Favorites (from the old blog) Posted by Bill H on January 7, 2011 at 12:19 AM
Let us re-imagine the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
The landscape is a land divided and Jesus is hard to find. The priest is now a pastor in a well-known, evangelical church nearby. The Levite has become a CEO of a large and well-known parachurch organization specializing in helping the widow and the orphan. The man riding on the bicycle is the person who sits next to you in the pew on Sundays, but he sings loudly, more often than not off key, and he raises his hands during prayer, and more than once you have heard him pray, forgive me Lord for I am a sinner (of course none of these identities are intended, explicitly or implicitly, to be reflective of any one or any group, and may be more reflective of the various logs in my eye).
As you are walking down a quiet street in your town you come across a man, lying on the side of the road, bloody and beaten, groaning, and you see a sign on him, “This man is gay, and the judgment of God has fallen on him.” As you watch, you see the pastor walking down the street. He sees the man, and kneels by him. “Son, you are in pain and dying. Confess your sin, and repent, and let Jesus take away your sin.” The gay man raises slightly, gasps, and says, softly yet clearly, “No!” The pastor rises and walks away, muttering, “Lord have mercy on his soul.”
Next you see the CEO come by. He kneels and says “Son, you are in pain, let me help you, and after you are healed, let me get you into a program useful for ex-gays.” The gay man raises slightly, gasps, and says, softly yet clearly, “No!” The CEO rises and walks away, muttering, “Lord, have mercy on his soul.”
There comes down the street your neighbor from church – the one who sings off key, raises his hands during prayer, and who prays forgive me for I am a sinner. As you watch, your neighbor bends over to help the man, and a Cross on his chain falls out of his shirt. The gay man rises slightly and sees the Cross. “Do you want me to confess and repent?” “No,” you hear your neighbor say. “Well, will you help me only if I go to a program?” he asks. “No,” you hear your neighbor say. “Well, what is your condition?” he demands.
“I want to help you, and I will take you the hospital. I will visit you while you recover. When you are out I will take you to my house while you rehabilitate. We will share meals and I will introduce you to my friends,” you neighbor answers. “Ah, then you will try to convert me!” the gay man responds, “no thanks.”
“Well,” your neighbor says, “I admit I don’t understand your life style, but you are welcome at my table, and to join with me and my friends. We love to tell stories when we meet. We talk about a man who came, was crucified, and rose again. A man who ate with sinners. A man who didn’t ask about your sin but welcomed all to drink of the living water. We all get thirsty but I can ask of you nothing more.”
As you watch you see your neighbor pick up the gay man and carry him to the hospital
Is this what He died for? He died for you and me, dead in our sins, to restore us to love God and to love our neighbor, regardless. The hope that sustains and is eternal is here today.
Be Blessed and then be a blessing.
I came across this observation by the French priest Michel Quoist and took it to mean that we need to turn a beam of light on our inner selves, to ask ourselves whether we are complacent, and whether we are quilty of a false grace. Quoist comments,
We are satisfied by our decent little lives. We are pleased with our good habits; we take them for virtues. We are pleased with our little efforts; we take them for progress. We are proud of our activities; they make us think we are giving ourselves. We are impressed with out influence; we imagine that it will transform lives. We are proud of what we give, though it hides what we withhold. We may even be mistaking a set of coinciding egoisms for real friendship.
Wow, take about a smack in the head! What ever makes us think living this life out in our faith is something we can do on our own? What if we simply decided to walk with Christ in surrender and submission and spent less time on our intentional activities to do grace?
Tough call here. To be honest when I hear someone say you are enabling another, I have a problem. Okay, usually the one apparently being enabled is in the midst of a series of really unwise choices and/or facing some hard consequences because of those unwise choices.
So for some of us on the other side of things (here is another tough place to find myself as even writing such a thing – being on the other side that is – comes across as arrogant and hypocritical. I mean think about it, is there really ever a time when we can say there is a difference? Brennan Manning observed, to see somebody as a someone instead of a something is the road Christians must travel down to begin reflecting a little bit of the Imago Dei – my paraphrase – see here).
Now I get it, the person being enabled is acting or saying some hurtful things and we may be feeling less than confident the string of unwise choices will be snapped or even that the wise choice is on the table for consideration even though we may have been shouting it out loud for some time.
So for me the real question concerns how are we to deal with someone we just want to say, hey, stop this nonsense. The road you are walking is just plain wrong and ultimately destructive. If you don’t stop you will be on your own. Ahh a little tough love seems in order. Ahh, maybe not.
Think about that, when is it okay for people who claim Jesus as Lord – not merely as Savior as essential as that is but Lord of our lives at this very moment – when is it okay to cut someone loose to stew in the pit of ugliness of their lives – even if that pit was created by their choices?
To be honest, I don’t have the definitive answer that can’t be challenged or nuanced beyond meaning. What I do know, grace triumphs all the time regardless. Isn’t the very definition of grace abundant kindness regardless with a heavy emphasis on the regardless?
If I hear our kids accurately in this intentional community I call home, to do otherwise means I’m trying to impose my thoughts and moral structures on them and frankly setting myself up as a hypocrite – two things they really really hate about people who claim the label Christian. Okay I can argue myself out of things – we are just so good at justifying ourselves and avoiding the hammer, but isn’t that a problem as well – alway having that I’m justified card in our pocket?
For me one of the most powerful stories about Jesus comes from John’s Gospel, 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. If you haven’t read it, stop now and read it a few times.
There’s that great verse – let him without sin cast the first stone. And Jesus tells the woman, neither do I condemn you. Now that’s the question I need to be asking myself and everyone else who throws out that “enabling” card before we open our mouths.
Then we need to strip away all of our excuses and efforts to justify our wrongs and sit for a moment in His presence and then stand with the person who isn’t able to walk down the road alone.
What do you think?
Be blessed and be a blessing.
Brennan Manning in his The Importanceof Being Foolish now points to our sense of boundaries and suggests we need to re-think our idea of personal boundaries.
Christ’s call for unity demands that we move beyond an isolationist sense of personal boundaries and the limits usually associated with self-motivated behavior. No longer can I look at others as people with whom I have no connection. Instead, unity in God calls me to experience all people and things as extensions of God’s family, of which I am a part.
I do not sense Manning is asking us to open ourselves to all things in the sense of allowing someone to dominate our lives. Rather, that to be open, without boundaries, is to be receptive to the souls that come into our lives, whether intentionally or casually.
In this way, by being open and receptive to others, we allow them to see that we are looking at them as really there. There is no longer any hint that we, like so much of the world, are looking the other way. Then, we will be in a place where the grace that has been given to us is able to be passed on – a divine encounter.
I mean surely what would today look like if I saw someone today, someone I would normally pass by, and saw that someone as another human being? Check this out.
What do you think?
Be blessed and be a blessing.
Is it possible the question we are asking, how should we, the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), act in order to change the world isn’t the right question? On one hand that transformation of this world has already been accomplished, at Calvary. Rather, the proper question is how are we, that royal priesthood, going to live out the time set aside by the Triune God until that redemption, begun so very long ago, is fully realized.
Seeking to realize the Kingdom, here and now, is simply not possible. God has exposed in His word, the inherent dangers involved in earthly rule, the line can be traced from Babel, to the judges, the monarchy, through the Gospels – remember how Jesus withdrew when He sensed the crowd was seeking to name Him king right then and there in John 6:15,
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
We cannot ultimately effect a fundamental shift – and in particular the fundamental shift that will be realized at the Eschaton. All we can do is actively participate in the unfolding narrative, acting as the salt and the light if you will, and offer up alternatives in an on-going conversation – that is our humanly lot.
What is the alternative to be offered up here? I am afraid that offering grace to those who seemingly don’t deserve it is not very high on the list of choices we’d make. Yet the question to be asked is whether grace had been offered before all of that terror, would it have made all the difference? Not offering it leaves the terror. Looking at all of this from the perspective of Calvary, the answer should be clear.
What do you think?
Be blessed and be a blessing.
In doing some thinking about speaking the truth in love and forgiveness and intentional incarnational living, I came across this observation by John Perkins in his new text, Follow Me to Freedom, written with Shane Claiborne. John Perkins notes,
When God blesses, the blessing is not stagnant: it moves and multiplies. The idea is to plant a seed, then water it and grow it – and then give it to the next generation. The blessing is not for one person (it is not for you and me alone). Rather, it was given to Abraham and is now given to us so that we might be a blessing to others.
That point hits home. When you begin to look at the Scriptures in this sense, sort of a Pay it Forward type action seems to be going on. From Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob, with the 12 tribes, then a jump to Moses who hands it off to Joshua, and we move through the Judges and Kings. We often read the genealogies in the Gospels as supporting the line from Jesus back, but we can also read much of them as a line showing the continuation of the blessing and promise of Abraham.
Of course, the Gospels and rest of the New Testament show this feature. From Jesus to the disciples, and when we seem to think the story drops off enter Paul, who passes it on to Timothy and so many others (read the last chapter of Romans for instance), and then as Shane and John note, to us, to carry it forward.
I guess grace, being a blessing to someone else, is indeed the gift that demands re-gifting.
What do you think?
Be blessed and be a blessing.
Out of town for a while. Top viewed….
“I’m going to kill myself today.”
I met a young man today. I was sitting on the steps outside the parsonage where I am currently at home, and I saw him walking down the street. He looked up at the cross on top of the bell tower and saw me. As he approached me he said “I’m going to kill myself today.”
He sat down next to me and I could see that stare off in to the distance. I called the 911 dispatch and they advised me someone was on the way. Robert was his name and he said he has given up trying anymore. His addictions wouldn’t stop and he was just kicked out of the local Sober House.
He told me he had a family, that was now lost to him, and a young daughter of 14 and a son of 8. While he wasn’t married per the state law, he had been with the same woman for many years – until the last few years due to his inability to stay clean. Maybe I said, not lost just not in touch for today. I’ve been there, and 2 years is a painful absence but I’m learning Jesus already knows that. Sometimes I want to ask isn’t there a way that doesn’t hurt so much? I don’t know why it is that way.
We talked a little about the future and how Jesus warned us not to worry about tomorrow as we only get 1 day at a time – which carries enough in it to worry about so tomorrow is another day. We talked about how our God is a God of second chances, third chances and indeed a God of many chances beyond our capacity to comprehend why He gives us so many chances, but I let him know God isn’t letting him go today. And that was all he need be thinking about – today right now and right here and being led to a place where he didn’t have to fight it all out on his own – and nothing more than that because surely I thought that was enough for the moment.
The paramedics came and took him to the hospital. But before he went into the ambulance he called me over and shook my hand and said thank you, Now I’m sitting here wondering why God led Robert down this street and why God choose that moment to have me go out to sit on the steps to soak up some sun and watch the cars go down the street.
Then again, maybe it’s not about me ever figuring out the whys – not that I really can. Maybe it’s not about being worried about saying the right things and doing the script for such situations that I was taught so many years ago – not that I remembered any of it until now. Maybe it is about somehow someway learning to be a person who when I get a call to follow I can respond like Simon and Andrew and just drop my nets and follow Him (Matthew 4:19-20). What I didn’t realize at the time was that dropping my nets meant a lot more than dropping what was holding me back but in fact dropping a huge chunk of myself. Not that such a thing makes sense. I mean how can we lose that chunk and still be who we are supposed to be when I think I hear something about losing that chunk will in fact allow us to become all we were meant/created to be.
Now my head is starting to hurt. But this is about Robert and not me. So join with me in a prayer for Robert and maybe someone else not too far down the road showing him a little of the light we know is out there.
Be blessed and be a blessing today.
Out of town for a while. Number 2….
Even Us Old Guys Need a Kick in the Pants Every So Often
As a circle was finishing up the other day, one of the new people joining the group came up to me and said, “Nothing personal but I can’t wait for Pastor to come back and lead the group.” Wow, ouch. Then when I got back home late that evening, I checked the mail and had received a magazine with a lead article, “Who is Your Neighbor?” Ouch again.
There were some less than charitable thoughts coming and going on the drive back, as well as the standard worries about what I was doing leading the group. But as I read the article, I was hit in the head with the concept that we are to love those who don’t offer us the respect and understanding you think you deserve. Wow major ouch! Then the flood gates opened and I realize touting the sacred virtue of humility means humbleness is something that isn’t just a conversation piece or a blog post (coming up soon) but something that is necessary for
actually living out this Christian life.
Even people who don’t read the Bible know of the story of the Good Samaritan. Check it out; the term is in most dictionaries. But what those who don’t read may miss is that Jews and Samaritans had no regard for the other. Jews felt Samaritans were evil and theologically deficient, and Samaritans felt misunderstood and persecuted by the Jews.
Ahh, misunderstood! There it was. Yet the Samaritan in this story chose love, but not just offering a helping hand, but active, sacrificial and long-term love. Ouch again! There was that needed kick in the pants (okay, not advocating a literal kick people) that is the work of the Holy Spirit again to remind me that I need to move out of the way from time to time.
Lord it’s getting painful here.
Truth be told, we continued in our conversation, and the comment made a little more sense to me after we talked a bit. Maybe I’ll offer up my forgiveness, then again, that is a little arrogant. Maybe I’ll just give him a hug and tell him thanks for listening to the Spirit and kicking out. Maybe I’ll just be listening to the Spirit on how to love him.
Be blessed and be a blessing.
Out of town for a while. Number 3…..
Is the question really simply managing our sins in such a way as to make sure we go to heaven? I have a dear brother who is serving Jesus in China on mission. Because of the way things are over there he is an English teacher in a small vocational school as he can’t really pastor and preach openly. Yet it seems he is not welcome because he is in a community of law and not a community of grace. He hasn’t conformed to the rules – he has consistently been “caught” speaking to the young women (apparently the management doesn’t care about him speaking to the men during those times), always in open areas and never behind closed doors or in dark places – outside of office hours or fellowship times.
Another young lady in our community asked me the other day where in the Bible does it say people who commit suicide and people who are homosexuals are going to hell? Okay, I know there are ways to construct an answer that such things are “true” but ultimately all I can say is that these acts are sins – not statements about final judgments on salvation.
When did the Gospel become learning how to modify our behaviors? And frankly, all I can really say is good luck with that. Even the apostle Paul struggled mightily with all of that – “For I do not understand my own action. For I do what I do not want, but I do the very thing I hate,” Romans 7:15 ESV – and if Paul struggled, then how can I not be struggling as well.
In our community I often ask our youth to spend time in the Word, the Bible. And for most of them, even the adults, this is a hard one. Reading what for them is a very dry and maybe irrelevant book is a tall order.
Sometimes I ask them why they think I am asking them to read. Usually they tell me because we are supposed to read it.
So I ask them, what is the Bible about and they usually tell me it’s about how we are supposed to live. I let them know that’s a maybe true, but there is something more involved in reading and absorbing. Maybe the central question is not really about how do I get saved? (and from those chats with my friend in China and my friend asking me about suicide and homosexuals, the implied answer is that my salvation somehow depends on keeping all these rules in place).
I ask them if the real question is finding out who this Jesus is.
Maybe the truth is that Jesus has told us how to live, but it doesn’t require behavior modification, and efforts on our parts to manage our sins – something we heard from Paul is simply not realistic – rather, it’s about being transformed. Paul again tells us that we are indeed new, “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 God’s Word translation (I like the way this version interprets all of this as it tells me I am not only new, but that newness affects the way I think and the way I do). The Message paraphrase says it like this, “anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.” We aren’t bound to the old ways anymore but we get to learn something new, who this Jesus is and then we get to ask what does this mean for how I approach this new way of living/this fresh start.
So I ask them to read the Bible not to come to better understand the rules, frankly even if we do, we still can’t keep them. Rather, we get to see and learn, and through the work of the Holy Spirit (“the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” John 14:26, ESV), we get to become people who begin to reflect some of that light and understanding, from time to time as we can’t get all caught up in the ideal of doing such things perfectly, as we are transformed and develop Jesus lenses to see our world.
Be blessed and be a blessing.