son. Sitting there as the presentation was made, another mother whispered to her husband that they should make the same donation for their son. He was confused; their son had made it home safely. His wife replied that was her point: they should be grateful for what didn't happen. How often do we pray and praise God for the accident we did not have, the sickness we did not get or the job we did not lose?

Younger Kids: Do you have an easier time remembering to say 'please' or 'thank you?' Why do you think that is the case?

Adrian Rogers argued that there are four levels of people. The lowest are those who complain about everything at all times. They make themselves miserable and try to bring as much company as they can along. The next level are those who are just ungrateful, not particularly prone to gratitude or to grumbling. The next level are those who are grateful for the obvious blessings. But the highest level are those who give thanks at all times, always keeping one eye to the heavens, aware of the many small mercies God gives us.

Today's reading includes two striking contrasts. First, Jesus talks about how a servant does his work first, and cannot expect a special commendation from his master for doing his job. Second, Jesus heals ten lepers, and only one returns to thank Him. Isn't it ironic? When we do the smallest thing, we expect a parade. But no matter what God does for us, we carry on like we are self-sufficient.

This is silly enough for a Muslim or a Buddhist. But if you are a Christian, you believe that the Son of Man gave His very life for you, while you were His enemy, and sustains you every moment by His grace. We deserve only judgment and condemnation but are given mercy and love. Step back today, and take some time to realize who the Son of Man is and what He has done for you. There is no better prod to gratitude.

Discussion idea: Why did the other 9 not return to thank Jesus? What are some overlooked blessings we can thank God for today?

Prayer Focus:
Take turns as a family thanking God. First, for something good He has done, then thank Him for something hard He is using for good. Thank Him for someone who is there with you and then for someone who is not there (for whatever reason). Something good, something hard, someone here and someone not.

P.S. Notice that the leper comes back, glorifying God and thanking Jesus. Here is one of the many subtle proofs of the Trinity in the New Testament. He comes to praise God, and does it through God become Man: Jesus.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Luke 16


Key Verse: Luke 16:31
Big Idea: The resurrection of the Son of Man is the test of what really matters.

There are few things that people fixate on more than money. When they don't have it, they think they will be happy if they get it. When they have it (no matter how much), they think they will be happy with just a little bit more. In Luke 16, Jesus tells two stories about wealth and its proper use that are incredibly applicable today, although a little bit difficult to interpret until you notice how Luke strings them together. The first is a parable of a wealthy man who had a manager that was responsible for managing his estate (the manager did not own it, hence the title steward, but did have a lot of control of the day to day operations). He prepared to fire the manager and ordered him to bring him the books so that he could pass them along to his replacement. But before he did, he gave the master's debtors some discounts. Essentially, he gave away the master's money (which he knew he could not keep) to make friends for himself when he was newly unemployed. Rather than being angry, the master was impressed: maybe the steward he was firing was a shrewd operator after all.

None of our material possessions are really ours; they belong to God and when we die He will redistribute them. With that realization, we ought to be at least clever enough to trade what we cannot keep for what we will need after. This is nothing less than a reminder of the same warning Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Plain: Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus after this teaching. Jesus responded by challenging their devotion to the Law to the exclusion of the spiritual underpinnings: the arriving Kingdom of God. Then he told another story about a rich man and a poor man. The poor man, Lazarus, died and was carried to the arms of Abraham (Abraham's bosom or chest), while the rich man died and found Himself tormented in fire. The rich man called out to Abraham and begged for mercy, but Abraham responded that the rich man had chosen the blessings of earthly life and that there was a great gulf which prevented a change now. Thus far, the thought is not too different from the parable of the steward at the beginning of the chapter. But then Jesus takes a turn and tells us that the rich man asked for someone to warn His brothers about what would happen. Abraham simply says they should listen to the Law and the Prophets - God has already given them plenty of warning. Of course, like the Pharisees, the rich man's brothers would have considered themselves careful listeners to the Law and the Prophets, even as they missed its underlying message.

The rich man claimed that if someone rose from the dead, they would believe. No, Abraham replied. If they would listen at all, they would listen to God's Word. Someone rising from the dead would make no difference. The message would be proven right shortly. These same ones who rejected Jesus now would reject Him when He rose from the dead. When He triumphantly showed that life was short, but that there was hope beyond it, people were faced with the decision to lay up treasures in Heaven or continue hoarding them on Earth. But they rejected Him, rejected their only hope and condemned themselves.

Discussion idea: What are some material things that you could give up to serve God? Is that easy or difficult? Why?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would give an eternal perspective. If we trust Jesus, we will die, but He will raise us up again. Pray that we will prioritize those things which we will have with Him forever, and not be caught up in possessions which were never ours anyway.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Luke 15


Key Verse:
Luke 15:24
Big Idea: The Son of Man pursues us wherever we run.

When you think about the major blockbuster movies, novels and TV shows in our day, you will find that many of the biggest, most captivating are love stories or stories of redemption. These two kinds of plots connect with the human heart in a special way, because they speak to a basic need we have for relationship and acceptance. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Luke 15 is among the most loved chapters in the Bible. It tells two short stories to set the scene and a final parable that tells a story of love and redemption, with a subplot of envy and bitterness.

Older kids: What is your favorite movie? What about the plot connects with you?

Our setting: the Pharisees opposing Jesus, because of how close He is getting to sinners. The setup: Jesus tells two short stories. If you lost a sheep, you would go find it, and would be excited when you did. If you lost some money, you would tell all your neighbors when you found it again. The angels of God rejoice like that when a sinner is reclaimed by God, yet the Pharisees (who would be excited about a sheep or a coin), are angry that this person is found again.

To hit the nail squarely on the head, Jesus tells a final story. A man has two sons. The younger comes and asks the father to liquidate his assets and give him his inheritance now. Unthinkably, the father does so, and the younger son takes and wastes it all. He goes from being wealthy to slopping pigs and starving himself. He ‘comes to himself’ and decides to return to his father. But before he can get close, his father’s watching eye sees him and his father runs to throw his arms around him, forgiving him and restoring him. Although the son walked the road away from home alone, the father pursues him there when he returns. God’s love is like that. Although we might be excited about a sheep or a coin, how much more a child! Even though we have rejected God, He is still overjoyed when we return to Him, and He ran down to Earth to reclaim us.

Yet, there is a dark ending to the story. The older brother does not come to the celebration, but sits and sulks outside, although he would certainly have joined in celebrating a sheep or a coin recovered. When his father comes to him to bring him in, he is resentful and disrespectful. Like a spoiled brat, he ignores the blessings his father had given him to complain about the love being shown to his prodigal brother. The Pharisees  who acted this way when Jesus came to the notorious sinners to reclaim them revealed they did not understand God’s heart. Like Jonah, they loved the material things of the world and resented people. The Son of Man did not come with that agenda. He came to love and to bring us home.

Discussion idea: Do you ever get resentful when you see someone forgiven for something they have done wrong? Why do you think that we, forgiven sinners, do not value mercy more?
Prayer focus: Praise God for reclaiming us with joy and pray we could see people more like He does.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Luke 14

Key Verse: Luke 14:11
Big Idea: The humble are exalted by the Son of Man.

Have you ever seen someone waving at you, smiled and waved back, only to find out they were waving at someone else? There is a particular kind of embarrassment that comes from thinking we are more important than we are and getting cut down to size. When it is some small social slip up like a wave, we get over it quickly, but the feeling is real. The first parable Jesus told in today’s chapter was hardly a parable at all. He saw the way that the people at the dinner party He was attending were trying to position themselves in the places of highest honor, and gave them a very simple instruction: “Knock it off.” It is better, Jesus taught them, to put yourself in a low position and get invited to come up higher, than to put yourself in a top position and get asked to move over for someone else. It is always better to let someone else pat you on the back, rather than to do it for yourself.

This is good advice for us in every arena. Don’t tell other people how great you are: be humble and let someone else lift you up. But Jesus connects this to a fundamental theological principle: God will lift up the humble, and oppose the proud (Proverbs 29:23, James 4:6). There is no better example of this than Jesus Himself, who came and associated with the people who were rejected and mistreated. He humbled Himself, all the way to dying on a cross between two thieves. But because He humbled Himself, our Heavenly Father raised Him up again, seated Him back in His rightful place in the throne of Heaven and gave Him dominion over all things. He is our example.

When we try and fight our own way to the top, we are working against the only King’s will and plan. Instead, if we trust Him and admit our own weakness, we are given freely what we could never take. The same one who was exalted for humbling Himself, exalts us too.

Discussion idea: Why is pride such a powerful enemy? How can you be humble with your friends, following the example of Jesus?

Prayer focus: Thank God for humbling Himself to rescue us from our sin. Ask God to help you see the areas in your own life where humility is needed, and for help seeing Him clearly enough to put ourselves into perspective.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Luke 13

Key Verse: Luke 13:34
Big Idea: The heart of the Son of Man is broken when people refuse to hear His call.

In Luke 13, Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders begins to escalate. He compares them to a fruitless fig tree, ready to be cut down, heals a woman on the sabbath day and warns that the apparent outsiders will eat at the table with Abraham, while the insiders will be cast out. As the heat turned up, Jesus was told that His life was in danger and He ought to flee. He responded instead that He would continue His work as He made His way to Jerusalem, and then cried out over the city with a broken heart. Like a hen shelters her chicks beneath her wings, Jesus said that He had tried to pull the people into safety and security, yet they rejected Him time after time. He warned them that they were out of time, and would not see Him again until they were ready to receive Him (Psalm 118:26).

The picture here is complex. Jesus is loving, patient and ready to receive His people. He is heart broken that they refuse to come to Him, yet there comes a time when their time is up. They are left desolate: a fig tree ready to be uprooted by God. Yet, there is a third layer. In the future, they will say: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The door has closed for this generation, but a future generation will see Jesus for who He is. Jesus was truly the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and while His own generation rejected Him all the way to the cross, one day the people will return to Him, when the fullness of the Gentiles have been saved (Romans 11:25).

In our own lives, we can be reassured of God’s patient love. For most of us, we hear His loving call and break His heart many times before we respond. But, eventually, we have our last chance. Maybe you have been trying to go to church and trying to be good for a long time. Yet, the need to be saved is something you resist. Jesus has called you over and over again to admit you are a sinner and that your works can never save you, and cry out to Him for forgiveness. Maybe He is calling you now. But don’t reject Him, because there will be a last chance for you.

Discussion idea: What does it mean to be patient? Does patience mean that someone is never punished for their mistakes?
Prayer focus: If you are a Christian, pray for the salvation of the lost, especially the nation of Israel. If you have resisted Jesus’ call, pray something like this: “I know that I am a sinner, and I deserve your judgment. But I believe that Jesus loves me enough that He died for me, and that He rose again because the penalty I deserve was paid in full. I am sorry for that sin, and sorry for breaking your heart. Please forgive me, and change my heart forever.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Luke 12

Key Verse: Luke 12:37
Big Idea: We ought to live with priorities that reflect the Son of Man is coming.

Luke 12, like Luke 11, is a chapter rich in warnings against anxiety. The birds are fed by their Maker, but He is your Father; don't you realize He will care for you? But the sharpest warnings against worry in this chapter seem to be rooted in the fact that the most important things are the ones we could not stockpile anyway. How many smiles can you deposit in the bank? How many hugs from someone you love can you put off today so you can have them tomorrow instead? The things that we can pile up are the very things that we cannot keep anyway. Either they will rot, moths will eat them, or we will die. All the things we can worry about, we are going to lose.

Younger Kids:
When you are playing hide and seek, how high do you normally count? How would you play differently if you did not know how high the person was counting? Would you get ready right away, or take your time looking for the best spot? If we do not know when Jesus will come again, how should we act today?

Older Kids:  When your parents leave you at home with chores to do and say they will be back at a certain time, when do you start working? What do you do with the rest of the time? What would you do if you did not know when they would be back? How do you think God will respond if He has told us He is coming and we waste the time He has given us?

If we realize that Jesus is coming again to set up His Kingdom, we will live with a sense of urgency and purpose. If He finds we have been serving faithfully, then He will come to serve us, giving us rewards which we could never dream of. But if when He returns, we have wasted our time on games, we will lose everything we thought we had. Jesus left us when He died on the cross and took the punishment for our sins, then He rose again on the third day and ascended up to Heaven. He has told us He will return, although we don't know when, and told us to be about the business of making disciples in the meantime. If we are fishers of men, then we will have nothing to worry about, because the things we love will be the things we can never lose.

Discussion idea: Why do you think that people who believe in God are still tempted to live for the physical stuff of this world like money, prestige and power?
Prayer focus: Pray that Jesus would let us live with the joy of security in Him and the passion of expecting Him to return at any moment.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Luke 11



Key verse:
Luke 11:26
Big Idea: The Son of Man demands obedience from the whole man.

Luke 11 is largely about hypocrisy. Prayer that asks God for things, but does not trust His goodness. Claiming to believe in God, but asking for a sign and then refusing to respond to the sign. People who wash the outside of their "cups," but not the inside - their behavior looks good, but their hearts are rotten. People who count the leaves on a mint plant to tithe every tenth leave, yet who care nothing about justice or mercy. Undermining the prophets will they lived, then building them monuments when they died (like the United States trying to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. while he lived, then giving him a holiday when he died). Hypocrisy! Hypocrisy Hypocrisy!

Jesus is not impressed. The Son of Man knows what is in the heart of a man, and He is not satisfied when we merely remove external acts of sin. But in the middle of this passage (Luke 11:24-26), a fascinating parable sheds a lot of light on this situation. If a demon is cast out of a person, Jesus says, then he may depart the person for a while. But when the demon returns, he finds the person an empty house, neat, clean and ready to inhabit. So the demon goes, finds seven demons eviler than himself, and the man who had one demon cast out is not possessed by a posse.

The discussion of demons is interesting but is not Jesus' real point. Instead, he is pointing out the problem with the religious hypocrites is that their hearts will not stand a vacuum. When evil is cast out, it must be replaced with something, and if not, all of your self-discipline in resisting sin will just make you into a better sinner: a house swept, dusted and ready for a bigger party. Only one thing is going to keep the demon from returning in the parable: someone stronger already living in the house. When we try and fight off our own sin, we are sweeping a dirt floor. When we instead give our whole selves to Jesus, inside and out, He fights our battles for us. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will add everything else.

Discussion idea: Many people are struggling with anxiety right now. If that anxiety is resisted head-on, it will simply be repalced by a different worry. How do we replace it instead with the indwelling power of Jesus? What is a specific anxiety in your life, and how can you replace it with seeking the Kingdom?

Prayer focus: Pray that God would empower us and transform us to serve Him with our whole hearts, exposing any hypocrisy and leaving only devotion.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Luke 10

Key Verse: Luke 10:36
Big Idea: We are not like the Son of Man until we love our neighbor.

An expert in the law came to Jesus and asked what it took to be sure of eternal life. Jesus offered him the only thing that anyone can do. Love God completely and love your neighbor as yourself. If someone did these two things perfectly, they would be perfect in every way and, being sinless, could enter into Heaven. Like everyone trying to make themselves look good, the man searched for a loophole: if I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself, who is my neighbor? How far does this obligation stretch?

Older kids: List some sins. Which ones violate love of God and which ones violate love of our neighbor? 

In first century Israel, many people thought that love should be restricted along racial, class or behavioral lines. In fact, many of the rabbis interpreted “love your neighbor” as implying that there was someone who was not your neighbor whom you should not love. What do we learn from this man’s question? He had already missed the first law of love. Love does not ask “How far must I go?” Love asks “How far can I go?” By asking the question about who we must love, we show that we do not understand love. This is especially clear when the Teacher is already on the way to the cross to die for the wicked.

To answer the question, Jesus tells one of the most well-known parables is the Bible. A man was traveling down an extremely dangerous road, where he was attacked, stripped naked and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (both “insiders” by race, class and behavior because of their tribe of birth) ignored him. Perhaps they knew that attackers often used the injured as bait. Perhaps the man was not Jewish and so they felt no obligation to him. Whatever the reason, they walked past on the far side of the road. like someone refusing to make eye contact with a beggar..”Not my problem; not my neighbor.”

A Samaritan, a group of people hated by the Jews for their religious corruption and intermarriage with the Canaanites, stopped and showed compassion. At great risk and cost, he took the injured man to an inj to recover. The Samaritan and the inn keeper, both considered shady outsiders, show love, while the insiders did not. Jesus then simply asked the law expert: ‘who was a neighbor to this man?”
Obviously the neighbor was not defined by any social boundaries, but by the one who acted as a neighbor. The call to love your neighbor as yourself is the call to realize we are all neighbors, by virtue of our humanity and our need of love. Jesus told the man to go and do that - show compassion without boundaries.

It is that problem which shows clearly why we can never earn our own salvation. Our love is never total or complete, so our actions never fulfill the law. So rather than seeing ourselves as the Samaritan, we are instead the helpless one on the side of the road, who is nursed to health again by the One who was despised and rejected of men, the One who chose to become our neighbor. The Som of Man has shown that great love for us, and our relationship with God depends on faith in that alone. But if we recognize that love, we must know that being like Him means passing it along.

Discussion idea: Is it possible to love someone without action? Why or why not/ Who is hard for you to love? Why?
Prayer focus: Praise God for loving us when we were unlovable. Ask God to help us love the ones that He loves, but we do not, not based on their worth, but on His faithfulness.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Luke 9


Key Verse: Luke 9:58

Big Idea: The Son of Man calls us to follow Him in sacrifice.

Wouldn't it be nice if life were always easy? If the stock market were always up, if pets lived forever and if brussels sprouts tasted like cotton candy? Of course, this is not reality. Life is hard. Sometimes it is made hard because of other people and their sin, sometimes it is hard because of the kinds of diseases and disasters that we have in a fallen world. But sometimes, life is hard because following Jesus does not always mean taking the easiest path.

Younger Kids: Have you ever been tempted to take the easy way out or to half do something? How does that hurt your witness for God? 

If Jesus is our example, then it is obvious that He did not take the path of least resistance. He left the riches of Heaven to be poor on Earth, and those who wanted to become His followers on Earth had to choose radical faith. They did not know where they would sleep that night, they just knew that Jesus was leading them. If we are led by Jesus, who loved others so much that He gave His life for them, then we must love others more than we love our own comfort or pleasure. We must be willing to sacrifice alongside Him, knowing that ultimately being with Him is greater than anything we could ever give up.

Older kids: What are you most afraid of losing? What would be worth giving that up? 
This chapter includes several people who wanted to follow Jesus on their own terms. In other words, they wanted to be labeled as Jesus' followers, but really be their own leaders. We can't do that. If we do what God wants when it is also what we want, it is not God we are following, but ourselves. Jesus does not call us to be half-followers, but totally devoted to Him. Sometimes that means ordinary life, like the man who had been possessed in Luke 8. Sometimes it means great sacrifice. Sometimes it is something in between. Every time it is worth it.

Discussion Idea: A famous missionary and martyr, Jim Elliott, wrote: "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." What did he mean by that? Do you agree?

Prayer focus: Pray for Christians who suffer persecution around the world (check out persecution.com for some examples) as they give up so much for Jesus. Pray that God would break our love of the things that keep our eyes on this life, and turn us to Him.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Luke 8


Key Verse: Luke 8:39
Big Idea: Sometimes following the Son of Man looks like ordinary life.

What does following Jesus look like? Does it look like a missionary, walking through the jungles of Africa, risking life and limb to take the gospel where it has never been heard? Does it look like a pastor, working day after day on preaching, counseling, and prayer? Does it look like someone who is very poor? Or someone who is very rich?

Any of these may be right, any of these may be wrong. God's calling on every life is different. Sometimes following the Son of Man does not involve getting on an airplane, but going into the kitchen to make breakfast for young children who are soaking up God's truths. For several missionary families I know, following Jesus meant both going to a foreign field and faithfully raising their children in the struggles and joys of everyday life. The truth is that God is nor impressed by the things we are impressed by. You would have a hard time finding a more dramatic story than the man described at the end of Luke 8, who was possessed by 5000 demons and liberated by Jesus. In gratitude for what Jesus had done for Him (like the woman in Luke 7, he loved much because he was loved much), the man wanted to go with Jesus to preach to the world.

But Jesus told him no.

Imagine for a minute, the desire to do something grand, but to have the Son of Man tell you that the greatest impact you can have will seem much more ordinary: "Go home and tell the people here what God has done for you." For all of us, even those who God does call to more dramatic forms of ministry, the beginning of our service is at home. We must help each other in our family, share the gospel with our friends and worship together if we are ever going to lead others outside of our homes.

What does following Jesus look like? It looks like living for Him, right where He put you. Charles Spurgeon once said that if God had made you a cricket and told you to chirp, you could do no better than to obey His will.

Discussion idea: Why do you think the man wanted to travel with Jesus? Why do you think Jesus told him to stay? Does God ever tell us not to do something good, so we can do what is best?
Prayer focus: Pray for contentment with the opportunities and challenges God has given to you and for eyes to see His work in your life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Luke 7

Key Verse: Luke 7:47
Big Idea:  We love the Son of Man because He first loved us.

As human beings, we are not very lovable. We are sinners, who often bite the hand of the One who feeds us. Yet God, because of His incredible mercy, has chosen to love us and to forgive us. Luke 7 describes a series of incredible events, where those who were outcasts from Jewish social world were received by Jesus. First, a Roman centurion, directly responsible for leading a unit of the troops that occupied the Israelite territory, was praised by Jesus for his faith, and saw his servant healed. A widow who lost her only son, and thus her economic security, stood by as Jesus touched the (ceremonially unclean) dead body and raised him to life again. John the Baptist, in prison and soon to be executed, was described by Jesus as the greatest prophet that had ever lived. 

Finally, in the text from which our key verse is drawn, Jesus was sitting at dinner with a Pharisee and a notorious sinner came up behind him and begin weeping. She took the water from her tears and used her hair to wash the grime of people, animals and earth from His feet. She loved Jesus so much that the most disgusting part of His body was precious to her. Then she took an expensive jar of perfume, although she was likely poor, and broke it over His feet in what seemed like an extravagant waste to the rest of the table.

The host, Simon, failed to offer any of the normal components of hospitality. He offered Jesus no cooling oil for His head or water for His feet. He believed that his own doubts about Jesus were confirmed: a true prophet would have known who this woman was and would have rejected her. He was half right, of course, God's true prophet knew this woman's heart was broken by her sin in a way that all of Simon's external righteousness could not compete with. She had experienced God's love when she was unworthy and loved Him in return. Simon knew self-righteousness and loved only Himself. 

To illustrate the point, Jesus told a simple parable. Two people are forgiven sizeable debts, but one is much larger than the other. Who loves more? The answer is obvious. In the same way, God's love for those the deepest in sin often results in the greatest love when they have been redeemed. Luke, the companion of Paul who had persecuted the church, knows this better than most. We ought to know it too. The more we realize our dependence on God, and our inability to earn His love by anything we do, the more we will actually love and serve Him.

Discussion idea: How does Jesus' ministry as a friend of sinners actually help Him to reach the people who will do the most? How does being "good" come between us and godliness?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to reveal the hidden sins of self righteousness and pride, and replace them with gratitude. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Luke 6

Key Verse: Luke 6:48
Big Idea: The Son of Man is the foundation of our lives.

In the town where I used to live, they built a new neighborhood with massive homes on big lots. Their HOA has a private boat ramp and a private dog park. The developed who set it up undeniably made a fortune. But you can hardly get there because they did not take all of the steps necessary to build quality roads. Instead, when pulling off of FM-2004 in Brazoria County, you are teleported to the potholes of Louisiana. 

Everyone is building something with their life. Some people are building lives that look impressive physically: lots of friends, lots of money and lots of influence. Some people are building lives that look impressive spiritually: lots of followers, lots of Scripture memorized, and lots of good deeds. None of those things are wrong! But if you could dig just a little bit beneath the surface, you might be surprised at what you would find. Some lives that look unimpressive are built on a sturdy foundation, and can safely be expanded and improved. Some lives that seem to be amazing have no foundation, and the first storm will bring them crashing to the ground.

In the parable which concludes the Sermon on the Plain, today’s chapter, Jesus tells us that hearing His words may seem impressive, and people may be amazed at our knowledge, but if we do not do them, we are a house with no foundation. At the first crisis, the life that seemed so beautiful is suddenly so much rubble and disappointment. Too often, we are caught up in what is visible and forget that God is looking at our hearts. If we are to build our lives on Jesus, sometimes it will seem counter-intuitive to those around us, who are mostly concerned with what is visible. But it is the life founded on the rock which can stand the storm. When we make all of who we are on the Rock of Jesus, then even death itself cannot shake us. If we follow Him, He holds us securely in His hand.

Discussion idea: The most important things cannot be lost in life or by death. What are some things that seem important, but are not on the foundation of Jesus? What are some things that seem unimportant, but will last forever?

Prayer focus: Pray for the strength and wisdom to build your life on Jesus alone, repent of any areas of your life which are not. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Luke 5


Key Verse: Luke 5:10
Big Idea: The Son of Man calls us out to bring people in.

Jesus' public ministry was not one that He would accomplish alone. He knew that His time was short, because a cross loomed in the distance and He would need to gather a group of people to carry on His ministry. He built an institution which persists to this day, the church, and laid the groundwork for everything else which would come on this day on the seashores of Galilee. Simon, one of John's disciples, loaned Jesus His boat to use as a platform to preach to a crowd; Jesus then miraculously gave Him a massive catch of fish. Peter, who had heard of Jesus from John, had heard Him teach and seen His power was now faced with a choice. It was time to leave fishing for fish to start fishing for people. 

Younger Kids: What do you think that Jesus means when He says that Peter will "catch men"?
Later in the chapter, Jesus continues His ministry of healing and preaching, until he came across a tax collector, named Levi (to us, he is better known as Matthew). Tax collectors were a despised group of people. Considered religious and political traitors for their alignment with the Roman Empire, they were so hated that the Pharisees and scribes would not eat with them. Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, and Levi did what Jesus had told the fishermen to do earlier: he threw a party to introduce people to Jesus. The Pharisees challenged Jesus, asking why He would eat with these tax collectors and sinners. Jesus described His ministry simply as like a doctor, who needed to be among the sick to do His work (Matthew 5:31-32).
Peter, his brother Andrew, the brothers James and John and Matthew would be the first apostles, the ones that Jesus sent out to preach the good news that He brought. Jesus does not use perfect angels to bring His message, but calls ordinary people out of ordinary life to do extraordinary work. Peter and the others were just like any other sinners, they were fishermen, not rabbis or scribes, and James and John's nickname was "the sons of thunder," for their riotous tempers. But God uses these imperfect people to reach other imperfect people: the men who had been caught will now do the catching. They left everything behind, boat, fish, and family, and followed Jesus (Luke 5:11).

Older kids: If God has given you the job of catching people, what can you learn from the way that fishermen work? How do they catch fish? How do we reach people for Jesus?

Discussion idea: Who is someone that you can talk to about Jesus this week? How does knowing that we have been pulled out of sin motivate us to try and rescue others?
Prayer focus: Thank God that, although we are not any better than anyone else, we have been saved by His grace. Ask Him for eyes that are open to others we can reach for Him. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Luke 4

Key Verse: Luke 4:4

Big Idea: When He was tempted, the Son of Man responded with the Word of God. 

In some sense, Jesus' public ministry began when He was baptized at about 30 years old. Yet the first thing He did was to retreat from the public view to spend 40 days alone in the desert with God. This is strongly reminiscent of the 40 years the Israelites spent in the desert  after being "baptized" in the Red Sea, where they were tempted to trust God for bread, kingdom and leadership, but failed. During this time, Jesus fasted, the traditional method of reminding yourself that you are hungry for God, beyond what anything physical can satisfy. It was at this point of physical weakness that Jesus was tempted. The three temptations He faced were representative of the temptations that we all face: the desire for physical comfort, the need for prestige and the pull of power (the Bible calls these the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life in 1 John 2:16). Each time Jesus responded to these tests, He used the same method: He simply quoted the book of Deuteronomy. 

Younger kids: When are you most tempted to do something wrong? When you are tired/hungry/lonely? How can knowing that help you stay on your guard? 
Rather than resisting the temptation directly, Jesus chose to focus on the truth instead. It has been said that Secret Service agents learning to detect counterfeit bills spend much more time studying real bills than they do the counterfeit ones. It is easy to recognize the false when you know the real thing.  Incredibly, although Jesus is entirely God, He resisted every temptation using the same resources available to you and to me, the Scriptures. The Devil quoted Scripture back at Him for the third temptation, suggesting that if Jesus is really the Son of God, He should prove it by jumping into a valley and letting God rescue Him. He misquoted the Scripture slightly, removing the words "in all your ways" and removed it from the context, where Psalm 91:1 restricted the promise to the one who dwells in intimacy with God. This half truth was a whole lie. Jesus responds by quoting another Scripture: Don't put God to the test. It is one thing to walk closely with God and know that He protects us wherever we go, but it is quite a different scenario to put ourselves into a bad situation and trust that God will bail us out. 

Older kids: A lot of the toughest temptations we face are self-made. We let ourselves get in the wrong place, with the wrong people at the wrong time until "one thing leads to another." Jesus deliberately allowed Himself to get hungry to be tempted. How is recklessly entering a position of temptation different than what He did? 


After Jesus had faced these temptations, the Devil left Him for a while, and He continued His ministry, announcing the good news that God's reign had come, healing the sick and casting out demons. Perhaps most significantly, He began by going to the synagogue and once again using the Bible to show who He had come to be. The boy who had learned in the Temple was still about His Father's business.

Discussion idea: When you are tempted, how do you resist it? What happens when you try to resist a temptation head on, versus substituting it for something good?

Prayer focus: Thank God that in Jesus, we have the power to resist temptation. Identify a specific area of temptation in your life and ask God to help you find a corresponding truth to replace it with. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Luke 3

Key Verse: Luke 3:38
Big Idea: The Son of Man came as the Savior of all humanity.

Before Luke described the birth of Jesus in the first chapter, he talked about the man who would be born before Jesus, to prepare the people for His arrival: John the Baptist. John would call the people to repentance and faith, baptize them as a symbol of that faith and so prepare the raw materials which Jesus would use to assemble His first church. Fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5, John would come and prepare the path for the Lord, and did so by teaching the people to trust the One who was coming and to obey Him. By our chapter today, Jesus is a man, ready to make His public debut through His baptism. Before Jesus comes to John, the religious hypocrites ask to be baptized. John's words against them are sharp: they are hypocrites and vipers, wanting protection from God's wrath by ritual, without changing their hearts. Neither the water of the Jordan River nor their Jewish ancestry would protect them, because God could raise up children for Abraham from dead stones if He wanted to.

In a sense, that is exactly what He did. From the dead, rock hard hearts of the Gentiles, God would draw people out and bring them into Abraham's family: people who were not circumcised in their bodies, but in their hearts. Baptism, as the symbol of the new covenant, was only meaningful if the person had already repented of their sins and trusted in the Messiah. Anything less than that was a mockery. But for those who did repent and believe, forgiveness was free. There was no ancestral requirement, no economic, political or social distinctions: Jesus was coming to be the Savior of all humanity, and that salvation would be received by everyone who received Him.

Luke reinforced that point (and the portrait of Jesus as both fully God and fully human from the first two chapters) by giving the genealogy of Jesus here, even though we might have expected it earlier. While Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, Luke takes His ancestry all the way to Adam and to God. Jesus has not come just for one tribe or nation, but for all of humanity. Just as Adam was born without parents, Jesus was born of a virgin, as the second Adam come to recreate humanity in His image. You and I may not be important by the world's standards, not pretty enough or rich enough to be worth much trouble, but the Son of God came down from Heaven for us.

Discussion Idea: How does Jesus' impartial love for all of humanity influence the way we should treat other people? If we are tempted to pride, how should it correct that? If we are tempted to depression and self-pity, how should it correct that?
Prayer focus: Pray that the next time you are interacting with someone you do not know well, that God would open your eyes to see them as He does: sinners, yet loved. Praise God for His mercy in dying for us, not on the basis of who we are or what we have done, but because of who He is.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Luke 2

Key Verse: Luke 2:52
Big Idea: The Son of Man grew as a man.

In the first chapter of Luke, we saw that Jesus is truly the Son of God: entirely human. In Luke 2, which includes the only description of Jesus' childhood, we see a different side of the same truth. When Jesus became a human being, He did not stop being God, but he did choose not to take advantage of the privileges that included. He added to His divine perfections all the frailty of humanity: hunger, exhaustion and infancy. Jesus entered our world as a baby, born into poverty and laid in a manger.

When He was twelve years old, His parents took Him to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, as they did each year.  But Jesus, on the cusp of manhood in Jewish culture, spoke with the teachers of the Law in a way that amazed them. Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem to begin the journey home, and did not realize that He had been left behind. When they returned, they worried about where He had been, but He explained that He had been about in His Father's House, about His Father's work. But while He knew who His real Father was, He submitted to Mary and Joseph, learning obedience. Although He is, and always has been, all knowing and all powerful, He grew in wisdom and size, and deepened in His relationships with His Heavenly Father and with other people.

Consider for a moment that Jesus took on humanity so completely that He needed to learn to walk, to hold a spoon and to be the Man He had come to be. The Infinite One grew. What is the implication for our lives? We can follow the path that Jesus has shown us and grow too, not being satisfied with what we have already accomplished, but maturing in body and mind and spiritually growing in love for God and other people.

Discussion Idea: What part of growing up is/was hardest for you? How does the example of Jesus' growth encourage you?
Prayer focus: Pray for the strength of God to grow and for the wisdom to know how to grow. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Luke 1

Key Verse: Luke 1:35
Big Idea: The Son of Man is the Son of God.

In Alice in Wonderland, when the White Rabbit asks the King where to begin reading, the King told him to "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop." This is good advice for reading a book or telling a story, but in the case of the story of Jesus, it is not possible. Jesus has no beginning and no end, all of history is His Story and for all eternity we will continue to know Him more and more. Yet, when Dr. Luke, the companion of Paul, picked up his pen to put the ministry of Jesus into an orderly account so that Theophilus and other Gentile (non-Jewish) people might read and believe, He had to begin somewhere. He chose to begin with the forerunner of Jesus' earthly ministry, John the Baptist, then to the pregnancy of the virgin Mary.

The angel, Gabriel, came to Mary and announced to her that she would have a Son. Mary asked how this could be: she and her fiance Joseph had not yet been married, and she knew that a child required both a father and a mother. The angel explained that this would not be any ordinary child. He is not the son of any human Father, but the Son of God Himself, coming down to become the Son of Mary.

Older kids: Sometimes skeptics say that stories like the virgin birth were possible in the ancient world, but we know better now, because scientifically it is impossible for a woman to bear a child without  a man. This is a silly idea. Mary shows that she knows this is impossible: it is why she asks the question. But nothing is impossible with God.

Younger kids: What do you have in common with your parents? Maybe you have your mom's sense of humor and your dad's eyes, or your mom's nose and your dad's kindness. We get traits from both of our parents, both from the time we are babies and from the way they raise us. Jesus is 100% God and 100% human - He gets His humanity from Mary, but keeps His divinity as the eternal Son of God.
Luke is giving us a hint that he will develop more fully later in the book: this is not the beginning of the life of Jesus, but the beginning of its human form. 

The job of rescuing us from our sins was too great for any ordinary human to handle, or even for an angel. Instead, it required God Himself to come down. He did not come down in some kind of halfway trick, but the Son of God became fully the Son of Man, born under the rule of the Romans, under the Jewish law and into poverty. He humbled Himself so that He could lift us up.

Discussion idea: Based on what you know about Heaven, what do you think Jesus gave up when He became a human being? Remember that He remained 100% God, but did not take advantage of the privileges that provided.
Prayer focus: Thank God for coming down to us, when we could never get to Him. Pray for the humility to serve others, like He humble served us.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Catch Up Day

Our schedule of one chapter each weekday leaves us with two extra days to catch up if you have gotten behind on the reading. Here is the first one! If you are not behind, revisit something which caught your attention before.
Next week, we will begin the book of Luke, and we will finish it just days before Easter. If you are just beginning this plan, it is the perfect time!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Jude

Key Verse: Jude 24
Big Idea: In the face of temptations, it is God that holds us up.

Jude, like James, was written by one of the other sons of Mary. Interestingly, rather than call himself the “brother of Jesus,” he introduces himself as James’ brother and Jesus’ slave. This letter is a somber one, warning about hypocrites who had worked their way into the congregation. They told people what they wanted to hear, but were like clouds in a drought that looked promising but offered no rain. There is probably nothing worse than someone who has the appearance of faith, but not the power of the cross.

In the past, vaccines were based on giving someone a weakened form of a disease or a similar, but less dangerous one. The immune system would be trained by that pathogen, and would be ready to resist the real thing later. Christianity as taught by these teachers is just a weakened mockery of the real faith, that does nothing except desensitize people so that they never catch the real disease. They are worst off then when they started, because they make a mockery of the grace of God.

How do we deal with these kinds of temptations? It will not be in our own strength, because being told what we want to believe is too tempting of an offer to refuse. James offers a simple answer: keep growing in faith, keep praying, keep looking for Jesus to return and keep leading others to Jesus. The key to prevent the infection of extravagant false teachers is to live the ordinary Christian life. How can that be? While the false teachers point to themselves and their pleasures, authentic Christianity is a continual dependence on God. As the benediction explains, believers are eternally secure because Jesus is the one who keeps us from stumbling. We simply trust and worship, and He brings us to Himself washed clean.

Discussion idea: What makes certain lies appealing? How do fake friends, salespeople, etc. offer us the bait we want to hear? How and why are God’s portraits of Christianity in the Bible different?
Prayer focus: Thank God for a specific instance when He protected you from yourself and for the eternal security we have in Christ.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

James 5

Key Verse: James 5:3
Big Idea: A person who is wise will keep life in perspective.

If you knew that tomorrow your bank account would be empty and all that you would have left were the things you had purchased, what would you do? Obviously, you would buy everything you could. What if you owned a large amount of stock in a company that was going to collapse the next day? You would sell. Only a very strange person would hold onto something they knew they were about to lose. It is obvious that we ought to invest in the things we can keep, and try to use the things we are losing as wisely as possible to purchase the things that will last.

It is a cliche, but not a false one, that there are no U-Haul trailers for hearses. Material possessions are passing away; James says that they are already corroded and moth-eaten. A wise person will see that, and invest their life in the life to come. The situation is really more dire: our possessions will testify against us for wasting the precious lives that God entrusted us with. Failing to use the gifts of God is not just foolish, it is wicked, because we are stockpiling our treasures for the last days. 

We must live like we expect Jesus to return at any moment. That means being slow to anger, quick to love and eager to invest the blessings we receive. We have to patiently endure, waiting on Jesus to finish in the world what he started in our hearts. 

Discussion Idea: What things distract you from eternity? How can you use those things to bring glory to God instead of yourself?

Prayer focus: Pray for an opportunity to give up something this week that would bring glory to God in exchange. 


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

James 4

Key Verse: James 4:6
Big Idea: A heart that is wise will also be humble.

Why do we have conflicts with other people? James says that it is ultimately because of conflict within ourselves. The greed and lust in our own hearts makes us discontent with what God has given us, and we take it out on other people. Why do we not have those things? James says it is because we do not humble ourselves enough to simply ask God - or when we do ask God, it is with impure motives, desiring a holy God to support our lives of sin. As long as we want to lift ourselves up, whether with a thin veneer of spirituality or not, we will find God resisting our efforts, trying to give us the wake up call that we need. When we humble ourselves, God gives us more than we deserve, and draws us closer to Himself.

It is one of the big paradoxes of the Christian life that the tighter we hold onto ourselves, the quicker we lose ourselves, and as soon as we give ourselves away, we find that God gives us more than we ever could have imagined. This means that being wise sometimes goes against "common sense." During the black plague, it meant that Christians cared for their infected neighbors when their own families turned them out on the streets to die. When believers give their lives for their testimony, it meant knowing that their blood spoke louder than their mouths. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the hero of the story stopped to help someone laying on the side of the road, knowing that on that street, people often pretended to be hurt while gangs of thieves hid, ready to ambush. True wisdom is a life in tune with God, and the desire to humbly let Him show us the way.

To live a wise life is to realize that our pleasure is too small a thing to live for. Tomorrow is not promised, and all boasting about what we will accomplish is simply evil. The wise life is a life not lived for itself, but for God and others. When we are not trying to secure blessings for ourselves, we are certain to find them.

Discussion Idea: What does humility mean to you? How is it different than low self-esteem? How does humility prepare us for God's use?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help us to see how desperately we need Him.

Monday, March 2, 2020

James 3


Key Verse: James 3:2
Big Idea: Wisdom begins with our words.

Words are powerful things. We can build someone up or tear them down. We can strengthen a relationship or destroy one. Words are also uniquely easy to employ. We do not need anything special to speak, because our mouths are with us all the time. Various forms of technology give us the ability to speak easily and without immediate consequence, emboldening us even more. In modern society, our marriages, our child rearing, our friendships and our politics are all in chaos, largely because of untamed tongues. That tongue, James says, is a fire. Fire has three characteristics I think are relevant here: it only needs a little bit to start, once is starts spreading is is very difficult to stop and it leaves destruction behind it. Our words are the same way, and a life of wisdom must weigh each one carefully.

Younger kids: What is something you say when you are upset that you might not mean? How can this cause problems?

But James also explains that a tongue is like a horse's bridle or a ship's rudder; although it is small, it sets the course for everything else. Our words can set a course for our actions, where we set off a chain reaction with an ill advised remark that takes us farther than we want to go. Even in our own emotions, choosing to complain can set us deeper into a feeling of irritation and discontent. If your words are the rudder of your life, are they pointing you in the direction you really want to go?

God made the world with His words, spoke His Word to us and called Himself the Word when He became a human being. Speech is no casual thing, but a central part of what it means to be an image bearer of God, a special gift of humanity. Then how blasphemous is it for us to take that gift and use it to speak against people who are also made in the image of God? No one would burn a picture of someone they loved, yet people claim to love God while slandering the people made after His likeness. James tells us that this is as insane as one plant bearing two kinds of fruit. Our words reveal our hearts, and when we control our language with love, the whole body will follow in wisdom.

Discussion idea: When someone says 'I just speak my mind,' what are they really saying? Should we be concerned when a date, a politician, a friend or a church leader cannot control their words? What does that say about their wisdom and the state of their hearts? Read Proverbs 18:6-7 and compare it to what James is saying here.

Prayer focus: No one can totally tame the tongue except the One who made it. Pray for God's help to think of Him before you speak and to only say the words which glorify Him.