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Working Backwards to Go Forward

I learned early how to properly navigate a maze. If you start at the end and work backwards, it’s much easier. All those wrong turnsmaze and dead-ends are pointing the other direction and are easier to detect looking from the other side. It is the same with life as a Christian. If we start with heaven and work our way back from that goal, life gets easier. Those wrong turns and dead-ends are easier to see. We can look at those forks in the road and ask which one is more likely to get us to heaven. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we know our preference is for the easy road and we hope somehow God will point us toward that road.

Maybe you’ve learned that the right path is rarely the easy one. Most often, the easy choice is the wrong one. It’s easy to lie instead of tell the truth when that may hurt someone’s feelings or cause conflict. It’s easy to bend the rules and cheat to get what we want faster. That’s why Jesus said the path to righteousness is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14). Even fewer will stay on that path until the end. The path to destruction is easy to find and easy to travel. It promises smooth sailing on a pleasant, downward slope. You don’t even have to try; just coast along and go with the flow. That path is the default choice. We must continually choose to stay on the narrow, righteous path. Even then, there is always an on-ramp for hell’s highway. We can be tempted to just get on for a bit and rest ourselves with the cruise-control set. Then, we tell ourselves, we will get back on the right road at the next exit. Or the next one. Well, there’s another right up there too.

That’s why so few find it. It’s not that God is being secretive or tricky, it’s just that the wide and easy path is so, well, EASY. Seek the way to God through the thicket of the world’s distractions. Then, once you find the way, stay on that path no matter how hard the travelling becomes. The way is actually pretty easy to find. When the apostles asked Jesus to show them the way He responded, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Those dead-ends and wrong turns are easier to see and avoid when you keep your eyes on the goal at the end—heaven. May the Lord shine upon you.

Is It For Me?

Songs touch us in a way other words simply cannot. Supposedly, music activates a different part of our brains than regular conversation does. That would explain why certain songs affect us so strongly. In my case, one of these is the hymn “Is It For Me?” I rarely make it through this song without my voice catching at least once. The lyrics sink deeply within me as I ask the same questions.

“Is it for me, dear Savior, Thy glory and Thy rest? prayer

For me so weak and lowly? Oh, shall I be so blessed?”

It can’t be. Maybe for that fellow over there, but not for me. Do I dare to hope? Shall I (even I) be so blessed? It almost seems too good to be true. Salvation is certainly for those other more deserving people, but even for me? Can it truly be? How could God be talking about me? Doesn’t He know how weak I am? Doesn’t He know how many times I fail Him and fall short in a day? Oh yes, He knows. That is precisely why He makes the offer. He knows how tiring the battle against sin is, so He offers us rest. He offers us a place in His glorious presence where there will be no sin and struggle. But how can this be possible for one such as I?

“Is it for me, Thy welcome, Thy gracious ‘enter in’

For me, Thy ‘Come, ye blessed,’ for me so full of sin?”

The Lord does not make a grudging allowance to permit our entry into heaven’s glory. Instead, He holds the door wide open and eagerly welcomes us into His home. Who would open His door to such a grubby houseguest? He does not stand with arms crossed in disapproval looking down His nose at our filthiness. Instead, he beckons us to come enjoy His hospitality. How could we respond to such kindness?

“My heart is at Thy feet”

We have nothing to give that would adequately show our gratitude. We bring no gift to impress our Host. All we have is what lies within us, weak and flawed as it is, and that is what we place before Him. The good news is that our heart is exactly the thing which melts His own. It’s all He wanted anyway.

“O, Savior, my Redeemer. What can I but adore?

And magnify and praise Thee and love Thee evermore?”

We are left with no way to repay such kindness and mercy. What else can we say but “Thank you. I love You.” Jesus did not come to make servants who would bow before Him throughout eternity. He came to save God’s precious children. He came to bring back those lost sheep who had strayed. Jesus prepared a heavenly home just for us (John 14:2-3). When we are tempted to ask in disbelief, “Is it for me? Really and truly?” the answer is a resounding “Yes!” It is for you, and for me, and for all who will come in loving obedience to Jesus. May the Lord shine upon you.

Jesus the Preacher: Warm Fuzzies or Fire and Brimstone?

Article I wrote for StrongChurch (http://www.strongchurch.org/jesus-the-preacher-warm-fuzzies-or-fire-and-brimstone/)

It was Paul, not Jesus, who told us to season our speech with salt (Colossians 4:6). Our words must be tasty if the world is going to receive them, but we must never compromise the truth for the sake of flavor. Everyone has experienced food (and language!) which was too salty and, therefore, unpleasant. However, Jesus practiced Paul’s exhortation in His own preaching. There was a balance between positive, feel-good messages and warnings of judgment urging repentance. Sometimes the message was very easy to swallow and other times the audience choked on the sharpness of the “salty” rebuke.jesus-angry

Some preachers have made the assertion that Jesus preached more about hell than heaven. Conversely, detractors of modern Christianity have claimed that Jesus only preached love, acceptance, and peace during His ministry while those claiming to follow Jesus today spout messages of division, hatred, and bigotry. What do the gospel accounts actually say? Was the preaching of Jesus generally more positive or negative in tone? Was Jesus more like Joel Osteen spreading a gospel of joy and self-affirmation or was His message more like Jonathan Edwards preaching “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”? The only way to determine the answer is to go verse-by-verse through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John counting the statements which could be classified as either positive or negative in tone.  So that is what I decided to do. Armed with a pink marker for positive, happy, uplifting statements and a blue marker for negative, rebuking, condemning statements, I began reading in Matthew 1:1.

Criteria

The methods for this exercise need to be explained. How best to make this determination about tone? First, only direct statements by Jesus have been considered. Second, asking questions about the verse or passage is helpful. Was He focusing on God’s love or His wrath? Was Jesus endorsing the attitudes of His audience or rebuking them? Was the Lord encouraging His listeners to continue their current lifestyle with His approval or was He urging them to repent? Was He polite to His critics or calling them out harshly? Was His message designed to make hearers feel good about themselves or drive them to understand their sin and need for God’s mercy? Were Christ’s words received gladly by His audience or did they provoke the crowd to anger or sorrow? The reaction of the listeners often reveals the perceived tone of Jesus’ words and I have used their reaction to determine the tone of the statement. Some verses contain positive and negative messages (Mark 16:16 for example) and have been counted as both.  My judgment and classification is admittedly subjective, so I generously added a 10% margin for error and took the high side in favor of the positive tone. The gospel is, after all, the “good news.”

Results

In the gospel of Matthew, there were 251 verses found to have a discernible positive or negative tone (in the author’s estimation). Of those, 61 were seen as positive (24%) and 190 were viewed as negative (76%). Applying the 10% margin for error (on the positive side) yields results that show the preaching of Jesus in Matthew was 34% positive and 66% negative. In Mark’s gospel, 31 out of 132 verses (23%) were positive while 101 (77%) were negative. Thus, Mark’s gospel reveals Christ’s tone as 33% positive and 67% negative. The gospel of Luke shows a trending toward the positive with 92 verses out of 236 (39%) having a positive tone as opposed to 144 verses (61%) coming across negatively. The margin for error puts Luke’s gospel nearly in balance at 49% positive and 51% negative. Counting through John’s gospel finds 89 out of 158 verses (56%) as positive while only 69 verses (44%) display negativity. Applying the margin for error makes John the only one of the four gospels that is more positive in tone and markedly so at 66% positive to 34% negative. So what conclusions may be drawn from this exercise?highlighted_bible

Analysis

It seems clear from the data that the preaching of Jesus was not primarily affirmative in tone as some allege. Matthew’s gospel shows Christ’s message to be one-third positive in tone and two-thirds negative. The same 2:1 ratio seen in Matthew is also found in Mark showing twice as many negative verses as positive ones. This is even more remarkable because Mark’s gospel is much shorter than Matthew. Mark’s gospel has a characteristic bluntness to it and the word “immediately” is an important theme. It hints that Jesus was not concerned with mincing words or tickling ears with such an important message. Luke showed a nearly equal use of positive and negative tone. This is significant because Luke contains many long teaching discourses spoken by Jesus. It may, therefore, be a more accurate estimation of the overall tone of Jesus in His public preaching. John is sometimes referred to as the “apostle of love” perhaps more due to his epistles rather than his gospel. It is worth remembering, however, that it was this same John (along with his brother James) who asked for Jesus’ permission to call down fire upon the Samaritans who had rejected the Lord’s teaching (Luke 9:54) thus earning them both the nickname “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17 NASB). John seems to have learned the importance of maintaining balance as well!

Pink and blue highlighting often appears together and the text rapidly shifts from one tone to the other. There are some interesting juxtapositions. Contrast the soaring love of John 3:16 with the stern rebuke of those using darkness as a cloak for their wickedness in 3:18-20. These factors may affect or even guide our own personal study.

Application

It is fascinating to consider that we, with the benefit of the full revelation of God’s plan, may interpret the words of Jesus quite differently than the original audience. When Jesus told Nicodemus one must be born again of water and spirit, the poor man was utterly confused. We have a much better idea of what the Lord meant. Peter was absolutely scandalized when Jesus foretold of His suffering and death in Matthew 16:22. We would tell him, “Settle down, Peter, it will be a good thing!” When we are tempted to think to ourselves, “How did they not see that?” perhaps we should cut them a little slack. We know many things they did not.

Knowing the tone of the gospels may be helpful not just in our own study, but in efforts to evangelize others. If someone is very depressed and needing hope, it may be wise to recommend they read the gospel of John and be lifted up by its positive tone. Maybe a person is at that rock-bottom point where sin has left them adrift and aimless; stuck in neutral.  Perhaps they would benefit from the blunt wakeup call of Mark’s gospel to slap them in the face and get them moving toward God.

A troubling reality is that this entire study is based upon a fundamental flaw: that a message must be either positive or negative. It is often both. Indeed, it must be both. The gospel must be bad news before it can be good news. Romans 6:23 exemplifies this two-part message: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NASB). Sinners must be confronted with their sin and the danger of judgment before they will be compelled to avoid that judgment by seeking a remedy for their sin.

The whole message of truth (Acts 20:27) must have a little bite to it. False pleasantries such as, “We are all going to heaven by different roads,” “Hell does not exist,” and the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” contain only the sweet, sugary taste of theological candy. Truth has a bit of salt in it. That is one way to tell sound doctrine from wishful thinking.

It seems the popular notion that Jesus never condemned anyone and only preached positive, uplifting messages is proven false by examining the gospel record. It goes too far, however, to characterize Jesus as a “fire and brimstone” preacher. Certainly He preached about the danger and reality of hell, but only to encourage sinners to escape it. The underlying message was ultimately one of love, hope, and deliverance. Too many today perceive scriptural admonition as an act of intolerance and hatred. What they fail to appreciate is that Christians are compelled to share the whole counsel of God out of love for souls, not hatred. Allowing our neighbor to be condemned to an eternity of darkness just because we fear our efforts may be received in a negative way—THAT would be an act of hatred.

What Love Does (and Doesn’t)

I was discussing marriage with some friends recently, and I mentioned a simple but powerful exercise I sometimes use in marriage counseling. I have couples read Paul’s great little treatise on love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love suffers long [is patient] and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (NKJV). I tell the couple that this is what love does. It is an action, a choice, not merely an emotion. Then I say that since this is the standard of how we should be loving one another (especially our spouse), try substituting your name every time you see the word “love.” The passage takes on a new meaning. The goal is to live our life and love others so that all those statements are true. I hadn’t done that exercise myself in a while, so I began to go through it.businessman-looking-in-mirror

“Rob is patient.”

Ouch. Really Paul? We have to start there? I couldn’t get past #1 due to my wife’s laughter. Or maybe it would be because of the pained look on her face. Either way, I start the exercise with a big ole goose-egg. “Rob is kind.” OK, I think I do pretty well at this most times. Would my wife and kids agree? My co-worker? My cashier? Go down the list and see which sore spots of yours get poked. I guarantee you will find them in there. I overheard a man tell a preacher once that his sermon had poked him in a sore spot. The preacher, a very compassionate and wise man, gently replied, “Brother, if I may ask, why is that spot sore?” Likely because we already know we have a weakness there. Continue down the list and see where you are coming up short: jealousy, pride, cynicism, etc. I’ll bet few would even muster a passing grade if we’re being honest. “Well thanks, Rob, for making me feel lousy about myself.” Hey, blame Paul, he started it!

The point is not to make anyone depressed, but to challenge us to a higher standard. It is a pretty tall order, but I do know of one Man who was able to do it. Jesus Christ. Substitute His name for “love” and every word is true.

“Jesus is patient” with me when I fail and stumble into sin again. And again. “Jesus is kind.” No one has ever been kinder. “Jesus does not envy.” Of whom does He have to be jealous? “Jesus does not parade Himself and is not puffed up.” He didn’t come to earth to win fans and fill stadiums. He came to save souls by dying a humiliating death. “Jesus does not behave rudely.” Even when rebuking the Pharisees it wasn’t because He hated them, it was because they were stubbornly resisting the truth about Him to their own souls’destruction. He was merely frustrated at their foolish pride and how they tried to lead people away from the truth He was preaching. Jesus lived out the often misunderstood principle of “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” On down the list we could go.

Perhaps my favorite part and the one which may be most encouraging to you is “Jesus hopes all things.” Jesus loves us and always hopes for the best in us. He knows our hearts and yet He still has hope that we will do the right thing. Often, we won’t, but He HOPES we will. He believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves. He is our cheerleader saying, “I know you fell into that sin again, but you can beat it! Get up and we’ll try again, you and Me. I’ll be right beside you.” That’s love right there. If Jesus believes in you, can’t you try to believe in yourself? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

“Rob never fails.”

Sadly, this is not a true or accurate statement. But “Jesus never fails” is 100% true. Jesus has never failed and He never will. Never. In John 13:34 Jesus told His disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a pretty big challenge, as we have seen. We may fall short–okay, we WILL fall short–but let’s at least TRY to do what Jesus said. Aim for that high standard and we will certainly be closer than we were before. You can do it! May the Lord shine upon you.

Calling in the “Calvary”

rohirrim2In old westerns, just when the brave defenders were about to be overrun, a bugle would sound over the hill. Then a joyous shout would go up among the troops, “Here comes the cavalry!” It has become a common reference to a rescue just in the nick of time. In later war movies, the battle often reached a tipping point and the good guys decided it was time to “call in the cavalry.” The situation had turned dire and reinforcements were necessary to prevent losing the battle.

I am a complete and unapologetic Tolkien nerd. I love his “Lord of the Rings” epic and have read the massive volume half a dozen times. It is a classic tale of good versus evil centered around many individual acts of courage and sacrifice. It is also a story of redemption. For me, Theoden has always been the most compelling character in thetheoden book. He is the king of Rohan who has succumbed to despair and hopelessness. But when the final battle approaches, he shakes himself and his people out of their lethargy and joins the fight against dark forces. He has suffered personal tragedy and has reason to let the darkness envelop him, but he overcomes the seemingly inevitable victory of evil and decides to die on his feet. Each nation in Middle-Earth has individual characteristics: there are the woodsmen of the North, the famed archers of Gondor, and the horsemen of Rohan. Their cavalry, known as the Rohirrim, are legendary. Theoden commits these few, but valuable troops to the Last Battle against the forces of evil.

When the movie version of “Lord of the Rings” came out, I was most eager to see the battle of the Pelennor Fields. This area refers to the broad plain which stretches out before the city of Gondor and the towered fortress of Minas Tirith. The forces of good were trapped in the fortress which was crumbling and close to being overrun. It was then that the Rohirrim came upon the scene. As the riders crested the hill, they saw the tower of Minas Tirith standing alone, near to collapse. There were innumerable armies of dark foes swarming the plain before the gates already shouting their inevitable victory. The White Tower was humankind’s last stand against the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron. The riders of Rohan mustered their courage and charged ahead shouting, “Ride for ruin! Death! Death!” They were referring to their own deaths, certain that they would fall, yet determined to take as many of the enemy with them as possible. Vastly outnumbered, they plowed right into heart of the enemy. Most of the riders did die, but they bought time and encouraged the defenders with their brave sacrifice while scattering the enemy army in terror. Evil was defeated because of their sacrifice in one last cavalry charge.

In humanity’s battle against the dark forces of Satan, our cavalry charge came in a place called Calvary. Calvary is the Latin translation of the Hebrew word “Golgotha.” We learn of this place in John 19:17-18 “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.” It was called this because it seems to have been a bald hilltop which resembled a skullcap. It was there that Jesus led a “charge” against the seemingly overwhelming forces of Satan. It resulted in His death, but it was a sacrifice in the war against sin. His death scattered the enemy and won the day. The cavalry charge of the Rohirrim was a turning point in larger war, but it was still just a part. The battle continued and the war was still in doubt. Calvary was the turning point and the victory. The battle continues but the war is won! The King came riding over the hill at just the right time to secure victory. The outcome of the war was never in doubt, but went perfectly according to God’s plan. Galatians 4:4 says that Christ came right at the appropriate time. The best part is that our Hero did not stay dead like those who fell on the Pelennor Fields. He lives! And because He lives, we will live forever! Whenever the forces of darkness gather and threaten to overtake us, we can once again “call in the Calvary.” Jesus Christ will ride to our rescue and scatter the enemy as often as we need Him.

A Drop in the Bucket

It had been a busy time for Jesus and His disciples. They had been in Judea teaching up a storm and baptizing many people (John 4:1-2). Jesus was never one to rest on His laurels, but instead He turned His attention northward to Galilee. Most Jews would cross the Jordan River to the east of Jerusalem and travel north of Samaria before crossing back over into Galilee. They hated the Samaritans so deeply that they preferred to travel into Gentile territory rather than set foot in Samaria. Surely the disciples bristled when the Lord told them the travel route, but John 4:4 says “He needed to go through Samaria.” Why did Jesus need to go there? We soon learn that there was a soul in Samaria who was very important to Him. Of course, all souls are important, but this particular womanwell-bucket[2] would be a critical turning point in His ministry and the education of His apostles.

Upon reaching the Samaritan city of Sychar, Jesus sent the disciples into town for supplies. He was exhausted and rested beside the well. Although Jesus was thirsty, He chose to wait on this woman so that she might satisfy His thirst. Jesus broke numerous social conventions by talking to this woman and asking her, “Give Me a drink” (John 4:7). She was startled by His question and also confused. She noticed that He had nothing with which to draw water from the well. We know better, of course. This same Jesus had already proven His power to manipulate water when He turned water into wine at Cana. This same Jesus who would later raise the dead certainly had the power to raise water so He could drink. The Lord chose not to do that, however. He asked this woman to do it for Him.

God has a thirst for our love; for our hearts. He cannot (and will not) satisfy this desire by pulling it out of us. We must draw it out ourselves and offer it to Him. Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that if she would provide Him with this earthly water, He would provide her with living water to satisfy the deeper thirst she felt (for love, acceptance, peace, and hope). Likewise, we must offer something to God which seems too simple or even ridiculous—our obedience. If we submit to this simple command, if we give our obedience to Him as a gift, then God will be able to shower us with unimaginable gifts and blessings (Mal. 3:10). Jesus said “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Give Him your heart by doing what He has said to do: repent and be baptized (Luke 13:5; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38).

Uh, Lord? Little Help Here?

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus had been teaching His disciples about how to deal with people when there is a conflict. Right after this, Peter chimes in with a question, sort of. Peter asks in verse 20, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (NASB). Peter probably thought he was being pretty generous. Wow, seven times! Peter, you’re much too kind. How shocked he and the others must have been when Jesus answered, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Now, Jesus did not mean that we should keep a tally sheet and when/if we reach 490 we can then say, “That’s it! I don’t have to forgive you anymore!” He was using a ridiculously large number to indicate that we should not be in the accounting business, but in the forgiving business.jesus hand

Jesus expands on this in the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel which is found in chapter 17. As if the words in Matthew 18 were not hard enough to live out, Jesus ups the ante on forgiveness. “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4). Well, now You are just asking too much, Jesus. Seven times in the same day? That means this person is not showing true repentance and does not deserve forgiveness.

AH-AH-AH! Not so fast. That would require us to know and judge a person’s heart and ONLY God is qualified to do that.

Jesus makes this painfully simple: He repents, you forgive. Period.

But Jesus, You don’t know how many times he has—NO! He repents, you forgive. This is the command.

But Jesus, wouldn’t it be better to teach this person the lesson that—NO! He repents, you forgive. Just do it.

But Jesus, what if he doesn’t ask for forgiveness? Does that get me off the hook?

This is the part where Jesus would facepalm and shake His head. Don’t miss the point.

The disciples surely didn’t miss the point. Their perfect understanding was proven by what they said next. Jesus had just commanded them (and us) to forgive as many times as someone repents. Their immediate response was, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). They knew that they (and we) were going to need some divine assistance to carry out that command. The Lord’s answer is astounding. He essentially says in verse 6, “Use what you’ve got—it’s enough.” Their faith seemed as small as a mustard seed compared to the gigantic task ahead of them. Jesus told them that if their faith was sincere, then it was big enough. Well, OK Jesus. But if I manage to pull this off, I deserve a medal and a parade! The Lord predicts this attitude in verses 9-10 and preemptively strikes down any prideful feelings which may arise. “[The master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’ ” We don’t deserve a round of applause for merely doing what we were commanded. We are not worthy of a spot in Hebrews chapter 11 with the superstars of the faithful. We haven’t elevated ourselves to some lofty position of Christianity. We haven’t gained anything extraordinary. We are still sitting at zero. All we have done is prevented ourselves from falling below the line of obedience and into a deficit.

Is forgiving hard? Yes! It may be the one of the hardest commands to obey. What it is not, however, is optional; it is required. So let’s you and I stop treating it like it is optional. Let us not require people to grovel, beg, and crawl for our forgiveness after we think they’ve suffered enough and shown “proper” repentance. God did not require that of us. We may sin seven times a day against Him but He offers mercy every time we ask. His grace is eager, available, and immediate. So should ours be.

That’s Mighty Neighborly of You!

Once, as I was rolling my dumpster to the curb in preparation for the next day’s trash pickup, I noticed my next-door neighbor’s dumpster still sitting beside the garage.  I knew my neighbor was out of town, but would be back home before the next trash day.  So, I wheeled the dumpster out to the curb for him. I remembered making a mad dash in my pajamas early on trash day several times when I had forgotten and I would have appreciated someone watching out for me that way.  I felt that I was being a good neighbor.

Jesus once told His disciples to love their neighbor as themselves.  In response, someone asked the question,neighbor_wilson “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).  This parable shows that our neighbor is anyone in need whom we can help.  Indeed, if we have the ability to help someone and the opportunity to do so, it creates an obligation on our part which we cannot neglect.

The real issue, however, is how we can love others as ourselves.  First we must ask, “how do we love ourselves?”  The answer is—quite naturally! Nowhere in the Bible does God command us to love ourselves.  He doesn’t have to!  It comes easily to our nature to be selfish.  When we really examine how we love ourselves, some challenging things come to light.  We make excuses for our bad behavior. “Well, I was just tired and under stress.”  We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.  We are optimistic we will do better next time.  We do not focus on the mistake, but rather on the good in us.  We never think we are evil people or lost causes.  We think we are basically good people who just slipped up.  Here’s the rub. Should we not extend this same courtesy to everyone else for their mistakes? Let that sink in for a moment..

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a very appropriate answer to the question about who my neighbor is.  Not only does it show us that everyone is our neighbor, but it also sets a gold standard for being that good neighbor.  The Samaritan did not help the man because he knew him.  They were not close friends.  He did not hope to be rewarded or praised for it.  He simply found a man in trouble, took care of him, made provisions for his care, and left quietly.  Is that not exactly what Jesus did?  He found us when we had been beaten by Satan, robbed of hope, and left for dead.  Jesus healed us, tended our wounds, made provision for our care (the church), and left suddenly.  But He also promised to return.  Let us make sure we can say we were good neighbors to all people when He comes back.  Let us follow Jesus’ example and treat people the way He treated us.  Let us cut others the same slack we give ourselves so generously.

 

Forsaken by God?

Some Christians are preparing for the Easter holiday by entering the season of Lent. During this period of 40 days, they agree to abstain from certain things (e.g. caffeine, TV, internet). They forsake these things in an effort to draw nearer to God and prepare themselves for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Philippians 2:7 tells us that Jesus gave up everything to draw nearer to us (at least physically) through the incarnation. As the Son of God hung on the cross bearing the sins of the world He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Some have suggested that Christ showed His humanity in that statement and that even His faith “cracked” under the pressure, if only for a moment. Jesus_on_the_Cross

But is that really what happened?

The words Jesus spoke were actually a quotation from Psalm 22. The question we must ask is why did Jesus quote that particular Old Testament passage with some of His final breaths? Let me suggest that it was not because His faith weakened or because He began to doubt the Father’s grand plan of salvation. Psalm 22 vividly prophesies the crucifixion as described in the gospels. Verse 16 predicts, “They pierced my hands and feet.” Verse 18 foretells, “They divide my garments among them.” The twenty-second Psalm was written by David approximately 500 years before crucifixion was even invented by the Persians. Jesus quoted from a Psalm written 1,000 years prior which described in detail the agony He was experiencing at that very moment. Hebrews 2:12 quotes from Psalm 22 and attributes those words to Christ. So in a sense, David was only writing what Jesus would one day speak from the cross.

Perhaps, by quoting from Psalm 22, Jesus was giving His accusers one last evidence of whom and what He really was—the long-awaited and prophesied Messiah.

It cannot be ignored that although Psalm 22 depicts agony and despair, it ends with a triumphant and confident trust in God’s merciful deliverance. Verse 24 reads, “For He has not despised the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” Jesus knew He was not forsaken by the Father. Neither will you be, if you follow Jesus Christ.

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