Good Neighbor Sam

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My Musings – As was usual in His parables, Jesus turned conventional wisdom on its head with some surprising twists.

Pleading His Case“Teacher” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25, NIV 1978).  The question implies a works-based salvation (“what must I do?“) So, unlike the fairly straightforward answer given to Nicodemus, “you must be born again,” Jesus asked the legal expert what he thought.  “He answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27, NIV 1984).  Jesus’ response appears to imply that a works-based salvation is indeed possible – “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28, NIV 1984).

Seeking A Loophole – Apparently the legal expert felt he could love God sufficiently (all his heart, soul strength and mind – really?), but might have a problem being a neighbor to some, since his only question was “and who is my neighbor.”  (Luke 10:29, NIV 1984).  Notice his question was who should be his neighbor, rather than who he should be a neighbor to.  To drive home this point, Jesus told a most unlikely parable.

Examining The Crime Scene –  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30, NIV 1984). The road to Jericho was called the “bloody way”, with winding roads and hidden turns, where robbers often laid in wait concealed in the rocks.  A dangerous route.

The (Un)usual Suspects – “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:31-34, NIV).  Priests were Levites descended from Aaron.  They served the higher duties in the Temple.  Of course, not all Levites were descended from Aaron and were not priests.  As a result, they served in lower functions in the Temple.  But both would have been expected to have compassion, but they did not.  Samaritans were “half-Jews” of the northern kingdom who had inter-married with Assyrian colonists.  They were despised by “pure-bred Jews.”  The Samaritan was an unlikely candidate to have compassion on the injured man (assumed to be Jewish), but he did.

The Cross-Examination – Jesus turned the legal expert’s question back on him. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36, NIV 1894).  It must have been hard for him to reply, “the one who had mercy on him.” (Luke 10:37, NIV 1984).  He couldn’t even use the word Samaritan.  To bring this parable up to date might have included a Catholic priest, an evangelical Christian (ouch!) and a Muslim or an illegal alien.  Guess which one would have compassion in the updated parable?

The Verdict – “Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Attainment of eternal life is not a matter of scrupulously following the rules. “Do this and you will live” is more rhetorical “if you could do this you would live.”  The lawyer appeared to understand this because he sought to limit its application and find a “loophole.”  And so do we all.  But all is not lost.  Jesus became a “neighbor” to us to bring salvation.  But we should still have compassion and be a neighbor to all.  Not to gain salvation, but to imitate the Master.  “Go and do likewise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep In Mind

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My Musings – Jesus passes the love that the Father has for Him on to us.  In the same way, we must pass this love on to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In this way the world will know that we are His disciples.  If, in seeing this the world hates us, it is because the world hates Christ (and by extension, the Father as well).  Why? Because although “light has come into the world, men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”  (John 3:19-21,NIV 1984).  As followers of Christ, we are to reflect the light.  So if they hate the light, they will hate us to.

My Advice – Walk in the light as He is in the light.  We can bear the hate of the world as long as we have the love of the Father.  Evenso, keep proclaiming the truth.  In so doing, some may ultimately come into the light.

 

The Wretched Refuse

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My Musings – Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus).

If these words sound familiar, they should. They are lines from a sonnet she wrote in 1883, and whose lines are inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty is a famous landmark and symbol of freedom in U.S. history. Located on Ellis Island in New York harbor, millions of immigrants passed through the Ellis Island Immigration Station seeking a better life.

Now I really do not intend for this musing to be a political statement, or otherwise be offensive, although many will take it as such.  It is rather, an appeal to compassion.  For who among us cannot trace our roots to someone among the “huddled masses” that found their way to these shores? Were our ancestors not aliens once “yearning to breathe free” (we breathe free because they dared to come)?  Were we not grafted into the vine?

I can fully understand the desire to protect our borders and our land from those with motives other than a “yearning to breathe free,” who otherwise wish us ill and desire to destroy our way of life, or who are only seeking a free-ride with no desire to contribute.  But surely there must be a way to humanely take in the tired, poor or homeless who are tempest-tossed, but are willing to embrace their new land and make a contribution?  A way to separate the sheep from the goats?  A way to pull out the weeds without uprooting the wheat?

“America represents something universal in the human spirit. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said, ‘You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk.’ But then he added, ‘Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American’ …
This I believe is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world … Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge; always leading the world to the next frontier …” (from Ronald Reagan’s last speech as President).

My Advice – “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.‘”  (Zechariah 7:9–10, NIV 1984).  For “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” and “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:40 & 45, NIV 1984).

Finally, anybody (even “wretched refuse”) from any corner of the world (yes, aliens) can come to Christ and become a Christian.  “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37, ESV 2016).

 

Go and Do Likewise

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My Musings – “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

What indeed?  I’ve done it.  Maybe you have too.  The stranded motorist all alone.  Well, who doesn’t have a cell phone these days?  They can call someone.  It’s a busy road, someone is bound to stop.  I’m running late, I can’t be bothered this time, I’ll get the next one.  What if it’s a ruse, I could be putting myself in real danger.  On the other hand, what if they don’t have a cell phone?  Would it be a bother even if I did have the time?  What if it’s a not to well-traveled road?  What if I don’t stop to help, they could be left in real danger?

How about the shabbily-dressed person on the corner with the crudely lettered sign “any amount will help?”  They’re probably running a scam.  They’ll probably use it for drugs or alcohol.  Why don’t they go out and look for a job?  What if they’ve tried it all and just want to feed their family just for this day?

Without getting too political (too late), what about the refugee seeking a better life?  They’re probably here for free benefits.  They just want to come here and change things to the same as what they left.  What if they belong to some sleeper cell?  Why don’t they just come here legally?  What if they really did flee a life and death situation?

Maybe some of the concerns and objections above are legitimate.  After all, there will always be those looking to take advantage. Many of the situations we face will be tough calls.  But do we really want to turn a “blind-eye” to those who might be truly in need because we are afraid of what might happen to us or skeptical hat their needs are genuine?  While we need to be wise and wary, at the end of the day we are responsible for our hearts and actions and not the other person’s motives.

My Advice – We all know that immediately after the above question “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Isn’t it interesting that the two in the parable most likely to lend a hand did not (maybe they used some of the above rationalizations), and the one least likely to care at all (the “hated” Samaritan) cared enough to act.  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37, NIV 1984).

Maybe the ones we find in apparently needy situations are our “hated” Samaritans.  Should it make a difference?  The point of the parable is no.  They are just as much our neighbor as the ones we visit with over the white picket fence.

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Why Not Rather Be Wronged!

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My Musings – “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” – John Wayne as J.B Books in The Shootist 1976.

As I’ve noted before in my blogs, John Wayne was my favorite actor.  Like many, I admired his swagger.  Also like many, to me this creed that his movie character lived by sounds fair.  Yet it is a worldly creed.  We must aim higher.

Paul states a somewhat other worldly creed in the above condensed verses.  To me the key phrase is “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

How Far – “The problem is, “as far as it depends on [us]” isn’t really that far most of the time.  All too often we are very thin-skinned when it comes to being “wronged,” “insulted” or “laid a hand on.”  But rather than take revenge, we are to “overcome evil with good.

With Everyone – “Other people” are not just family and friends.  Not just fellow Christians.  Not just Americans.  Not just the same ethnic group.  Not just Democrats or Republicans.  Not just those who share our worldview and opinions. Everyone means all people, even our enemies.

Be At Peace – Apparently this means more than avoiding conflict.  When (not if) the “other people” wrong us, insult us or lay a hand on us (essentially act like an enemy) we are to feed them if they are hungry.  Give them something to drink if they are thirsty.  Elsewhere, Jesus says to the extent we do this to the “least of these,” we do it to Him.

If Possible – At last – the fine print, the loophole?  I don’t think so.  There will be times that “as far as it depends on you” will not be far enough no matter how far you bear with it.  But even then “do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV 1984).  Walk away and let God deal with it.

My Advice – These are hard words.  But Kingdom living has a higher calling than worldly living.  Our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus.  “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7, NIV 1984).

 

 

Carried On To Completion

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My Musings – “I thank my God every time I remember you.”  Really?  Well, family  certainly.  Friends, possibly.  Partners in the Gospel?  Well, maybe not every time.  But you see they don’t always share equally in the partnership.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.”  With joy?  All, all, always?  Well maybe not all my  prayers.  Maybe not all of them.  Maybe not always with joy.  But you, know, some times they disappoint me.

Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”  Confident?  But you don’t know them like I do.  They’ve wandered.  They’re inconsistent. They’re far from complete.

Always Thankful – We have the family, friends and partners in the Gospel that God put in our lives.  And He put us in theirs.  If we are not thanking God every time we remember them, maybe it is us who are not sharing equally?

Always Pray With Joy – In all our prayers, if we don’t pray for them with joy, maybe we aren’t as thankful as we should be.  If we were, wouldn’t we always be joyful when we prayed for them?

Confident of Completion – If God did begin the good work, He will bring it to completion.  If we lack confidence in this we are focusing too much on the wandering and inconsistency and not enough on the “author and perfecter of our faith.

My Advice – Always thank God when you remember the people in your life.  They are a gift to you and you are a gift to them.  Pray with joy in all your prayers for all the people in your life.  They may not always make you happy.  Don’t let those periodic lapses and disappointments rob you of your joy because of them.  Place your confidence in God. That He will complete what He started in their lives.  Don’t let their temporary detours cause you to lose confidence in their ultimate destination.  Be encouraged.

Read the text again.  Wouldn’t you like to have people in your life that are like Paul?  Then why not “do unto others what you would have them do unto you?”  What would our family, friends and Gospel partnership relationships be like if we did?  Talk about thankfulness. Talk about joyfulness.  Talk about confidence.  All wrapped up in a passion for Christlikeness.

Today’s musing was inspired by Pastor Kevin Rutledge’s sermon “Fueled Relationships” on September 8, 2019.  Check it out at https://www.fbcsycamore.com/sermons.  If you live in or are visiting the area, come and join us Sundays at 10:30 a.m.  We’d love to be partners in the Gospel with you too.

 

 

Just Say Whoa to Woe

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My Musings – It’s easy to dump on the Pharisees. After all, their name has become synonymous with self-righteous hypocrisy making them easy marks for criticism and condemnation.  But what if we substituted the word Pharisee in the above verses with the word Christian?  Is that how the world sees many of us?  Are they justified in seeing us that way?  We want to scream that they are way off base.  That we are under attack and being unjustly persecuted.  But we need to be very careful before we dismiss it outright.  For you see, “the problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin. but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because you see, grace is only for sinners.” ― Jerry Bridges, evangelical Christian author, speaker and staff member of The Navigators.

We might think, why should we care what the world thinks of us?  Well, if they are wrong, and perhaps they are in most cases, we need not care.  Jesus did say, after all that in this world we will have persecution, and that if the world hated Him, we should not be surprised if they hate us too.  But if they are right, even about a minority, we should care very much.  For Jesus also said they (the world), will know we are His followers if we have love for one another.  And if they do not see His love in us and from us, then the truth that we are proclaiming will not seem very much like the truth.

Another reason we should care is because Jesus cares.  He had nothing but condemnation and anger (yes, anger) for the teachers, scribes and teachers of the law that exhibited such self-piety and hypocrisy.  His attitude was not a casual “well actually,” but a very much heated “woe to you!“…”You snakes! You brood of vipers!”  Whoa.  Let’s take a closer look at these “woes” from Matthew 23, NIV 1984, and learn from them.  We do not want to become 21st century Pharisees.

  • Hypocrites – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
  • Sons of Hell – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

  • Blind Guides – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?”

  • Neglectful – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

  • Greedy and Self-Indulgent – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

  • Whitewashed Tombs, Dead Men’s Bones – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

  • Full Measured Sinners – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

My Advice – I am sure that the vast majority of Christians are not this way, or at least not blatantly.  But are there times we “deny” God’s grace to those whose sins seem greater than our own?  On occasion, is the way we behave on the outside inconsistent with how we are on the inside?  Do we overly focus on certain evils (“strain out a gnat“), to the exclusion of others (“swallow a camel”)?  Are we so self-absorbed by the “injustices” that we must endure that show no mercy to others?  Let’s just say whoa to woe.