Friday, September 25, 2009

HOWDY, NEIGHBOR!!!


"And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29, NIV)

Of all the stories we maintain from childhood, the story of the Good Samaritan has to rank in the top 10. This parable results from an ongoing effort by the religious elite to trip Jesus up. When the authority is lauded by Christ for stating one of the greatest commands as "Love your neighbor as yourself," (Lev. 19:18) he tries further engagement by asking, "And who is my neighbor?" Subsequently, Jesus proceeds to tell the tale of a robbed and injured Jewish man who is ignored by his kinsmen, but tenderly aided by his enemy.

The vast majority of us can recollect that story and smile in agreement that the Samaritan was the true neighbor because he showed the injured man love and mercy. But it becomes a little less clear when we see its application in our own lives. Who is OUR neighbor?

Perhaps those from older cultures located in Europe or the Middle East can better identify with the contrast of the story. The long-standing hostilities between Serbians and Bosnians in Yugoslavia, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the people of Pakistan and India all provide clear distinctions of those involved as to who the enemy is. Each situation bitterly duplicates the same type of relationship as that of Jesus' parable.

However, if we take one of those painfully honest looks at ourselves, those we harbor resentment towards become more clear in spite of obvious boundary lines. Who is that Samaritan in your life? The one you have deep philosophical differences with? The one whose lifestyle or decisions are the antithesis of yours? It could be the doctor taking your child's medical care in a direction you don't agree with. It could be the educator or administrator you don't see eye to eye with. It could be acquaintances, friends or family who lack understanding or support when it comes to your child's diagnosis. Whoever it is, do you meet them with avoidance and disdain as the Jewish kinsmen did or do you show them mercy?

Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That is one of the remarkable behaviors that set us apart from an unbelieving world. He realized that we have no ability to do this on our own. His Spirit alone supplies us with what we need, the power to carry out His commands.

When we do, it not only changes those directly involved, making us more joy-filled and gentle, but it also changes the individuals around us as well. It makes us more attractive to others. Read John, Chapter 4 and discover how a whole village was changed by the love and mercy Jesus showed to just one Samaritan woman. Read Acts 16:22-34 to view how the love and mercy of Paul and Silas toward their jailer led to not only his conversion, but the conversion of his entire family.

Jesus reminded us that if we only love those who love us, then we're no different from the rest of the world. Being a neighbor to those who are not on our top-10-favorite-people list is one of the ways that we can actually be salt and light to a deteriorating, dark world.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

MUTUAL... I'M SURE!


"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NLT)

This past week, I had the great honor of meeting with other leaders in disability ministry form around the country. We empathized with one another's challenges and exchanged a variety of ideas. The common ground we all shared with was edifying. And while we all agreed that we were breaking ground in a relatively new area of ministry, those who were more experienced willingly shared their wisdom with those who were newer. Some leaders even had the foresight to bring co-laborers or apprentices with them, investing this experience in the perpetuating of the next generation of leaders.

While this was a terrific experience professionally, I recognized that it can be duplicated by each of us personally. In a culture where everyone seems too busy to slow down and offer a second glance to anyone, what an awesome gift we offer others when we share such an exchange with them. Time is the most valuable treasure we can offer another person, (mentoring, encouraging or educating ) because it is the one thing we can't get back or get more of. At the same time, the rewards and gratification of pouring our time into people are immense.

I also spent time this week with 2 mothers over breakfast. One had a school-aged daughter with a special health care issue. The other was adopting a child with that same issue. What a privilege to watch God recycle all of the difficulty of the first mother, to bless the second mother. A new relationship was formed. And though the adoptive mother still faces many unknowns, she left that day realizing that she would not be parenting that child alone. Others would bear the burden with her and lift her up.

The blessings of community can be great, but they have an eternal impact when God, the third strand, is part of the equation. Praying together, pointing one another to God's Word and sharing godly advice each help us to rise above the weight and craziness of this world. The input and friendship I get from one I'm tied together with in Christ is far different than that which I get from one rooted in the prevailing, current culture. Today's culture may tell me to leave my husband, but when God's in the trio, a friend in Christ might help me to work it out. Today's culture might encourage me to soothe my conscience by making a token gesture towards the needy, but when God's in the trio, my friend will roll up their sleeves with me, get dirty and live out love that makes a difference.

I recently read this quote by Peter Druker in some leadership information, "There is no success without a successor". What a yardstick this is to measure our interaction with! We please God and grow in intimacy with Him when we invest our time and wisdom in edifying others around us. We walk away feeling content, lighter, hopeful. And those feelings are mutual... I'm sure!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

He's Got Your Back!


"If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." (2Timothy2:13, NIV)
The walk of faith is not always a straight line ascending from left to right. Challenges come our way, testing the faith we profess, providing us with opportunities to reexamine and re-prioritize.

I have recently come through one of these challenges. As often happens, it came at a pinnacle, where I had the great privilege of eye witnessing God's mighty move in the ministry. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a medical crisis arose with my son. We thought nothing of it at first, as his hemophilia is, in essence, a continual lesson in dealing with emergencies. Nevertheless, this was not our garden-variety episode. Days turned into weeks as new symptoms and concerns arose along with their various remedies. Daily drives of 60 miles round trip were required as day surgery and outpatient therapies were required.
So often it happens that our irritability and frustration grows as our energy level depletes. Lack of stamina morphs into negative emotions. Even those of us who are "supposed to have this down pat" can fall subject.
I found myself angry. When will these constant trials stop? Why does God continue to allow this? Enough! Enough of the financial stresses that come from perpetually being in the medical system! Enough of driving broken-down vehicles! Enough of not being able to afford even the simplest camping weekend away! Enough of watching my child cry and suffer, wishing for the relief of Heaven!
In my negativity, I found myself questioning, What difference does the Christian life really make? As suddenly as the onset of the crisis, came the onset of the thought, I don't have to be perfect to be loved and accepted by God. "My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge." (Psalm 62:7) That's the difference! Jesus gave His life to cover me at times like this. He's got my back -- and He's got yours too.
Knowing that He remains faithful even when I'm not, gave me enough endurance to cling to the Lord and to allow Him to carry us through the remainder of this trial. Successfully making it through life's storms doesn't depend a bit on me. It depends on God.
Holding God's Word closely to my heart refreshed me and renewed my attitude. I could get off myself and back to thankful eyes that see the good gifts the Lord sustains me with daily. Thank God He's there to give me grace in the downturns and guidance to get me back on track!