Roadkill

Today’s “tangible truth” was one of the first times Jesus words, when truly considered, caught my attention. It is a parable that Jesus used – the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.

Now to set the stage for Jesus’ storytime, we have a crowd gathered and the story immediately gets interesting.  Luke 10.25 tells us that an “expert in the Law of Moses stood up to test Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Immediate tension.

Jesus tests back, asking for the man’s opinion, which he shares by quoting Leviticus 19 – Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him “do this and you will live”, but the man presses Jesus with another question “Who is my neighbor?”

And the table is set for Jesus to teach.  Here is a review of the facts of Jesus’ story:

A man is going from Jerusalem to Jericho – a journey of about 18 miles. It was a rough, mountainous journey, reputed to be dangerous because there were many places where robbers could lay in wait. And that is what happens in Jesus’ story. The man is attacked, robbed, beaten and left for dead.  A priest and a levite come along separately, and they cross the road and pass by, leaving the man in the same condition. Then, a Samaritan comes along, sees the man, bandages his wounds, helps him to an inn and takes care of him through the night.  The next day, he pays the innkeeper to take care of him. And if the cost to do so goes beyond what the Samaritan initially leaves, he will settle the account when he returns. Jesus then asks which was the neighbor to the man. The expert in the Law says “the one who had mercy on him.”

On the surface, it seems like an easy lesson about helping those in need, going above and beyond and noticing those around us. But here is the piece that I missed. Jesus is telling this story to a Jew, likely in the midst of several other Jews. And he makes the hero of the story a Samaritan!  The Jews and the Samaritans have a long history of detesting each other. Hundreds of years. One article I read compared it to the discord seen more modernly in the conflicts in Bosnia or Ireland that were both ethnic and political. For me, here in Minneapolis, it would be like a Vikings fan gets beat up and the only one that would help him would be a Packers fan. To his audience, the story Jesus’ told, with its Samaritan hero, would have dropped jaws. It was surprising, offensive and attention-grabbing. Why would Jesus choose this plot twist for his story?

Here are the tangible truths that I have learned from this parable:

1- Jesus really meant it when He told us to Love our enemy – He tells of the Samaritan loving the Jew enough to help him, care for him and even sacrifice for him. He made the Samaritan in his story a likeable guy who helped way more than those who were “supposed to help”. The Samaritan loved his enemy and the story invites the Jews listening to love the one who was “their enemy”.  Who is your enemy? How does it make you feel to know that Jesus expects us to love those “neighbors” as we do ourselves. Are you ready to help and show love to others – even the “enemy” around you.

2- Not just a one time thing – It may have been attributable to conscience if the Samaritan helped the attacked man left for dead on the road. Enemy or no, he didn’t want to see anyone die. But for the Samaritan in the story, his actions are motivated by something more. He pays for care for the injured man, and vows to come back to check on him and settle accounts if the cost of care was greater than what he had left.  Likewise, we are not called to simply tolerate our enemies for the minimal amount of time – we are called to love our enemies (which we discussed in the last Tangible Truth post). It isn’t enough to not show hatred towards others, we are called to love others, and the “whenever possible, live at peace with EVERYONE.” (Romans 12.18 emphasis mine)

3- Roadkill – The reality is that we are the ones on the side of the road. We are destitute, hopeless, beaten, down and this world has left us for dead. The man and the Samaritan were enemies, just by the nature of their ethnicity. We, by our nature are enemies of God. We rebel against him, defy him, ignore him or consider him irrelevant. And while we were still in that state, doomed and destitute, Jesus died for our sins. Jesus’ tangible truth here challenges us through this story to love our neighbors, even ones that hate us. He not only asks us to do it, He shows us that it can be done when He died for his enemies – us!

Enemy

In my most recent athlete post, I share the story of Giorgio Tavecchio. Part of his story included a missed field goal. The miss happened after he had made the field goal, but had committed a penalty so it didn’t count. Those missing points would have been enough for his team to win the game, and without them, they lost.

He shared that he received a lot of hateful messages on his Facebook page. His response? Pray for each of those who sent him the message. This was a great representation of todays “tangible truth”.  In Matthew 5, there is a wealth of teaching for us to wrap our heads around, and in verse 44, Jesus says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I looked up the definition of persecute and here is what I found. “to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; relentless subjection to annoyance or suffering”  That goes against our instincts and in many cases, our sense of justice. We were wronged, we were hurt, we should be able to hold their actions against them.

But one time, a few years ago, as I read this passage something shocking dawned on me. Sometimes, I am the enemy. Sometimes my words are injurious, my actions harassing, or at least relentlessly annoying. I am the youngest of 3 brothers, I am sure they would support me in this claim.

There is a well known verse later in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7.12). It says “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”. So let’s put these 2 verses together. When I am mean, oppressive, hurtful to others- when I am their enemy, how would I want them to treat me?  Do I want them to hate me back, carry a grudge and wish mean, harmful things to happen to me? Or do I want them to love me, pray for me, go against what I deserve from them and be shown grace? Definitely option number 2. So with that in mind, how then should I treat those that are oppressing, hurting or insulting me? With love, grace, prayer and forgiveness.

And if we need an example of what that looks like, consider what Paul wrote in Romans 5.8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were enemies of God. We were against Him, living in outright rebellion. That is when he went to the cross so we could be shown love and forgiveness.  In Psalm 103.12, we read that the Lord has taken our sins “farther than the East is from the West”.  Why East and West instead of North and South? well, there is a North and South Pole. There is a finite distance between those two points. There is a point that you can reach where you are as North as you can go.  No point like that exists when you look at East and West. If I were to get in an airplane and fly east until I reached the end, I would never get there. I can always go East. It is an immeasurable distance and God says our sins are taken away farther than that! He loved his enemies. He showed love, grace and forgiveness to the very ones that were sentencing him to death. (I’m not picking on the Jews in Israel at this moment, I’m talking about every sinner that has ever lived!) And He calls us to do the same, to show undeserved love and grace to those who oppress us. And when we see what that looks like modeled in our own forgiveness, we are challenged to do the same. God please help us to lean on your presence in our life to carry this out!

 

Value

In the previous “Tangible Truths” post, I talked about going through the motions of Christianity versus true sacrifice. That led me to make this one my next “Tangible Truth”.

This series focusses on some of the radical things Jesus said and how, when inspected more closely, they are both very true and very challenging. Today’s passage is from Matthew 13.45-46. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Two little verses that pack a punch. Let’s imagine the scene like this.

Man: Wow! look at that pearl! I’ve never seen one like it in my life! It is beautiful!  I simply must have it.  How much?

Merchant: How much do you have?

Man: umm. well, let’s see, I have, uh… $1,000 cash on me.

Merchant: I’ll take everything you’ve got.

Man: Oof! Hefty price, but I’ve got more in the bank account, so I’ll take it! $1,000. It’s a deal.

Merchant: I said, I’ll take everything you’ve got- bank account too!

Man: Empty my account? Wow! ummm, but look at it- I’ve never seen its equal. OK, deal, I’ll drain the bank account. It’s so worth it.

Merchant: OK.

Man: What a deal! Now where did I park my car?

Merchant: Wait! You have a car?

Man: (drawn out) yessss.

Merchant: The deal was for everything you’ve got!

Man: You want my car, too? Sheesh! I mean its a few years old and needs some work, but I need it to get around!

Merchant: The deal was for EVERYTHING.

Man: wow! um… ok, let me think about it… It is a pretty steep price, but it is so perfect, so beautiful, so valuable. You know what, OK, you can have the car, too. Here are the keys, we can take care of the title and all that, I guess.  But, uh, can you drive me to my house?

Merchant: You have a house? Our deal was for everything you’ve got!

Man: You want my HOUSE??? Now wait a minute. Let me take another look at that pearl. (looks at it). It sure is flawless though. This is crazy! OK, you can have the house too. I can’t believe I just said that, but I HAVE to have this pearl. When you drive me to my house, can you explain to my family that we are homeless and carless?

Merchant: You have a family? The deal was for everything that you’ve got!

Man: YOU WANT ME TO GIVE YOU MY FAMILY? Are you crazy? I can’t give up my family! But I can’t give this pearl back to you either – Now that I’ve seen it and held it, I have to have it. um…OK, I guess they are yours.

Merchant: Great, now can you do something for me?

Man: What could I do for you?

Merchant: You know the family you just gave me? They are mine – don’t forget that. But I want you to take care of them for me. Treat them great. Tell them about me, share your pearl with them.  And the house you gave me. It is my house. But I want you to live in it, take care of it, and use it to show this pearl to others. Tell them about me – I have lots of perfect pearls – I’d love to strike up a deal with them too.

Man: OK.

Merchant: And the car you gave me – it is mine now. I own it – but  I would like you to use it – for my purposes. Help other people out with it, and the money you gave me. It is my money now, but I am going to entrust it back to you. Use it wisely, use it how I instruct you to. Use it to help others find a pearl of their own that they can enjoy like you will enjoy your pearl.

Man: I understand. Thanks! This is the best deal ever!

Merchant: Tell others about the deal you got.

Now, God is not a swindler or a tricky salesman. He is the source of all that we have in the first place. The cost of this pearl is great, but the value far outweighs that cost. Our challenge is surrendering ALL to Jesus and making him more important than EVERYTHING else in our life. I think that sometimes we lose sight of that, and feel that we have done this on our own. Everything we have is a gift from Him. And giving Him everything makes sense since it is all His to start with. So knowing that, let’s joyfully surrender ALL to Him and share the beauty of the treasure He offers for others to see.

I Don’t Know Who You Are!

This next radical thing that Jesus said hits pretty close to home for me. As a boy, I spent a lot of time at church. We were there every Sunday,  Wednesday, Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and choirs. We were ushers, deacons, Sunday School teachers, committee members, staff members and pot-luck eaters. Outside of the church building, we prayed at meal time, did Bible studies and had family devotions.  Learning and talking about God were important pieces of daily life.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “familiarity breeds contempt”. I had become so familiar with the common bible stories that I stopped paying attention. I knew the stories, I knew the characters, I knew the setting and the ending and from that, I knew what I was “supposed to learn” from each one so I tuned them out. 

By the time I was a teenager, I was simply through the motions of Christianity. I thought I knew how to be a Christian, but I didn’t allow Jesus to have any real impact on my life. And I was miserable. I didn’t like going to church anymore. If given the choice, I would choose something else. But my parents faithfully attended the church, there wasn’t really a question of whether we would go or not. So I sat through the programs in silent rebellion, tuning out the lesson and letting my mind wander to anything else.

Which makes today’s tangible truth totally terrifying. It is found in Matthew 7.21-23. 

 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.

This may have surprised some in the audience. These harsh words are spoken to those who were identified as believers. Those who thought they had God reduced to a list of “do”s and “don’t”s – People who had had every chance to connect with Him and still missed Him.

That describes my teenage years.  I went to church, I acted like I was supposed to act on the outside at least. I gave all the Sunday School answers I could, and I truly believed that I was doing what I was supposed to do. But I now know that I didn’t know God.  And if I heard his words “I never knew you” I would plead with him. “Didn’t I have perfect attendance at Sunday School, and memorize the Lord’s Prayer and 10 Commandments? Could I not list alphabetically and chronologically the parables of Jesus and recite the different ways that Jesus healed people? God, can’t you see all that I did to show others that I was living right?” And He would say to me – Chris – You spent all your time trying to look good for me, but you never got to know Me! You’ve never let me in to change your heart or guide your life. I don’t know you!”

I wonder how many in our churches are in this same place. We have learned how to “do” church. We’ve learned how to have the appearance of following God but not actually surrendering our life to Him. We think following God was supposed to look a certain way, but without complete surrender, we are not following God. 

We are good at hiding behind masks- at looking good on the outside and hiding what is really happening on the inside. Jesus called out the Pharisees for this exact thing in Matthew 23. He said they were whitewashed tombs – looking good on the outside but dead on the inside. It continues to surprise me how similar we are to the Pharisees. Jesus came to give us life more complete and amazing than we can imagine (John 10:10). But unless we are willing to really let Him be in control, we miss out on that life.

So how do we give Him total control? We realize that our checklist that we are trying to check off really only has one item on it. Trust God. That’s it. Trust that God’s plan dealt with our sins. Trust that his plan for us is the best life we can know. Stop trying to meet his standards on our own. Allow Him to work in our hearts, and ask for Him to change us. It may be hard, uncomfortable and may make us vulnerable in front of others. But it will also connect us to the one that went through all those same things so that He could offer us life. He is patient and willing to work with us over the long haul. We are not a quick fix, we are a pain-staking process. But He is OK with that. Let Him get to work in your life. He began His good work in us and will carry it through to perfection (Phil.1.6)

 

 

Equipped

I’ve been working with kids for 20 years. I know a lot about how to relate with kids and have gained some insight on how their minds work. And while I know that I still have a lot of things that I can learn, I do know some things that don’t work. When someone suggests something that I’ve tried unsuccessfully before, I can be hesitant to follow that advice.

So, I can relate to the fishermen that Jesus would call to be his first followers. We read this account in Luke 5. Jesus drew a crowd and began teaching them while sitting on a boat. Verse 4 tells us “When he finished speaking, he told Simon, “Take the boat into deep water, and lower your nets to catch some fish.” 

Now let’s stop the story here for a moment. I thought about this exchange recently when I read it. These men whose boat Jesus used were professional fishermen.  It was a family business, so they had been around the fishing trade forever.  Jesus, well, Jesus was a carpenter. He would know what he had studied with his father, Joseph, but he was not a fisherman. So initially, this advice doesn’t make a lot of sense. If anyone in this scene knew how and when to increase their chances of catching a boatload of fish, it was the fishermen, not the carpenter. They even say as much. In verse 5, Simon answered  “Teacher, we worked hard all night and caught nothing…” They were tired, frustrated, and probably ready to get some rest. But Simon continued “But if you say so, I’ll lower the nets.”  This is a Tangible Truth #1. In fact this entire blog series is pointing to this truth. When Jesus asks us to do something, even if it sounds crazy, it is worth trying.

We may know the story from here. The fishermen push out a little ways and drop the nets. And the nets fill! The nets begin to tear, the boat fills with fish so full that another boat is called in to help. Both boats are so full that they are on the verge of sinking.

When they return to the shore, Simon asks Jesus to leave, recognizing his own sinfulness. Jesus responds with another radical challenge. He says to Simon “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

Wait a minute here. What does that really mean. I live in Minneapolis – home to the largest mall in America. That would be a great “fishing spot” if I was trying to catch people. What do you think would happen if I were to go to the MoA and lower a lure over the railing from the 3rd floor balcony? How about if I were to toss a net at the lines waiting for the Rock-Bottom Plunge at Nickelodeon Universe? I bet I would get to meet some people in MoA security uniforms and hear requests not to return to the mall again.  What could it mean to fish for people

I am learning that when Jesus speaks to us, there are many layers to what He says and how He says it. That this was a word choice Jesus used specifically because He was talking to a fisherman. It is his way of saying “I’ve equipped you to what I have called you to do. It may look a little different than you expected it to look but you will do what I’ve created you to do, you will just do it for my purposes and in the way I set up for you.” Simon knew how to fish, how to draw fish in, set the bait, and catch them. Now he was looking to draw people, show them the best bait this life can offer and allow Jesus love to capture them.

What has he equipped you to do? How has he worked in your life to build in you a skill set that He wants to use for His purposes. Are you going to try and send him away? Or are you ready for the adventure that He has equipped you for? Simon and the other fishermen made their choice. They left their boats and nets behind and joined Jesus seeking to capture the world with the truth of His love and forgiveness. They trusted Jesus and joined him even though the end was uncertain for them.

Are you willing to trust Him?  Are you willing to set aside your excuses and faithfully respond, even if what He is asking you to do seems unsafe, risky or downright crazy?  He wants to work through us to impact the people in our sphere of influence.  He wants us present Him to people who need to know Him.  Grab your net, open your tackle box and let’s go fishing!