“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29b)

The guy sleeps expecting a train

Scripture tells us the man asking Jesus this question was wanting to justify himself (v. 29a).

Most likely, he was looking for Jesus to give him an answer that had a limited category for “neighbors”–and hopefully in that category would be all the people the man was already treating well.

What I’m sure he didn’t expect was Jesus’ response with the parable of the good Samaritan.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 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, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“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 10:30-37, NIV)

In Jesus’ parable, the word “neighbor” exploded the limits society had put on it.  It came to mean anyone who needed help.  Anyone.

Last night, Ben and I were invited over to dear friends’ house.  I’ll call them Tom and Becky here to protect their privacy.  It was easy to see from where our GPS was taking us that they lived on the more dangerous side of town.  When we got to their house, what we learned from them blew us away.

Tom and Becky had moved to this very neighborhood for the purpose of sharing the Gospel of Christ with their neighbors.

I have never, ever thought of selecting a house for the purpose of reaching the neighbors.

Rather than stay inside with their doors locked, they sat out on the porch with us, waving at almost every car that passed by.

As cars passed by, Tom would immediately tell us in a voice full of love, “That’s ____, and he lives ______” followed by a story of how they had made contact with that person and what they were praying for him about.

Although they had stories of the drugs, alcoholism, tragedy, and violence of the neighborhood, they are adamantly unafraid.  They are on mission for God, and confident they are in the right place.

On Sundays, they host church in their home.  Tom is the pastor and Becky serves the afternoon meal.  They invite everyone from the neighborhood to come over and join them.  Many times, Tom has to ask them to leave at 10 p.m. so he can go to bed for work the next day!

When people come to their door asking for money,rather than keeping the shutters down and hiding as I would be tempted to do, Tom and Becky’s habit is to invite them in for dinner.

When new neighbors move in, Becky bakes goodies to welcome them in the neighborhood.  As we were there, Tom was telling us they’d just gotten a new neighbor in a house that had been empty for a long time.  Tom’s face is filled with eagerness as he talks about the new opportunity, as if he’s just found out a movie star is moving next door.

The way Tom and Becky treated their neighbors as they talked about them was so humbling.  Since they constantly see the struggles and addictions of their neighbors, Tom said, “I remind myself every morning, I’m no better than any of them . . . But for the grace of God, I would be that person.”  And they both mean it.  Their hearts are open wide to their neighbors, not closed tightly against those people.

They have a policy of always inviting their neighbors over for dinner before they invite them to church.  Tom and Becky want people to know that they care about who they are and where they are at more than they care about checking off a dutiful “I’ve-invited-you-to-church” box.

Tom said something like, “It’s easy to invite someone to church.  It’s harder to invite them to dinner.”

They are passionate about sharing Christ with their friends, even though it means taking the time to invest in their lives.

Over 2,000 years ago, a man wanting to justify himself asked Jesus,

“And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29b)

I need to ask myself that very question today, but with one important difference.  Rather than trying to justify myself as I ask, I need to be asking so that Christ can transform my hardhearted thinking and explode my view of who are my neighbors.

.               .               .               .               .               .               .               .

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

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

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“Blank mind”?

We have a common misconception in our society that you can go in with a “blank mind” and figure things out.  But when I very briefly studied cognition in college, I learned this is simply not so.  Our minds constantly connect new information with old information, comparing, contrasting, and collaborating ideas.  So when I take a look at anything, I use everything I believe to make decisions about it.

If I read the Bible believing in its perfection, I will have an entirely different reading experience than if I read believing in its imperfection.  And if I go into the reading unsure, an immediate crisis emerges: What do I really believe?

God’s Word makes it clear: we are each responsible for how we read His Word, because we are the ones who come to His perfection with either our agendas . . or our submission.

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

Published in: on April 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Responding to temptation

You need to decide how you will respond to temptation in advance, before the temptation comes. Once it’s there, it’s too late to be weighing options and making decisions.

When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39), he said, “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” These are not the words of a man caught up in temptation and making up his mind. They are the words of one who has already decided to do what is right.

When David was tempted by Bathsheba’s wife (2 Samuel 11), he said, “Who is she?” and was already lost. That’s not to say he couldn’t have recovered from that point, but he was already set on the wrong path. If he had responded like Joseph, it would have spared a lot of heartache.

“Choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15

From Ben’s Pen, reflection after a recent Bible study

Mordecai

The book of Esther ends with this short chapter:

Now King Ahasuerus laid a tribute on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. And all the accomplishments of his authority and strength, and the full account of the greatness of Mordecai to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation. (Esther 10, NASB)

Mordecai, a Jewish man whose niece/adopted daughter, Esther, became the queen of Persia, could have wielded the enormous potential power he had for his own luxury and greatness.  The temptation had to be stupendous from the moment his child was announced to become the next queen.

If your daughter or son became the next president, would you be a little bit excited?  😉

But presidency has very little power compared to the total-authority-royal-reign of the Persia and Media government of Mordecai’s day.  This wasn’t a kingdom that ruled merely one country.  This was a kingdom with power that extended to 127 provinces in the middle-east and even into Africa [see Esther 1:1].

Esther didn’t have supreme power as queen, but, because she pleased the king, she had incredible clout.  As Herodias and Jezebel had tremendous ability to manipulate their husbands like puppets on a string, so Esther could have persuaded her husband toward all sorts of political advantage for Mordecai.  And since Esther had a history of listening to and obeying Mordecai (see Esther 2:20), Mordecai could have easily misused his adopted daughter to be his puppet for anything he wanted within the kingdom.

Furthermore, Mordecai didn’t have to keep his identity as a Jew after his daughter became part of the greatest world power of his day.  He didn’t have to remain faithful to his God, or his people.  He could have cut himself off from his heritage, forgotten his struggling people who were foreigners scattered in unfamiliar lands, and devoted himself to what we in America would call the good life.

The author of Esther goes into great detail at the beginning of the account, elaborating on King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) wealth and prestige.  If it was luxury you wanted, he had it going on.  If it was public admiration, he had that, too. I would suppose there seemed to be no end to the majesty of his kingdom, or the popularity of his rule (and the fawners seeking favors).

In modern day, King Ahasuerus would be driving a Lamborghini, living in Hollywood, and show off his mansion with its own basketball court, mini-golf course, and three-story water park.  He’d be wearing Armani suits (or something even better!) and he’d have his own personal hairstylist, tailor, chauffeur, chef, maid, accountant, pilot and on and on and on.  He’d be so rich his tennis shoes would have diamond bling on the soles.

He would appear on the front cover of People magazine and win the most influential person of the year in the Times.  The paparazzi would stick to him like flies to flypaper.  E! Tonight would have him as their feature story and Sean Hannity, Anderson Cooper, Matt Lauer, and Diane Sawyer would ask him about his life.  Nooks and Kindles would be overburdened with the abundance of downloadable unlicensed biographies on the great Ahasuerus.

And Mordecai’s daughter was married to him.

What extraordinary temptation.

Mordecai could have abandoned his God and followed the star-studded, gold-bricked path that this opportunity had paved for his life.  He had a free pass to all the wealth, glamor, status, and popularity he could ever lust after.  He could even have rationalized God gave him this opportunity to enjoy the good life.  The concerns of his people and the covenant with his God didn’t have to be disregarded, they just had to take a backseat to his metamorphosis into becoming a great, an admired, a mighty, a lauded world-class rich man.

But what does the story tell us Mordecai really did?

What he really did was dress in sackcloth and ashes and refuse to eat.

Isn’t that the first thing you want to do when you find out you have the once-in-a-million-lifetimes chance of becoming a multimillionaire?

Me either.

But it came to Mordecai’s mind.  It came to Mordecai’s mind because he was following God.  He wasn’t going to use the opportunity he had to become a wealthy ‘worldling’ as an excuse to disregard his God, or his people.  Because he loved his God, he was devoted to his people.  And so, when an irrevocable order came down that all Jews were to be annihilated in the month of December, Mordecai didn’t rush to his computer to update his Ancestry.com account and replace the Jewish names with Persian ones.  He didn’t decide to wait to act until he became great and mighty and it was a safe thing to do.  Nope.

He acted right then, right there, on behalf of his people.  He identified himself clearly, unmistakably, and very un-popularly as a Jew by his grief over the news.

Why did he do it?  Because it was more important to him to align himself with God than to align himself with all the greatest powers in the world.

Through the remarkable, extraordinary courage of Mordecai, he blazes a trail of allegiance to the I-AM that his daughter Esther follows in.  His example and his motivational wisdom to her bring out a bravery in her that she had absolutely no idea she had.  Through the brilliance of God’s plot for the story, Esther and Mordecai save their people and are extravagantly vindicated in the eyes of the world for their faith in GOD.

But this isn’t only an account to give honor to Mordecai and Esther.  This account is a challenge for believers, even today.  After I read the last verse in Esther, I was struck by his description:

. . one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation. (Esther 10:3c, NASB)

Christian, for you and I, the question is, what are we doing to seek the good of our people?  Are we speaking welfare for the nation of God?  Or are we waiting for someone else to do that job for us?  Do we care about the persecuted church, our suffering brothers and sisters worldwide, or are we too busy seeking the good life?

“Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Jesus, quoted in Luke 17:33, NASB)

Doesn’t jive

An unchanged life doesn’t jive with the book of James.

Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like. But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice—you will be blessed by God in what you do. (James 1:22-25, GNT)

Published in: on January 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stepping up

You have given me everything I need, and when I falter, it is my problem. 

When I fail God, it is my fault.  No one else and no circumstances are responsible for my failure.  I stand before God accountable for myself.

Understanding this is painful . . and eye-opening.  If I am responsible for my failure, then I can change.  It is up to me, and I can do it by the grace and power of Jesus Christ.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13, KJV2000)

. . we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1c-2, NIV)

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More open

“You live next door to neighbors who are more open to hearing the Gospel than you are to sharing it.”

–From one of Pastor John’s sermons

For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (Romans 10:13-14, NLT)

Harvest

There is a harvest.  There are people who are ready to be saved.  Are we going out as workers in God’s field?

–From Pastor John’s sermon

[Jesus] told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2, NIV)

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Published in: on November 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Missing out big time

“If we are not reaching the lost, we are missing out on a party of cosmic proportions.”
–Pastor John

“. . there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Jesus, quoted in Luke 15:10b, NIV)

Even if the sky really is falling . .

“Though the sky falls, do not lie.”

–From Pastor John’s sermon

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:9-10, NIV)

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Photograph by Jill Kemerer, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/32621895@N02/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.
See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.