In chapter 10 of the Gospel According to Luke, we have this account of an encounter between Jesus and a questioner.
“… a lawyer stood up and put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And [the lawyer] answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’ But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
Jesus answered that question with the story of the Good Samaritan. [You can read the entire account here.] The point Jesus made is that your true neighbor is the one who expresses love in practical ways. Similarly, to be a true neighbor, one must be prepared to serve, even a stranger. It is not enough to wish someone well.
This is one reason I really love living in Arkport. There is a higher level of care for one another in Arkport than I have encountered in any other other community in which I have lived. I can see evidence of biblical neighborliness all around and my spirit rejoices.
The NY Eagle News carried a well considered column by Linda Childs in its 27 July 2017 edition. In it she writes, “To just about any nonbeliever or agnostic, being told, ‘Have you heard the good news? Jesus died for you!” unfortunately means nothing. This is totally out of context. and the have no frame of reference. To such people,…., this is, at best a vague, meaningless statement.”
Her column is reminder to all who have ears, that introducing people to their loving Creator will usually require that a sincere, supportive human-to-human relationship first be established. Our motivation must be one of love, God’s love and our love. We must fight against any impulse to accumulate “spiritual trophies.” We must commit to loving and supportive relationships independent of visible results.
Our Wednesday night Bible study series has been on the Gospel According to Luke. Last night (26 July 2017) we encountered a very difficult verse, Luke 16:9. We spent a fair amount of time trying to understand its meaning and application. I do not have much conviction that we got it altogether correct. That happens sometimes when translating two thousand year old Greek texts. But here is the really good news; it really did not matter. The meaning of the verse was unclear, but the meaning of story was very clear. In fact, Jesus summarized it for us, “You cannot serve God and money.” The next story hit upon the same theme, money is to be used well to bless those around you. The evil use of money has terrible consequences for our fellow human and for ourselves. I am very grateful that the wisdom of God is attainable through the Bible even though some verses may be beyond our immediate comprehension.
Today’s thought again comes from a book by David Kinnaman, You Lost Me. ”…behavior management is a poor substitute for a whole, integrated, restored life with God.” (p.164)
Following church rules that fight against our nature will always be a struggle. God’s way is more gracious than a life time of struggle spent pursuing standards of behavior that feel alien and repressive. God’s way is one of relationship and inner transformation. With a refreshed heart that comes from assurance of God’s love and with spiritual wisdom that comes as a gift of that relationship, we naturally develop an appreciation for the loving wisdom of God’s guidance. An honest and open relationship with God is the key.
The expression of these thoughts come from a book by David Kinnaman, You Lost Me. ”…the way the church takes its stand in our culture is as important as the stand itself.” (p. 143) “…the tone of our disagreements matters.” (p. 145) This is because the purpose of the earthly Church is to participate in Christ’s ministry of reconciling the world to God and we are “…Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us….” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). Let our engagement be winsome and prayer and then allow the Holy Spirit to be the agent of force and conviction.
Tolerance is a very poor substitute respect. We obligated to respect our fellow human being. After all, each of us is a child of the one true God, in whose image and likeness we are fashioned. (Genesis 1:26-27) We are not called to “tolerate” people, that is too low a standard. Neither are we called to tolerate every aberrant behavior that people, under the influence of sin, gin up. Jesus’ instruction for being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) looks quite different from the world’s demand to be tolerant.
“Because you are his [children], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” Galatians 4:6 Life can be very busy and distracting, with family life, work, chores, housework, projects, and various commitments. It a tremendous spiritual skill to balance all these demands on our time and keep first things first. Most of us really are not very good at this. It is a motto in my family household to say, “Do as you can and not as you can’t.” As we prepare for Easter, please do not spend time lamenting that life is too full to experience this Easter the way you would like and perhaps the way you did in past years. Rather than lamenting, spend what time you do have thanking the Father for his generous gift of his son; thanking Jesus for willingness to suffer horribly and die on our behalf; thanking the Holy Spirit for living within us that we might know the love God has for us.
Thankfulness is perhaps the greatest single hallmark of having a heart that is aligned to the heart of God. It is very easy to live thankless lives. Hardships, suffering, and injustice abounds and the world groans. And even the best of us are tempted to join in the chorus of griping.
It is precisely in this brokenness that God’s truth and grace can and do shine. Consider this, the always-healthy individual has no need of powerful medicine and no reason to know his or her doctor. God had the foresight and power to design a different world, one in which there was no sin and his Son would not have died on the cross. But God thought THIS world was the best, even though it cost him dearly. So in the hardships, in the suffering and in the context of pervasive injustice, believers seek God’s face and evidence of his gracious caring. We seek him and we find him; our hearts sing and we give thanks and praise. Consider 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18.
The YouVersion Bible verse of the day for 16 February 2017 is Proverbs 18:21. Eugene Peterson renders it this way in The Message:
Words kill, words give life;
they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.
This very topic came up in conversation this week. A bunch of us each reflected on some hurtful words we heard as a child that shaped our self-identity and our life journey. We agreed that words are more powerful than we can even imagine. We need to exercise grace, care and wisdom. This is especially true when dealing with impressionable people (e.g., children), loved ones and those who are in our charge.
Prayer: May our Lord, who has been gracious to us, teach us to be slow to anger and inclined to lavish love on those around us. Amen.