Like a Good Neighbor …

We all have habits, routines or preferences that, when forced or asked to change, really drive us nuts. For example:

  • When someone puts the toilet paper roll so that it comes off over the top instead of from the bottom.
  • When someone leaves the dishes to dry in the sink instead of using a towel and putting them away.
  • When some maniac drives faster than you, or some moron drives slower than you.

Nothing shows our character (or lack thereof) when something or someone unsettles our petty preferences.

The more I study the parables of Jesus, the more I see that one of the purposes of the parables is to unsettle my personal theological preferences.

Take the lawyer’s question to Jesus in Luke 10:29. “If I’m to love my neighbor as myself to inherit eternal life, then who is my neighbor?”

On the surface, this is a decent question, and because we’d expect Jesus to rattle our cage a bit, we’d expect him to tell a story about a Samaritan left half-dead on the side of the road that received an inordinate amount of help from a kind Jew. In this scenario, the Jewish lawyer could feel good about himself while at the same time receive a challenge from Jesus to be a neighbor to his enemy.

But Jesus takes it a step further.

Instead, we get a story about a man with no ethnic identity who is ignored by holy Jews and receives an inordinate amount of assistance from a Samaritan.

The first version actually answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Answer: “Even your enemy is your neighbor.”

The second version … the actual text … answers a different question: “Are you a neighbor?” Sure, “Who is my neighbor?” is also answered, but Jesus makes it personal.

He rattles my theological cage.

He moves my theological cheese.

And in so doing, He reveals what’s in my heart.

Am I a good neighbor, much less to my enemies?

Am I willing to take risks and face my fears to be that good neighbor?

Are you?

If You Watch Football with Your Children …

If you watch football with your children, you may have to explain:

  • Who Victoria is and what secret she’s keeping.
  • How to order a pizza while surfing.
  • That Siri and Cortana are not real people.
  • What it means to be arrested for injuring a child.
  • Why robots can’t get in hot tubs and yet like “briefcase tacos.”
  • What a “Utopia” is and why nobody is watching it.
  • Why the commentators only state the obvious.
  • What a “groin injury” is.
  • Why someone would take a picture of themselves naked and show it to someone.
  • Why car leases are not a wise financial decision 99.9% of the time.
  • Why some people think beer makes you attractive and funny.

You Are a Fool if You Don’t Do This One Essential Thing

“Why do you not do what I say?”

This is a common refrain in our home as our boys creep up on the pre-teen years. If I’ve reminded them one time about closing the door, flushing the toilet, hanging their towel, taking off their shoes as they come in the house, and brushing their teeth, I’ve reminded them a thousand times.

“Why do you not do what I say? You’re my son and I’ve told you a thousand times … why do you continually not do what I say?”

I’ve got more than a few options as a parent when it comes to instilling obedience into my children. In the end, I want them to feel the security that obedience brings and the pain that disobedience brings.

So I find it interesting that after the Lukan version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asked His disciples the same question we frequently ask our children: “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46). To help His disciples feel the blessing of obedience and the the pain of disobedience, He shares with them an analogy.

47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep[h] and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!”

If we rightly resist the temptation to allegorize the parable, we see Jesus’ very straightforward message to His disciples: We are fools if we don’t obey Jesus’ teachings. In the same way that a fool builds a house without a foundation that cannot withstand inclement weather, we can agree with Jesus yet not do what He says and pay the price eternally in the final judgment. We are literally fools if we do not DO what He says?

And what does He say we must do? Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount answers this question initially. Read it below and ponder: Do I do what He says?

You’d be a fool not to.

27 “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and from one who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. 31 Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use,[g] it will be measured back to you.”

39 He also told them a parable: “Can the blind guide the blind? Won’t they both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

41 “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself don’t see the log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck in your brother’s eye.



Growling Over Your Bible

Years ago I owned a dog who had a fondness for large bones. Fortunately for him we lived in the forested foothills of Montana. In his forest rambles he often came across a carcass of a white-tailed deer that had been brought down by the coyotes. Later he would show up on our stone, lakeside patio carrying or dragging his trophy, usually a shank or a rib; he was a small dog and the bone was often nearly as large as he was.

Anyone who has owned a dog knows the routine: he would prance and gambol playfully before us with his prize, wagging his tail, proud of his find, courting our approval. And of course, we approved: we lavished praise, telling him what a good dog he was. But after awhile, sated with our applause, he would drag the bone off twenty yards or so to a more private place, usually the shade of a large moss-covered boulder, and go to work on the bone. The social aspects of the bone were behind him; now the pleasure became solitary. He gnawed the bone, turned it over and around, licked it, worried it. Sometimes we could hear a low rumble or growl, what in a cat would be a purr. He was obviously enjoying himself and in no hurry. After a leisurely couple of hours he would bury it and return the next day to take it up again. An average bone lasted about a week.

I always took delight in my dog’s delight, his playful seriousness, his childlike spontaneities now totally absorbed in “the one thing needful.” But imagine my further delight in coming upon a phrase one day while reading Isaiah in which I found the poet-prophet observing something similar to what I enjoyed so much in my dog, except that his animal was a lion instead of a dog: “As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey … ” (Isa. 31:4). “Growls” is the word that caught my attention and brought me that little “pop” of delight. What my dog did over his precious bone, making those low throaty rumbles of pleasure as he gnawed, enjoyed, and savored his prize, Isaiah’s lion did to his prey. The nugget of my delight was noticing the Hebrew word here translated as “growl” (hagah) but usually translated as “meditate,” as in the Psalm 1 phrase describing the blessed man or woman whose “delight is in the law of the LORD,” on which “he meditates day and night” (v. 2). Or in Psalm 63: “When I think of thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the watches of the night” (v 6). But Isaiah uses this word to refer to a lion growling over his prey the way my dog worried a bone.

Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book, p. 1-3.

Two Lessons from the Josh Shaw Ankle Controversy

According to NBC Los Angeles: A USC football player and co-captain admitted on Wednesday that he lied when he said he hurt his ankles while jumping off a second-floor balcony to save his drowning nephew from a pool, the player said in a statement from his attorney.

Senior cornerback Josh Shaw first told USC’s Ripsit Blog that he jumped off the balcony on Aug. 23, landed on the concrete and crawled into the pool to rescue the child, suffering the sprains as a result of the jump. But on Wednesday, Shaw admitted that the story was “made up,” and school officials called it “a complete fabrication.”

I learn two things from this story.

First, character still matters. There is still a recognition in our culture that you can’t just be a great physical talent and get away with anything. I’m grateful USC is teaching this to its players.

Second, lots of people believe the gospel as long as Jesus’ name isn’t mentioned. Shaw was lauded as a hero for what he supposedly had done: potentially sacrificing his football career for a drowning nephew. “What a guy!” everyone thought. Yet tell the world that Jesus “emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave … (and) humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” … and they balk at it as creedal discrimination.

God is Not a Taskmaster

Do you keep a task list or a to-do list to manage all that you have to do each day?

Our team at LifeWay uses a program called ASANA that helps us manage the dozens of projects we have and all the tasks that fall under each project. I have to admit: it’s very gratifying to check off the box, pretty much every time. Sometimes I create tasks in the program AFTER I’ve already done them just to have the pleasure of clicking the box that signals the task is complete!

It’s a simple behavior that shows just how much I value productivity. And the multiple task managements systems, be they notepads and pencils or apps for our smart phone, are abundant, giving every person reason to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments. I especially love the fact that the rest of my teammates can receive an email notification every time I complete a task. “Rob has completed this task!” I love that, and I love that they know that.

It’s no wonder that we often translate this experience over to our relationship with God. We view God as the great Taskmaster who is pleased with our accomplishments. We take His law, such as the 10 Commandments and all the sub-commandments that flow from it, and we do our best to check off the list those that we successfully keep each day. Of course, if we’re honest, we never check them all off, and even some of those that we do check off are a stretch at best. Nevertheless, we submit our incomplete and inaccurate task list to God, hoping that He will be pleased with our efforts.

But God is perfectly holy, and we are perfectly not. Unable to completely and accurately complete His task list, we are cursed. So to be right with God, there must be another way.

And there is. It’s what Paul calls the way of faith. It was true for Abraham (Genesis 15:6 and Galatians 3:6), and it’s true for us. Specifically, it’s faith that God provided His Son as the One who would keep God’s task list perfectly, and as the One who would take the punishment for our sin on our behalf. Faith that God did this for us puts us in a relationship with God.

So God is not a Taskmaster, demanding that we keep His task list so that we can be right with Him. He is a gracious provider who has done our task list for us. With faith in this gracious God, we are given the power of the Spirit to then keep His task list, albeit imperfectly, not so that we can keep God’s favor, but so we can show the world that we have it by grace.

God Values Those Who Don’t Share His Values

When was the last time you lost something valuable?

When I posed this question to a Bible study class recently, one of the members told the story of a mouse stealing medication and a hearing aid from his spouse, while another told the story of losing his friend in the wilderness of Montana, in a river, and in Wal-Mart!

Whatever happened to just losing your keys or wallet or retainer?

Though losing something valuable is an experience pretty much anyone can relate to, technological advances may soon make “lostness” something we may never experience again. GPS, Tile, and features like “Find My Phone” are pretty incredible for absent-minded professor-types like myself who have thrown their van keys in the trash without knowing it.

But until that time when there’s no excuse for being lost or losing something, Jesus’ first two parables in Luke 15:1-10 still resonate.

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This parable powerfully portrays the value God places on those who don’t share his values. This posture of gracious pursuit stands in stark contrast to the separatist Pharisees who refused to associate with any such “sinners” in the name of honoring the Lord through personal holiness.

Can you believe it? Can you believe that God’s posture towards sinners is one in which He diligently pursues them for His joy? If so, you will have joy yourself, and will mirror this same posture to the lost.

You will value those who do not share your core values.