Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bystanders, Samaritans & Neighbors

Those of you who have been following my Facebook posts likely know that I've been talking about the "Bystander Effect", in which people tend to think 'somebody else' will take care of an obvious problem, and consequently nobody does anything about it.

I had first hand opportunity to witness this yesterday.  Driving home from picking up my son from school, I saw an SUV off the road, tilted at a 45 degree angle in a culvert.  I stopped immediately to find that the driver, an 80+ year old woman, had hit a patch of black ice and lost control of her vehicle. 

She was alright, but what was alarming to me is that she had said that at least three or four cars had gone by without stopping to see if she was okay.  With the temperatures barely hovering above the single digits, and the road treacherously slick, I wondered how anybody could possibly NOT stop to see if they could help, no matter who was driving.

I was reminded of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This passage directly answers the question of “Who is my neighbor?” when we read of the two greatest commandments in Matthew 22:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Are you prepared to help your neighbor?

Be the exception to the “Bystander Effect” rule.  You may be the only person who makes the difference in the lives of others.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

If Anyone Does Sin…

As a Christian, I desperately want to be completely free from sin, to leave the old nature behind like a snake shedding its skin.  Instead, as Paul wrote, I still find myself doing the things that I don’t want to do, and not doing the things that I want to do.  We are familiar with the numerous sins listed in the Bible, of course.  But what about the sins not listed?
“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” ~ James 4:17 
“Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” ~ 1 Tim 1:19
I read that, and think, “Oh no, I’m doomed.”  My conscience is regularly pricking at me, and more often than not, I find myself again weighed down by a sense of guilt over ill-timed words, impulsive actions, a whole myriad of real and imagined offenses against God and others.  I stand condemned by self.
But then, I read:
“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence.” ~ 1 John 3:20-21
“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” ~ 1 John 2:1-2
I cannot begin to tell you how priceless those verses have become to me.  Rather than having to ask God’s forgiveness, and then spend hours trying to “feel” it, I am now able to stand on passages like the ones above in faith.  Even though my heart may still not be in alignment with His word, to remember that God is greater than my feelings, that there is no condemnation in Him, and that if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive them.  Our feelings are not a reliable indicator of how forgiven or not we are.

This is part of the wonder of grace.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Centrality of the Cross

After one Sunday service, we gathered outside to dedicate the church’s new backlit cross in memory of a member of our church who went home to be with the Lord the previous winter.  As I stood at the foot of the cross, appreciating the finished work of the hands that had put so much effort into designing and constructing it, I found a greater appreciation for the “finished work” of the original cross, the cross of Christ.
The cross stands as a powerful reminder of the core of our faith; it is the lynchpin of everything that defines us as Christians, and of who we are in Jesus Christ.  I am reminded, every time that I look at the cross, that it is also a symbol of the two greatest commandments as Jesus instructed in Matthew 22:37-40:
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Our highest mandates are to love God and to love others, to continually live a life where our vertical relationship and our horizontal relationships intersect with each other.  As Jesus articulated, everything else we are to do, or not to do, are wrapped up in the simplicity of these two commandments.  Imagine how radically different our world would be if people truly endeavored to live their lives motivated entirely by such love.
Jesus never asked us to do something that He’s not willing or prepared to equip us to do.  Throughout His life, and especially in His death, He not only put loving and obeying God and ministering to the needs of others above His own self-interest, He made them His own self-interest.  The cross is where He showed the full extent of His purpose and passion.
Two thousand years later, the cross remains central to the message of the Gospel.  Scripture admonishes us to be careful not to drift away from the centrality of the cross; instead, as the Apostle Paul wrote,
As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because of that cross, my interest in this world died long ago, and the world’s interest in me is also long dead.  It doesn’t make any difference now whether we have been circumcised or not.  What counts is whether we really have been changed into new and different people.  May God’s mercy and peace be upon all those who live by this principle.  They are the new people of God. – Galatians 6:14-16
While it is important to balance our appreciation for the work done on the cross with the joyful hope given us in the resurrection, we must never lose sight of the greater meaning expressed in the cross.  Let it be a daily reminder of how much God loves you, as well as how much He loves the rest of the world, and let us live accordingly.