In The Soup

“Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!”  Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” – Genesis 25:29-34. 

The Bible is full of interesting stories like the one in Genesis 25. It is hard to believe that Esau sold his birthright, something very valuable in Biblical times, for a bowl of soup. Not exactly a smart move then or now. Esau found himself in the position of thinking more about his immediate needs then about the bigger picture of his future. Before we judge too harshly it is well to remember that when the world seems to be falling down all around us, do we put our immediate problems and needs aside to focus primarily on the future?

We may not trade a bowl of soup for our future, but most people are guilty at one time or another of worrying about present needs rather than future circumstances. Have you pursued wealth and a career at the expense of family? Maybe your busy schedule has kept you from spending time with God in His Word each day. Some people have traded the well-being of their family for the satisfaction of meeting their needs today. Others sacrifice their health by consuming harmful or addictive substances, or even by overindulging in food. The list of ways we make ill-advised and shortsighted choices is too long to completely list here.

Some of the decisions we make today could rob us of the blessings God wants to give us. When you yield to temptation in a moment of weakness, you’re actually sacrificing your future for momentary pleasure. We can’t afford to live thoughtlessly, basing our decisions on immediate desires or feelings. Since the principle of sowing and reaping cannot be reversed, we need to carefully consider what we are planting. The harvest will come, and we’ll reap what we have sown. We will reap what we sow in health, in relationships, in finances, etc.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we risking our future in the desires for the present? Does our inability to make sacrifices today end up with us in the soup tomorrow? A wise person evaluates choices by looking ahead to see what negative consequences could follow the decision I am making today. Will my lack of sacrifice today trade immediate gains for something far more valuable in the future?  Don’t let “a bowl of soup” hinder the future God has for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your bowl of soup? Have you experienced decisions today impacting your future? What was the outcome?
  2. What can we do to be more prudent in the decisions we make today?
  3. What can we do this week to be more sensitive to making sacrifices for others?

A Living Sacrifice

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” – Romans 12:1.

Sacrifice has always been a running theme in superhero movies. It is common to see a superhero(s) willingly put their life in danger to protect others. Look at Man of Steel, where Superman sacrifices his freedom to protect the people he loves. Look at Thor, where the humbled hero shields his friends despite being powerless.

In the same way, Christians are called to sacrifice our dreams, our reputations, maybe even our lives for the sake of the Gospel. But what is sacrifice, and how can I know what God expects of me? 

Most of us who are followers of Jesus have said or prayed “God I want your will for my life and I will do what you call me to do” at some point in our walk with God. It may have been said in church, or in your quiet time or devotions. We may have sung the line from a worship song. We want to be the living sacrifice that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1. The challenge for most of us is how to move that statement past the rhetoric stage. Evangelist D.L. Moody once said that, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.”     

So what does it mean to be a living sacrifice? What does a living sacrifice look like in the practical sense? A living sacrifice would require surrender; surrender of something we all prize—our bodies—for something that has a higher purpose—worshiping the God of all creation, who has given us this life to begin with. This sacrifice is a living one, not dead. That’s encouraging. Presenting our bodies does not imply some physical death or bodily punishment.

That means all of our body parts. For example, if our feet take us somewhere we should not be. Or our lips say things that hurt and harm others. Our eyes see things they should not see and our ears hear things we should not hear. And then there is our heart.  If our hearts are given to God as living sacrifices, then He is free to give us His love for people, and we’ll start to discover that we care about people we never had cared about before.

When we realize that our bodies are living sacrifices, then we are invited into a relationship with Jesus that allows Him to lead, direct, and even push us in a certain way. Our fears are now His to handle. Our possessions are now His to use. Our gifts and talents are His instruments. Today consider what it means to say to Jesus, “take my life, a living sacrifice  to you.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the most challenging idea of being a “living sacrifice”?
  2. What fears did you find that God now wants you to sacrifice?
  3. If you are able to sacrifice those fears, then what do you sense God will be calling you to do as His living sacrifice?

How To Be A Hero

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” – Romans 15:1-2.

We have been talking about Biblical heroes the last few weeks. We have been looking at what they went through and what they had to give up. What would possess a person to stand up like that? The answer is – faith. They had a tremendous faith in God. They had a tremendous love for God. They were heroes in the true sense of the Word. 

I believe God is still using heroes today. I believe some of those heroes are you. And it all begins with sacrifice. Heroes make sacrifices. Moses gave up a comfortable life as a shepherd to lead a bunch of rebellious, grumpy people through the desert for forty years. Gideon left the safety of his hideout to face an army of 120,000 men with 300 men. Abraham left the home he grew up in to follow God to a new and strange place. Before God can use you – you have to sacrifice your will to do His. The very idea of a hero is to forget about self; surrender self; and ignore your desires for the good of others. God is calling you and me to be His heroes of today. 

There is something about sacrifices that celebrates what’s best in mankind. And according to the Bible, God wants us to live like that. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus told that to His disciples. If you really want to love your friends, you have to lay down your life for them. Then Jesus did just that for us. We need to remember that the best sacrifices are those done as an act of love. We make sacrifices for ourselves all the time, but the best sacrifices are ones done as an expression of our love for others. God wants us to experience the richness of living sacrificially. So I want to challenge you to examine your life in the way you live sacrificially for God and others.

Now I not saying it’s easy to sacrifice.  It’s hard to find enough time and resources to sacrifice. Sometimes we get angry when people don’t acknowledge all that we do or when we are not recognized for our efforts. Then we think to ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” We do this because sacrifice always brings life.

 We are heroes when we obey God in working hard, loving our wife or husband or feeding our children. The world may look at these tasks as mundane and meaningless, but God sees them as honorable tasks because He told us to perform them and He is honored in our obedience.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your first memory of witnessing a true act of self-sacrifice?
  2. What are some ways you avoid self-sacrifice?
  3. What can we do this week to make sacrifice a more practical part of our lives?

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

“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.’”Luke 10:25-27. 

Several verses before the parable of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25 tells us, “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?”  We are told this man is an expert in religious law. And despite how this and other religious leaders and scholars come across in the Bible, there is nothing wrong with knowledge. But knowledge is not the end game. Knowledge is learned; wisdom is given. Knowledge comes by looking around; wisdom comes by looking up. Knowledge comes from study; wisdom is the way to apply your knowledge. You see, a man can have knowledge, but to understand and to apply—he needs wisdom. 

In the good Samaritan parable we see both theory and the practical application of theory. We have to be careful that Biblical study is not just theory and detached from real life as seemed to be the case with the lawyer. Jesus would not allow him to deal with the truth of God’s Word in a test tube. Jesus would not define the term “neighbor” in scholastic terms, but defined it by telling a story. Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves whether or not we are good neighbors to those in need. God does not want us to give Him a textbook definition of loving our neighbor; He wants us to demonstrate love for our neighbor in the real world, by showing compassion to one in need, as was the case with the good Samaritan.

Application of our knowledge is so important. If we don’t apply it, the Bible becomes nothing more than an impractical collection of old manuscripts. That’s why Paul says, “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9).

The first step toward applying God’s Word in our lives is reading it. Our goal in reading is to get to know God, to learn His ways, and to understand His purpose for this world and for us individually. In reading the Bible, we learn about God’s interactions with humanity throughout history, His plan of redemption, His promises, and His character. We see what the Christian life looks like. The knowledge we gain from Scripture serves as an invaluable foundation for applying the Bible’s principles to our life. 

So let’s apply what we know in loving our neighbors as ourselves and make compassion a way of life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the parable of the good Samaritan tell us about how to love your neighbor?
  2. Some say the opposite of love is “indifference” instead of “hate.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  3. What’s one change you can make in your life to put more loving your neighbor into action?

No Stranger To Love

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” – Hebrews 13:2.

The parable of the good Samaritan is more than a feel good story or a passage of scripture to reflect on from time to time. It clarifies how we should treat those we meet in life’s journey, illustrates how we should deal with those who challenge us and defines who we should view as our neighbors. There should be nobody that is a stranger to compassion, help and love.

It could be a person you meet on the street, or somebody that just moved in on your block. It could be a family vacationing for a week, or a person from another country that has just moved to Florida. It could be somebody who has no use for Christianity or it could be somebody who is a complete stranger to God’s love and grace. It could be a young couple who wears different clothes and speaks in a different way than you do. But they all have something in common: they all could be our neighbors. 

The parable of the good Samaritan cautions us against labeling or arbitrarily deciding who is our neighbor. By all rights, the Samaritan is the last of three that should have helped the wounded person, yet he did. Jesus tells the lawyer and us to “go and do the same.” Be a neighbor to those you see differently, even when they are different from ourselves; even when we have to face our prejudices, even when they are difficult people to treat with compassion, and even when they are strangers and outsiders. When the Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, it does not mean only those in our inner circle of friends and relatives. God expects us to treat everyone with love, respect, tolerance and fairness. And sometime that can be very difficult.

Difficult or not we are commanded to love neighbors as ourselves which means coming to their aid when they are in need. More generally, it means having a loving attitude towards them, overcoming the prejudices held against them, taking the initiative in making contact, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman, so as to break through any walls between us. Loving others as Jesus did with the Samaritan who was the only one of ten healed lepers to show his gratitude (Luke 17:11-19). 

So here is the challenge. How big is your circle of neighbors?  Is it made up of a few close friends and a few additional acquaintances? I want to challenge each of you to broaden your definition of a neighbor, and what we can do to help. Because somewhere out there is a neighbor who needs what you have. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Think of a time when you have been welcomed. Where were you? What did you feel and why? Who contributed to your experience?
  2. Think of a time when you have not been welcomed or felt like you did not belong. Where were you? What did you feel and why? Who contributed to your experience?
  3. What steps could you take to find more opportunities to hear the voices of the “neighbors” within your community?
  4. What practical steps could you take to serve our neighbors in your community?

The Power Of Compassion

“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 10:36-37. 

The story the good Samaritan is one of the parables of Jesus. He tells it in response to a question from a lawyer, who asks him “who is my neighbor?” The story concerns a traveller on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is attacked, robbed and left half-dead by the roadside. Two other travelers pass by on the other side, but a man from Samaria decides to stop and show compassion towards the man, who had been attacked. He takes him to a safe place and provides for his recovery. The good Samaritan didn’t just do something; he felt something: “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” The end of the parable is a command to extend real compassion in the way the Samaritan did: “now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37). 

So our mission is to go, and be like the good Samaritan. Go the extra mile. Don’t be so busy that we lose sight of people all around us. Take a look around. Beaten, bloodied, and bruised people aren’t hard to find. Maybe not in a literal sense. But children are hungry and living in poverty. Homeless people are all around us. So are people who lost their jobs and have basic needs. These are the people that need a good Samaritan and compassion.

Real compassion makes it more personal. Real compassion leads to involvement. It leads to commitment. Compassion does not allow us to to watch from a distance. Compassion makes it difficult to watch and wait. You want to help, you want to do something. When we are hurting when we face trias of life we want someone to walk beside us, share our burden, and say, “I love you. Let me help.” This is what love and compassion does.   

The ministry that cares for children in need all over the world is called Compassion International for good reason. It’s a reminder that we are called to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32), just as God has been kind and compassionate to us. Psalm 116:5 says, ” The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.”  

As Christians, we can’t do everything. But we can do something. We can help, give, love, encourage, pray, etc. Even a small thing that can make a real difference in somebody’s life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easier to be compassionate to A) a friend, B) a stranger or a neutral acquaintance or C) an enemy? How do you feel about being compassionate to a person intent on doing harm to you? 
  2. In what situations is it easy to be compassionate? When is it difficult? Why?
  3. What can we do this week to be more compassionate?

Being Neighborly

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?” – Luke 10:25-29.

Who are the most memorable neighbors on TV shows? There have been hundreds of favorite next-door friends and neighbors like Kramer (Seinfeld), Ross Gellar (Friends) and Wilson Wilson (Home Improvement). Who didn’t cringe every time Steve Urkel entered the set and opened his mouth, whining, “Did I do that?” Who didn’t want to live in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and listen to his stories? Who didn’t feel bad for Mr. Wilson living next to Dennis the Menace? And who didn’t laugh at Fred and Ethyl Mertz or remember our first love watching Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years? Jesus instructed us to love our neighbor as ourselves, as we read in Matthew 22:39.     

The Bible says “love thy neighbor.” That command brings up the question of, then “who is my neighbor?” The dictionary defines a neighbor as “a person living near or next door to the speaker or person referred to.” Love thy neighbor cannot refer to only loving the person or persons who live on the same street or the house directly next and across from mine. To the Christian, the dictionary definition and the Bible definition are two different things.

It is easy to equate neighbor with a nearby house or residence. But the Bible does not view neighbor as a structure, but as an individual. The woman waiting at Starbucks for her coffee is a neighbor. The man who cut you off in traffic is a neighbor. The Uber driver who picked you up is a neighbor. And the lady at Publix whose kids just ran into your legs with their grocery cart, they too are your neighbor.

Everywhere you go, near and far you will will find a neighbor. And that neighbor is a person God loves and that we should love as well. So who is “my neighbor?” They are the people who live around us, live amongst us, people we are living through and with. These are our neighbors. It is a large and extensive community to be sure.

It is not easy to love your neighbor as yourself. We can put “love” into a box and say “oh yeah, I love my neighbor.” But do you really? Do you know your neighbor? A person’s name is a start, but what about their story, their likes and dislikes, their dreams, their wishes and wants. You have to be intentional and purposeful and want a relationship. I can know the teller at the bank by name, but until I have a relationship and act on her needs when given the opportunity, I am not loving her as a neighbor.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it important to love our neighbors? 
  2. Is loving our neighbors an extension of our love for God and our love for ourselves?
  3. Which people in your world are easiest to love, and why? Which people are toughest to love, and why?
  4. What can we do this week to better love others?

Help Without Hesitating

“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.’” – Luke 10:33-35.

This past Sunday we found ourselves in Luke 10:25-37, examining the Parable of the good Samaritan. While many of us know the story, I hope we all came to a deeper understanding of what Jesus was doing in and through this story. We now understand that the parable of the good Samaritan is more than a story telling us to be nice to others. Jesus was showing the young legalistic lawyer what he must do to have eternal life. The questions this parable raised in Jesus’ day, continue to be raised in our world today.

A religious lawyer or expert in religious law is having a conversation with Jesus about what it means to be saved, and when Jesus tells him to love his neighbor as himself, the man wants to confuse and blur the lines of the issue by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” he asks.

Jesus responds with a parable about a man taking the dangerous journey from Jericho to Jerusalem – a rocky, downhill road that requires a traveller to leave the safety of Jewish territory. It is an ideal place for bandits, and along the way, the man is beaten, robbed and left half-dead. A priest and a levite walk by. They are not heartless, but have reasons that they believe take precedence over helping the stricken man. Finally, a Samaritan comes along, and despite the bad blood between the Samaritans and Jews, he stops to help. He goes the extra mile and makes sure the half-dead man is taken care of by an innkeeper.

The parable of the good Samaritan tells us how we are to be as Christians — we are to show mercy to others whenever the opportunity is before us, and indeed we are to seek out opportunities to do good and serve. We are to “go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37), just as the Samaritan did.

So here is the challenge. How big is your circle? Who is your neighbor? I want to challenge each of you to go back and think about the good Samaritan. Have you made yourself aware of your opportunity to love your neighbor? Do you have compassion for those in need? I challenge you to take advantage of the opportunities around you. Once you become aware of a place where you can love your neighbor- take the next step and access the place and put your abilities to work because somewhere out there is a neighbor who needs what you have. Jesus said it so simply, “Now that you know who your neighbor is; now that you know who you are responsible to love, go and do the same.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of a hero?
  2. Is the good Samaritan another way of showing how Jesus loved? What does it impact how we view people today?
  3. In what ways do we justify our lack of love for others? How does it feel when someone has mercy on you? Who do you know that is hurting and has no one to call on? What are you to do?

People Like Hur

“Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset.”Exodus 17:12

In Exodus 17 we see Israel faced with its first major military threat, the Amalekites. This unprovoked attack was a preview of the kind of struggles the Jewish nation would face as they began the conquest of Canaan. As they engaged in combat, Moses prayed for his army with outstretched arms, as he did before the Red Sea. Moses was providing prayer cover for his people. While his arms were raised, the Israeli soldiers prevailed, but as Moses weakened, the battle shifted. The raising of hands is a common posture for prayer, but an uplifted arm can only be raised so long.

This is where a man who steps out of nowhere, makes a significant contribution and then disappears into the same shadows from which he came. His name is Hur. When Moses became too weary to hold his own hands up, Aaron and Hur stepped up and held Moses’ hands up until the battle was finished. Hur is not even close to the stature of Moses and Aaron. Hur is a man about whom we know next to nothing, yet he enabled an entire nation to see a great victory.

I would like to pay tribute to the many Hur’s in our church and in our faith. People who don’t mind taking a second seat, and often go unnoticed, unthanked and under appreciated. People who perform a function in the Body of Christ that is so vital, but who never get the recognition they deserve. The task Hur accomplished that day doesn’t sound like a lot to you and me, however, had it not been for the work of this man, Moses would not have had the strength to do his job, and Joshua would never have been able to lead Israel to victory in the battle. If Hur had not been there, the battle would have been lost and Israel would have been defeated. Aaaron and Hur are heroes in their own right.

In church today there are still Moses’ and Joshua’s. But for every one of them there are an army of Hur’s who are praying, fasting, and carrying the load so that the leaders of the church can do their work. These people are absolutely indispensable to God’s work. Not everyone can preach great messages. Not everyone can sing like Sarah Brightman or play the guitar like Eric Clapton. Not everyone is a effective witness. But God may have placed us in His church to do an obscure, unnoticed part, that is essential to the proper functioning of the body of Christ.

I am almost sure that there are some reading this today who can relate to Hur. You are dedicated to the Lord, but you are never recognized for your contributions. Let me tell you that you are appreciated. You are the heroes of this church. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you do. I love you and thank God for everyone who is involved in the Lord’s work in whatever capacity because the Lord can and will use you for His Glory.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you found yourself stuck in a bind, what TV or movie character/hero would you call to come help? 
  2. Moses was a great spiritual leader. How do you think Moses felt as he sat there tired and struggling to hold up the staff when his friends came by his side and held up his arms? 
  3. Read Galatians 6:2: Was there a time when you wanted to fix or change a problem for someone close to you? What did you decide to do and how did that affect the issue or the relationship?
  4. What can we do to help carry each other’s burdens this week?

Ordinary People Willing to Be Used By An Extraordinary God

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” – Acts 4:13.

This Bible passage was written right after Peter and John healed the crippled man outside the temple. The Bible tells us that Peter and John were looked at as unschooled, ordinary men. What set them apart is that they were known to be with Jesus during His earthly ministry. What set them apart is that they spent time with Jesus.

When we read the accounts of the Apostles, it is easy to think because they spent time with Jesus that they are superheroes.  We put them on a pedestal, one step down from Jesus Himself. However the reality of it was that they were a bunch of average people who spent time with Jesus and it changed their lives. They were not Christian superstars. When we really begin to look honestly at some of the people in the Bible and take them down off the stained-glass windows, it becomes obvious that God did extraordinary things through such ordinary, regular people. We seem to think that God will only use superstars. That ordinary people are really not all that important. Well nothing is farther from the truth. There are only ordinary people serving an extraordinary God. 

Many people want to be successful, but they are not willing to do what is necessary to obtain success. Most managers will tell you that they need willing and able people. You’ve got to be willing to be successful. On the other hand, if they are not willing and able they will most likely put pressure on the organization and its workforce. God wants people who are willing and available as well. That is exactly what Isaiah said: “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land.”

Over my years as pastor I have noticed that those who carry the greatest loads are also the ones who seem to be the most blessed. Why? One of the reasons is because they are willing. Once Jesus’ disciples were arguing with one another about who would have a place of prominence with Him. Jesus answered them, “and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.” (Mark 10:44). When you have a willingness of mind to be servant to all, and you make yourself available, then you are going to carry the heaviest loads. So even though they are normal human beings, God did some extraordinary things in their lives. 

If you are willing and available, God can and will use you in powerful ways. To me, that is the point of being a hero. It is not about us. It is not about our ability. It is not about how successful we are. It is about ordinary people trusting the outcome of our life and our service to an extraordinary God. “You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” (John 15:16)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that God can do great things – impossible things – through your life too? Why or why not? 
  2. Think of a moment in a movie or book you love when the hero is called to give up everything for the sake of the thing she most wants. As you’ve followed Jesus He’s repeatedly asked you to give things up. What’s been one of the hardest things you’ve sacrificed in following Christ and taking up your cross?
  3. Do you struggle with fear? Do you feel like fear sometimes keeps you from the adventures God has for you? 
  4. A hero brings new energy, perspective, awareness, confidence, joy, etc. What can we bring new to our relationship with God this week?