Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Problem with Knitting Bags, by Maggie the Wonder Dog Hollis

In case you didn't know... Maggie the Wonder Dog is an amazing 11 pound Shih-Tzu who can dance like a ballerina, sneak like a spy, and herd cows. She is also a wonderful writer. Regrettably, her mother sold all the cows and now Maggie has to content herself with memories of those wonderful days gone by... barking at the cows and making those half-ton behemoths do what she said. Sigh.

My name is Maggie the Wonder Dog and I want to talk to you about the problem of too many knitting bags. Now that may not be a problem at your house, but it is at mine. I only found out about this knitting bag problem today, but it was so bad that action had to be taken right away! Here's what happened.

My mama really likes those people who help out in Kurdistan. She says they are super nice and give people little portable houses so they don't have to live outside. Who would want to do that? No one! Since they didn't have enough of those little portable houses to go around for all the people that were living outside, they said, "People should knit some hats for these outside people so they won't be so cold!" Can you believe it? A lot of really nice people knitted hats for the cold outside people and sent them right over! Wasn't that nice? In fact, my friend, Stella Hayden, told me that her mama knitted some of those hats, too. Miss Debbie is very nice like that. She's always doing something to help someone. 

My mama didn't knit any of those hats, but when she saw some pictures of those cold outside people in their knitted hats, and saw how happy they were, she wished she had. She said, "I would like to knit some hats for cold outside people, myself." I was very surprised about that, because I didn't even know my mama could knit. It turned out that my mama can knit, but she is much better at collecting up a bunch of knitting needles and yarn. 

Anyway, she asked Stella's mama about knitting a hat and Miss Debbie told her what kind of knitting needles she would need. My mama said, "No problem, I think I have some of those needles." This morning, she decided to look for her hat-making needles. First, she dragged a big box out from under the bed. You will not believe how much yarn was in that box, and my mama said I better not tell it either. Then, my mama started pulling out knitting bags. Can you believe this? My mama had five knitting bags! And two knitting baskets! It could have been more, but I don't know. I can only count to five. 

She pulled out so much thread and so many knitting needles, I thought she might be starting a store! I said, "Mama! What is this?" It turned out that my mama used to grab some yarn and some needles, throw them in a bag, and carry them with her when she went to livestock shows with my human boy Ryan. Sometimes she finished her project, and sometimes she didn't. Always, she thought she would get back to it, but I'm kinda doubting that she ever did, since she had so very many projects going in those bags. 

I was shocked. I thought my mama always finished what she started, but apparently not. She looked at all those projects that were barely started and said, "I don't even know what I am making here. I am unraveling all this and starting over!" I am not going to tell you how long that took, but it was a while! She looked at some soft pink thread and said, "I was going to make an afghan out of this. It would probably go quick." When she started looking for the needles to make that afghan, I said, "Mama, what about Ryan's scarf you're knitting?" "Oh, yeah," she said. "I'm going to finish that scarf first, and then I'm going to knit an afghan." "Mama, what about the hats?" She laughed and laughed. "You know, Maggie. I was looking for needles to make hats when I got into all this mess! You are right. I am finishing my scarf and then I'm making hats. I might make an afghan after that." 

To tell you the truth, I am not optimistic about that afghan, and I'm not all that optimistic about those hats, but if my mama ever gets going with all that thread, there won't be a cold head in Kurdistan! 

Now you may be wondering what in the world my mama's knitting bags have to do with you and your life. That's why I give the Wonder Dog Lesson of the Day. It has to be short because I'm a dog, and because people don't always listen if it's long. (My mama said people might not think that is nice, but it's the truth. I was also going to tell you that buying yarn and needles is not the same thing as knitting, but Mama said you already knew that.)

Wonder Dog Lesson of the Day:
1. Finish what you start. That's what God does, and we should, too. (Philippians 1:6)

That's it. There's no need to buy more stuff if you haven't finished what you have already started, so just finish what you start. And make hats for the cold outside people. They need them!

The end. 
By Maggie the Wonder Dog Hollis

How to inherit eternal life, part 15: Serving God by serving others

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30-32 NASB) 

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' (Matthew 25:34-45 NASB)

The lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" and our Lord painted a word picture to help him understand. The one with the greatest need, in the most inconvenient place, who will interrupt our day and disrupt our plans is our neighbor, just as the ones we love and desire to help. Once we understand that we are to love the least convenient and most unlovely, and actually do something about it, then loving the lovely becomes even easier.

As we can see from the story of the Good Samaritan, even the most righteous among us have trouble doing the right thing. The priest didn't do it. The levite didn't do it. The truth is that, all too often, we don't do it, either. When we read this passage from Matthew, however, it puts it in perspective. When we refuse to love our unlovely neighbor, our inconvenient, difficult neighbor, we have refused to love our Lord, and He has some hard words to say about that decision. 

"To the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."

Selah. Pause and consider.

That verse is a game-changer when it comes to loving the unlovely and inconvenient, isn't it? Loving the neighbor that is the most difficult to love is, admittedly, not easy. It's also not optional. When we love them and care for them, when we become a friend to them, however, our Lord says we have loved Him and cared for Him at the same time, so let us love for Jesus. Let us care for Jesus. Let us serve for Him, and by so doing, let us serve Him.


Friday, January 23, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 14: Walking past the need

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30-32 NASB) 

In the previous post, we looked at the city of Jericho. (click on the link to read that post in a new window) 

The word translated here as "going down" is katabainō and means "to descend". As we saw in the previous post, there is a significant difference in altitude between Jerusalem and Jericho, so that a traveler literally "descends" when he travels from Jerusalem to Jericho. There have been some who suggested that the priest did not want to be defiled because of his duties as the priest, but he was clearly traveling katabainō, descending, which makes it obvious that he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and away from the temple, just as the wounded man had been doing. That fact suggests that the priest had completed his priestly duties, performed in Jerusalem, and was heading to Jericho, possibly for the night. Matthew Henry references a historian (Lightfoot) who says that many of the priests lived in Jericho. If so, perhaps he was going home for the night.

Let's think for a moment about the position of priest. It was a highly visible leadership position. People would have looked to him, expected obedience to God from Him, and taken guidance from the priest's behavior. He was to set the example for righteousness because it was the job of priests to minister to the Lord in the temple on a continuing basis. Because of that ongoing ministry before God, one might expect them to understand something of the heart of God, the compassion of God, but apparently that was not the case in this particular priest. 

Why didn't the priest stop? Either he saw the wounded man or he did not. Jesus made it very clear that he saw the injured victim. Since he knew the man had a need that was obviously going to be tremendous, why didn't he stop? There are many potential excuses. Perhaps he didn't know what to do and thought he might cause more harm than good by trying to help. Perhaps he was concerned about the ritual cleansing that would be required after caring for this man and wanted to avoid that effort. Maybe he was headed home, running late, and didn't want to be delayed. God, however, is much more concerned with compassion than ritual cleansing or delayed dinners. 

There are many potential excuses, but perhaps Martin Luther King's interpretation is the best one yet. He said that the priest, as well as the Levite, asked the wrong question. They asked, "What will happen to me if I stop?" when they should have asked, "What will happen to him if I do not stop?" MLK suggested that their fear of what would happen stopped them from helping. That may be true, and, frankly, I hope it is. Equally as likely, though, is the possibility that the reason the priest failed to stop to help the wounded man was pure selfishness. He was concerned about himself and not the man lying, half-dead, on the side of the road. He was likely concerned about the things that would be delayed by stopping, the additional trouble he would encounter by stopping, and the risk to himself by stopping. He was only concerned about himself.

It is this selfishness that prevented the priest from loving his neighbor and caring for him, and that same kind of selfishness prevents us from loving our neighbor, as well. This passage suggests that, when we see a need, Jesus expects us to meet it, not walk by on the other side. The problem, then, becomes one of meeting one need or the other, either our own selfish desire or the one in greater physical or spiritual need. 

Perhaps the appropriate response today is to look at our own actions with regard to the needs of others. How quick are we to respond with aid to those in need? How consistently do we respond to need? How generously? Would Jesus view the kind and amount of aid we give as He did the priest and the Levite or as He viewed the Samaritan? When people look to us for an example of righteousness, do they see the kind of generous, compassionate lifestyle that they would do well to emulate, or not? 

Let us resolve, then, to give like the Samaritan, who risked himself for the one in need. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 12: Who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands? " And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:30-37 NASB)

"Who is my neighbor?" the expert in Mosaic law asked Jesus, who explained to him that everyone is his neighbor. This lawyer soon learned that Jesus views every single person on earth as His neighbor, and He views them as our neighbor, too, no matter how lovely or unlovely they are. (You can read about loving your neighbor as yourself and being a friend to sinners with these links in a separate tab and still keep this one open.) 

To elaborate on the answer to the lawyer's question, "Who is my neighbor?", Jesus used a story to paint a word picture of this neighbor we are to love. Take a few moments and read the Scripture above again. 

The word translated as "man" is anthrōpos. In this instance, the word means a person, but not a particular person. Jesus did not give them an indication of nationality, gender, or race. This "man" symbolized all mankind. He was any man, all men. He was me and you. He was also our worst enemy and the person we most fear. Before we go any further, we need to understand that the man who was lying, beaten and battered on the side of the road, might have been someone we would want to help, but he might not have been. This understanding matters, as we will soon see, because the word Jesus used made it clear that the identity, lifestyle, nationality, gender, or race of the person in need does not matter. 

The man had been set upon by thieves, beaten severely, and left, half-dead already, to die on the side of the road. He was in a mess and likely looked a mess. His need was tremendous, and it would not be solved by a single donation, a single handout. What he needed, more than anything, was someone who would be a friend to him, someone who would care for him. Don't mistake this "caring for him", however. This was not the kind of caring that cleans up his wounds, applies a bandage, and never sees him again. This was the kind of caring that begins in the heart and expands in the heart to such a degree that there is no rest until the need is met. The care he needed was the care that comes with commitment and extends over time, the care that comes from a heart that loves with no hope of reward or repayment.

This man, the one that can offer nothing in return, the one who was in a terrible mess and in great need, is the one Jesus chose as an example of our neighbor. This man is an example of the neighbor we are to love. Frankly, I would prefer a neighbor with less need, one who requires a shorter commitment, and less investment of time and money. Wouldn't you? 

The good news is that Jesus chose this man as His example because He views the most hopeless situation, the least lovely person as worthy of intervention. The man was half-dead. Left on the side of the road without intervention, he would be dead before long. Despite the difficulty and the severity of the man's condition, Jesus did not view his situation as impossible, nor intervention as a wasted effort. 

What we as believers often fail to remember is that we were this man before Christ redeemed us. We were headed towards eternal damnation, half-way there already, and it seemed as if there was no hope for us, yet God had compassion on us and sent His Son to redeem us. His care for us began in love and manifested itself in commitment that required everything He had to give to save us. Spiritually speaking, this man is not only every man, he is us. 

Since Christ loved us enough to redeem us from our hopeless state, should we not also love those in a similar state? Should we not also see them as our neighbor and intervene in their need? The answer is a resounding YES! Of course we should. 

We love because He first loved us.
                                                1 John 4:19

We are compelled to love our neighbor because our Lord loved us first. He showed us how, and, in this parable, He showed us whom to love. Everyone. Love all. It's not easy, but it is also not optional. Look around you. Our world is filled with people who are this man, the one who needs Jesus the most, even though he may think he needs Him the least. Our job, whether we choose to accept it or not, is to love our neighbor, so, in the name of Jesus, let's do just that. Let us love the most lovely and the least among us, and let us do it because of the great love Jesus has shown to us. 

But now faith, hope, love abide, these three; 
but the greatest of these is love. 
                                                            1 Corinthians 13:13

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 11: friend of sinners

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29 NASB)

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' (Luke 7:34 NASB)

We have looked at this passage from Luke 7 before, but it is so important that it bears repeating, especially in light of loving our neighbors. One of the criticisms spoken about Jesus was that He was "a glutton and a drunk and a friend to sinners". Jesus was nice to EVERYONE. He was remarkably nice to the Pharisees. He might have been blunt with them, but He was God made flesh and He had the power to do something about the Pharisees and their attitudes toward Him. He could have annihilated everyone who came against Him, but He chose restraint. He chose love.

Even more remarkable is that God, who left heaven, wrapped Himself in the fragile flesh of mankind, and lived in the midst of fallen, sinful man, loved us all. He spent more time with "sinners" than with church people. He attended meals and parties with "sinners". He ate and drank with "sinners", laughed and rejoiced with "sinners". He loved "sinners" and He was their friend. He still is a friend to sinners, and we should be, too.  

The problem becomes one of "us" and "them". Those of us who have been in the church for a while (myself the chief sinner among us) tend to consider ourselves the "us" and those outside the church, living a riotous lifestyle of eating, drinking, and partying, the "them". Perish the thought that "us" should befriend "them". What foolishness is bound up in that attitude! Dear ones, Jesus is the friend of sinners, and it's a good thing, because every one of us falls into that category. Were He not a friend of sinners, He certainly would not have befriended me. He certainly would not have befriended you. If we are to be like Jesus, we must be the friend of sinners, as well. 

Selah. Pause and consider.  

The easy thing is to consider "sinners" as nothing more than a ministry opportunity. How offensive to the One who loved us and intends for us to love others! I am ashamed to admit how many times I have done this very thing. We are not to congratulate ourselves for "ministering" to those who don't know Jesus. We are supposed to love them, spend time with them, befriend them. This does not, of course, mean that you participate in all their lifestyle choices. Jesus was a friend to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to Matthew. He spent time with them, ate and drank with them, laughed and had fun with them. He did not participate in their sexual sin, profanity and anger, or financial shenanigans. Instead, He showed them a new way, God's way, and they were drawn to it like bees to honey. 

Oh, dear ones, this loving of our fellow sinners is not optional. We don't actually have a choice about it if we intend to be obedient to our Lord. Jesus didn't say, "Love your neighbor as yourself if you like them, if you feel like it, or if you want to love them." What He said was, "Do it!" Being a friend to sinners is not a one-time ministry opportunity. It is a lifestyle that is breathtaking in its expanse and, though likely to include a few tears and heartaches along the way, is also filled with laughter and joy. 

What do you think would happen if those of us who say we know Jesus actually acted like Him? What if those of us who have been befriended by Christ became a friend to sinners, too? What if we treated people the way He treats us? I believe we would see an explosion of people drawn to Christ, an outpouring of His Spirit, the fire of God burning among us. We could experience the abundant life in ways too marvelous to imagine. We could, but it will never happen if we simply stay the same. We must choose the path of the cross, the path of Christ, the path of love. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, and we must love the least lovely as well as the most. We, accomplished sinners in our own right, must befriend our fellow sinners and, along the way, introduce them to the Friend that changed our lives. 

How to inherit eternal life, part 10: justification

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29 NASB)

The lawyer questioning Jesus asked how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked Him what the law said and he condensed the heart of the law into one beautifully concise sentence. Love God with every fiber of your being and your neighbor as your self. Jesus congratulated the lawyer for His accuracy. If you do that, you will live, both now and in eternity, Jesus told him. 

The lawyer had a problem. He wanted to "justify himself." The word translated as "justify" is dikaioō and is used in this instance to indicate a desire to be declared just or righteous rather than a desire to be just or righteous. The word "declared" makes quite a difference, doesn't it? The problem with this lawyer was that he was more concerned about being thought righteous than he was about being righteous. 

If we are honest, there is likely a bit of this dikaioō in us, as well. It is much easier to appear righteous before men than to actually be righteous before God, isn't it? The difference, of course, lies in the depths of our heart, in our priorities and our goals. Which do we want more? To be righteous or to look righteous? There is a vast difference between the two and only one actually leads us to eternal life. 

We would do well to examine our motives and our priorities. Is our greatest desire to be judged as righteous by our pure and holy  God or do we simply want to look good before our fellow man? Are we seeking approval in this world or in the next? There is nothing more important than pleasing our God, nothing more critical than obedience to His Word. The path to righteousness is simple. Love God. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. The task of love, however, is the greatest challenge we will ever face. If not for the help of Almighty God, it would be impossible. What then, shall we do?

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:19-21 NASB)

The writer of 1st John said it nicely. If you don't love your neighbor, you don't love God, either. If you want to be justified before God, you must begin by loving Him. When we love God with every fiber of our being, that love will spill over onto those around us, and it won't matter a bit how lovely they are. When the love of God flows from us, it splashes onto both the greatest and the least among us. 

If we want to look justified, we can limit our interpretation of "neighbor" to those most like us, those most convenient for ministry. If we want to be justified, however, we must do what Jesus said. Love God. Love our neighbors, even those who are the least lovely. Love all. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 9: loving your neighbor as yourself

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." (Luke 10:25-28 NASB)

We are continuing our study on how to inherit eternal life by loving God. In previous posts, we looked at how to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mindToday, we begin an examination of loving our neighbor as ourself. (You can click on the links to open a new window and review those posts.) 

The question was how to inherit eternal life. The answer was to be found in the law. It was not found in the nitpicking rules that legalizers had added, but in the spirit of the law. This lawyer summarized it all in one beautifully complex, breathtakingly simple sentence. Love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself. The idea of loving your neighbor in this way was part of the law and recorded in Leviticus 19.

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 NASB)

The word translated as "neighbor" is plēsion and literally means "fellow man." The Jewish nation had interpreted this word "neighbor" to mean the one who lived nearby or a fellow Israelite. They had spent centuries "loving" the neighbor who was just like them. They had consoled themselves by saying that they had, indeed, loved their neighbor. 

Jesus, however, had something to say about that attitude, and we will soon see it in detail. His view of "neighbor" includes everyone. His understanding of neighbor is not limited by location, ethnicity, or faith. In His world view, everyone is His neighbor. Tax collectors, Romans, soldiers, thieves, harlots. Everyone is His neighbor and He loves them all. When Jesus walked this earth, because He viewed them all as His neighbor, because He loved them, He spent time with them, associated with them, attended meals and parties with them, and, as He did, they learned what love looked like first hand. Because LOVE (that agape love of God) flowed from Him to the best and the worst of us all, people were drawn to Him and, in Him, their lives were changed. 

Consider Matthew, Mary Magdalene, and Paul. Our tendency would be to shun all of them, but not Jesus. He loved them, and in His presence, they could not help but change. Just for a moment, imagine how you would have responded to those few people. Would you have spent time with a corrupt government bureaucrat? Would you have spent time with a harlot, defending her against all her accusers? What about one of the world's worst terrorists, Saul who became Paul? In truth, we must admit that we would not have embraced them, and the world would have been the worse for our failure. Jesus, however, loved them, embraced them, and changed them. The story of the extravagant love of Mary Magdalene is still told today. Matthew wrote one of the most important accounts of the life of Jesus. Paul spread the gospel throughout the world. 

There is no way for us to know what kind of plans Jesus has for the unlovely neighbor that we prefer to shun, but He never asked us to make the plans. What He has asked us to do, commanded us to do, in fact, is to love our neighbor. Just to be sure we have this clear, let's review a minute. Our neighbor includes everyone. The terrorists responsible for the horrible death and destruction throughout our world are just as much our neighbor as the sweet grandmother who lives next door. That's a shocking thought, isn't it? It may be shocking, but it is also true. 

It is not the terrorist, however, that gives me the most trouble. It's the neighbor I see and with whom I disagree that is the hardest for me, and, in truth, the one I need to love the most. It is in that very relationship that Christ will bring change. The problem, however, is that often the change He longs to bring is in me, not the one who seems less lovable to me. That, of course, is why I resist the loving. In fact, I prefer not to change. We all prefer not to change. We want to love the ones we love. We want to embrace the ones who validate us by their similarity to us. We want to keep those who are different at arm's length. 

Dear ones, we may want all those things, but they have little to do with what God wants. He wants us to love the unlovely because they are our neighbor. He wants us to love all. No matter what. No matter whom. Everyone is our neighbor. Loving them is not optional.

Today, let's look around us and ask God to open our eyes to those who are unrecognized neighbors. Let's not stop with seeing, however. Let's ask Him to fill us with love, as well. There's no doubt about it. When Jesus gets involved with us and our neighbors, change will come, and it will, most likely, begin in us.