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What does Jesus mean by the word hate? It seems so harsh. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be all about love? A few of my Twitter friends and I have been reading Luke (#thebookofluke) this month, and one of them asked me about Luke 14:26. I have had the same question in the past, and probably many others have too, so I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about it.

As with every verse we look at in the Bible, we must consider the context and interpret it in the light of other scripture. Jesus certainly was, and is, all about love. He said that the two most important commandments were to love God and love others. (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:33 Luke 10:27-28) He even told us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-31) We have also been told to honour our mothers and fathers. (Matthew 19:19, Mark 7:10, Ephesians 6:2-3) That was important enough to be one of the Ten Commandments--the law. (Exodus 20:12) Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) So why is He telling us that we cannot be His disciples unless we hate our families and even ourselves? The word here translated as ‘hate’ is a relative term. It means that we must think less of, and, if necessary, disregard our family. Now, if our family members have the same belief system as we do, and are willing to put Christ first, it may never be an issue, but if they disagree with our beliefs and our commitment to God, then we have to choose—God or family? God freely allows us that choice, but if we choose our family over Him, we cannot be His disciples.

Let’s be clear about this. Everyone, without exception, is invited to receive salvation. That is the meaning of the parable of the great banquet. (Luke 14:16-24) People were urged to come to the feast, so that God’s house would be filled. The only ones who did not come were those who chose not to. But there is a difference between accepting salvation and becoming a disciple. Do we really want to live for Jesus? Is He really the most important part of our lives? Luke 14:28-33 talks about counting the cost. Each person who undertakes to build a tower or fight a battle must count the cost to determine if they can complete the task. The same is true for us. We must decide if the eternal rewards of sacrifice for Jesus will be worth the cost of the challenges we face in our few short years on earth.

Jesus, too, counts the cost to determine if we are committed enough to be on His team. Are we worthy of the responsibilities that He will assign to us if we say that we want to work for His glory? Can He count on us to see it through to the end? When He said these words, He had a large crowd of people pressing in all around Him. (Luke 14:25) Many were probably following Him because they wanted to be healed, or because Jesus had a habit of feeding people, or simply because they wanted to see what everyone else was doing. Jesus’ use of direct language would have certainly thinned out the throng. We know that none of them were willing to stick by Him when He faced death; they all fled. (Mark 14:49-50) If we are to be Christ’s disciples, we have to be willing to give up everything else and put Him first. It is your choice to make.

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When you think of peer pressure, do you think of what children or teenagers go through at school? They often encounter pressure to do things that under normal circumstances they would never consider doing. Or how about a college student away at school being pressured to take a drink or drugs so that they can make some new friends? Those are the kinds of pressure that come to mind for me when I hear the term, but peers can pressure people to do good things too—to participate in team sports so you can have fun (even if you hate team sports), to be part of a group that is helping others, or even just a group for social reasons.

Today, I want to discuss a kind of peer pressure that has been on my mind for quite some time. If you are in the habit of forwarding e-mails, or sharing Facebook posts, you may have encountered this as well. Very often at the end of a touching or inspiring e-mail, the recipient will be told to forward it, and remember that if you are ashamed of Jesus and His words, He will be ashamed of you too. (Luke 9:26, Mark 8:38) What purpose does saying this have? Only to make the recipient feel guilty or afraid and pressured to forward the e-mail on. Is that really necessary? Is it that important to share the e-mail. If the message is inspiring enough it would get shared anyway; I often get the same ones from multiple sources.

In Luke 9:23-25 Jesus told His followers that in order to follow Him they would have to take up their cross daily. They would have to put Jesus ahead of themselves in everything they did. (Philippians 2:8-11) They would have to serve God, not money. (Luke 16:13) They would have to love their neighbours as themselves. (Matthew 19:19) They would have to pray continuously with thanksgiving. (I Thessalonians 5:17, Philippians 4:6-7) They would have to endure suffering with grace, and wisdom. (II Timothy 2:3, I Peter 2:19-20, II Timothy 4:5, Hebrews 10:32-36) They would have to rely on His strength. (II Corinthians 12:9) Jesus’ followers then needed to be willing to proclaim Christ in the face of physical persecution and even death, and that is still true for many Christians around the world today. There are many more important ways that we can proclaim Him that don’t require sending unwanted, guilt-inducing e-mails to our friends.

Well here we are again December. Sometimes the days and months seem to fly right by, and sometimes they seem to move so slowly. The fact is the length of a minute, day or week doesn’t change; it is all about our perceptions and expectations. Do you remember when you were younger--or maybe not so much younger--waiting for Christmas? You had asked for something you really wanted, and you could hardly wait until Christmas morning to see if Santa / a parent / a sibling… had listened to your request.

The Israelites had been waiting for not weeks or months, but years, centuries even, for the Messiah who had been promised to them. As a matter of fact, God gave them a hint in Isaiah 7:14, and it was still about 700 years before the promise was fulfilled. As I said in my last post, waiting can make you doubt. Some of the Israelites may have even forgotten what they were waiting for. But a man named Simeon didn’t. (Luke 2:25-32) He was very devout, and he was waiting patiently for the Lord to reveal His gift, the Messiah. He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. (Luke 2:26) Just as an aside: isn’t it a good thing that Simeon recognized when the Holy Spirit was speaking and then listened to Him? That is what brought Simeon to the temple the day that Mary and Joseph arrived with Jesus. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Simeon was, but it does tell us that now that he had seen the Messiah, his life purpose had been fulfilled. He was ready to depart from this world. (Luke 2:29)

The people of Israel had been waiting an incomprehensibly long time for their Messiah to be revealed, and many of them, like Simeon, remained faithful to the task. The very same Messiah is here knocking at our door, and all we have to do is open it and let Him in--no waiting required. (Revelation 3:20) It can be Christmas morning for us at any time. All we have to do is accept the gift.

It saddens me to see how little some people care about others. They are intent on getting the best for themselves even if it means manipulating others, stealing from them or lying to ruin their reputations. Why do these people think that their desires are more important than anyone else’s? Why are they willing to hurt others to reach their own goals? Is getting what they want really worth that? If we were truly worthy of the best, we shouldn’t have to resort to these tactics to get it, and if we are not worthy of the best, sooner or later, someone is going to put us in our place.

Jesus was obviously upset by similar self-serving behaviour. In Luke 14:7-11, He tells a parable in response to those who wanted to elevate their status by pushing and shoving their way to the best seats at a Sabbath meal. It would be as if they were invited to a wedding reception, but decided to take their seats at the head table which was reserved for members of the wedding party. How many times do you suppose that someone could do that without being told that they would have to move? On the other hand if the guests had chosen to sit at the equivalent of the kid’s table, surely someone would ask them to move to a place of higher honour. Jesus was warning them against the dangers of pride, something that Solomon had taught long before. (Proverbs 16:18)

This parable can apply to other situations besides seating plans. How often are you willing to do the things that don’t get recognition or appreciation but still need to be done? How often do you help someone else with difficult or unpleasant tasks? Are you willing to help even when it’s inconvenient for you? D.L. Moody once said that, “There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord; but few of us are willing to do little things.” Jesus said that whatever you do for the least fortunate you do for Him. (Matthew 25:40) If we love our neighbour as ourselves, (Matthew 22:37-39) we won’t try to get ahead at their expense.

I think many of us, when we pray, give up too soon. If we don’t get the answer we are looking for right away, we assume that we won’t get an answer. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:17)

In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells the parable of a persistent widow. Jesus didn’t always give an explanation for His parables, but He tells us the purpose of this one right up front: You should always pray and not lose heart. In the days when Jesus walked on earth, a widow was about as unfortunate a position as one could be in. In that male-dominated society, a woman depended on a man for her livelihood. The widow in this story obviously had no one to care for her, or that person would have also been the one to plead her case before the judge. It is likely that this woman was destitute and desperate. But she did not give up. When did she stop asking the unrighteous judge for justice? After she received justice.

Jesus used the example of an unrighteous judge because if a poor widow could get justice from him, how much more likely we are to get justice from our Heavenly Father. We are not widows; we are children of God, co-heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:16-17) And our God is a just Father who wants to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11) He not only invites us to ask Him, but He wants us to ask Him. Matt Chandler emphasizes this in his discussion of prayer.

James 4:2-3 says that we do not have because we do not ask. Perhaps we ask with the wrong motives, or perhaps we do not ask with enough passion and persistence. Perhaps we give up too easily. Galatians 6:9 tells us that we will reap if we do not give up. Don’t give up on God. Trust in His answers, trust in His timing, and trust Him to do what is best.

I am constantly amazed at the love that God has for us. You may feel love from your family or friends, but nothing on this earth compares to how much your Heavenly Father loves you. Of course, there will be some of you who don’t feel that from anyone, and so it will be even harder for you to fathom, but I hope that today’s verses will help.

In Luke 15:3-7 Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, which is actually just the first part of the three part parable told in Luke 15. It was in response to an accusation from the Pharisees and experts in the law who were accusing Jesus of socializing with “sinners” (Luke 15:1-2), something that just wasn’t done by upstanding Jewish men. Talk about bullying. You can’t associate with her because she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s not cool enough; what are you talking to him for? To be honest, it was more like he is not noble enough so he is not worthy of your attention, but it made me think of a schoolyard bully. Jesus, however, gave His attention to the most despised of society, and He called the Pharisees hypocrites. (Matthew 23:13) In reality, the Pharisees were just as lost as the rest of the “sinners”, but they were in denial, and refused to see their need for Jesus.

The shepherd in the parable believes that one sheep out of a hundred, one per cent of the flock, is worth searching for. What did he have to go through to find that sheep? Did he have to cross streams, climb rocky crags, crawl through thick brush? When he finds the sheep, it is obviously too weak or tired or hurt or confused to find its way home on its own. He picks it up and carries it home on his shoulders. Was one sheep out of a hundred worth that effort? Yes. Jesus feels that way about us. Every one of us is worth enough that Jesus gave up His life for us. His search for us took Him to the cross. There is no greater love than that.

Do you ever have days when you just don’t feel like doing anything? I think that’s okay as long as they are balanced with days where you are all fired up to do something great too. I know that I always feel better at the end of a day when I’ve accomplished something, and preferably several things. Just like the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9, we are meant to be productive.

The fig tree in this parable was planted in a vineyard. That means that it was in a place where it would be tended by a viticulturist—the gardener. It received better care than most fig trees, so one would expect it to be healthy and fruitful. In the same way, we are cared for by God, given His grace, blessings and power. Philippians 4:13 tells us that we can do all things through Christ’s strength. We, however, have to act; we need to make use of that power.

When the owner of the fig tree saw that the tree was still not providing any fruit after three years, he decided it was time to get rid of it. The gardener asked for a reprieve, for one more chance, and he would work even harder to help that fig tree. We serve a God of second chances, a God of mercy. We often get another chance just as that fig tree did. In the same way that the gardener interceded for that tree, Christ and the Holy Spirit (and often friends and family) are interceding for us. (Romans 8:34, Romans 8:26) But the chances won’t last forever. At some point we need to make a decision about whom we will serve; if we choose not to serve God, we will be cut off from Him.

And it will be God who decides. The gardener was the one who asked for the reprieve, and he was the one who would do the extra work to try to make the tree more fruitful, but in the end it would be the owner of the tree who would cut it down. We are not the judges who will determine each other’s fate; God is.