When you feel like you’ve wasted your life

What if the last several years, or decades, of your Christian life have been wasted? What if you haven’t been changing much at all? Or what if you came to Christ later in life, and you are filled with remorse over all the years that were lost?

I think the most encouraging words in the Scripture for such a case is a parable Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16. I’m retelling it here with my imagination.

It’s about a set of unemployed fellows waiting around on Main Street for a job. Some of them look eager—suit and tie, slicked back hair, briefcase in hand. But others look like they hardly expect to be hired at all—tattered blue jeans, cigarette in hand and one on the ground under scuffed boot.

Then out comes the president of a multimillion dollar crop industry. He owns all the land the eye can see and he’s got a monopoly on the market for all the wheat and corn grocers in town. No one can compete with the quality of his crops, and anything at all that’s made in the nearby factories with corn or wheat all use his products. He’s the most successful businessman in town and everyone aspires to work for him.

And yet here he is, going out on the street looking for the everyday unemployed.

He starts first with the men in suits. (The guys with the cigarettes went off for a while to get another pack and missed their chance.) The men in suits jump at the offer for a job, briefcases trembling in their hands. They can hardly wait to get started. They nearly have conniption fits when they find out how much they’re going to be paid. Already they can picture themselves at their kitchen table talking it over with their wives and bragging to their children that night.

Off they go, into the fields, rattling off a long list of their qualifications and education to ensure they get the job. The president listens to their blathering boasts, but doesn’t make any comment. Instead, he leaves them in his field to crop dust and goes back out in his limousine.

He drives right back to Main Street, and now he finds the down-and-out unemployed. (They came back from Kum-n-Go with fresh cigarettes.) They’re unskilled laborers. They did graduate high school, and some of them have a few years of college experience, but they just can’t seem to get it together. Their past is checkered with jobs that didn’t work out. But now, they assure him, they’re changed. They want to do better. They wear nice clothes they got at the secondhand shop, and they’re really trying to impress him—though they’re a little embarrassed they’re not wearing suits and ties like the first men he hired.

Nevertheless, he extends an unbelievable offer to them. They too are hired on the spot. They can come work in his fields. It’s a bit later in the morning, and he doesn’t promise what he’ll pay them, he only assures them of this: they have a job and value with him. They LEAP at the offer. More humble than the first crew, they get to work quietly, hoping to somehow make up for their lack of experience by their dedication to him.

He smiles at them and gets back in his limousine for another trip to Main Street.

This time he sees the drop-outs. They’re easy to recognize with their tattoos and body piercings—so that’s where their college fund went. These guys never had a hope of higher education. They either flunked out, got expelled, or simply gave up on the educational system. Some of them have learning disabilities, some are chronic underachievers, others just never got why they were supposed to pay attention to any authority.

They are not particularly trying to get a job. They’d like one, sure, but they’re too cool to look needy. They share lights with each other, and not all of them are smoking nicotine. They tell coarse jokes and cough a lot and wait for something to come along worth capturing their attention. They haven’t met the president of the crop industry so far because they’ve been in the movie theater watching an R-rated movie.

The president comes back—for them. And they are so shocked to hear this, that this fact alone changes something very deep inside of them.

He came back to the middle of town, a third time, looking for them? He wants them to work in his fields? No one reputable has ever asked them such a thing before, or even hinted that they were worth the time of day.

They get to work in his field and have all kinds of responsibility? He is giving them the opportunity to showcase their responsibility (they didn’t even know they had responsibility!) and their integrity (what’s that, they ask him?).

You better believe they have a change of heart! Cigarettes are tossed to the cobblestone and stamped out. Packs are put in front pockets. Wild, long hair is suddenly combed back with fingers. Skull and serpent tattoos are halfway covered by shirt-sleeves. Coughs are made, and the troop is ready.

(Of course, the question comes up from one man who’s just learned the meaning of integrity, “You even want me—after you know I’ve been smoking weed?” One nod of the president, and a look comes over the man’s face that no one’s ever seen before. Tears stud his eyes, his hands shuffle in his pockets, and he brushes at his arms as if the explicit tattoos might just fall right off. The president offers to drive him back, since he’s more than a little high and having trouble walking.)

This group of men is the rowdiest yet. But they’re not rowdy anymore in a crass way. Rather, their laughter is downright contagious. The other men in the field look up in shock to hear joy so loud it’s almost frightening. The first men, with their suits and ties, squint their eyes for a few minutes as if they can’t be seeing correctly. Then they straighten their ties, mumble something, and get back to work. The second men smile in wonder, heads cocked to the side, trying to figure out what is going on. They wave back when the newcomers wave at them.

But the president is off again.

It’s late in the day now, almost dusk, and it’s time for the daily release of prisoners. They’ve just come out on Main Street and they have absolutely no idea what to do. Most of them aren’t wanting to serve any more time, but they sure don’t see anyone hiring them. They have not a clue what they are going to do. They don’t know if their family—what’s left of it—is still in town, or if they’ll even be welcome back home. They sit down at the fountain on Main Street with heavy hearts, wondering if they should try to fish around in the fountain for change even though a police officer’s watching them like a hawk.

They see the president in his limo, and cries of scorn and curses ring from the group. One man spits on the ground in contempt. They roll their eyes, rub their noses, and sneer.

Imagine their shock when the president walks towards them.

They have absolutely no idea what he’s doing, and they’ve never seen this kind of behavior out of the elite before. They don’t know if he’s gone crazy or if he’s coming to tell the police officer to have them re-arrested. But then he’s right in front of them, not one ounce of fear in his face. And he invites them; he asks them; he really wants to know: Do they want to come work for him?

At first there are chuckles and peals of laughter. Then there are smart-alleck words and curses as the silence gets uncomfortable. Then they, each one of them, look at the man, and they all know. They absolutely know. He is, in purest form, serious.

Suddenly the regret and agony of how they have just acted washes over them. These are not men that cry, but their faces grow chalk-white. They shuffle their worn tennis shoes and wipe their nose on the sleeve of a shirt they haven’t worn since they first served their sentence so long ago.

And then one man says, in a voice nobody has heard from him before, “I’ll go.”

And another man stammers, “I’ll go, too!”

None of them care about the money they may or may not be making. They don’t care at all if they make a single penny. It’s the honor this man has given them. That’s why they go. That’s why a few of them swallow a lump in their throat. That’s why the walk over is totally quiet and absolutely reflective.

You’d think because they were hardened criminals that they’d go all scattered out, broad shouldered. But they walk close together like scared kittens, not sure what the other workers will think of them, sure, but mostly because they are in utter shock. These are men who believe dreams don’t come true. And yet here they are, working for the wealthiest man in the county, because he believes they can do his work. Because he wants them, specifically, and no one has ever wanted them, generically, much less as the individual souls they are somewhere underneath the burden of all their regrets.

They start to work shyly, without a sound. This time, the men in suits have eyes that grow as wide as saucers, and they shrink back in terror. They decide it’s time to go inside the headquarters building and add figures. The second workers, the ones who haven’t made much of their lives, are a bit more understanding of what’s been done for them, but they are equally worried about their personal safety. They work in another part of the field and hope the distance between them is respected.

The third set of workers, the drop-outs and the one still hazy from the marijuana, stand totally still for a minute. Then, suddenly—and some say the high one started it—they burst out in applause.

The day is almost over. The released prisoners know they don’t have a moment to waste. They work like machines. They don’t really know what they are doing and yet, somehow, their productivity and skill is absolutely eloquently astonishing. They do what they never even knew they could do as if they were born for it. And that’s exactly what they are beginning to believe.

The loudspeakers on the telephone poles blast a closing tone, and then a reminder for everyone to come to the office for their pay.

The men in suits rush out of the building and brave their way past even the prisoners so they can get to be first in line. As scared as they are of these prisoners, they are ecstatic to rush home and tell their families what an amazing day they had, and how they can afford that new dress for her and that new swing set for the kids and maybe even that new platinum TV for themselves (a.k.a., ‘the whole family’) they’ve been dreaming about for so long.

No one is pushing to get in front of them. Rather quietly, and more respectfully, the second group of workers walk up to the president’s office and line up behind the suited men. These workers have always felt they couldn’t find their place in the world, until today. They sigh in satisfaction, text their wives and mostly girlfriends (because they can’t wait to tell until they get home) and think of all the popcorn and candy they are going to be able to buy their kids. They glance at the prisoners, to make sure they’re not getting too close. (They aren’t.)

The third group, the drop-outs, come out just plain grinning. They’ve had the best day of their lives. They stand in line talking about how they’re going to come to work tomorrow better prepared. They straighten their shirts and talk about things they’ve never talked about before, like Where does someone get a suit anyway? And, when someone from the second group answers, What is Dillard’s?

A few of the drop-outs turn around to see if the prisoners are coming over, but not because they’re afraid. They just want to talk to them, pat them on the back. The prisoners, however, are still quietly in the field. They’ve respectfully stopped their work, but they stand lingering, looking around awkwardly at everything except the other workers.

“Good job today,” one of the drop-out calls out to them. He quickly drops his head when a man in a suit and tie glowers at him.

And this leaves the prisoners alone. They end their day like they started their day. They have absolutely no idea what to do. They stand around waiting for further instructions. They want to just leave—they certainly know they’re not getting any pay for the little bit of work they were able to get down in such a short time. But they also don’t want to disobey the orders of the loudspeaker. After all, there is no one in the whole world they respect or revere like they do the president, their president.

There’s an unspoken longing in their eyes. Did they possibly do enough to get to come back to work tomorrow?

The president steps out of his office, and there is a wad of cash in his hands so thick everyone’s knees shake. To top it off, his assistant is holding a large cloth bag, and everyone is sure it is more cash.

The suited man first in line immediately steps forward and extends his hand, grinning deliriously.

But the president turns away from him, and looks right straight at the prisoners.

Every worker’s mouth falls open as he invites them to come stand before him. To be first.

The only justification the prisoners can think for this in their mind is that he must be going to either tell them they can come back the next day or fire them, but he’s certainly not going to pay them. They struggle to get in an orderly line. None of them wants to be first. None of them feel worthy of looking the president eye to eye.

When they finally get in a line (and the other “line” has completely broken up as everyone is reeling from what is happening), the president hands the first bundle of cash in his hand to the first prisoner. He nearly falls over. Suddenly, tears he’s never cried come to his eyes as he bows his head and shuffles away—not ashamed, but totally humbled.

The second prisoner falls to his knees when he gets his bundle of cash. The third drops his and fumbles to pick it up. One by one, they each take more cash than they’ve ever even seen in their lives. All their drug cartels and every bit of pimping they’ve done in the past began fading away the moment they started work for this man. Now, even the memory of it is gone. This cash is far more than money to them. They are holding onto their new lives.

The high school drop-outs suddenly collect themselves and burst into applause. A little clumsily and quite humbly, the prisoners begin to bow and beam. The high school drop-outs are still talking about what happened, slapping each other on the back, and wiping tears from their eyes as the president calls them up next.

The president reaches in the cloth bag for more money, since he’s all out. While they are paid, high fiving each other, jumping up in the air, and forgetting all about how they were trying to cover their tattoos, the men in suits begin to fidget. Things certainly haven’t gone how they expected.

“This has been one weird day,” one of them murmurs to another.

“You’re telling me.”

“But can you imagine what we are going to be paid?”

This thought hadn’t crossed most of their minds. Nothing, in fact, for the past few minutes, has crossed their minds other than total confusion. But now that the man mentions it, they begin to think. Who, after all, was in the financial office budgeting earlier that day? Only them. Who, after all, are the only college graduates of the group? Wasn’t it them? Who, after all, had the only real job experience of the crew? Wasn’t it them? Who, after all, really knew what they were doing that day? Wasn’t it them? Who had been the most productive? Wasn’t it them? And who had worked the longest? WASN’T IT THEM?

Suddenly their shock is replaced by glee. They begin rubbing their hands together, calculating figures in their head, and shuffling their feet in impatience. Surely it will be their turn soon.

The second group, who has found their purpose in life, is invited up next.

“Of course,” the man in the suit and tie murmurs. “Of course we’re last. We’re getting the most.”

The men in the second group are beginning to get the picture of what’s going on. They tilt their heads a little as they accept their pay but then each and every one of them goes over to congratulate the prisoners.

And now, at last, it’s the men in suits turn. They form a fighting line, each one zealous to be first. Finally, they are all poised, straight as an arrow. Once again, the man first in line steps forward and extends his hand.

The president gives them a smile they don’t understand, and then . .

He hands the man the exact, precise, perfectly same amount of cash . . as everybody else got.

The men in suits are stunned. They gawk. They gripe. They snort. They growl. They cross their arms.

And then the president asks them questions that pierce their arrogant bubble.

Didn’t he promise this exact, precise, perfectly same amount of cash to each one of them?

Were they resentful that he could do whatever he wanted with his money?

Were they angry that he wanted to boost the reputation of the criminals?

And then there was the secret question that thudded in their hearts.

Hadn’t they been unemployed, too?

We don’t know what happened next.

I think the men in suits stood still for a very long time.

And then I think they tightened their loosened ties, straightened their suit jackets, brushed off their shoes, and went over to shake the hands of the prisoners.

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Published in: on September 25, 2014 at 8:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Does what I do make a difference?

It’s something I’ve been pondering for several months now.  Does what I do make a difference?

Lately I’ve really been struggling to write.  I’ve been fighting a big bout of discouragement.  It seems that I can strive to be a popular writer, a cool writer, or a powerful writer, but the question lingers still: Does what I do make a difference?

It seems like, so much of the time, what I write is possibly read (or skimmed), possibly encouraging, possibly thought-provoking–and then it’s time for the reader to check email . . or get a second cup of coffee . . or go to that work meeting.  Does what I do make a difference?

How can I write in a way that causes people to want to give their lives to Christ?  How do I write in a way that evokes a life change that’s real and radical in my Christian friends?  How do I write in a way that such a change happens within myself?

Does what I do make a difference?

I’ve felt stumped with writer’s block . . tired . . unmotivated . . and just like the busywork of life is more demanding and more promising.

God forgive me.

I’ve been so blind.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about such a problem a farmer has.  He works hard throwing out all of this seed by hand, but so much of it is unsuccessful.  So much of it yields no crop.  What with birds and thorns and rocks, most of the seed is a huge disappointment.  That’s the way it’s going to be in this life.

Most people who read this (if people do actually read this), are going to think, “Hmm, interesting,” or “Well, that was boring,” or “Huh”, or “You don’t say” . . and that will be the end of it.  They won’t change their lives.  But I should have realized that would happen.

Many people who read the Bible have the same reaction.  My writing is dust, but the Bible is God’s eternal Word.  And yet many people, when they read it, carelessly let the truth slip between their fingers.  They have no reaction to catch it, but rather simply to observe it (or argue against it).

But let’s make it more personal. How many times do Christians–do I myself–read God’s Word and I don’t even begin to let it steep before I’m off to the busywork of life?  It’s like percolating coffee in the morning, going to the trouble of pouring it in a cup, and then leaving it on the counter and never touching it again.

God warns us in the parable of the sower that much of our work in this life will seem fruitless.  Much of the time, when we try to bring people to Christ, or bring Christians to a deeper understanding of Him, in the eyes of the world we totally and utterly fail.  Nothing grows.

Yet we still sprinkle seeds everywhere.

Why?

Surely it must be love.

Surely the farmer throws seed on rocky soil, thorny soil, and on the path not because he is incompetent, but because he chooses to give all the soil a chance.  Surely he allows himself to experience the disappointment of a failed crop again and again, simply to give every possible piece of land the chance to thrive and grow.

The wise and perfect Farmer, Jesus Christ, knows just what kind of soil we are in our hearts.  And He still throws out the seed to all.  We, on the other hand, have no true idea what kind of soil is in the heart of another, yet we are reluctant or even unwilling to scatter seeds if the outcome looks unpredictable to us or the chance of success is unlikely.

We are called to scatter seed–not to grow it.  We can do no such thing as growing.  Only God can do that.

But we can act like our Master in Heaven, Jesus Christ, when we give everyone the opportunity to hear God’s Word and respond.  What they do with it is a choice God has left up to them.  Their choice, however, has no bearing on our responsibility to first get the Word to them.

I love the way the movie Courageous ends.  To paraphrase in a way befitting this blog, some may read this and not care.  Some may read this and agree, and they’ll forget what they read as soon as the next interruption comes.

But a few may read this and seek Christ.  And even if it’s just the possibility of one, that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

I’m ready to scatter seed again.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed . .” (Luke 8:5a, NIV)

 

Published in: on July 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tailgate

One time my aunt and I were out grocery shopping at a local bulk goods store.  We were coming out, about to cross the street, when a pickup truck pulled out of the parking lot.  His tailgate was down and, as he accelerated, a gallon of milk rolled out the back of his truck.

There was nothing we could do to stop him.  As he drove down the road, a large carton of strawberries spilled out of his truck and on the road.  He disappeared from sight.

I’m reminded of the parable of the seeds.  One seed, in particular, landed along the path.  The seed never had a chance to grow because it was quickly scooped up by birds.

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” (Mark 4:3-4, NIV)

Some people receive the Good News about Christ in this kind of way.  It’s like loading salvation in someone’s pickup, only to have them ride off spilling it everywhere because either they didn’t want to keep the message or didn’t yet know how to.

We can’t give up on these people, though.  As we pray for them and continue to share the Gospel with them as God gives us opportunities, they may place their tailgate up.  🙂

Take a moment to pray for those people in your life . . right now.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. (1 Timothy 2:1, NLT)

Published in: on June 24, 2014 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Housebuilders

In Jesus’ parable about two housebuilders, one man discovered that his life mattered . . and the other man discovered that his life didn’t.  One man found his faith solid in the worst time of trial he’d faced.  The other man found his faith eroded in the same trial.

One man had his faith in the real save.  The other man had his faith in the false save.

Here’s how it went down:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ”(Matthew 7:24-27, HCSB)

There is no man in this parable who didn’t hear the words of Jesus.

The two men in the parable heard the same message from Christ.

They had the same opportunity for salvation.

They both made decisions.

And then they both continued on with life.

But this is where their commonality ends.

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Since the one man—we’ll call him Bill–made a decision to follow Christ, his entire life’s work changed.  He moved land plots.  Rather than building a house in the ever-popular neighborhoods of Career Cul-de-Sac, Rebel Road, Acheivement Alley, Lust Lane, Popularity Park, Family Farm Road, Amusement Avenue, Indulgence Isle, Materialistic Mile, or any of the other popular real estate plots, he picked up and left all these places for the Rock of Christ.  It wasn’t a very popular place, and he wasn’t sure his family would join him, or that his friends would ever pay him another visit, but he moved there anyway.  He was sure about where he needed to build.  He’d listened to the words of Christ and he believed.

In the meantime, since the other man—we’ll call him Joe–made a decision to passively listen to the words of Christ, maybe even respect Christ and feel sentimental about the preaching he’d heard, but not really let the message penetrate him, he didn’t move from where he was already building.  After all, he had a lot of time and resources tied up in that house.  He didn’t understand why Bill had abandoned his prime real estate.  It looked like a lot of wasted effort and inefficient use of resources to Joe.  And besides, hadn’t the real estate agent promised that the property would triple, even quadruple in value in the next fifty years?

Joe did what everybody said was the smart thing.  He stayed steady and true to the home he was already building.  His children loved him, his wife adored him, and he had cookouts every weekend.

Bill did what everybody said was the stupid thing.  The halfway built house he’d started before his new life in Christ crumbled over time.  The foundation cracked, and spiders and snakes and foxes lived among the ruins.  Bill’s wife had left him to start a house on prime real estate property with somebody else.  He got to see his children every other weekend.  Most of his old friends never answered the phone when his name came up on the caller id, and nobody ever came to his house for a cookout.

Bill only had a few neighbors, and they were all broke like him, buying strange building supplies that nobody else used and following building plans that none of the engineers in town understood.  The Rock of Christ seemed like a lonely place, and the real estate agent had warned everyone who built there that it would never go up in value and was worthless.  Some did wonder if the agent said this just because there was no money to be made on the property–it was free to Bill and anyone else who built there.  Others never stopped to think about it, and made fun of Bill whenever they saw him out and about.

Then one day, fifty years to the date the two men had heard the teaching of Christ, something happened.  Something neither man was expecting.

They both died.

Bill was driving home from work when he got in a car accident.  Nobody was too clear on the details, just that a young driver had accidentally hit him head-on.  He died instantly, the paramedics said.

Joe, on the very same day, had a heart attack.  Nobody even knew he had heart trouble, although the doctor had warned him about high cholesterol.  Although he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, the damage was just too massive.

Both men’s funerals were on the same day.

Bill’s friends from the district of the Rock of Christ came.  His children were there–one even decided to build his own home in the same neighborhood where his father had lived.  Even though it was well-attended, there was only a small service since Bill never had much money and his friends didn’t have much to donate.

Joe had a bunch of coworkers come to his funeral.  He’d been really successful at work, and he had a lot of acquaintances who showed up out of respect.  His family was there, and there was a beautiful ceremony.  Everyone said it was very professionally done.  There was even a few police officers to direct traffic when the service was over.

Twenty years went by, and not many friends were left who had known Bill or Joe.  Their children remembered them, of course, and their spouses (or in Bill’s case, ex-spouse).

Another fifty years went by, and a few of Bill’s descendents took an interest in ancestry.  They did some research on the internet and found out his name, but they didn’t really know anything about him.  One of Joe’s great-great-great-great grandchildren did a family tree project.  She found Joe’s name in an old photo album and included it on the tree.

Even though Bill and Joe had faded away from the history of the town, there was a memorial to each of them.  No, it wasn’t their gravestones.  Bill never afforded one and Joe’s gravestone, though it was a mighty monument, only got flowers on Memorial Day when the dutiful boy scouts came by.

Yet, there was something of theirs that had remained in town.  Something the townspeople passed by every day.  Though they didn’t know who the houses belonged to, there wasn’t a person in town who hadn’t walked or driven to at least one of their houses.

Bill’s house–well, it wasn’t known as Bill’s house anymore.  Currently, it was Jim and Kate’s house–they’d moved in with their four kids after elderly Mr. and Mrs. Rogue had died.  Before that there’d been newlyweds Paul and Christine, and, let’s see, before that there was Jamar and the backyard club he’d started.  It’s hard to really remember everybody who, when they decided to build on the Rock of Christ, build an addition onto Bill’s house.  Of course, they didn’t know whose house it was, but, over the years, the small house had become one of the marvels of the neighborhood.

I think it was Harriet, who’d first owned the house after Bill had died (she was Bill’s daughter, and she’d come to Christ at her father’s funeral) , who’d expanded the kitchen.  It was her husband, Peter, who re-shingled the roof.  Their children, Tom and Larry, mowed the grass every week until they went off to college.  When Harriet and Peter died, Tom moved in with his wife April, and they’re the ones who cultivated the garden out back.  They didn’t have any children, but a boy they’d mentored–that was Azad, I think, built the sun room on when he moved in.

Over the years, families kept building onto that house.  The kitchen was updated, the living room refurnished, the walls repainted, the fireplace converted from wood-burning to electric when that was the phase, and then back to wood-burning when it came back in–but the foundation was never touched.  Extra rooms were built on–including that extra big living room Jamar added for the college kids to have their Bible study.  Mr. and Mrs. Rogue took out the skee-ball machine and sold most of the board games at a garage sale, and they added carpet and paintings of flowers and turned the room into a Bible study for widowed women.

Yes, the house went through change after change as each new generation added something to Bill’s home, but there was one thing no one ever, never once, had to change.  That was the foundation.  Even hundreds of years later, the house stayed as strong as it had been the day it was built.  Whenever any of the kids or younger couples in the neighborhood worry about termites or earthquakes or wildfires or, worst of all, the bad flooding that came through the valley every now and again, the older residents will reassure them they have nothing to worry about.  It is, after all, the Rock of Christ.

People are influenced by Joe’s building, too, but not in the same way.  The year after Joe died, there was a terrible flood, and the house completely collapsed.  No one in the neighborhood said they’d ever seen anything like it.  The real estate agent apologized, but said the other houses were better built than Joe’s had been.

But Joe’s house–or, really, the lack thereof–is still effecting people.  People scavenged his demolished house for a while.  He’d been a rich man, and he had lots of nice nicknacks.  But since they’d gotten soaked in the flood, only vagrants ever took off with them.

Kids used to walk through the ruins as a shortcut on their way to school.  The ground eroded so many times, it became terribly unsafe.  Nobody seemed to notice until a first-grader fell into a surprise sinkhole.  If his brother hadn’t gotten ahold of his arm in time, it would have been too late.  Since then, there’s barbed wire around the old place.  That hasn’t stopped ne’er-do-wells from dumping their trash there, of course.  I’ve heard all manner of unsavory animals live their now.  The city council was trying to figure out what to do with the old lot until the wildfire came through and left a mass of charcoal and scrap metal in its path.  Now the council’s voting on what to do with the scrap metal.  And I think they’re planning to put a concrete wall up, to keep children out.

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“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ”(Matthew 7:24-27, HCSB)

The Second to Last Time

The second to last time, I put my Ipod computer connector in the right place.  I’m almost sure of it.

.           .          .          .          .

I have to admit–I splurged.  My first day of summer vacation, I bought three audiobooks.  Three.

I got only unabridged, because I can’t stand abridged books.  It bothers me and makes my scalp itch the same way of when one M ‘n’ M out of the package falls on the floor.  It doesn’t matter if I wasn’t going to eat all the M ‘n’ M’s–the whole experience is ruined because I lost one.  In the same way, it doesn’t matter whether the book is tedious or not–I don’t want to lose a word.

But the books I bought were far from tedious–the kind of stuff I love: Max Lucado, Michael Card, and a new author for me, though I’ve heard of him, A.W. Tozer.

I was all set to tackle any boring spring-cleaning-postponed-to-summer projects.  I was ready for any car trips, and even laps around the gym I have to go to 12 times a month to get reimbursed through insurance and which I am barely going to make.  New books, new summer, ready to go.

I know for certain there have been times I have put my Ipod connector cord back in the wooden box that stores our television remote controls (when they are in the right place).  In fact, I put that Ipod connector cord back inside that wooden box very recently.  I remember.  I think it was the second to last time, in fact.

The second to last time, I am very nearly sure I put my connector cord right where it belongs.  And the second to last time, I was proud of myself and a wee bit gloatish at my sharp memory.

But the last time . . the last time . . . . .

I didn’t.

You have probably figured out how I know this.

Yes, I went to go get it.  You see, there is something I have learned about ipods that’s completely important to their use.  You cannot just tell the ipod what music you bought and expect it to believe you, and you cannot just hold it close to the computer and hope that they talk.

You have to have a connector cord.

But I don’t know where the connector cord is.

The second to last time, I put the cord in the right spot.

But last time, I don’t know what I did with it.

And now I don’t have it.

And Max Lucado, Michael Card, and A.W. Tozer did not spend the afternoon sharing their books with me.

I tried to find my ipod connector cord, but I didn’t try very hard, because I am not very good at finding things.

I tried to listen to my paid-for audio books on my computer, but my computer has only built-in speakers, and they are not very loud.  My comfort level with music is about 8 notches higher than most people’s, and my computer’s speakers, at full blast, are softer than most people like, meaning that, even if I press my head against my computer, I am not happy with the volume.  And, as you well know, a person can’t do laundry or run laps around a track (and certainly not drive) with their head pressed against a laptop computer.

I’m not too gloatishly proud for putting my ipod connector cord away the second to last time now.  Because now is the last time, and now, I have no way of listening to the new books I bought unless I invent a way to attach my laptop to my head.

The second to last time doesn’t matter when it’s the last time.

Jesus tells a parable about ten women who were on their way to a wedding party–they were something like what bridesmaids would be today.  They hadn’t been married yet themselves, so they were probably very young women.

They had to bring lamps with them.  There were no flashlights in their day, and they needed the lamps to welcome the bridegroom when he came.  Half of the women didn’t just bring lamps, they brought extra oil too–like bringing extra batteries for a flashlight today.  The other half of the women didn’t bother.  They’d brought the lamps; that seemed enough.

For the first part of the night, there wasn’t one perceivable bit of difference between the women.  They all had their lamps burning.  They were all ready to greet the bridegroom when he arrived.

But then something happened that they did not expect.  The wedding wasn’t over when they’d thought it would be.  They were sure the bridegroom should be there by now, but he wasn’t.  All of the women fell asleep waiting.  Not one of them stayed awake.

Have you ever been woken up in the middle of night and startled out of your wits?  That’s what happened to these women.  They woke up in the dark, probably confused and scared.  And they all remembered their lamps.

What hadn’t been perceivable now quickly became the most apparent thing about the women.  The ones who had brought the extra oil were ready to go.  Their light cut through the darkness, and they weren’t confused or scared anymore.  They were excited.  They could at last greet the bridegroom.

The women who hadn’t brought extra oil weren’t having the same experience.  They were frightened and worried with that sick worry of having done something they couldn’t make up.  Their thoughts darted through their heads as they tried to come up with a solution.

If only the bridegroom had come at dusk, or even a little after.  They were ready then.  But now, they had nothing.  They couldn’t greet him with dead lamps.

They asked if they could borrow some oil from the women who’d brought the extra oil.  But this wasn’t the right time to share.  You see, the women who’d brought the extra oil didn’t have any they could give away.  It turned out, they had just what they needed.  They knew the only place the other women could get oil for themselves would be the market.

The market, in the middle of the night?  But the other women would try it.  They rushed off and, amazingly, found some peddler to sell them oil on that black hour.

But it wasn’t the right oil.  The right oil was the oil that had been available yesterday afternoon and all through the night while they’d been sleeping.  This oil–this oil came too late.

They got back, but the door to the party was shut and even locked.  They could hear all the laughing and warmth and good conversation going on inside–but they couldn’t get there.  So they knocked, thinking the bridegroom would know them.

But he didn’t.  They hadn’t been there to greet him, and he didn’t know them.  They weren’t invited in.  And it didn’t matter how brightly their lamp had shone at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon–right now, their lamps were empty.  And it was dark.

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

(Jesus, quoted in Mathew 25:1-13, NIV)

Where we think we stood with God five years ago or even five days ago isn’t going to matter when Christ comes back, or we die, and it’s today.  If you or I aren’t sure we follow Jesus, referencing a time in history when we thought we were isn’t any good for now.  There will be no salvation to ask for after we die, and no chance to meet Jesus once He comes back to the sound of the trumpet.  The time to get right with the Lord is now, because, once now is up, it isn’t going to matter what we thought we had yesterday or fifty years ago, or the aisle we walked down, or what prayer we recited.  All that will matter is whether we know God right now.

It doesn’t do me much good to reminisce about the time I put my ipod connector cord in the right place, does it?  What matters is that I find where it is right now.

It’s encouraging to me that none of the women are expecting the bridegroom to come at that hour, but five get to go in anyway.  Why is that?  The five who go in don’t go in because they were better dressed or had more hors d’oeurvres.  They go in because they still had oil.  They hadn’t just got lamps.  They made sure their lamps were filled.

In the same way, we can’t just get a “salvation experience”.  We have to make sure we know Christ.  He is the flame that lights our lives forever.  Without Him, we have only the dying, dim light of this world and a useless lamp to hold it in.

The opportunity we have to receive Him in every moment of our lives isn’t going to help us if we don’t take it.  What we could have chosen isn’t going to help us once the door is closed.  What will determine where we go for all eternity is what we choose do before the door closes, not after.

Dear Jesus,

You are the only one who knows what is in my lamp, and You are the only one who can reveal to me what is there.  Show me whether I have real light or false light–whether my lamp is filled with the life only You can give, or filled only with the nearly-empty pleasures of this world.

I pray for Your Salvation.  Not a moment of following You, but a lifetime.  I know it’s not about my perfection.  I fall asleep to the temptations of this world plenty of times instead of staying alert to what You want me to do.  It isn’t about my shortcomings; it’s about whether or not I am filled with You.

My salvation isn’t made by how I look to others, or how my lamp compares to another’s lamp, or how ready I thought I was for You yesterday.  My salvation is the fulfillment of punishment You gave for my sin.  I want You to fill me, because You are the only Light that never ends.

Give me what is so readily available anywhere I am, whatever I’ve done, whoever I am: Your Salvation.  I want Your Presence before it’s too late.

It isn’t the bridesmaid in the most elegant dress who makes it through the door, but the one who holds before her the lamp of Your Life.  The girl in dirty rags, up from the sewers, fleeing from prison, too poor to buy from any dress shop, cast out of all parties, banned from all fine neighborhoods . . . who holds out the lamp of Your Presence . . . will find You at the doors of the great feast . . . . . . . . holding them open.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!
(Jesus, quoted in Mark 13:33, NLT)

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

(Isaiah 60:1, NIV)

the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.

(Matthew 4:16, fulfilled from Isaiah 9:2, NIV)

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Photograph by langfordw, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/24375810@N06/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

The Prodigal’s Brother

Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the property.’ So the father divided his property between his two sons.

“After a few days, the younger son gathered his possessions and left for a country far away from home. There he wasted everything he had on a wild lifestyle. He had nothing left when a severe famine spread throughout that country. He had nothing to live on. So he got a job from someone in that country and was sent to feed pigs in the fields. No one in the country would give him any food, and he was so hungry that he would have eaten what the pigs were eating.

“Finally, he came to his senses. He said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more food than they can eat, while I’m starving to death here? I’ll go at once to my father, and I’ll say to him, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and you. I don’t deserve to be called your son anymore. Make me one of your hired men.”‘

“So he went at once to his father. While he was still at a distance, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son, put his arms around him, and kissed him. Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and you. I don’t deserve to be called your son anymore.’

“The father said to his servants, ‘Hurry! Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let’s celebrate with a feast. My son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost but has been found.’ Then they began to celebrate.

“His older son was in the field. As he was coming back to the house, he heard music and dancing. He called to one of the servants and asked what was happening.

“The servant told him, ‘Your brother has come home. So your father has killed the fattened calf to celebrate your brother’s safe return.’

“Then the older son became angry and wouldn’t go into the house. His father came out and begged him to come in. But he answered his father, ‘All these years I’ve worked like a slave for you. I’ve never disobeyed one of your commands. Yet, you’ve never given me so much as a little goat for a celebration with my friends. But this son of yours spent your money on prostitutes, and when he came home, you killed the fattened calf for him.’

“His father said to him, ‘My child, you’re always with me. Everything I have is yours. But we have something to celebrate, something to be happy about. This brother of yours was dead but has come back to life. He was lost but has been found.'” (Luke 15:11-32, GW)

Just about everybody likes to criticize the older son in the parable of the prodigal.  Everyone likes to point out how arrogant he is, what a hypocrite.

But have you ever had someone throw a party for somebody you hate, somebody you really hate, and then be asked to attend?

There is something very dark in us that begins, it seems, just about as soon as we can think.  It’s called wanting others to get in trouble (even for the stuff we’ve done).

I have been late more times than I can count.  And  yet, if I’m on time one day, and someone else comes in late, I share in that happiness of giving that person a disapproving glance.  Now how does that work?

All of us, all of us sin, except for Jesus Christ.  Yet when our sin is quieter, or when our sin isn’t out in the open, we want them to pay and us to go free.

It’s interesting that the younger son didn’t actually do anything to his brother.  Rather, the brother is offended by his father’s forgiveness of what the prodigal did to his father.

But I think there’s more than just that.  The brother wants to hate him, because, in our sinful state, sometimes it feels really good to hate people.  In fact, it can distract us from hating ourselves.  The brother thinks that, compared to the prodigal, he’s got it made in the shade.  He probably figures he has made a grade of somewhere between a A- and C- with his father, but the prodigal–well!  He has a clear F.  By hating the prodigal, the older son can feel loved–or so he thinks.

This whole theory is ruined by the father, who immediately forgives the younger son and celebrates him.  Now the brother feels really insecure, because not only was the prodigal forgiven, but he was given a gift the brother never was.  Does that mean the younger son is actually the most loved?

Now, what makes matters even worse for the brother is that the father invites him to the party.  And that brings me to a question: have I ever had someone throw a party for somebody I hate, somebody I really hate, and then be asked to attend?

Truth be told, I can relate more to the brother than the prodigal.  I wish that wasn’t true.  There is something way more special sounding about being the younger son.  After all, he gets the party.  When I read this parable, I often find this arrogant growl in me, like a dog with its fur rubbed the wrong way, and I think, How dare God–how dare He do that for the younger son and not the older!  The older stayed on the farm!

But you know what I think all this stems from, what this really stems from (and I may be wrong)?  I don’t think at its core this goes back to hypocrisy.  I think the older brother gets a bum rap because it’s usually really easy and comfortable for us to make fun of hypocrites (even though we are all hypocrites, because we all sin and we all to one degree or another judge sin).

I don’t think at the heart this is about hypocrisy, although there is definitely the side effect of severe hypocrisy.  But at its roots, I think it goes back to a deep fear we have that God shows favoritism, and I think, even deeper, it hits at the core of something very selfish and very ugly inside me that wants to make sure God loves me more than anyone else.

This is a mortally dangerous fear.  This fear might have been part of the reason the Pharisees rejected Jesus.  They didn’t want Jesus to stand in the way of them getting their love from God.

Back to the parable, this parable that Jesus told strikes the heart of jealousy and disunity and probably most hatred (I think of Cain and Able).  Every time I have talked about this parable, I have talked about the prodigal son.  But what does prodigal mean?  I thought it might mean “wayward”, or “bad”, but when I looked it up on dictionary.com, I found out it actually means somebody who spends a lot of money extravagantly.

Calling Jesus’ parable “The Prodigal Son” only tells part of the story.

Maybe we should call His story something more like, “The Prodigal Son and the Jealous Son”.

Both the sons have problems.  But as no one would ever have guessed, but Jesus reveals, the one who stayed at home and pretended to respect his father actually had way more issues than the one who left.

Interestingly enough, both of the sons have problems believing in their father’s love.  The prodigal son believes his father will take him back as a hired hand–that seems reasonable after what he’s done.  He way underestimates his father’s love.

But the jealous son is worse off.  I don’t think he really believes his father loves him at all.  And because of that, he wants to spite his brother by setting limits on his father’s love.  I think he stays outside of the party deliberately to try to get his father to “pick sides”.  I think he is trying to manipulate his father into setting limits on the love he shows the prodigal son.

It doesn’t work, and he goes down in history as the hypocrite, the one who’s easily hated by most listeners.  But you know what’s incredibly intriguing about the jealous son?

The father doesn’t hate him.

At the end of the story, the father doesn’t shut the door on him, or take away his inheritance, or cast him out of the family farm.  The story ends, as a matter of fact, with the father standing outside with him.

The father says, “Everything I have is yours.”

Yet, it doesn’t look very much like the jealous son is going to take it.

Here is the terrible irony: the prodigal son loses his inheritance and is taken back into his father’s love. . but the jealous son, at the end of the parable . . never even takes his inheritance . . . or his father’s love.

There’s a lot of jealousy in me towards the prodigal son, until I realize that the father in the story is offering the very same thing to both children: his love.  Just like God offers the same thing to us, all of us, whoever we are.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. (1 John 3:1, NLT)

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35, NIV)

God does not play favorites. (Romans 2:11, NIV)

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Credits go to John MacArthur’s booklet Grace for You, which got this whole new way of thinking about the older son started in my head.

Parable of the Sower and Seeds

I remember leaving class one day at my small community college, and seeing men in suits on the pathways, handing out little Bibles.  (This was a long time ago for me, by the way, and I’ve reconstructed as best as I remember.)  I took one as I went by, thanking the men, and then I stopped to watch how other students reacted.

Most students took the Bible and went on their way, some smiling either out of courtesy or agreement, others just taking one to make peace.  I saw one student stop, shake his head in refusal, and then go on.  And then there was one student who stuck in my mind.  He said something sarcastic like, “Thank you so much!” and then, smirking and shaking his head, he threw the Bible with a large thunk into the trashcan on his way in the building.

I later realized God had given me an opportunity to observe the truth in the parable of the farmer sewing seeds.  All of these students were being given the one Word who could unlock the gates of Hell to let them out, and yet, most of them . . . didn’t even know it.

I ache for them to know what they are missing.

He taught them many things in parables, and in His teaching He said to them:  “Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, this occurred: Some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it sprang up right away, since it didn’t have deep soil. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it didn’t have a root, it withered. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce a crop.  Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop that increased 30, 60, and 100 times [what was sown].” Then He said, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!” (Mark 4:2-9, HCSB)

Then He said to them: “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand any of the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy.  But they have no root in themselves; they are short-lived. When affliction or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately stumble. Others are sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But the ones sown on good ground are those who hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop: 30, 60, and 100 times [what was sown].” (Mark 4:13-20, HCSB)

Image by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license.  Image available on http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/5532241837/  

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Worse off

The servant ends up worse off than before.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.  For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.  When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him.  Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

“At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’  Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii.  He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

“At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  But he wasn’t willing.  On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed.  When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.

“Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave!  I forgave  you all that debt because you begged me.  Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’  And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers until he could pay everything that was owed.  So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35, HCSB)

I don’t want to end up worse off than before.

I want my forgiveness for others to be as real as the forgiveness I want to receive from God.

If I’m not planning on forgiving, I would be better off not asking for God’s forgiveness.  I would be better off than receiving God’s forgiveness through the death of Jesus Christ and then failing to forgive others.

If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.  (Matthew 6:14-15, CEV)

Two days pay . . . and much more

I don’t think of what I get paid in days.  I don’t even think in weeks.  I think in months.  This is because I get paid in months.  And if I wanted to know how much I made in a week, or in a day, I would have to divide.  Not that I don’t know how to divide, but, really, who likes to divide when they don’t have to?

But I got to thinking about my salary in days because, as often as I’ve heard the story of the good Samaritan, and even since in the past few years I began reading my Bible . . . I always casually acknowledged the part about two days pay without even thinking about it.

“A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:30b-37, NLT)

Thinking about silver coins didn’t mean much to me, because I guess I was thinking more of “silver” coins today: nickels, dimes, quarters.  Sure, I knew the silver coins were worth more than a couple quarters, but it didn’t seem like much.

One denarius (plural denarii)

The actual currency was denarii.  Having nothing to equate denarii to, I guess I had in my mind something like ten dollar bills.  But I’m without excuse to think such a thing, because I had read, I don’t know how many times, in the footnotes of Bibles, that a denarii was worth about a day’s wage for a common worker.

I never stopped to think about how much a day’s wage actually is.  The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable spends two days salary on a total stranger.  That’s not spare change.  That was a commitment that would have thrown his entire monthly budget off.  Something–or maybe many somethings–would have to be given up to give this money for lodging and care to a total stranger.

And scarier still than losing two days pay, this Samaritan assigns himself the financial responsibility of covering the man’s needs, if they were beyond this.  That’s a frighteningly open arrangement.  He doesn’t say he’ll cover the bills if they are one denarius more or up to five denarii more–he simply promises to cover the expenses!

And that’s not all.  The Samaritan used his own olive oil and wine on the man.  It wasn’t as if he could go to Wal-Mart to buy more.  Pouring these ointments out on this total stranger, the Samaritan was denying them to himself and taking away from his family’s provisions.  He would either have to come up with money to purchase more wine and olive oil in the city–and that would have been even more difficult since he had just given two days pay away–or he would have to wait until harvest time, if he was a farmer.

As olive oil had to be pressed from olives, wine had to be pressed from grapes.  Olive oil and wine represented work–hard work–and this Samaritan gave them away to a total stranger.By reading the Bible (like 1 King 17:11-14) we learn that olive oil was necessary for bread, and bread was a meal staple.

But the Samaritan went beyond giving his money and personal provisions.  This man also gave his time.  Having no cell phone to call for an ambulance and no ambulance to come anyway, the Samaritan led a wounded man on a donkey while walking on foot was slow.  And this was the same dangerous place the wounded man had been robbed and beaten.  Walking on foot wasn’t just time-consuming: it was risky.  He had no donkey to flee away on if another band of robbers showed up.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous[1], so this was no easy path.

So this Samaritan gave away his money, his provisions, his time, and he even risked being in the same predicament as the wounded man.

But now here is probably the most amazing part of all: the Samaritan helped a man who was most likely prejudiced against him.  The Jewish man most likely hated Samaritans and saw them as “half-breeds”, because that was the popular thinking of the day.  The Jewish people would often go out of their way to avoid routes that led by Samaritan villages.  So for this Samaritan man to help this Jewish man, he had to overcome his own feelings of injustice and rage.

Some people might have been proud of themselves just for not kicking this Jewish man while he was laying on the ground.  But the Samaritan not only doesn’t take an opportunity for revenge, his heart immediately drops any bitterness, any spite, and he begins to help this man out.  Whether or not he felt like helping the man, this Samaritan overruled all his negative emotions in favor of doing right.  He practices mercy, not because he has a special kind of ability others don’t have, but because he chooses to.

This Samaritan had no cell phone, no ambulance, and no insurance or Medicare to cover the wounded man’s medical bills.  And he had no reason to help a man whose people group hated his people group.  In fact, he had just about every excuse in the world not to help.

Yet he helped anyway.

Jesus taught that this man is the neighbor.

Not because he came over to borrow a cup of sugar, or because he waved at his neighbor every time he was at the mailbox, or because he participated in neighborhood watch, or because he bought the kid next door’s cub scout popcorn one year.  Jesus said this Samaritan man was the neighbor because he had the courage, the willingness, the generosity, the patience, the humility, and the mercy to help a total stranger.  In other words, this Samaritan man loved his neighbor.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37, NLT)

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[1] The pastor at my church gave a sermon on this once that encouraged me to deeply investigate this parable rather than just thinking I already “knew” it.  How gracious God is, and how patient!

Photograph of denarius by Daniel R. Blume, http://www.flickr.com/people/drb62/

Photograph of bread and olive oil by Charles Haynes, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/haynes/

Photograph of grapes by Or Hiltch, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/orcaman/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

The Three Excuses: Reflection

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go to the roads and paths!  Urge the people to come to my house.  I want it to be full.  I can guarantee that none of those invited earlier will taste any food at my banquet.’ ” (Luke 12:23-24)

The scary reality: We are, each one of us, replaceable in God’s kingdom.  Although there is no other person just like us, and God desires all to come to Him, He will not keep a seat for us if we are not willing to answer His call.

And we will miss out on His banquet.  We will miss out on the Kingdom of God.

“It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:6b-8, NIV)

Photo by I Woz Ere, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/35558439@N08/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.